Planet Haolewood

A toolbox, a change of underwear, and a surfboard.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Welcome to Haolewood

Some people who move to Hawaii simply take up residence on the beach. While I enjoy camping I decided not to go that route. I ended up living in a town unlike any place I would ever have pictured as my home.

I had a temporary place to stay when I first arrived and my first task was to find a more permanent place to lay my head. I checked the classifieds, bulletin boards, and spread the word among the few people I knew that I was looking. There is not a lot to choose from on the North (less inhabited) side of Kauai so I focused on the basics: rent, convenience, etc… What I ended up with is a house I share with one other guy in Princeville. It had a washer and dryer. The rent was reasonable for the area. So I took it. It would still be a few weeks before I moved in.

In the mean time Sally and Brain arrived. They had arranged for a vacation rental in Princeville of all places. As we drove through town I suddenly saw the place from the point of view of a visitor and it occurred to me for the first time just how strange of a place it was for me to be living. According to Wikipedia Princeville is a “carefully landscaped planned resort community.” It’s a gated development built around two golf courses. A little bit of Orange County in Hawaii.

The landscaping strikes you immediately. Parking is not allowed on the street. Every new home owner must have a landscaping plan approved by the Princeville authorities and every yard is professionally maintained. The rules go on and on and are enforced by a private patrol. An army of weed wackers and lawn mowers keep the fast growing plant life in check. The effect is a uniform, manicured look that brings to mind “Somewhere that’s Green,” Audrey’s dreamy ballad from Little Shop of Horrors.

I don’t like it. I wouldn’t like it anywhere but it’s worse here because it is so out of place. At the main entrance to Princeville stands an enormous and absurdly garish fountain. It’s impossible for me to convey how incongruously this feature sits relative to its surroundings. The North side of Kauai is a wet, wild place, beautiful BECAUSE nature seems still untamed. But in Princeville it’s packaged for your comfort and enjoyment.

Having said all that, it’s really not a bad place to live and everyone who I have met here is really nice. The sunset from the lawn outside Sally and Brain's condo makes up for any number of tacky fountains. I guess it really just all comes down to taste. I never realized I had strong opinions about landscaping but this place has brought them out.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Quick! Let's go have another sublime experience before dinner!

It goes without saying that when one moves to Hawaii one can expect to have more visitors than one might have if one moved to, say, Lubbock, Texas. But I have to admit I was not expecting them to arrive so soon after I did. My friends -let’s call them Sally and Brain- arrived from California less than three weeks after I had arrived. I had not yet even found a permanent place to live when they jetted in for a long weekend.

Before moving here I had vacationed on Kauai three times. And while visiting the island I did what visitors do: I packed in as many sights and activities as I possibly could in a short amount of time. Sally and Brain were no exception to this trend. In fact Brain in particular exemplified the phenomenon. Gung Ho is not just a city in China. He was not satisfied with merely filling his own days with everything to see and do on Kauai. In between scoping out the next Hawaiin ruin and snapping photos of feral chickens he extolled me to summit a nearby peak (which he had named Mt. Boreas) as if to ensure that even after he left there would be someone to carry on his legacy of manic island exploration.

Living here I feel differently. I’m as thrilled as Brain to be exploring the island, but for me there is always tomorrow. So when, after a grueling 8 mile hike complete with swimming under a 300’ waterfall followed by snorkeling with a gaggle of sea turtles, Brain insisted on a second snorkel before we called it a day I wondered if I could keep up. It was at that moment that I spied a Hawaiin Monk Seal dozing on the beach like a tropical sausage and thought maybe I would follow its example while Sally and Brain worked on uping their turtle tally.

I hope I’m not starting to sound superior here. “Look at me at one with the spirit of Hawaii while my silly friends scamper about in a vain attempt to absorb something that can only be understood by an enlightened soul such as mine” was not what I was going for. I simply have the luxury of more time than they and the next time I visit some new place I will no doubt run around and exhaust myself. I was really glad to have Sally and Brain visit and I look forward to seeing other friends on Kauai.

Monday, June 19, 2006

"Uh... did you just say you're moving to HAWAII!?"

Here’s a fun little experiment that you kids can try at home. Just for fun, tell people that you’re moving to Hawaii and then just sit back and observe the reaction. I’ve had occasion to deliver such news a number of times over the past few months. Responses were often preceded by a long pause. Some people looked at me with confusion as if I had just told them I had booked a one-way ticket to Narnia.

Of course, Hawaii isn’t Narnia. People know that it is a REAL place. Many have even visited. Many people have visited Disneyland, too but you still don’t hear about anyone taking up residence in a condo on the slopes of Space Mountain. Hawaii is a VACATION destination. Maybe you get a timeshare if you really like it, but you don’t just MOVE there. Some people became excited when I told them my plan. The woman from PG&E who helped me when I called to cut off the electricity at my old apartment became down right CHATTY with all sorts of questions about how this move had come about and what I was going to be doing there. I don’t think you’d get that kind of response if you told people you were relocating to Los Angeles or Memphis. Maybe someone reading this can try THAT as an experiment and we can compare notes about the reactions we got.

Turns out people move here all time and not all of them are professional surfers or independently wealthy. Lots of ordinary people like me just pack up their things and come to the most remote islands in the world. It’s not something I ever really imagined doing but here I am. So far so good.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Filmer is my Hero

My car-that-won’t-start story had a happy ending as you may have guessed. I’m not still down there sleeping on the beach and stealing food from tourists all the while hoping that someone will read my blog and send help.

I know very few people on this island but in my hour of need I remembered that my co-worker Mike had a friend who worked on cars. I had Mike’s number in my cell phone’s memory. I assumed I would have to get the truck towed and that I would have to wait until the next day. But I thought I would get a jump on my car repair by calling Mike that night. Mike put me in touch with his friend Filmer who told me that he would rather come and work on my car that night because he had to work the next day. Filmer works at a hydroponic lettuce farm.

One of the other very few people I knew on the island happened to live a very short distance from where I was surfing. He came down in his huge truck and took me and my surfboard to his house where he and I watched Fast Times at Ridgemont High while I ate fruit salad and waited for Filmer to call me back.

Filmer had brought a couple of spare batteries with him but neither of them would work in my truck so he removed the battery from his own car, used it to start mine then removed it and replaced my old battery while the engine was still running. I rolled on home and parked on a hill so I could push start my car in the morning. The next day I bought a new battery.

I didn’thave any money with me to pay Filmer. He said the he would charge me $25 dollars and that I could pay him later. I’ve left him several messages offering to come and pay him cash but he has not returned my calls.

“What is the point of this story?” you may be asking yourself about now. “Why am I reading a blog about a guy’s car repair when I could be learning about all kinds of new and fascinating things on Wikipedia?” The point of the story is that Filmer is a really nice guy. I thanked him repeatedly when he started my car and he just said that he was glad he could help. That, my friends, is Aloha. It’s not just something cooked up by the Hawaii tourism bureau. There’s something special about this place.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Gratitude, Part 2

Ok so you’ve had your perfect day surfing. You’re filled with serenity. The stoke courses through your veins as walk through the pine trees toward that primitive parking lot. Time to go home, have a late dinner and drift off to sleep to the sound of palms in the wind. But when you turn that key to your truck that has started faithfully for ten years you hear only a pathetic clicking sound. Now where’s your gratitude, huh? It’s dark, you’re at the bottom of a rut-laced mud track and your car isn’t going anywhere. How fucking ENERGIZED are you now, huh?

Ok, deep breath. Maybe friendly surfer people camped on the beach have jumper cables. Ah ha! They do! Let the gratitude flow once more! But what’s this? It doesn’t work. Your battery won’t take a charge. Friendly surfer man is sympathetic but there’s nothing he can do. What happened to that bliss that filled you only a few moments ago?

I guessed it passed just as everything does, good or bad. So maybe living in Hawaii isn’t so different from living anywhere else. Sure it’s beautiful and the weather is great but people still get sick, bills still have to be paid, and the whole range of disappointments that go along with being human are present including cars that won’t start.

Sunday, June 11, 2006


How do you think it feels to work all day in the heat, skip dinner and surf until it’s too dark to continue? Though you leave the water physically tired, you feel energized and above all grateful.

Picture this. You finish work and the plans you had for after work fall through. Oh well. That’s the way Hawaii is. Things change without warning. Best to be flexible. You make the short drive to check out the waves. It’s a bad time of year for surfing on your side of the island but an unseasonable swell has been forecast to arrive. There is some small surf but you don’t have your board anyway.

Back home. It’s time for dinner but seeing those waves has planted something in your gut that won’t go away. You can eat any time. There’s only a couple hours left of daylight to surf in. Dinner can wait. A fifteen minute drive down the highway and you turn off onto a side road. A quarter of a mile down that road and you turn onto a dirt road mostly blocked off with a “road closed” sign. Who knows why. The road descends steeply into a valley leading to the sea. There are three or four cars in a primitive dirt parking lot. Not a good sign. If the surf were good, the word would be out and the lot would be full, extra cars crammed onto the side of the narrow road leading uphill. You can hear the ocean and feel the breeze on your face.

You leave your board in the back of the truck and flip flop down to the beach to see if you just wasted a trip. You watch a single surfer bobbing up and down 100 yards out. “If he catches something while I’m standing here watching, I’ll paddle out.” Bingo there he goes. As you come back down to the beach the surfer is on his way out. “Am I wasting my time?” you ask. “No,” he answers, “it was fun. Occasional chest high sets.” That turns out to be an exaggeration.

It looks like you’ve got this spot all to yourself. It was a hot day and the water at the surface is remarkably warm. It’s an easy paddle out. The conditions aren’t great: small waves with relatively little power but they’re fun and easy to catch. The ocean is pitching you softballs today. Nice underhanded tosses like a game of catch in the backyard and you catch wave after wave. The sun is behind a hill leaving your spot in shadow. As you sit on your board your feet dangling below you, you can feel the cooler water just below the surface. The wind has gone quiet and you feel neither hot nor cold. A couple other surfers paddle out and join you, mellow, friendly guys.

Despite having worked a full day. You are neither hungry nor tired. Each wave you catch motivates you to paddle out again for another. The sky darkens and you see the moon. The sun shines on Hawaii long after it has set on the mainland and you are still out surfing in that last hour of light. And then there’s the moon. It’s almost full and as the sunlight fades its shine appears on the water. You wonder if it’s possible to surf by moonlight. Some perverse competitive part of you wants to be the last surfer out after everyone else has gone in, but those other two guys just keep surfing. You know you’re having a good time when you keep telling yourself that this one will be the last wave, but then you paddle out again anyway.

A star is visible in the evening sky and it’s getting hard to see even in the moonlight. Maybe you can let those other guys have satisfaction of being the last surfers out tonight. They’ll always be more waves for you tomorrow.