I was working late but it was still light outside. The phone rang. I answered, and it was a colleague on the street below who had just left work, on her cell phone.
"Peter, there’s a race going on. It’s going by our building right now. Look out your window."
From my third floor office, I looked down at Massachusetts Avenue, two blocks from Union Station. A swarm of runners was proceeding, amoeba like, towards my building down the sidewalks on both sides of the street, and some runners were cutting across the roadway in traffic. Other runners were stopping and starting as if they were looking for something. Odd sounds reached me through my sealed window. I swear I heard, "Talley ho!"
"Oh, that’s a hash house harrier run."
"A hash house harrier run. They’re crazy people who get together in the evenings to run, and they follow flour trails that eventually lead somewhere after about six miles, usually a drinking establishment. Then they proceed to get plastered."
"Well, that was the short version. They’re known to be drinkers with a running problem. They form clubs worldwide and meet after work to follow a trail that somebody else has left earlier, filled with false starts, to some eventual objective."
"I’ve never heard of it before."
I heard "Are you?" drift up from the street.
"Google ‘Hash House Harriers’ and you'll see. There are probably 25 clubs in the DC area. When they come through an area, they look really strange to bystanders, running and stopping, fanning out, backtracking, following tiny flour spots on the sidewalk. When they get on the scent, they call out to each other to follow them. It’s like a fox hunt on two legs instead of on horses."
"What? Why are some runners running fast, and others are just jogging along?"
"The fit runners, or FRB’s, try to find the true flour trail and follow it, and everyone else hangs around until they do, or else they look for it themselves. The path is littered with false trails and dead-ends."
"It sounds like fun. Why don’t you do it?"
"Checking!" came through the window. Runners were milling around below me.
"I have done it, twice. They’re all crazy though. All they do is talk and drink afterwards."
"They’re having so much fun! Can you see them talking and laughing? They’re all so young. I’d love to do it too but I don’t see anyone my age."
My thought bubble said, "You don’t even run." What I said was, "You have to go to the suburbs to find people in their 30s and 40s who do it, but they’re out there. This could be the White House Hash Harriers, leaving from Union Station, all in their 20s."
I dimly heard someone shout, "On-on!" Like a dozing dog springing to life upon hearing someone on the porch, the horde of harriers turned as one to the sound. They all streamed away towards it and in a flash they were gone!
A strange bunch.