Love on the Run

How a combination footrace and frat party became one of the best places in the city to hook up

"Every hash has a different personality," Robert Philkill says, explaining the differences between the Thursday and Monday night events. "Some hashes are more lewd and lascivious, like the Gypsies'. They're a little bit more on the edge. Well, you don't get as many women going to that hash because it's a little more ... edgy. Our hash is a little more mainstream. They call us 'Wine and Cheese.'"

"Mondays can be the perfect place to hook up," Mike Caton offers, citing the gender balance and younger demographic of the S.F. Hash events. Caton first heard about hashing from a girlfriend in 1997, and has been hooked ever since. In many ways he represents the typical Bay Area hasher: forwardly single, cerebral, unfailingly sarcastic, and in a high-skill, high-stress job. When he's not testing drugs for his Berkeley firm or volunteering his time with at-risk kids (with whom he fronts a pro-homework death metal band), he spends his time standing around a keg in running gear.

"One of the things that is definitely true is that in major metropolitan areas in the U.S. we don't have much social interaction that doesn't have a goal to it," Caton explains. "Aside from getting together with that one friend to have dinner or whatever, most of the time when you call someone you're either trying to fuck 'em, do some kind of business networking, or they're incidental, casual acquaintances. When you come here [to a hash], it's consequence-free -- you come here, act like an idiot and use a stupid name, and just enjoy each other's company."

Hydrating before the hash.
Paolo Vescia
Hydrating before the hash.
The congregation of hashers poses in the St. Mary's 
parking lot.
Paolo Vescia
The congregation of hashers poses in the St. Mary's parking lot.

I next find myself in Caton's enjoyable company on a cloudy Thursday evening at a Gypsies hash. He has gladly agreed to skip the run to explain the group's curious mating rituals.

"First of all, there's dating in the hash and hooking up," he explains. "There are a lot of chicks in the hash that are totally OK to just go home after the party and just fuck. And you're both friendly afterwards, but not necessarily more friendly than you are to anyone else." Dating is another story. And it turns out that the zest with which Caton enjoys the small dating pool of the hash has become a bit of a problem.

"I've dated people in the hash, and it's ended and been fine, and I've dated people and had it be the most horrible experience of my life," he concedes. The psychological aftermath of Caton's last tryst is evident: He walks on eggshells when his ex (a frequent South Bay hasher) moonlights at a San Francisco event, and points to what may be the physical evidence of their bumpy breakup -- a keyed scar that runs the length of his Jeep's passenger side.

"I've dated in the hash, but it is like living in a small town," confirms Sue Redding (aka Cums Quickly). The 45-year-old hasher ("39 in a dark room") has sworn off interhash romance. "If it doesn't go well, everyone knows about it, and it's torture beyond belief."

"I'm pretty well known as a slut if you ask around," Caton says. "But I'd like to think I've gotten better about it. After a while you either date or ask out everyone you're already interested in. And you run out of possibilities. That's kind of where I am right now. Either I've already dated everyone that I want or the people that I haven't dated that I want to have already said no three times." Then he adds, optimistically, "But there always are new people."

As we sit across from each other at a neighborhood park, the Gypsies start to trickle in, sweaty and cursing, demanding beer. Tonight there's a newbie, an attractive investment banker named Janice, recently relocated from New York City. When her name comes up during our conversation, Caton confesses, "I'd like to get my hooks into that one."

Scarlett O'Hairy is standing at the bucket, trying to explain how hashing has changed her life -- without slurring. When she moved to San Francisco in the fall of 2000, she was plain ol' Tara Bietz, a hotel manager in her early 30s, single and without a friend in town. When she was introduced to hashing soon after she arrived, Bietz became addicted: It was an easy way to meet new people and see the city. For the next two years Bietz went to almost every hash on Mondays and Thursdays. She had a new posse of friends and got her hash name. Over time, Bietz started to notice a leggy male hasher called Peteophile (Peter Stangel). Soon Cupid's arrow struck.

"After a couple months we became closer friends, and then more," Bietz recalls. The two hashers started to date seriously, and eventually Stangel popped the question.

"We wouldn't be together if it wasn't for the hash," Bietz says. "I would never be with anybody who wasn't a hasher. They are comfortable, relaxed people, and sometimes a little obnoxious. They are the kind of people where if I was ever in jail -- and I hope to God I never will be -- it doesn't matter where I am, I can call a hasher. It's a fun, loving group. It is like being on recess for adults. If you can play with someone like that and they can play, too, and there's a spark, it's great. I've seen people who hash who have partners who don't hash, and it's hard to understand."

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