When one is considering one’s vacation options as an American in the current political and socio-economic climate, one must face more than a few obstacles.
Number one: A lot of the world hates our guts at the moment. Rather, a lot of the world hates our President and wonders how we could be so stupid as to elect (or, I guess, not really elect per se, but allow to continue to command) such a militaristic, big-business, anti-environment, fundamentalist Christian buffoon to live in the White House. So by reflection, I, as an American, albeit a gay non-Republican tree-hugging liberal American, may not be as welcome as I would otherwise be in certain parts of the world.
Number two: Our economy is in the shitter. Apparently, because of our incredibly low interest rates, the dollar sucks against most other monetary units, specifically the pound and the Euro. So if I were to consider London or Paris as a vacation spot, I also have to consider spending considerably more now for food and lodging that some other destinations, specifically Mexico and Hawai’i.
In Mexico, they’re kidnapping people.
I’ve just returned from a 7-night Hawai’ian vacation on the island of Oahu. I was in Hawai’i a few months back staying for a week on the big island, which is either referred to as Kona or Hawai’i, depending on how confusing you want to be when someone asks you where you were, i.e. “I was on Hawai’i.” “Yes, but which island?” “Hawai’i.” “Yes, but which island?” “Hawai’i.” “Yes, but…”
If you’re considering a Hawai’ian vacation, I’d like to give you a few pointers that may make it easier for you to relax and adjust to the subtle but important differences between what I call “normal life” and what the Hawai’ians refer to as “the aloha life.”
Don’t get me wrong, I had a great time. The weather is wonderful (depending on which side of the island you are on), the landscapes and beaches are gorgeous, the people are friendly and happy and there’s no shortage of things to do to keep you entertained or help you relax. Spas, beaches, resorts, fruity tropical drinks, hikes to waterfalls, nearly naked people (many of whom are as gorgeous as the beaches, some even more so) and shopping galore make Hawai’i a perfect vacation destination.
But that’s not very funny, is it?
1. The Hawai’ian Convenience Factor. Everything is slowed down in Hawai’i by a factor of about 5. No one is in a hurry. This probably sounds ever so hauntingly attractive. ‘Ah,’ you think to yourself, ‘I can leave all the hustle and bustle of my daily grind behind and just relax. Just be. Take a breath.’
That’s certainly part of it. The other part, the part you forget about until you’re standing in line at Safeway in Kailua trying to get a pound of turkey at the deli counter to make sandwiches for your restful and relaxing day at the beach, is that sometimes you want people to be in a hurry and be short and curt and move the fuck on.
So, yeah, I just want a pound of turkey at the deli counter, right? And there are two deli workers back there and one customer ahead of me. One would think that if there are two workers and two customers, that’s a one-to-one ratio.
This came to be known, to my companion and I, as the Hawai’ian Convenience Factor. The HCF works in opposition to your desire to get things done in the most logical and convenient way. So if there are two deli workers, they will both take their time assembling the sandwich for the customer ahead of you by hand, and also ask as they add ingredients what ingredients are desired. So, rather than get the list up front, meat, cheese, bread, condiments, and so on, pause in your sandwich assembly and ask as you add each new ingredient. What does the second person do? Why, they cut the cheese (so to speak) so the first person can chat and assemble.
This is, I remind you, while I stand there staring wantonly at the turkey breast from which I simply want one pound cut.
HCF starts popping up more and more as you begin to realize its significance to the aloha life. Why do anything the simple and easy way when doing it in the most convoluted and confusing mannerand, by the way, with no warning or reasons givenwill cause everything to take twice as long? After all, we have nothing but time in paradise, right?
Another example: There are two highways over the island of Oahu to get you from the leeward side (Honolulu and Waikiki, where the sun always shines) to the windward side (where the sun rarely shines, and it frequently rains). Once you’re on one, you’re committed. You can’t turn around. And why would you want to? Plus, to up the HCF, why not make it so one of those highways is completely closed in the opposite direction? But don’t tell anyone. So while you’re driving across the island (rather than to the Dunkin’ Donuts you sort of remember as being in this general direction) hoping to see an offramp at some point a few miles in that will allow you to turn around, you notice instead that the other side of the highway is completely blocked off.
If you’re prepared for the Hawai’ian Convenience Factor, you’ll enjoy your stay a lot more, because the things that happen to you (the pool is closed at your hotel, they’re out of oatmeal raisin cookies at Starbucks, traffic is backed up because they’ve closed one lane for no apparent reason) will seem like quaint island customs rather than annoying inconveniences.
We used a scale of 10, but it could go to 12 in some cases where the HCF clearly had over-ridden all sense of logic and normalcy and was now completely in charge of the situation.
2. Hawai’ian Music Über Alles It’s frikkin’ everywhere. They frikkin’ love it. Frikkin’ ukuleles and frikkin’ warbling vocals singing those frikkin’ songs filled with way too many frikkin’ vowels.
I mean, okay, at first it’s charming. It’s all very fifties retro Navy shore leave Gilligan’s Island coconuts and palm trees. But on day four, I was about ready to take every ukulele on the island and build a big bonfire on the nearest beach. It’s everywhere and it’s inescapable. I presume they think that it helps put us tourists in the mood, but the mood I found myself in was more akin to apoplectic and homicidal rather than relaxed and calm.
Bring along your iPod or your CDs or something, anything, to listen to rather than the constant and unending stream of coma-inducing Hawai’ian Tropic soundtrack.
3. The Aloha Life. I heard this phrase a couple of times from different people who had moved to Hawai’i and elected to live there permanently and forever and happily. “Why Hawai’i?” I asked, thinking in the back of my head how much I was missing the noise, the proper dress codes, the mass transit and the feeling of San Francisco that I have grown to love and depend on. What was it there in Hawai’i that would make one want to stay beyond a week’s worth of ukulele music and pupu platters?
What they tell the tourists is that Aloha means both Hello and Goodbye. That’s a very simplistic translation that sells well on buses when you’re leaving the World’s Largest Maze at the Dole Pineapple Plantation. What you learn from the locals is that Aloha actually means something more Buddhist. It is a way of greeting the essence and nature of another person, and acknowledging in them and in yourself that you are connected more deeply than you can easily express. So when you greet someone with “Aloha,” you’re expressing your respect and unity with that person in a higher sense. In old Hawai’ian, Aloha translates literally as “the God in us.”
I like the idea of that. The idea.
Now, you surely know by now that my spiritual life, if it were expressed as an item in a grocery store, is a Twinkie. I’m filled with fake cream and my outer layer is spongey and yellow. I am not deep and meaty. I am soft and disposable. I am not a great believer in anything, and my sense of incredulity is somewhat stretched when you start tossing around big, overwhelming concepts like that.
I sort of got the impression that the Aloha Life wasn’t so much about being reverential and spiritual, but about being lazy. And I’m not against laziness, but I question that as a lifestyle choice.
See, I need rules. I need laws. I enjoy the fact that traffic behaves in a certain way, that you’ll just have to wait if you want to turn left, that you can’t just sort of drive all over the road and make U-turns wherever the hell you want and nobody’s going to hold up the line of traffic behind them just to wave you through because you were dumb enough to try to come out of the parking lot at a place where there’s no way on God’s green Earth that you’l manage to get across three lanes of traffic to go where you want to go.
But the Aloha Life flies in the face of modern conventions like that. You want to turn around suddenly and right there and block both lanes because you discovered you need to be back the other way? No problem. I’ll stop traffic for you so you can continue your journey of discovery. What’s a little pause in the action to me? I’m not stopping anything dramatic and huge by allowing you your temporary needs.
This sort of thing makes me grind my teeth and shift uncomfortably in my seat and fold my arms and turn all surly. Much as I’d like to make the adjustment that allows me to think that nothing, nothing is so important that I can’t pause for a moment and allow someone else their slight inconvenience to me before I continue on my path, my feeling is that when it’s my turn to cause some inconvenience for someone else? I’ll just feel guilty about it.
So I’m the grit in the cogs of the Aloha Life. If everyone else followed the customs of it (and, by and large, when you got away from Waikiki and Honolulu, they did just that) then it’s all fine. Live and let live. Pause and let pause. Take your time. No hurry. Aloha.
Me, I couldn’t do it. It would drive me insane.
As I said earlier, I had a terrific time in Hawai’i and would recommend it as a vacation spot to anyone considering where to go for a week of rest and relaxation. If you’re not the beach-type and consider a few hours on the sand with a good book about as appealing as a blood blister on your foot, you can still go shopping and hiking and take long drives in your rented convertible through rolling landscapes of green under skies of blue. There are hotels and B&B’s to cater to any budget and level of luxury and comfort, and the people are uniformly friendly, amiable, good-natured and, allowing for the Hawai’ian Convenience Factor, helpful.
But if you’re like me, and the big city holds certain attractions for you in the form of pace and convenience and lifestyle, always remember that you’re just on vacation from everythingthe good as well as the badand soon you can return to your old life and all of its familiar discomforts, annoyances and frustrations.
May 17, 2004