It’s a hooka hooka on the shiny briny on the way to Kona,
And in a little shack they had a little sign that said Coca Cola,
And even all the grass skirts were PVC.
I’m just an English boy who won a holiday in Waikiki.
–The Kinks, Holiday In Waikiki
I’ve been talking a lot lately about Hawaii with a certain impossibly delicious friend of mine. Specifically about the allure of living there.
She’s never even been there and she can feel it call out to her.
I’ve been there a lot; roughly twice a year for the past ten, though there are some gaps in there where I went elsewhere (Fiji, Turks and Caicos, Cozumel) for my fixes of tropical climate and warm-water diving.
But Hawaii always calls to me. No matter how many times I go, no matter how often I say let’s go someplace else. No matter how touristy and commercial certain parts of Hawaii get, still, I hear it call.
It’s hard to say why. Oh, part of it’s easy; there’s a simple physical beauty to the place that’s undeniable. The ocean, the beaches, the mountains, the color of the soil, the jungles and the stark lava fields, the coco palms and the flowers, the birds. The sea life, turtles and incredible, jewel-like fish.
But there’s more than that. There’s something else. Something in the air, the soil, the sea. It feels like home to me, and it did the first time I set foot in Hawaiian sand, the first time I drove a jeep through a sugar cane field, the first time I dove into the warm blue pacific. The first time I heard Hawaiian music played under Hawaiian moonlight.
There are moments that call out to me in memory. Odd things.
Driving from Poipu on Kauai towards Port Allen, early, to meet a dive boat; Hawaiian music playing on a local community radio station, the window of my rental car open. The morning air still cold and damp, the smell of Kauai that no other island has wafting into the car. It smells of smoke and slightly fermented sugar cane; the smell of the ‘cane fields. It smells of lush, wet jungle, dark red soil. No other place on earth smells like Kauai.
Sitting in a hotel room on Oahu, hearing a man, solo, play and sing Hawaiian songs below, by the pool. Despite the tourist setting, the simple beauty of the music was transcendent.
A girl I met on a hard-to-find beach on Kauai; not so much a beach as an eroding bank that was once a dump, but is now a source of wondrous flotsam, sea glass, broken pottery, etc. She was a local artist, a howlee but born and raised there, and happened by just at the right moment. She was beautiful and friendly, and showed me how to climb down the bank, skipping down in flip-flops and and bikini. If I’d written it into a story, I’d have met her that day and never left, or I’d have made love to her on the sand somewhere, or taken her in the bed of her beat-up toyota truck. But as it was she made an impression that won’t soon leave me.
Driving a jeep around the south end of Maui, four-wheeling where cars could not go, my friend Christo perched on the roll-bar taking video. The footage we shot will still make most people car sick.
Driving the Kohala coast south to Kona to meet a dive boat, early, listening to a Cake CD. I played that album, Prolonging the Magic, tonight, and can’t hear it without summoning that memory.
Sitting on the back lawn of a rental house, looking out over Kealakakua Bay; the Captain Cook monument in the distance, dolphins in the bay, the best bloody mary I’ve ever had in my hand.
And oh, so many diving memories.
My first dive, Molokini, Christo and I not even close to good enough to be diving that spot, that day, but not sensible enough to say so; we made the dive, and came up, though I found myself at 145 feet and still going down. It should have been scary but wasn’t, and I saw the biggest shark I’ve ever seen on that dive, below me when everyone else was thirty feet shallower.
Searching for a lost diver on Kauai; we found him, alive and well, but there were moments of terror for myself and the dive master in charge; both of us knowing that if this man died or was lost, we’d go to the grave knowing it was our fault. And even with this, she took 20 seconds to stop mid search and point as a pod of spinner dolphins swam by us, both of us stopping to admire the beauty before going back to our search.
Seeing a huge hammerhead off the Kona coast, and seeing the reaction of the divers around me as it swam toward us. Diving deep, deep down on a Kona dive site called AuAu Canyon. Meeting huge turtles face-to-face on Kauai. Night dives so restful I could almost sleep.
Being greeted by dive crews on three islands as if I were a local and a dive professional; being greeted by locals, Hawaiian, as if I were not a howlee white-boy mainlander. Being greeted on the road by locals with a low-slung shaka.
I would live there. I could and should live there.
Some day, I will. I have no doubt.
Yes, Hawaii is americanized. Yes, it’s touristy and it’s not the true south pacific. Much of it isn’t even the true Hawaii anymore, with it’s McDonalds and Starbucks and and Safeway and Wal-Mart, it’s huge hotels and phony luaus and tiki kitsch. But that’s not all Hawaii is; the real thing is still under that. The people are still there, the culture, though much is lost, still clings and influences those who live there, at least those who understand.
My life, here, on the mainland, in Silicon Valley, moves to fast. I’m inside too much, at a desk too much. I’m too far from land and sea. I need too many things, I wear too much.
I picture a simpler life. Yeah, it’s different being there full time, not just for vacation. But I picture working someplace where I can see warm ocean; I picture working on boats. I picture diving for a living, then doing other work to make ends meet. I picture writing on a lanai with the sound of palm trees in the wind.
I don’t want this new-made but much-loved friend to go; but I hear that call that she also hears, and I can’t nay-say it. I hear it call also, and I’m always close to answering. Only the horrible schools stopped when when last I made a plan to go, and as time goes by, that becomes less and less an anchor. Soon, that anchor will tear free, and the currents will pull at me and draw me south and west. And if I have one more friend living there soon, that’s just one less reason to stay here.