Friday, September 30, 2016


I like people, and I love a good conversation every now and then, whether in person or online. I’m a humanitarian, and devoting a healthy proportion of my waking hours toward improving life for other humans is important to me.  My friends are awesome people and I love them.  I converse regularly in several places on the interwebs, and I’m always finding new ones. But at heart, I’m a loner.

I like living alone, and vacationing alone.  Someday I’ll die alone.  During the Puppy controversy there were some insults hurled at writer Alexandra Erin about dying alone, which is supposed to be a horrible thing compared to the ginormous familes advocated by conservatives. At first I was completely baffled by this weird mainland idiom – after all, we all die alone in that nobody shares our experience of losing consciousness for the last time.  I understand religious people believe all kinds of other things happen afterwards, but I’m not going to speculate as to which of them are incorrect. Yet another good thing about being a loner: you don’t have to deal with people trying to pester you into accepting their ideology.

I was married for a while, and I’ve lived in big group houses full of broke people, and I’ve cohabited with various roommates and traveling companions and lovers. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t, but in the process I discovered that I can be asshole-blind at times, failing to notice someone is an asshole until they’ve gotten too close. Possibly this means I’m an asshole myself, in which case refusing to inflict my assholish nature on others is probably a good thing.

For me it’s always been more about introversion. Solitude recharges me, and socializing drains me. Words like “party” and “family” and “crowded” evoke stressful thoughts rather than comforting ones. Now cats are another matter. Cats evolved specifically to hang out with us, out of their own masochism and laziness and greed, and loving fluffiness too. They provide company in small, fluffy, inoffensive servings. They’re not constantly in need of various things, like dogs. Humans, however, can be difficult and time-consuming and dramatic. Most of the greatest miseries I’ve experienced had to do with interpersonal interaction. 

I went through a phase during which I tried to be extroverted, because acting contrary to your inner nature and terming it evolution was popular back then. Most of the time I ended up hiding behind a drink or a guitar or a set of RPG books or something, as a shield. I tried to date mainly extroverts so I could stand back and let them blabber, and then I'd be exhausted from socializing with all their pals.

I like extroverts, and I hope they can handle me writing about them as part of my embracing neurodiversity. I like groups too, and I spent a couple of years obsessively watching random groups of gamers come together to succeed or fail, just to see if I could spot any patterns – I can’t even fake being extroverted without having a secret introverted motive.

I spent many years doing collective art, like playing in bands, and writing for publications, and running sound boards, and being part of creative communities. Then the economy turned wacky, and the artists became a little more stressed, and I came to a realization that I was far happier if I pulled myself all the way into my loner shell and locked the door behind me.  And became a novelist. And a loner.

So my idea of a kickass weekend involves not vocalizing for 72 hours. A few hours writing, a few minutes playing this game, a few minutes talking on forums, let’s chill with the cat, let’s write some random bloggage, time for a nap, time to cook some food – time knits together in one smooth wave of happy productivity-sociableness-intellectual-entertainment collage. My heart becomes peaceful and joyous. When I get to my zone it’s like that perfect patch of beach on Molokai that took four hours to reach, except it’s internal. I get my best writing done there.  

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Exile on Mainland Street

In World of Warcraft, characters have a green bar representing their health and if they can cast magical spells, a blue one representing their mana. If you consider writing to be like casting a magical spell, occasionally you’re going to need to replenish your mana. The word “mana” is Hawaiian and I’ve heard it described as being similar to prestige, or charisma, or spiritual intactness, or mental health. My mana bar is now full, and I’m waiting for the wave that takes me back to my novel, while writing weird pieces like this in between.

While in Hawai'i, I had several people ask me if I lived there, despite my San Francisco paleness. That always makes me happy, as a keiki o ka ‘aina (child of the land). Maybe it has to do with the ancient sunburn scars.  I received several good scorchings at various times throughout my childhood.

Possibly it has to do with my ability to read/pronounce Hawaiian (most of the time), although I tend to forget the okinas when I’m writing because I grew up before it was common to include them – I have some of the main ones programmed into my autocorrect. I can actually talk pidgin, with a shtrong accent, but I don’t because I think it sounds like I’m making fun of it, which I would never do. I’m in love with languages and slang and dialects, and pidgin. I can understand pidgin much of the time, and I love hearing it on the radio.

There are a lot of mainlanders who have trouble reading and pronouncing Hawaiian words, and actually there are a couple of good reasons, first being that the vowels are pronounced differently (each has an accent, no dipthongs) and second being that difficulty learning new words is actually a mild symptom in the dyslexia constellation, and it often becomes worse during middle age. I’ve seen people struggle equally with long Croatian and Ukranian and Welsh and Thai words.

What used to actually boggle me more, when I was little, was how people would travel thousands of miles just to exclaim over how fluently I pronounced the name of my own street. “These people must come from a land where they ask you silly questions all day,” I assumed. “I hope I never go there.”

I’m still there, and they ask tons of silly questions. Although I’m in San Francisco, which is considerably less weird than most of the rest of mainland, since it has similar food and diverse people and palm trees and water on three sides (too cold for swimming, full of sharks), and easily pronounced streets, like Gough.

Not quite the same, but good.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Pictures of Iao Valley Flood (and fundraiser for families making emergency repairs)

Remember when I said you could probably find pictures of the Iao Valley flood online?  I found some!  (Plus you can donate to the affected families if you're feeling aloha-like.)

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Charon's Hawaiian Adventure, September 2016: Wrapping It Up

The rest of my trip was nice and lazy and boring. I made another unsuccessful beach finding attempt in Pa’ia, where I passed up two beaches because the surf was too high. 


A disappointed beachgoer
 I stopped in Pa’ia because it was lunchtime, and I ended up having a shave ice for lunch (lilikoi, guava and li hing mui).

Pa'ia, the town where I was gestated
Then I went to what the locals call Baby Beach, which is underneath the airplane approach path.  It was smooth when I arrived, with a few swimmers and some little kids paddling around in the shallows with their parents, and some dogs. But after a few minutes, the surf roughened up and everyone retreated.

So I headed back to the hotel pool to take aquatic selfies and get sunburned. There was a narrow strip of un-sunscreened flesh on the underside of each arm which got scorched, plus I managed to wash all the sunscreen off the back of my left hand at some point, giving myself a red demi glove of sunburn. Fortunately most of the time I can just put aloe on my sunburns and they turn into suntans.

Seawater hotel pool -- no waves! No runoff!

 I offended my mother’s ghost by eating more fish (it was delectable): mahi, with lilikoi beurre blanc and some green beans and fries, from Koa’s Seaside Grill.
I also ate rich pancake breakfasts at 808 Grindz, a tiny place behind Foodland that serves delicious local style food.
Blueberry pancakes with coconut syrup and kalua pig hash
I made a court appearance at the Lahaina courthouse museum.

And I went touristing on the submarine, which was lots of fun.
Ahoy, it's a submarine!

Life is the bubbles

We got no troubles

Under the sea!

The best gecko - a nice fat green one with a yellow tail

Sunset surfside table at Cheeseburger in Paradise
When I’m vacationing in Hawai'i, I get little memory flashes, all the time.  The scents from tropical plants trigger them, or tastes such as li hing mui and lilikoi, or sometimes it’s just the way the breeze moves. About ninety percent of these memories contain no people, or animals, or specific events aside from “that time I was sitting on the beach and the sun looked particularly nice” or “the time I was coming home from school and something about the trees and the grass just made me incredibly happy.”  The islands themselves, telling me not to sweat the fact that I had weird parents because the sun and the surf and the weather and the trees and the creatures would be there for me, always, and that promise still holds true, even in the face of 500-year storms.
“Touristy” is sort of a funny concept in my world. Sometimes I hear tourguides outside my house. And I grew up to strangers appearing in our front yard to photograph our poinsettia hedge. Somewhere at the back of my mind is an insinuation that if there are no tourists, you must be in a terrible place which nobody wants to visit. I understand people wanting to avoid touristy areas, I rarely head to Fisherman's Wharf unless the craving for In 'n  Out Burger is strong. And yet I like living near a certain amount of touristy-ness, with interesting people constantly washing up on your shores.

I think about moving back, but I’m not really inclined to do it. I’m too accustomed to mainland living and I don’t want to contribute to the gentrification, but I do love to visit.  Besides, I’d have trouble figuring out what island to live on, since I love them all.

At the airport with my One-Ton Chips
My flight back to San Francisco landed without incident, and I enjoyed the new CGI Jungle Book movie on the way. I’m relaxed and I’m rejuvenated. Time to finish this book!

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Charon's Hawaiian Adventure, September 2016: Hana

On Saturday I woke bright and early and headed out to do some serious touristing.

Wearing serious hiking shoes!  Oh, okay, they're tropical-weight Converses.

After narrowly escaping the bossymen on the hotel shuttle, I found myself on a tourbus with Mike, an East Coast American who was doing a pretty good job given that he had very recently arrived in town after a summer conducting whalewatch tours in Alaska. I was the only person vaguely resembling a local on this bus. Everyone else came from far away: a couple from India, a couple from New Jersey, a pair of newlyweds from Utah, a family from Chicago, some Californians. Most of them were visiting the islands for the first time. 

We started with a delay, when the first tourbus was deemed unroadworthy and subbed with one in better condition.  I was a little worried the roads might be closed but they weren’t, although we passed a couple areas with signs of recent obstructing mudpiles. We made a few stops.
Just past Pa'ia

A beach further down the road

One park had some brazen mongooses cavorting for the tourists. Usually mongooses are extremely shy, darting rapidly across the road before you have time to prime your camera, but these guys were performers. I threw them some chunks of lunch to bribe them into posing for the best mongoose pictures I’ve ever taken.

Maui mongoose


In a daze from waterfall overexposure
Black sand beach
 We stopped at Haleakala park, where I heard this awesome exchange between a ranger and a tourist.

Haleakala visitors' center
Tourist:                Red sand beach?

Ranger:                You can’t go there. Extremely slippery. Lots of trouble getting responders down there. You want to see a red sand beach, go to [extremely small and disappointing red-sand beach along the way].

Tourist:                But I wanna go see –

Ranger:                Forget it.

At the Haleakala park are a series of pools along a stream, formerly known as the Seven Sacred Pools. I’m going to head back into religion/spirituality here, so fasten your seatbelt.  I can recall some smug new age hippie friend of my ex telling me, back in the ‘90s, that she’d been to the “seven sacred pools” of Maui, which was apparently where all kinds of super wise magical extraterrestial Polynesian sorcerers would go to have magical moonbeam dolphin vibes infused into their eyeball chakras or whatever.

And I couldn’t help but feel pissed. I stuck my toes into the cultural appropriation debate earlier, and this is an echo of it. “We’re going to take everything you hold sacred and tell a bunch of lies about it, then sell it to gullible mainland tourists who’ll pay big bucks for the chance to be a smirking spiritual elitist.”

These days, tourism companies are discouraged from making representations about the sacredness of the pools – my tour was advertised as “Heavenly Hana” with no particular pool reference, other than describing them by name. In fact, I noticed a distinct decrease in patronizing portrayals of indigenous Hawaiian religion amongst the tourist pit stops.  No giggling menehunes. No sexy booty-swinging Pele. No sacred pools.

The pools are now secular. They weren’t really sacred in the first place, it was a tour company’s pitch.  The pools are awesome but enlightenment is not guaranteed. 

The menehunes, the sexy gods and goddesses, the sacred fakery – all of that stuff is cultural appropriation as I know and despise it.  I’m glad it has fallen out of fashion. 

The road the car rental companies don't want you driving on
The road behind Haleakala was bonejarringly rough, and the storm hadn’t improved things there either, although it did light up several more gushing streams and waterfalls. My brain shorted out from all the natural beauty and oxygen, and I stared vacantly through the window for the rest of the journey, stirring briefly when it was time to get back into the hotel shuttle.

It was late and I was hungry. Lunch had been a long time ago, and I had shared some of it with mongooses. I had no plans for dinner, no reservations, nothing in the fridge. I headed out to Front Street, assuming something would still be open.

I’m sure there are times when being a solo traveler puts you at a disadvantage. At one point on Molokai someone at the car rental place asked me if I was traveling alone, and I said yes. Nobody else mentioned it, or commented as to whether it was a good or a bad thing (possibly it’s a little unusual for women to solo Molokai).

I did identify a frustrating solo traveler problem – electronic car keys. If you’re soloing a beach, you gotta swim with your car keys.  What else are you going to do – leave them in the ignition? Bury them in the sand?  If they’re electronic, getting them wet – or even rained on -- is bad.  Fortunately I just happened to have a waterproof phone holder that doubles as a purse if you throw a credit card and room key in it. I could just barely squeeze my car keys in there too. 

Then there are times when being a single traveler absolutely rocks. The single rider line at Disneyland. The standby line for the good seats. And spontaneously appearing at fancy restaurants. “Oh hi, have you got anything for a random walk-in party of one? I’ll sit in the bar, and I don’t need a view.”

I pulled that at Fleetwood’s, which was packed for Saturday night, and it worked. They put me in the bar, and served me an exquisite dinner of beet salad and beef wellington, with pineapple pie and haupia ice cream for dessert. Devoured to an immaculate classic rock soundtrack, inside a shiplike interior with polished wood and perfect acoustics.

Fleetwood’s is owned by the drummer for Fleetwood Mac, a man who likes his beef wellington. There are a couple more celebrity restaurants on Maui, out in Pa’ia. Willie Nelson’s looks cowboyish in a paniolo way, and friendly. The Kiss guy’s has more of a “WTF is this brewpub doing in the tropics?” kind of je ne sais quois. I think Mick Fleetwood’s is a much better fit, a haven of eccentric Britishness blending in with the whaling-era buildings and municipal buildings from several layers of occupying colonial governments.

Really, it was one of the better days of my life. Lovely scenery. Nice people. Terrific food and fabulous music. No stress. No further flooding or flood damage. 

Charon's Hawaiian Adventure, September 2016: Molokai

There are only two Hawaiian islands I’ve never visited: Niihau and Kahoolawe.

Niihau is privately owned by the Robinson family, and a group of native Hawaiians who speak the Hawaiian language live there. The residents venture away from their island for medical care, and have the option of moving away (commuting back and forth is discouraged) – they’re not slaves, more like hereditary participants in a living history pageant. Yes, it is controversial.  You can technically visit for supervised snorkel, beach or hunting tours (I think I’d pick the beach) but you can’t tour the island or meet the locals. 

Kahoolawe is a tiny island which lacks fresh water. The American military used to use it as a bombing target, and it’s still dangerously covered with live ordnance. Around the turn of the century the federal government turned it over to the state and it is now designated solely for noncommercial use by native Hawaiians.

As for the islands I have visited:

Oahu has big cities and historical glamor (and the best beaches in my humble opinion); I lived there ages three to ten, in Wahiawa and Mililani. 
Hawai’i (the “Big Island”) is a huge California-like island with cowboys, freshly grown coffee and a live volcano. 
Maui is my birthplace, a gorgeous not-too-developed island that was a workaday sugar plantation for many years before being reborn as a hotbed of introductory ecotourism.
Kauai is small, green and rainy. When I visited it as a kid, I thought it would be a good island for old people. I’ll have to check it out again now that I’m old. 
Lana’i has an awesome cat sanctuary.

This is the story of my very first visit to Molokai.

I knew that Molokai was famous for the Kalaupapa leper colony, where Father Damien earned his sainthood caring for lepers and eventually becoming infected with Hansen’s disease himself. I didn’t intend to go there, because it requires a full day’s tour and either a mule ride or a helicopter ride, neither of which seemed like they’d be any fun in the rain. Kalaupapa isn’t a fun place at all in fact, although it is starkly beautiful. 
Trail to Kalaupapa overlook

Kalaupapa on a rainy day

Instead of the Kalaupapa tour I rented a car on Molokai. First I had to take a ferry across some rough water. From the sea I could see more rain getting dumped on soggy Maui.

A weather!

I had my handy rain poncho with me and I plasticwrapped myself for the journey, because I insisted on sitting on the open top deck. So I could see better. The ferry bounced its way close to the island of Molokai, then the captain took a sharp turn to port and suddenly the sailing was smooth and flat.

The Alamo van met me at Kaunakakai Harbor, and drove me to the airport, where they keep the rental cars. We passed many churches, the pizza place, the Monsanto plant where most of the island’s population works and the coconut grove. 

(As a writer of bioengineering-based science fiction, a layperson fascinated by CRISPR, a supporter of socialized medicine that wants to extend CRISPR to people on all sides of the income gap as well as an enthusiastic applauder of the Zuckerberg Chan Initiative and a resident of a hippie Northern California society which regards genetic tampering to be positively Satanic, I’ll just keep my mouth shut with regards to my sentiments about Monsanto and GMO and bioengineering as they are complex; see my novels for extrapolation.)

At the airport I got a nice car with a very cool camera array that gives you a video display of your car’s undercarriage and it’s orientation relative to your parking place whenever you commence parking.  I immediately drove it to the Kalaupapa overlook because that seemed like a reverent thing to do first, and along the way I found a hitchhiker.

Normally I wouldn’t pick up a hitchhiker, but the rain was starting to pour again, and it was a woman, and I was on Molokai. I picked up Annalise, a German tourist staying in Maunaloa. I have a little rudimentary German, Annalise had some basic English and we both spoke “whoa, look at that!”  Together we drove up to the Kalaupapa overlook, and went down a short hike through trees which seemed extra solemn in the foggy mist. Visibility wasn’t the greatest but we did get our pictures of Kalaupapa. And we stayed out of the rain, which qualified as deluge at several points during the journey.

On the way back I decided to go to a little museum, and Annalise said goodbye and stayed on the highway to hitch a ride somewhere else. The museum was small and featured photos of Kalaupapa residents, and a restored sugar mill. 

While I was poking around in the museum, someone said something to me that I didn’t quite catch. When I turned around I found a local tourguide. “Oh, excuse me, I thought you were Karen.”

“I’m Charon.”

“She’s a lawyer.”

“I work with lawyers.”

The tourguide laughed, and told me Karen Holt was an attorney in Kaunakakai, and we slightly resemble each other from the back. I slipped into a brief fantasy in which we discover we are long-lost cousins, leading to a wacky comedic situation where I move to Molokai and adjust to eccentric island life, pounding out trial documents from a plastic-covered laptop while floating on an air mattress and drinking orange passion from a buoyant sports bottle. That’s one thing about the islands – they are extremely conducive to creative fantasies. If you’re reading this, Ms. Holt, aloha, and let me know if you ever need any law stuff in San Francisco. 

The sugar cane mill was an exquisite example of a weathered old South Pacific building (the kind that used to intrigue me as a small child since I figured they were probably full of pirate treasure and ghosts and secrets). After I explored it I headed to Maunaloa, checking for Annalise along the way and concluding she had found a ride.

Maunaloa General Store
Maunaloa is an adorable picturesque town, with an old-fashioned movie theater and a general store and a post office where you can mail coconuts. I was tempted to mail one to the mailroom at work, just so they’d have to stamp it “received.” 

Movie theater
I intended to look at the west coast of Molokai but I got turned around, and found myself back in Kaunakakai, and hungry. There are probably less than ten restaurants on the island, most of them in Kaunakakai, plus a grocery store and an amazing library.

Hawai’i has some great libraries, in fact. There’s a nice one in Lahaina, right next to the Pioneer Inn.  There’s a good one in Wailuku, and there’s an especially nice one on Molokai, surrounded by palm trees.

Someday, one or more of my books will be available in all these Hawaiian libraries.

I poked around in a nice big souvenir shop that also sold things like cargo shorts, purchasing an official Molokai t-shirt and a prayer card for the patron saint of outcasts. I headed into the grocery store where I finally found Maebo One-Ton Chips, a favorite island delicacy. Annalise was there; we waved.

I decided to eat lunch at Kanemitsu bakery, which is known for its bread. As I write this, I have just consumed the last of the utterly delectable pineapple-coconut loaf I bought and lovingly transported back to the mainland in my carryon bag. It has been my breakfast ever since my return. At the restaurant there I had some killer fried rice.

Om nom nom, fried rice
Hawai'i fried rice is a little different from mainland fried rice. On the mainland it typically has carrots and peas, while in Hawai’i it has green and white onions, plus it’s sauteed a little lighter and has more spice to it. The egg goes on top, usually fried, or cut in scrambled strips sushi-bar style. Usually it has char siu (Chinese BBQ pork, the red kind) or Portuguese sausage or spam in it.  It’s mostly a breakfast food, although you can eat it as a side starch with lunch or dinner.

Fortified by carbs, I drove to the east coast of Molokai. I passed the Hotel Molokai, and an area with signs cautioning me to watch out for deaf children.  There were cozy looking houses and glimpses of lovely beach, in some areas rising nearly to the road. There were one-lane bridges and a place called Manae Goods and Grinds where I stopped for some cold juice, it had a cool trail made of cement footprints leading to their public restroom.

It was kind of like the road up the windward shore of Oahu, and kind of like the road to Hana, but less developed, and not crowded at all.
Molokai coast

More Molokai coast

I finally made my way to a perfect tiny beach. I can’t quite place it on a map but it was all the way on the east coast, a very small stretch of glistening white sand, with some nearby palm trees. Just enough room for me to sit around thinking deep thoughts for a while. I didn’t swim (all alone on some unfamiliar beach, nope nope nope), but I let the waves break over my feet a few times. No runoff here, just extremely clear blue Pacific water.
Facing east
Facing down
Facing west
I really liked Molokai. I think I need to go back and spend some time at their hotel. It would be a great place for a writer to avoid distractions and get busy. 

On the boat back, the sailors warned us that the conditions were going to be severe, with rain and thirty mile an hour winds. Barf bags were distributed. Sure enough, after we turned toward Maui and got into the rough part, the boat developed some serious lateral sideways motion. I didn’t get seasick, but I was exhausted and very glad to see the lights of Lahaina.

For dinner I went to a place called No. 1 BBQ.  I couldn’t resist, having recently visited Kansas City. It was a fast-food counter place which formerly was called Local Foods, but now it serves mainly Chinese food. Meat jun is actually Korean, and I nearly got into a heated discussion regarding that with the lady at the counter. I backed away, no point in ruining a perfect vacation.

Meat jun, ideally, is meat pounded extra thin, then battered and fried, so it’s sort of like a crepe. The meat shouldn’t be chewy or gristly. I’m not sure if the batter contains egg, but it’s rich and egglike. You eat it dipped in hoisin-soy sauce, and the meat jun at No.1 BBQ was exquisite.
Meat jun from No 1 BBQ

Charon's Hawaiian Adventure, September 2016: Truly Excessive Amounts of Rain

The zipper on my suitcase broke on the trip to Hawai'i and it was time for a new suitcase. I figured there would probably be some suitcases for sale near Kaanapali Beach. Plus there was a beach, so I sunscreened up and put on a t-shirt over some boardshorts and a swimsuit top, and threw a towel in my beach bag. And I put the convertible top down.

But when I got up north, the waters were bright red with runoff from the flooding. I went a little bit north of Kaanapali and cruised down the coast in my convertible. Red, muddy, angry water.

Disgruntled Surf
 Water that doesn't really want any humans swimming around in it, thank you very much.

This ocean is seriously peeved
These signs don't lie
It’s like the fatigue line in World of Warcraft. All the runoff from the storm, turning the water muddy red and filling it with who knows what kind of horrific bacteria – leptospirosis for starters. Runoff current, clashing with tidal forces, causing the waters to run in interesting new ways. Nope.

Many tourists, in fact, are astonished at the many ways a deceptively beautiful place like Hawai’i can maim or kill you. The very ground is mostly steep and crumbly. Sometimes there’s lava beneath it that could erupt up into your face, and sometimes there’s a big hollow lava tube underneath it which nobody noticed yet, ready to swallow unsuspecting tourists alive. The deadliest land predators are mosquitos and ticks and leptospirosis bacteria, but there are some wild pigs too. Big ones, with tusks. The ocean, meanwhile, is teeming with things that actively want to kill you (e.g. sharks), and things that could accidentally kill you without hardly noticing (e.g. whales). The ocean itself has been known to reach up and grab people from overlooks and drag them off to a watery grave. Then there’s the sun, which will give you blisters if you’re not careful. And finally, you are surrounded by a cast of fellow humans that are often dazed by oxygen, scenery and rum.

If in doubt, don’t go out. Or, as we also say in the islands, I no like drown.

I decided to drive to the other side of the island to see if the beaches were beachier. The traffic was still backed up along the road to Kihei, as everyone who hadn’t already photographed the flooded cars headed over to check them out. Ah, island life. A new fast food place? A tree fell over? Someone put a new birdbath in their front yard? Everyone must drive over to experience it!  Even the radio DJs were pleading “come on, you saw it on Facebook already.” 

I impulsively headed for Wailuku instead of Pa’ia because (i) there’s this lovely stretch of road with branches growing over it; (ii) I was in a convertible; and (iii) Billie Jean was playing on the radio.

I lived in Wailuku Heights until I was three, and we moved to Oahu. Somewhere I have an old kid’s book with the address. Whenever I’m there I like to drive around Wailuku Heights, seeing if I can guess which house it was. I know we had a hedge of poinsettias when I lived there, and random tourists would appear on our lawn, taking pictures. Toward the back of the house was a field where cattle sometimes grazed, and our dog Wendy would run outside to bark at them. Wendy was a black boxer-lab cross with a sweet homely face and a white belly. 

The view is amazing from up there, and now there are mansions on top of the cows’ pasture, and that poinsettia hedge is long gone. Poinsettias are very poisonous, you know. And I can’t find the house, even though it’s probably there, and I don’t remember very much else about it. I have a photo of me standing in front of that hedge, age three, with a green dress and a big smile. 

Below Wailuku Heights is a place called Iao Valley. It has a cinder cone where one of Kamehameha’s messier battles was fought, resulting in the town of Wailuku being named “bloody water.”  Kamehameha basically befriended the Europeans first and got ahold of some cannon, with which he proceeded to unify and/or conquer the islands. Hawai’i tends to bring out the greed in certain people, and a lot of those people live in Wailuku Heights, but it also has this strong peaceful and spiritual side, and this ancient battlefield and its picturesque cinder cone had been transformed into an idyllic park, filled with pre-European plants.

Near the park were some houses which had been evacuated the night before – some had completely washed away. The parking lot of the park was undermined as though hollowed out by some giant wielding a colossal melon ball scoop, and likely much of that careful landscaping has been destroyed. I didn’t look at this with my eyeballs because there were responders all over the area, and when I see responders I try to stay the hell out of their way and let them do their work. There are lots of pictures of it online.

So I stopped at the Hale Hoikeike, also known as the Bailey House Museum, in Wailuku. First it was royal grounds, then it became a missionary run "female seminary” at which girls were given a western-style education to make them suitable brides for Polynesian Christians.  Edward Bailey was another one of those bossy haoles who came all the way out to the South Pacific to tell brown people how to conduct their business (/eyeroll), but at least he made some nice paintings. The museum is a very calming place, with a shady garden and an eclectic collection of exhibits that include Duke Kahanamoku’s surfboard and the only surviving statue of pagan god Kamapua’a.


Bailey House from behind

The Duke's board

The Duke's plaque

Peaceful green grounds

Upstairs lanai looks like a nice place to chill
I’m just going to throw out, very generally, that Christianity has a very different presentation in the South Pacific than it does in Europe, or New England, or the Southern United States. Visitors may notice the plethora of churches. Those who read about history, or books based on it such as James Michener’s Hawai’i, will encounter lots of material about missionaries. Hawai’i has at least one homegrown saint, Father Damien of Molokai. Mark Twain observed that white men in Honolulu fell into three categories: captain, merchant or missionary. 

My very favorite person in Hawaiian history is Queen Ka’ahumanu, who defied the strict ancient Hawaiian caste system by eating bananas on Haleakala and daring the gods to strike her down. She was Kamehameha’s favorite wife, a lovely Maui girl, and although she didn’t give him children, she gave him counsel. She embraced Christianity, later getting drawn into a schism between Catholics and Protestants. She put an end to the kapu system (it’s basically the same word as “taboo” – the Tahitian and Hawaiian missionaries used slightly different spellings for a language that is mostly intact from Easter Island through New Zealand) and its heavy-handed oppression of women and commoners.

Hawai’i still has many denominations of Christianity, and lots of ornate Buddhist temples too, as well as a healthy population of the spiritual-not-religious. For locals, a lot of socializing is done through churches, such as baby luaus (a big feast to celebrate a child’s first birthday). 

Churches appear even in the most remote locations. They have traditionally fought against evils from blackbirding (slavery) in the old days to meth abuse in the here and now. In contrast to what had happened during earlier contacts, the South Pacific missionaries struggled to record the language and the customs and the culture, even as they changed aspects they found objectionable (like toplessness in women). 

For a lot of my mainland and European friends, the paradigm of gloomy moralizing Christians oppressing free-spirited festive people holds tight. In Hawai’i, there was a fierce warrior culture happening until the Christians brought rum and colorful clothes and romantic Hawaiian honeymoons. Personally, given a time machine, I’d head for the society where I could eat bacon and bananas and enjoy having more laws forbidding suddenly killing people. With all due respect. Even though I've been pretty fixed in my agnosticism since childhood, growing up in Hawai’i made me conscious of religion as social glue, anyway, with most congregants accepting the dogma mainly as an excuse to hang out with other people. And go to beach picnics. And sing together.

And seek assistance when your house gets flooded away in the middle of the night. That actually happened to some people living in Iao Valley, I learned while at the museum. I decided to get even farther out of the responders' way, and I drove through downtown Wailuku, which is sadly full of pawn shops and boarded-up store fronts. 

I went to Zippy’s for lunch, back in Kahului, where I learned we were on water rationing due to the storm. Water was to be boiled, and to be used only for essential purposes – that means no ice. I ordered some coffee, and some saimin (a noodle soup sort of like ramen) – boiled things. And I looked at the news on my phone while I ate. Flooded houses in Iao Valley, and one quoted person was saying it was a 500-year storm, as opposed to a 100-year storm. Hana Highway closed in spots. Maui residents were to boil their water and flush their pipes.

Saddened by the realization that I wouldn’t be beaching at all due to the disaster, I went to K-Mart. The next day I learned that a bunch of K-Marts would be closing, making lots of jobs vanish. I didn’t know that at the time I bought my new suitcase, along with a new swimsuit top, and a new nightie, and some juice to fortify me for crawling back toward Lahaina through the traffic jam consisting of the last few islanders who hadn’t seen the flooded cars yet.

I grabbed some chicken katsu for dinner from a fast food place, L&L Hawaiian Barbecue.  It was pretty good. I gave some of it to a feral cat.

Mmmm katsu chicken bowl

Cluster Headaches and the Car Free Lifestyle

I am afflicted with a malady known as cluster headaches. These are hard to predict, although a shift in barometric pressure tends to set them off, or bright glaring lights, and alcohol will frequently trigger them too. I can personally verify they hurt worse than many other medical conditions including gallstones, migraines and broken bones.  Yes, I get migraines too, but they’re different and don’t involve the imaginary-ice-pick-stabbing-my-eyeball-from-behind type presentation.

As the cartoon mentions, O2 helps, if I should happen to have an onset when I’m sitting next to a tank of oxygen, which hardly ever happens. I get a bad reaction to serotonin agonists like Sumatriptan and I’m a little leery of ergot too, but I have noticed that I can kill a cluster headache with simple over-the-counter meds like Tylenol and fifteen minutes of sitting somewhere quiet. If I let it go for more than about fifteen minutes, there’s a good chance I’ll be afflicted with headaches on and off for several days. 

Obtaining meds and quiet aren’t a problem if I’m at home, or at work, or on vacation. It can become a big problem in big noisy congested cities like the one where I live, where you can’t just pull over to the roadside for a couple minutes without it turning into a complex business transaction.

According to Wikipedia, “People with CH may dread facing another headache and adjust their physical or social activities around a possible future occurrence.” That’s what I did. Somewhere in my mid-twenties I figured out how to make driving optional, because I was getting far, far too many clusters (technically one (1) cluster is far too many, so “far, far” = anything over one). 

So I’m one of the small minority of Americans that doesn’t routinely drive. I live close to work, in a city with great public transportation, where my commute consists of spending 20 minutes reading books on my phone.  I get my groceries delivered. If I’m going somewhere beyond walking distance, I’ll get a taxi or a rideshare. I used to belong to a car share community until I realized I wasn’t actually using the cars enough to make it worthwhile, and now I just rent cars occasionally when I feel the need – or when I’m on vacation.

I’m an adequate driver that can drive a stick and/or parallel park on busy streets, and occasionally I really enjoy being behind the wheel. I also occasionally enjoy the feeling of having an alcohol buzz – but alcohol sometimes brings on the clusters, so I only drink when I have no plans for the following day. I’ll note that having headaches that prevent me from both drinking and driving is probably less optimal than having headaches that force me to choose, but I’m just grateful I’ve been able to spend the last couple of decades avoiding weekly clusters, like I’d get back when I was commuting by car.

Someday soon, we’ll have driverless cars, which means I’ll be able to lead a suburban lifestyle again if I so choose, but in a lot of ways I’m glad I opted out. The car-free lifestyle is a lot more peaceful and aesthetic. My commutes are shorter, and more entertaining since I can read or watch videos or look at webpages or text or whatever, as opposed to staring at the same old advertising signs, in a car-scale landscape. (I’m more about the pedestrian-scale landscape, such as in blocks built before 1900.) 

There are a lot of us car-free people in the US. People who are visually impaired, or who have seizure disorder, or whose chronic pain is controlled by large amounts of narcotics. Some of us don’t drive for legal reasons rather than medical ones. It can be tough navigating contemporary America without driving.

My clusters didn’t start until I moved to the mainland. I’ve never really experienced a cluster in Hawai’i, where the air has overwhelming amounts of oxygen thanks to all those green plants and ocean breezes.  Maybe it’s a climate adaptation thing.  

Friday, September 23, 2016

Charon's Hawaiian Adventure, September 2016: Wet, Rainy Cats

On my first morning in Lahaina, I woke up bright and early (3:00am) (awakened by feral chickens) (then I fell back asleep until 5:00) and had some portuguese sausage and guava bread and coffee before heading to the harbor, and Lana’i, and the cat sanctuary. I had planned to eat lunch on Lana’i after the cat sanctuary (see prior post) but I was rain dampened and covered with adorable little muddy pawprints, and I wanted a shower.

I also felt a little bit uneasy on Larry Ellison’s private island. I’d witnessed an exchange at the harbor where a man trying to get impromptu, spur of the moment tickets was questioned just a little, and told that Lana’i really prefers it when people book in advance. Probably so they can Google you and find out if you’re scary. I’m apparently harmless enough to be allowed admittance, but I can’t rent cars there – you have to carry your own personal auto policy, and I’m an urbanite that doesn’t own a car. I can rent them on all the other islands, where there are big corporate car rental places, but Lana’i only has a couple small places renting Jeeps and Hummers. They don’t even have a lot of roads, although they have a traffic light. 

Lana’i City looks like a nice place, anyway, with neat little houses and a funky downtown hotel that contrasts with the swank Four Seasons near the beach.  (Funky in this context means charming old-fashioned architecture; it does not mean messy, dirty or grungy -- everything on Lana’i (that I saw) is nice and clean albeit occasionally stained with rich red dirt.)

I was fascinated by Munro’s rows of trees, and by the thunderstorm. Our driver, Pierce, said there hadn’t been a thunderstorm like this during his lifetime.  Excessive amounts of rain, yup. It spattered me while waiting for the boat. I realized I was starving when I got back to Maui and I devoured a cheeseburger at the Pioneer Inn while carrying on a bizarre conversation with their resident parrot Alex, who likes to say “you’re drunk” in a very judgmental voice. It was a delicious cheeseburger. And I was blissed from the cats. Still am, in fact.

Seriously blissed from the cats. Snuggling with one cat is marvelous. Meeting a flock of cats is incredible. Time stood still while I was stroking this cat, playing with that cat, supporting a sleepy cat with the palm of my hand while it napped on my leg. Cats are a special kind of goodness. Dogs are good too, and I have a big place in my heart for rabbits. I’m your basic animal loving softy.

Cats, though. They domesticated themselves. They chose to live with us, it was their decision. Dogs and cows and horses and sheep and pigs were wild animals we kidnapped, gradually breeding the most tractable ones over generations, but cats noticed we had food and just moved in. They meet us on their own terms. Time spent with a cat is purely therapeutic, for the human and probably also for the cat.

I was cat-happy and full of cheeseburger, the rain had stopped. I went for a brief dip in the hotel pool before my sleeplessness caught up with me and I collapsed, so I didn’t hear anything more about the flooding until the next day.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Charon’s Hawaiian Adventure, September 2016: The Flood

I get cranky if I don’t make it back to Hawai’i every three or four years.

When Mom died, I felt a little guilty disclosing this to my brother. He hasn’t been back to Hawai’i since we moved back to the mainland, when he was five and I was ten. Later on when he survived cancer, I offered to take him. He wasn’t very interested in planning and wasn’t sure he wanted to go so I just planned it anyway and left it open-ended.  He gave me a definite no at some point before my departure.

When it became apparent I was going solo, I felt deeply relieved. I could eat weird food and visit small obscure boring monuments, and travel to places where nothing ever happens. While blasting Hawaiian music on the radio.  Napping at random times, skipping meals and/or substituting island junk food. Taking forever to wake up and get dressed. Good times.

My plans were to visit Molokai and Lana’i, the two islands I hadn’t visited yet. I also wanted to see Hana, Maui, since all my prior trips to Maui happened to involve traveling companions prone to motion sickness, so I hadn’t been there since I was very small. There was a third mission: eat fresh Hawaiian lychees, but I guess I was too late for the season, or maybe not as many people grow them on Maui. I did find some lychee sorbet that was made with fresh ones, so I was satisfied.

Everyone experiences Hawai’i in their own way. I don’t snorkel or dive because I spent a large portion of my childhood recovering from painful sinus and ear infections due to all the swimming, and I got to the point where I refuse to immerse my face unless there’s a really good reason.  My swimming is actually more like “floating around having deep thoughts” and happens in hotel pools and gentle beaches like Waikiki.  Some people prefer to think their deep thoughts in lounge chairs but I see no point in journeying to the beach just to sit beside the water.

I like to explore, and eat. I watch sunsets and stare at waves. I listen to local accents on the TV news, and sometimes I strike up random conversations with strangers. I drive along the coast and I check out local music and swap meets and farmer’s markets and art marts. I visit touristy places and humble ones, swank spots and obscure corners.

It’s sort of like visiting relatives, if your relatives were islands instead of people. I had some major disagreements with my parents during our time together. For instance, my mother thought that fish was a disgusting food and eating it was symbolic capitulation, and I happen to really enjoy it, although I have to consciously decide to order it. My father would eat fish only when outside the house, and had no interest in catching it; his main interest in the tropics had to do with some kind of Shangri-La fantasy where he played the part of the white guy from the Mainland, freely dispensing his civilized opinions to the exotic natives.

Here’s an anecdote: I didn’t do a lot of official tourist activities but I did take the Hana tour, mainly because they let tour buses go around the back of Haleakala but not rental cars. Also so I could stare at the gorgeous scenery without being distracted by the road. There was a hotel shuttle that ferried us all to the airport where they split us into different tour bus groups, and in the hotel shuttle, after we were about five minutes into the drive, a middle-aged white guy in the back spoke up very authoritatively, demanding more air conditioning.

The driver turned on the AC, whereupon another bossy white guy spoke up, and then both bossy white guys began talking about football, dominating the space with their congenial chuckling. All entitled and making authoritative pronouncements over everything, kinda like dad. Ugh. I put some serious thought into jumping out of the shuttle and swimming back to my hotel – or even backing out of the tour completely and taking a taxi back to my hotel -- but fortunately a charming lady at the airport funneled us into different tour buses (the bossymen got one with malfunctioning AC) (meanwhile, I ended up sitting with a lovely newlywed couple from Utah on a tour bus full of people more inclined to let the tour guide do the talking, where we had a lovely time). 

Hawai’i, to me, represents the good part of my childhood. The parts spent driving around with my parents, or with friends and their parents, or on schoolbuses full of classmates, looking at amazingly beautiful scenery powerful enough to distract us from all interpersonal drama. We kids would take it for granted, because it was all we’d ever seen, but we loved and appreciated it at the same time. Hawai’i is my family, and every tree and fern and turtle and rock there is my cousin. My human family is down to two people, and we don’t really get along. My spiritual family is a pack of gorgeous islands, and I visit them whenever I get a chance. I let them feed me, while I dutifully learn about their history, and enjoy their warm congenial company. When people ask me if I still have family in the islands, I want to tell them the islands themselves are my ohana. But they’d probably think I was some kind of mystical hippie dork, so I don’t. 

This trip I landed in the middle of a rainstorm. The first thing I did after being assigned my rental car (a convertible, fortunately parked with the top up) was turn on the windshield wipers at max speed. There had been not one but two hurricanes earlier in the month and both had cruised right past the islands. Then a regular, non-hurricane storm cell blew in and proceeded to dump massive amounts of water all over everything.

If you’ve never experienced hard tropical rain, it’s more like being hit by a wave than being pelted with raindrops. Suddenly the sky dumps water all over you, instantly soaking you to the skin while thunder rumbles with immediate urgency.  If you’re sealed up inside a rental car it’s not too bad – unless you’re on Maui, trying to make it down the four lane highway that leads to your hotel, moving at five miles per hour because all the beaches beside the highway got flooded, and there are cars trapped in deep water, and everyone’s taking pictures.

The rain stopped while I was doing that. I made it to my hotel, and checked in, and headed to Foodland for some local delicacies (lilikoi and orange passion juices, coffee, knockoff One-Ton chips, portuguese sausage, guava bread, fruit). I packed it all into the fridge at my condo-tel (the Aina Nalu: no maids or room service but has full kitchen and is a block from the harbor, along with a lovely saltwater pool).

Then I realized I had forgotten the all-important sunscreen, so I headed to that mainstay of Hawaiian beaches, the ABC Store. These little stores sell everything one might need on a beach: air mattresses, liquor, cigarettes, softdrinks, sushi, chips, candy, shirts, swimsuits, beer openers shaped like bikini-clad girls, dashboard hula dancers (in both genders), rubber slippers, spam musubi … and lilikoi-flavored Hi Chews. OMG. My favorite candy meets my favorite flavor. Oh yeah, and sunscreen.

The rain came back while I was buying supplies so I threw a rain poncho and hat onto the stack. I was barely a block away when rain began seriously coming down, so I dodged into the nearest restaurant (Captain Jack’s) and ordered some fish and chips (bite me, ghost of mom) while unpacking my new rain poncho and changing from my damp sneakers into my new slippers.

Damp banyan in Lahaina
By the time my food arrived, solid sheets of water were descending on Lahaina. The streets were flooded, and the banyan tree was sagging. And I was delighted to be there, despite all that damp, while at the back of my mind I couldn’t help thinking that this was a lot of rain – a truly excessive amount of rain, more than your average tropical storm’s worth of rain.

I finished dinner and donned my new rain poncho, and my hat, and headed out into the deluge. It was immediately apparent that I wasn’t going to make it back to my hotel without wading through knee deep water, so I did some of that, creeping slowly through the darkness, then splashing my way through the Aina Nalu’s damp corridors, glasses damped to a point of very low visibility.

I found the stairway to my room by feeling my way along the wall. I stepped triumphantly into the dryness and peeled my rain poncho away. I determined my phone was still dry and then I imprisoned it inside a waterproof container, where it would remain for most of the trip. The states of being wet and dry are much more immediate in Hawai’i than they are on the mainland, and this was, in fact, a truly excessive amount of rain. Not as much lightning as that midwestern thunderstorm I had recently experienced in Kansas City, but there was at least twice as much water.

But I had dry clothes and orange passion juice. I enjoyed a delicious cold sweet glass of it and climbed into bed, nice and early at about 10pm.

At midnight, I was awakened by a piercing alarm. Loud, jangling bells. OMG! Flood? Tsunami? Am I about to die? I called the front desk to find out. The desk clerk was still alive, and she reassured me that security would go check it out.

Several minutes passed, giving me time to dream up new hazards – serial killers, ghosts, zombie mongooses. I called the front desk again, seeking reassurance, and she told me that sometimes the alarm shorted out, due to too much rain.  Finally security arrived to shut it off, and I headed back to bed. In the morning I would learn that some people actually were being evacuated into shelters due to flooding, over near the Wailuku area, but Lahaina wasn’t underwater yet.

I pondered staying up late to be terrified, but I was exhausted, so I went to bed instead. While listening to rain. Not gentle musical rain pattering along a tin roof. Harsh, aggressive equitorial rain. Welcoming me home.