I awoke with a feeling of intense excitement, though I’m not sure why, a sense that I needed to get up and go out, so I roused the dogs and we all went to look at a sky so black and clear and brilliant that it took my breath away, Jupiter gleaming like a spotlight and near it I could count, flesh puckered in chicken skin, all seven sisters in the home constellation of Pleiades/Makalii.
And I thought of a friend, now dead, who spent almost 20 years locked up in Halawa, and he told me that sometimes, if he was in the right cell, he could look through a high window and catch a glimpse of the moon, the stars, and the one thing he missed more than anything in prison was the freedom to go outside at night.
I’ve been on vacation, letting my mind and life run free, following my intuition, rather than any kind of schedule, responding to no demands other than those few made by Koko and Paele, digging garden beds, spending quality time at some of my favorite places on the island.
It was at one of those yesterday that I ran into a man visiting from upstate New York, and though I don’t usually chat up strangers, we got to talking and I asked him, because I often wonder, especially when I see worried-looking tourists trying to turn left onto Kuhio Highway, or pale, sunburned backs still exposed to the sun, or cruise ship passengers ambling through the tawdriness of Anchor Cove, just what kind of visitor experience he had.
Turns out he was an accidental tourist — he owns a timeshare and the only opening was a condo in Princeville. So he came to Kauai with no particular expectations, and found it beautiful and lush.
I pressed him a bit and more details came out, though he shared them mostly without complaint, save for the $30 spent on lunch at the Hanalei Dolphin.
“Was it at least any good?” I asked and he said it was alright, and they were doing a brisk business, which was why he, and perhaps the unsuspecting others, had stopped in.
Then he told of going to the end of the road, and the madness at Kee Beach, where someone had parked kapakahi and blocked in a whole row of cars, including his, so they all had to wait until the thoughtless tourist moseyed back to his vehicle.
“People were so desperate for parking that they were just leaving their cars anywhere,” he observed. “It was awful. I just wanted to get out of there.”
And then there was the incident the night before at Ching Young Village in Hanalei.
He was walking to his car in the parking lot at about 8:30 p.m. when he heard a couple of local boys calling, but didn’t realize initially they were speaking to him. They were mad, though he didn’t know why, and approached his car and demanded he roll down the window, which he did, and one of them started going off, though he couldn’t understand just what the guy was trying to say, and he got a little worried and rolled up the window and prepared to back out, which pissed them off even more, and one of the guys had a rock and smashed it into the passenger side of his car, leaving a good-sized dent that spoke to both a large pohaku and considerable fury.
He called the police, because he knew he would need a report for the rental car agency, and thought that if they went right away, the guys would likely still be there. But the dispatcher told him the station at Hanalei wasn’t staffed at night, so it would take some time before an officer could respond, which was true, because it was about 10 p.m. by the time a cop showed up at his door.
The next day he went back to the shopping center and talked to the manager, who showed him the video cameras that he has mounted all over the place, and sure enough, the entire incident was captured on tape, but the resolution was so poor that they couldn’t make out the license plate number of the perps.
“And he didn’t know who the guys were?” I asked, because Hanalei is a very small place.
“No, but he seemed determined to find out,” said the visitor. “He felt really bad about what happened. He gave me a tee-shirt.”
But what the man really wanted to know was why the guys were so angry, and so angry at him, because he couldn’t think of anything he might have done to offend them.
“Maybe it’s just because you’re a tourist,” I ventured.
He was confused by that, wanting to understand the why behind the animosity.
Because we open our doors wide to visitors, you know, spend big money begging them to come in, talk up the aloha spirit. It’s not unreasonable for tourists to think they’ll be welcomed, or at least free from a violent altercation.
I tried to explain how much the North Shore has changed, how it’s developed so rapidly that the lifestyle has been greatly altered, the locals heavily displaced. I shared the “I feel like a stranger in my own backyard” line uttered by a friend who grew up in Hanalei, told of how some of the guys don’t even want to go to the beach anymore because it’s so choked with tourists.
“So they’ve just given up?” he asked.
“Not exactly,” I replied, though of course some have. “It’s more just this simmering resentment, in part because a lot of big money has come in to the North Shore, and some of those super rich guys do look down on the locals and they feel it, and they don’t like it, and meanwhile, the place has gotten all built up with these big bling houses and they’re angry because they feel powerless. And if you throw a little ice or alcohol into the mix, which is so often the case, you’ve got a real volatile situation.”
He felt badly about all that, and I felt sad for him, because it’s not his fault that the flagrantly callous Eddie Bendors and Joe Brescias of the world chose Kauai’s North Shore as the place to increase their fortunes. (Btw, old Joe was on island recently, staying in his house atop the burials, no doubt sleeping peacefully...)
Then he asked if I would show him how to get to the Hindu temple and produced a map that was utterly ridiculous in its near absence of secondary roads or landmarks that might make navigating easier and I thought, good grief, is this the best we can do for our tourists? No wonder so many of them wander aimlessly, lost in the back roads of Kapahi and Wailua Homesteads.
I drew him a map instead and sent him on his way, but not before he told me that he actually hadn’t minded the altercation at Ching Young, because it showed him so vividly how irrationally people can act when they’re consumed by the anger that's born of fear.
And isn’t that the mind state of so many people these days?
As he left, I thought of the speciousness of the industry that is our economic mainstay, of the incessant push to bring in more visitors even though our special places are already bursting at the seams, the willingness to take a wad of their money even though we fail them in such basic ways.
I thought also of the two young guys who had instigated the incident in the parking lot, and what sort of future might lie ahead for them: rage doused by alcohol or ignited by ice, some shitty job cleaning yards, most probably a stint in jail, and beneath it all, the terror of alienation, a prevailing sense that they no longer fit in the place that is their home.
And I thought of how they, and so many other locals, have been pushed away and aside in the mad pursuit of the almighty outsider’s dollar, the bulk of which doesn’t even remain here, creating, in the process, these ticking human time bombs, and I wondered how, really, we had gotten to the place where that could be seen as a reasonable, fair trade.