Hash 207’s protagonist, Jamie Schmidt, discovered the Hash House Harriers (a drinking club with a running problem) on accident.
So did I.
“Hash 207” is the story of how the group he met changes him, inspires him, terrifies him, and helps him grow. This post is the story of how I discovered the Hash House Harriers and the marvelous effect they’ve had on me.
Jamie’s story begins in White River Junction, Vermont, after losing a fistfight with his dad on the floor of their family’s condiment factory. He discovers the group after hitchhiking away from home, and landing serendipitously in their midst.
My introduction to the Hash House Harriers was similarly serendipitous, but unfolded on the far side of the world.
A Jungle Encounter
In 2007 I was a full time paintball journalist, traveling the world covering the sport for an international portfolio of newsstand publications. That’s not fiction—fiction, Hemingway said, is bound by the plausible. My life, thankfully, has not been so restricted.
I was shooting photographs on a former United Kingdom naval base-turned-paintball field, when a New Zealander approached me. “You play paintball?” He asked.
“What’s an American doing way out here?”
Eking out a living.
“You like to get weird?”
“Here’s an address,” he said, scribbling on a napkin from his pocket. “Meet me there, tonight, six o’clock. If you need a place to stay, bring your bags.” Then he disappeared into the jungle.
What could I do, but show up with my backpack and camera?
He introduced me to the Penang kennel of the Hash House Harriers. A few minutes later all my worldly possessions were being driven away in a stranger’s car while I set into the jungle with twenty or so middle aged expatriates, following a trail marked by slips of paper hung from branches or scattered on the ground. Along the way we found a cache of warm, cheap beer, that was among the most refreshing (but not best) I’ve ever tasted.
At the end of the run—called a hash—they circled up in the jungle where the coed group sang outlandishly profane drinking songs while making members sit bare-assed on blocks of ice to atone for supposed sins committed on trail. The worse the sin, the longer—and slower—the song.
That’s a detail that didn’t get reproduced in “Hash 207”…
The more I learned about them, the more normal—within context of an expatriate community on a small island off the coast of Malaysia—they seemed. They were middle aged folks and young retirees taking a second shot at the glory days of their lives, in good company, having a little adventure and getting a little exercise and keeping things lighthearted and sufficiently weird.
Many of them, like my Kiwi friend, had some kind of real world job or “normal” life. Hashing was a little vacation from all of that. To further distance themselves from lives left temporarily behind, they adopted the hilariously profane names they earned from the group.
I was in love, and hashing was about to change my life forever.
Save Me, Google
A few years later I’m at a barbecue watching Annie—my wife, a physician entering residency—make the rounds with her new coworkers.
“Whose house is this?” I ask the visibly nervous guy beside me.
“Our boss’s boss,” he says. We’d moved to Portland for the lifestyle, the art scene, the music…and officially, for Annie’s job. This was a welcome party for the new hires.
It was painfully proper, and stifling.
Then someone’s young daughter got pushed down a play slide by a little boy. The new hires were aghast. I alone spoke up.
“You don’t have to take that,” I yelled across the backyard. “Get back up there and push him down!”
Which she did before anyone could stop her, turning her tears into a smile of triumph. I turned around, holding my beer, and faced a firing line of horrified adults.
If this is my new social world, I reasoned, I’m going to load my pockets with rocks and swim for Greenland. There had to be a better way to make friends than scenes like this.
But how? I wasn’t in school anymore, I telecommuted from my home office, and didn’t know a soul in this new city.
As amazing as I found Portland, I found it equally impossible to break into the scene.
In our story, Jamie wanders down Congress Street, marveling at the buildings like canyon walls, wondering what goes on behind the windows. He feels shut out, relegated to the sidewalk, isolated from the places he doesn’t even know if he wants to be, for a simple lack of knowing how to break through—how to connect.
It was an easy scene to write, having felt a similar way when I first arrived in the city.
On a desperate hunch, I Googled “Portland Maine Hash House Harriers.”
Shockingly, I found something.
I received a quick response from them. They asked for my phone number, which—since we were chatting on a messenger platform—I thought was odd.
My phone rang.
“Meet us at the Mesa Verde restaurant on Congress Street, Thursday, at six,” the voice said. “It’s the pirate hash. Come dressed appropriately.”
Then like in a crime novel, the line went dead.
I hit a party supply store, raided the bottom tiers of our moving boxes, and cobbled together a convincing pirate costume.
What happened that Thursday is the same twist that befalls Just Carrie in “Hash 207,” which I won’t give away…but the moment she falls head over heels in love with her friends is faithful to the moment I realized the international coed fraternity of hashers is my second family.
Worst Kept Secret
I’ve hashed now in Malaysia, Hungary, Ireland, Scotland, Austria, and across America. Kennels exist in nearly every major city on the planet, sometimes in duplicate; Kuala Lumpur, the birthplace of hashing, has something like 27 kennels.
We’re probably the worst-kept secret society on the planet, which is fine—the more, the merrier. I’m particularly thankful they made room for me, and that so many hashers are now among my closest friends. In telling the story at the heart of “Hash 207,” I wrote about what I knew about: the harrowing journey to find true friends, the empowering terror of standing up for what you believe in, the struggles of good people getting shafted by gentrification…and the kind of serious community that forms from frivolous adventure.
My developmental editor Alan Rinzler told me to “write what you know.” It was the same advice I received from my professors at Dartmouth and Westminster, fellow authors at my Vermont Studio Center residency, and from many others. The names, places, and events of “Hash 207” are made up, but the struggles—and messages—are authentic.
What Jamie and his friends find in “Hash 207” is something akin to what I’ve seen with hashers the world over: people from all backgrounds, walks of life, ages and professions, getting together to connect across all kinds of social barriers, while leaving the stresses of the real world behind.
The friendships carry into the real world, where the peril in “Hash 207” lies…and where we can all use as many friends as we can get.