Dubbing themselves "a drinking club with a running problem," Fort Lauderdale's Hash House Harriers went on their usual Monday-night run last week. Runners never know in advance the exact route their leader has planned, but they sometimes get a hint. This week, they knew the run would be TSA-themed.
The night started off all fun and drinking games in a Publix parking lot in Dania Beach, but it would eventually lead to handcuffs, tears, and, eventually, more booze after police brought an abrupt end to their run.
An international social club, the Hash House Harriers began in 1938 in Kuala Lumpur after British expats would run every Monday together. Loosely based on the children's game hares and the hound -- but with booze -- one person, the "hare," leads the run, making a new route every time and leaving a trail of flour behind him. Then the runners, or "hounds," must follow the hare's trail full circle back to the alcohol. Along the run are booze stops from beginning to end, a rabbit hole of sexual innuendo, and harmless hazing.
About 30 or 40 runners, many outfitted in costumes mocking airport security, arrived at the parking lot around 6:30 Monday night, July 29, for their warm-up tailgate with booze and Jell-O shots. A runner nicknamed "Virgin Captain" (hashers don't use their real names but rather address one another with naughty nicknames they earn once they have set up a trail) had choreographed this week's run, which he hinted would pass the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport.
It was by chance that a reporter (me!) had chosen this particular night to join the group and write about the intoxicated antics -- not expecting this week's run to turn out more eventful than usual.
A little past 7 p.m., the hare raced ahead of the pack to lay his trail. Fifteen minutes later, the pack left in a mass stampede across the parking lot and through Dania Beach Jai-Alai. Everyone kept their eyes glued for the signature marks of flour. (Over the years, clueless news crews have often speculated about these signs and their meaning, suggesting they could be anything from anthrax to cocaine to criminal graffiti lingo.)
After crossing through a park, a suburban neighborhood, and then over railroad tracks, the hounds reached their first beer check. After socializing and drinking some more, they continued onward -- about half of them with beers still in hand -- through a sand-spur-riddled field and eventually onto Griffin Road opposite the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood airport.
Here, after running on the sidewalk alongside the fence that surrounds the airport's runways, the hares were met by their first cop car.
One officer got out of the car, but when the hounds shouted in chorus that they were simply a running group, the officer let them pass. However, when they turned the corner, heading north from Griffin Road onto the east side of South Federal Highway and following the hare's trail onto an unfenced construction site, six cop cars swarmed in with their lights flashing. Police officers jumped out of their vehicles and ordered everyone to stop running. Most slowed to a walk and followed the officers' instructions to stay on the sidewalk. Others, suddenly realizing they might be in trouble, tried to hide their alcohol and sprinted away, deeper into the construction site.
"I'm going to arrest everyone with beer on the property," one police officer warned. One runner, a cop by profession, went to explain the circumstance to him.
From what this reporter could see, no one was detained at this point even though there was plenty of beer on the property.
Most of the runners were confused. Were they in trouble for open containers or trespassing or both? Realizing they were prohibited from following the hare's flour trail, yet not wanting to backtrack and get into more trouble with the law, they bushwhacked their way through mud and woods and climbed over fences to make their way back to Publix, a route that took about 20 minutes.
Back at the home base, runners munched on "orange food" (Cheetos and Doritos) and yes, more beer. It began to dawn on some of them that they had just trespassed onto federal property where a new runway is being constructed over Federal Highway.
"We bend the law," one hasher laughed. "It's only illegal if you get caught."
Though a few runners were still unaccounted for, the majority of the group felt relieved, singing in a circle and yelling out dirty jokes as if nothing had happened. "Usually we have no problems with the police," another hasher said. "We're nice, they're nice, and besides, we're gone before they can get us for trespassing."
Then, suddenly, a fleet of seven cop cars cornered the group of inebriated runners. Totaling nine, the cops waved the runners out of the parking lot. Brimming with endorphins and alcohol, most runners agreed to leave and reconvene at their usual bar afterparty -- this week at the King's Head Pub. Rumors were circulating that the runners who had sprinted away had been picked up by police.
As everyone was heading toward their cars, two cops approached 24-year-old Arthur Stifel, a hasher known among group members as "Plenty for Twenty." Dressed as a TSA agent with homemade badges warning about "cavity searches," Stifel was led to the side of a police SUV where he was told he was being arrested for trespassing on a federal construction site, a felony.
Standing on the curb to make himself a foot taller, Deputy Michael Kantor yelled at Stifel, who stood barefoot, handcuffed, and with his head down. "You're giving me nothing but attitude. I'm trying to help you and your group from being hit by a car." Certain that he was going to jail, Stifel then arranged for another hasher to take his German Shepherd, with whom he was running with that evening, home for him.
Holding back tears, Stifel then repeated his name and address to the officer, who filled out a police report. After seeing the other runners filming the incident on their smartphones, the deputy quipped that they should "make sure to get [his] good side."
Noticing his audience (and my notepad), Kantor began to lecture on civil disobedience --and claimed to be "all for it." Stifel tried to explain that's not what the Hash House Harriers are about -- that they try to have a good time, not provoke political stunts. But it all went over the deputy's head as he continued about the importance of airport security after 9/11.
After allegedly making a call on his cell phone (he turned his back and spoke indistinguishably to an unlit screen), Kantor announced that he "didn't want to take anyone to jail."
Saying he would send the police report to the state attorney, who would then determine whether to press charges, Kantor freed Stifel from his handcuffs. "I would feel better if someone drove you home," Kantor explained even though it was obvious the other four runners present had been drinking as much, if not more, than Stifel.
Nevertheless, in the custody of his fellow Hasher, Stifel left his car in the Publix parking lot and joined the rest of his trespassing brethren at the pub.
Hare raiser Dick Paris, or as he is known by his hash, "Virgin Dick," is the equivalent of the group's community manager. He organizes the runs and is in charge of the Facebook page and website. Later he comically announced to the group that the night will be remembered as the "No One Got Arrested Hash." Even though a police report was filed with the Broward Sherriff's Office, the group seemed to be celebrating that no one had to be bailed out of county jail that night.
"We really should be more careful, but I personally had a great time being a Hasher tonight." Paris said on Facebook. "I still wish we could have run the hill [past the constriction site] and am wondering if somehow we can't get permission, or something."
According to Paris, the Hash House Harriers usually frequent Dania Beach for their runs. Despite the questionable legality of their drink-run-drink routine, the Hash has rarely been intercepted by law enforcement, and Paris hopes to keep it that way.
"While I especially enjoyed running and watching as the [police] force chased us pretty much ineffectually around the airport grounds, I am reluctant to make an issue with any police force or officer." Paris said in an online message after the incident. "In general, the Hash gets along well with local police and respects law enforcement and therefore, and even in this case, rarely been arrested or prosecuted."
On Friday, police released the incident report on the matter. Deputy Kantor's comments reveal a profound misunderstanding of the run. He wrote:
"I learned that this group of runners was chasing a 'HARE' who was reportedly running through the airport construction site. the object of the event was to 'Catch the hare' and share beer, which he (the hare) was carrying."
His report claims that the site was fenced, that there were "no trespassing" signs posted, and that there were approximately 100 runners. (This reporter saw concrete barriers but no fence, and counted 34 runners.)
It also notes that Stifel had been arrested in September 2012 for trespassing, disorderly conduct, resisting an officer, and battery on an officer. Court records suggest he was put on probation.
Kantor's report also says runners came to police attention when "BSO had received an anonymous tip that reported multiple runners were going to attempt to breech [sic] the airport fence and run into the construction area. The Broward New Times was covering the event, and they may have made the tip to instigate a police incident with the runners."
What!? Dripping with sweat and after downing a few beers and Jell-O shots, this reporter was embedded with the hashers, not tattling on them! Besides, narcs are the worst! And here at New Times, we report the news, not "instigate" it.
Stifel did not return calls or reply to messages seeking comment after the run.
Keep New Times Broward-Palm Beach Free... Since we started New Times Broward-Palm Beach, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of South Florida, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering South Florida with no paywalls.