By DUSTIN RACIOPPI
Every Saturday, precisely at 10:17a, and in a location often not revealed until the night before, a questionable bunch assembles. They are small-business owners, retirees, cops, attorneys. Most are in running shoes, and all clutch cans of beer.
The size of the group varies from week to week, but is typically between 12 and 15 strong. They greet each other, crack a few jokes. No real names allowed guys like Brave Dave, Dead Man Walking, G.I., Butt Naked and Nearly Dead have the only publishable monikers. Women, or ‘bimbos,’ as they’re endearingly referred to, aren’t allowed either, except on special occasions.
After a few minutes skylarking, the group sets off running on a trail that could lead anywhere, but always ends where attendance is required: a bar.
This is “a drinking club with a running problem,” the self-proclaimed “Hell’s Angels of Hashing,” but best known in esoteric circles all over the world as the Rumson Hash House Harriers.
“It’s a motley, literally motley, crew,” founder Gil Jackson said.
Jackson started the Harriers in May 1978 with his friend, Keith Kanaga. Both were working at Bell Labs, living in Rumson and were looking for a new hobby.
“He had no friends. I had no friends,” Jackson, 76, said.
But they liked to drink, and they liked to run. Boom. A club and a tradition was born.
“We just called a couple guys. We had about five people, and the word got out and every drunk in the area was telling his wife he was going out,” Jackson said.
The premise was not new at the time. Hashing, in which a ‘hare’ sets a trail with baking flour and other markers that runners must find, dates back more than 50 years, but has gained popularity in the last 30 years. The Rumson Harriers, too, have earned iconic status in some places, Jackson said.
“I hashed once in Australia, and I had my shirt on, and this is no bullshit, there were aborigines on the hash who knew what Rumson Hash Harriers was,” he said.
They can be a rowdy bunch, hollering and gulping down beer before hitting the first mark on the trail.
“There are a couple places we’re not welcome,” Jackson said. “We did some heavy-duty hashing in the first four years. But we’ve I wouldn’t say matured slowed down.”
On a hash the week before Christmas, redbankgreen tagged along with the group at a trail in Middletown that was unexpectedly re-routed after the police threatened arrest because the Harriers were running through a cemetery. Rather than trek a full trail, the 15 or so runners meandered around on the streets for about 20 minutes, before taking off for Walt Street Pub in Red Bank, a familiar meeting place. The nicknames of more than a dozen hashers are inscribed on a mirror hanging on the western wall.
“My aim in life is to be a professional hasher now that I’m retired. That’s my goal when I grow up,” said Jim Wright, who goes by the name of Nearly Dead, on account of the three stents in his heart.
Membership requirements aren’t onerous. Showing up will just about do, Jackson said, although there are preferences.
The typical hasher is “severely depressed. Usually they have a lot of problems in their marriage, and they usually have drinking problems. That’s a perfect hasher,” Jackson said in a video he produced. “We don’t want normal people.”
Take, for example, 25-year-old Lorenzo Cominos, who drives a stretch limo fabricated with steel spikes and a metal roof to hash meeting points.
“It’s a dance floor,” said Cominos, who chugs the head-turning ride down from Manhattan every chance he gets.
He’s hashed all over the world, he said, but found the Rumson club to be his group of choice. Not that he had many to choose from.
“It’s difficult to find people who like to run and drink,” Cominos said. “It’s an interesting, rare thing you find in people.”
There isn’t a serious bone found among these runners, but through the club have formed a serious bond. It’s not about money or politics or the tragedies in life, Jackson said.
“It’s strictly camaraderie and a few beers,” he said.