Friday, October 17, 2008

Musings: Keep Moving

An elevator traveling up the side of a nearby building reflects the rising sun, sending periodic flashes of rosy light into my hotel room. The low rumble of buses replaces the usual morning bird song.

But I’ve seen the big moon rise two nights in a row, sparkling down on dark water, and last night’s sunset at Ala Moana beach park was a extravaganza of orange and pink that faded to showcase Venus.

Yes, I’m here in the Big City, where I’ve been for the past couple of days, so I haven’t had time to blog. It's all go-go-go.

I don’t really mind spending a few days in Honolulu, although my eyes always feel gritty. It’s an opportunity to reflect on my own life and human existence, because so many people do live in urban areas.

Mostly I’m astounded by all the stores. It’s easy in a city to realize that consumer spending drives America’s economy. For me, though, it amounts to serious overload, a reminder of how easy it is to get caught up in that drive to have more.

Never much of a shopper, I ventured into Ala Moana Shopping Center yesterday and was quickly overwhelmed by “too much” – too many choices, too many people, too much noise, too much stimulation. Although briefly tempted by a pair of Cole Haan shoes, I rightly reasoned that I’d have little opportunity to wear them and justify such an expensive purchase.

I left without buying anything, partly because I didn’t really need anything and also because I was thinking of the small businesses that struggle to make it on Kauai. While a lot of people come to Honolulu solely to shop, I felt like I should try to spend my money at home. Those are the guys who are there day in and day out when we need them.

It also seems there’s a lot more ethnic diversity here, with folks speaking languages other than English, and restaurants that reflect that mix. I’ve enjoyed that, but not the overall crush of people. Where do folks go to get away from it all, be alone here?

I saw one woman living, pretty well camouflaged, in a cardboard box in an alleyway. Our eyes met and she nodded, aware that I’d spotted her, and I smiled back, while wondering how she managed her rough existence, or the old lady moving very slowly and deliberately down the sidewalk, dragging a couple of carts.

Those sorts of sights trouble me in a city, along with the way that pedestrians and motorists don’t even seem to notice, as if it’s just part of the urban landscape. But while I observed, I kept moving, too.


Anonymous said...

Dear Joan,
Thanks for taking the time to send us a blog entry from the busy city of Honolulu. Even from there you are noticing the sun and the moon--ever connected to nature. Have a good trip.

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

Thanks for noticing the invisible people of Honolulu that the Government keeps moving from place to place. Honolulu is still paradise for homeless compared to Santa Monica, San Deigo, New York (mole people living is subway tunnels) and Washington DC. The sad fact is even the homeless in the United States are easily in the bottom rung of the top 2/5 of the world population when it comes to worldwide income distribution. Most "working Americans" are two paychecks from the street themselves, and still our elected RepugnoCratic representatives want to use our tax dollars to bail out the rich Wall Street gamblers. Beyond disgraceful!

Manawai said...

Actually, if "most Americans" lived like their parents lived without Cable TV, microwaves, two cars and Nikes, they'd be able to save what they throw away in unnecessary spending and not be 2 pay checks away from the street. The real problem is that most of us are so used to prosperity that we've forgotten that debt and lack of savings are the two main risk factors that serve to endanger our fancy free existence. No one saves anymore because they just got to have that Starbucks! If your credit card and other unsecured debt totals more than 20% of your annual pre-tax earnings, you need serious counseling. If it’s less than that, get it down to zero and live within your means.

Katy said...

Thanks for the advice, but as someone who never goes to Starbucks, drives a hand-me-down 12-year-old car, doesn't have cable, Nike shoes, new furniture, or a clothes dryer, I can tell you that some of us have accumulated debt just to keep up with rising costs of living in a stagnant-wage economy. We're actually the lucky ones - if it weren't for the fact that we could get a little credit, we might be homeless.

It's easy to wag your finger and judge people who are hurting economically when you're doing well, apparently, but it's not that simple.

As I understand it, most families are bringing in less than $50,000 a year on Kaua'i. Rental housing for a family of four probably takes up more than a third of that. You do the math...times are tough, and it's not because working folks have been living like millionaires.

Anonymous said...

On my recent trips to Oahu (where I was born & raised until moving to Kauai in 1999) I too have noticed the homeless epidemic. Earlier this year while on the way to visit my father at Queens Hospital we noticed a homeless woman living in the oleander hedge at a busy intersection.

I've also noticed the variety of languages spoken there - many more than I've heard in past years.

And the shopping - you hit the nail on the head with your comments - talk about overload. I used to love the open air character of Ala Moana Shopping Center - now I avoid the place like the plague. Can't afford to shop there anymore so I usually just hit all the Ross stores.

Oahu just has too much concrete, too much traffic, too many people, too much crime, you name it - too much. Give me Kauai anyday. I'll spend my money here and support our island economy.

Anonymous said...

All great observations about Honolulu, especially about nature not being that far away and the concrete--there must be more cubic feet of it in that elevated freeway fronting HNL than all of Kauai (and remember how the concrete factory workers' strike threatened Oahu's economy?). All cities, even the appealing ones like SF and Honolulu have that gritty side, even in European cities I dare say.

Katy said...

Being a city girl, I don't mind "grittiness" at all. But I DO mind that we could allow any of our brothers and sisters to sleep in the street and go hungry. That's not "grit" - that's injustice.

Anonymous said...

"Mostly I’m astounded by all the stores. It’s easy in a city to realize that consumer spending drives America’s economy."

Two things obvious here...either you slept through Economics or never studied Econ at all. Investment spending is the engine of economic growth, not consumer spending.

Simple error on your part...but telling all the same.

Colin MacCleod

Joan Conrow said...

Dear Colin:

Yes, I'll admit I found Econ dull, but that doesn't mean my statement was wrong. According to the NYT:

"Consumer spending, which accounts for nearly two-thirds of the economy..."