Hawai’i: Oahu

Aloha: Tourist Edition

I don’t know why but one of my favorite poems comes to mind: The Charge of the Light Brigade. Something about “into the mouth of hell.”

That’s me and my sense of humor more than anything else. If you know me, you know there are three things at the top of my “annoys the hell out of me” list. 1) Shopping. 2) A crush of people. And 3) Traffic. But then to really do Oahu right, a favorite saying of mine comes to mind: “Suck it up, Cupcake.”

–An aside. Don’t get the car upgrade. They almost beg you to go for the soft top Mustang. It’s really pointless on Oahu. Go smooth ride luxury if anything. Think Camry or Corolla. After saying no a half dozen times, he offered us the hard top Mustang for free, and I took it. It’s a guy thing. I wish I had gone with the Camry. There are just no real “Mustang” roads. But boys will be boys. Anyway…–

The first stop was Pearl City, one of Tracy’s old stomping grounds to meet with her oldest friends for breakfast. Loco Moco for $10. Can’t beat the price, the company was simply fantastic as I watched Tracy loose 30 years and be a teenager again at Anna Miller’s Restaurant, a local favorite, sort of like a Denny’s with the Hawaiian flair.

Right outside is evidence of the growing needs of an exploding population. A monorail is being built. Tracy asked how big of a population can the island support. I think Oahu is about to find out.

Traffic is just awful, so be prepared. Day, night, weekdays and weekends can find you in the midst of traffic gridlock. But when in Rome? Not too far away from Anna Miller’s is Oahu’s Mecca of military history and shopping. Pearl Harbor and Aloha’s Stadium Swap Meet & Marketplace.

My first time here, we parked at Aloha Stadium and the girls did the Swap Meet while I walked over to Pearl Harbor (Tracy going to Pearl Harbor is like me going to the Liberty Bell). The Swap Meet is a couple rings of stalls and vendors that completely encompass Aloha Stadium. You can buy anything and everything, cheap. It’s only there a few days a week, Wednesday Saturday and Sunday I think. If you are going to buy souvenirs for a lot of people at home, this is the place to go.

About 1 1/2 miles away–not that bad of a walk especially considering the shopping alternative–is Pearl Harbor. It’s haunting. I hate thinking of it as an “attraction.” Oil still bubbles up from the mass grave that is the Arizona Memorial. The harbor is breathtaking though. Battleship row is just awesome. You can just imagine the power reflected in an age before aircraft carriers shifted the balance of power.

After wandering the swap meet for what seemed like an eternity this time, Tracy and I drove the 15 minutes to Diamond Head.

Diamond Head is pretty cool. Built around 1908, it was considered an engineering marvel of its time. It reminded me of the castle in Salzburg. It also struck me as being very different from what I’m used to in Hawai’i. On the Big Island, it seems like everything you get to requires a brisk walk down, and then the “Hawaiian Trudge” back up. With Diamond Head, it’s the opposite. You’re trudging upwards, about a half mile, with a little bit of pavement, then uneven switchbacks, and then lots and lots and lots of steps. Lots of steps. Did I mention the steps?

The vista is the reward. It’s amazing. Oahu is spread out underneath you. And then you head back down.

We were winging out. No real plans after breakfast. But after the swap meet and Diamond Head, it was just about time for a late lunch, early dinner. If Tracy could be locked in one place for the rest of her life, it would most likely be Liliha Bakery. They just opened a new larger store and it is pretty amazing. As soon as you walk in the door, you are blanketed by the most amazing smells. The culture inside of the bakery is definitely more oriental. The difference is subtle, but profound. It’s so quiet, relaxing. The waiter just about whispered to us.

My thing is driving. Not in traffic. From what Tracy told me about the 24/7 gridlock on Waikiki, I had absolutely no interest in checking it out. On our way to the coastal road (my treat) she saw an opening, an unusual free flowing traffic, so I drove into Waikiki. Forward the six hundred?

I don’t know. I guess if you are into that thing, younger, and the crush of people doesn’t annoy you, it’s happening. It is a mix of South Beach and Times Square. Tracy said that’s where they went clubbing, to the beach when they were kids, and she did hula at the local hotels.

But then we made our way to the coastal road, driving below Diamond Head, and that’s my thing. The long twisty road through mountains with the ocean crashing on the side is the way I like to see Hawai’i. Outside of Honolulu it turns country pretty quick. Quieter. The road is the long way to the North Shore, just a two lane highway for the most part with overlooks and plenty of places to stop and take in the view.

But we finally made our way back to the resort that sits on the far north eastern point on the island. And promptly passed out.


Ghost of a Girl

Oahu is never my first choice. Tracy took me to the Big Island first, and that’s the island that grabbed hold of me, but Oahu is home for my wife. She left here when she was 18 and told me that there is still a sadness of the memory because she knew she would never live here again. So Oahu it is this trip, for six days, for me to explore and for Tracy to reconnect with who she is.

Tracy is why I love Oahu. I married a woman vibrant, intelligent and alive. On Oahu, a different person emerges. It is the same woman, but different. A little more real. It is as if I’ve been looking at a beautiful painting and then I am taken to see the original and realize the one I have been admiring is not quite as beautiful as the one painted as intended.

Each island has its different personality. At first impression, Oahu is Honolulu, Pearl Harbor, and the North Shore. It is a 14 lane super highway to feed and service the Capitol of Hawai’i. It is Diamond Head and Waikiki. It is the the over abundance of military personsel Mustang rental cars and tourists that feed everything.

And nothing is to be missed.

As we typically do, we made our way out to a place to stay on the North Shore, about 1 1/2 hours from the airport, to settle in, set up camp, and make forays into the island.

I screwed up my first morning. I was starved, still groggy, so talked Tracy into doing the resort breakfast buffet. She’s still giving me dirty looks about it. This is what I warn people about in Hawai’i: it is as expensive as you make it. The second morning we met Tracy’s oldest friends for breakfast at a local place in Pearl City. Breakfast for the two of us was more than 2x than breakfast for 4.

It did fill us up though. So, with the dirty looks, we made our way into Tracy’s first stop: Haleiwa, home of Matsumoto’s Shaved Ice. You can find shaved ice all over the island, but this was the original. A whole town center has sprung up around it, with shops and restaurants. The line is always long, but always worth it.

On the way there, or from there out to the North Shore, there are a ton of great beaches. The surfing Capitol of he world is really only the Capitol in the winter months, when the winds sweep in from the north. Otherwise, the surf is like that of any other beaches. But they are beautiful. There is just something about them with the wind and clouds and surf, the hedges of hibiscus, and the mongoose scurrying around.

Waimea Bay is where Tracy went to the beach in high school. A little known spot on the North Shore is Shark’s Cove. You can pay big bucks for snorkeling tours in other places. Shark’s Cove is free, and by far some of the best snorkeling I’ve seen.

Parking can be tough. It is sort of like South Philly during an Eagles game.

But then we bypassed the resort dinner and made our way after naps and pool time to a local food truck. Giovani’s for garlic shrimp. Good eating and with full bellies, and a few trinkets to bring home, we went back to the resort and well, passed out.

To be continued….

Machine of a Ghost

Waking up. I have no idea what time it is or where I am. The gentle light of an upcoming sunrise was staring to filter in through the balcony. I made my way out of the room so as not to wake Tracy who’s internal clock is allowing her to sleep later than me. I begged a cup of coffee from a chef who was not open yet and made my way to The Coffee Chronicles.

Aloha. It’s an interesting word, both simple and complex. It’s like an ocean current. It is the simple “hello” and “good bye” but so much more. Aloha is what sweeps me to Hawai’i.

Hawai’i is the Aloha State. When someone wishes you, “Aloha,” they are wishing upon you a state of mind, a state of being. Translated, it means peace, compassion, mercy and affection. Hawai’i is aloha. It is taking your shoes off before you enter a home. It is the shaka, that thumb and pinkie thing–to convey the aloha spirit. It is “mahalo,” thank you. It is calling people cousin, where everyone is o’hana, family.

Aloha is an invitation, that I accept. For Tracy, it is the embrace of home.

Friday morning, the aloha spirit is at war with the machine. (This is still Coffee Chronicles after all.)

One of my greatest fears in life is a Don Henley song from from another place, another way of life, New York Minute.

–but men get lost sometimes, as years unfurl. One day he crossed some line and he was too much in this world–

The last line of the verse is “But I guess it doesn’t matter anymore.”

Aloha reminds me that it does still matter. It feels sometimes the machine has chained the ghost to it, made it a part of it. Aye, I did what I had to do. My industry was changing, people passing, times moving forward, and maybe it was conscious, or maybe it was unconscious, but I know I crossed that line, and dug into a world to do what I needed to do.

Here, now, I allow aloha to pull me back from the world. A few more emails to write, a few more texts to respond to, but as I sit and write this I can feel the strong ocean breezes pulling me someplace else.


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