02 March 2009

Let's Go To Fucking Hawaii


You'd have to be of a certain age, from Vancouver, or unnaturally well versed in the ancient history of regional punk scenes to remember the Young Canadians' greatest (only) hit, a snarling, sarcastic slam at the "fun in the sun" mentality. When I first heard "Hawaii" a few decades ago, I was right on board with the sentiment, believing there to be something clearly decadent if not vaguely obscene about lounging around on some sunny beach when one could be engaging in more substantial and significant activities like staying up all night on drugs and pogoing like a cracked-out jack-in-the-box at the local punk show.

Well, well, how times have changed: now I think I could quite happily while away the rest of my life on or near a beach, and sometimes it's only my hope that global warming will eventually turn New York City into the tropical paradise it was clearly meant to be that keeps me clinging to life on these East Coast islands.

But while I may have become a full-fledged beach bum in principle and theory, there's enough of the black-clad, night-loving, artificial-light-craving punk rocker in me to be a little embarrassed by the public image a sybaritic, sunseeking lifestyle might create for me. Which might be why I didn't post anything here about my trip to Hawaii either before or during. Or, more likely, I was just too lazy, but we can take that up on another occasion.

And then I also worried about the feelings of people who were stuck back in the ice and snow, or just simply couldn't afford to take off for a weekend in New Jersey, let alone a week in a tropical paradise. Well, if it's any consolation - and I'm sure it will be to many of you schadenfreudists - not only was the weather in New York pretty darn mild for February the whole time I was gone, the weather in Hawaii was not all that great, either.

It is, as Mr. Einstein was constantly saying, all relative, of course. To someone scraping ice off his windshield, 60 or 70 (15 or 21C) degrees sounds mighty inviting. But to someone who has packed little more than a swimming suit, some shorts and a few t-shirts under the impression that Hawaii was one place you could count on it always being summer, not so much.

It's not as though I was in danger of imminent frostbite, true, and I actually did get to go swimming in the Pacific Ocean - incredibly clear, with exotic blue and green colors, just like on the postcards - one day and lie on the beach a couple others, but to be quite honest, if it were summer in New York, I would have waited for a nicer day.

It barely rained at all, but of the time I was there, it was cloudy about half the time, and windy most of the time, sometimes ridiculously so. 75 degrees (24C), which was about as warm as it ever got in the daytime, can be quite comfortable under normal circumstances, but not with a 25 mph (40kph) wind dragging the chill factor down by a dozen degrees or so. Put it this way: while tourists were schlepping around in tank tops and shorts (they kind of have to, if only to justify their vacation investment to themselves and to produce photos to make their friends back on the mainland jealous), the locals were bundled up in hoodies and jackets (I'll admit, I rather naively thought that people in Hawaii didn't even own jackets, but once again it looks as though I was wrong).

All that aside, however, it was still very nice to be able to visit our 50th state (and the 48th on my list of states visited; now only Alaska and Louisiana remain), and I could see where it would be a very nice place to live, albeit with a couple caveats, the first of which would be to have a nice hoodie and a second being to not live on the windward side of the islands.

Each island, as I learned, has a windward side and a leeward side (even some of the buses use this for their directional signs), with the windy side also being the rainy side, and while it's very pretty over there in all the overgrown jungle type vegetation, I can't imagine why somebody would want to live there year round. Honolulu is sheltered from the worst of the wind and rain by some rather spectacular mountains (not much higher than the California coastal mountains, actually, but looking more dramatic because they rise straight up from sea level), and generally has better and sunnier weather, but at times the trade winds manage to climb right over the mountains and swoop down upon the beaches of Waikiki.

Another factor that might render longterm life in Hawaii a bit onerous is that, well, there's not a whole lot going on there. Lots of outdoorsy things, true; if you're mainly about beaching it, or hiking, golfing, boating, fishing, paragliding, etc., etc., then you should be fine. But if you're at least partly a city person, well, be advised that the nearest city of any consequence is several thousand miles away.

That's not to diss Honolulu; it's a pleasant enough place, and offers at least some of the advantages of most modern cities: for example, if you want to shop for top-end designer goods, there will be no shortage of opportunities. But it's probably best suited for old people with lots of money and kids who are happy splashing in the water; teenagers and young adults seem to be quietly going crazy.

And not always so quietly, either, judging from the hot rods and the cars that go boom up and down Ala Moana Boulevard, but as one local told me, "A lot of these guys come down with rock fever," and when I queried about what "rock fever" might be, he said, "You know, going crazy from the feeling of clinging to a rock out in the middle of the ocean."

So a lot - maybe a majority - of ambitious young people end up leaving for the mainland, and those who remain can often be found passed out in one of the many parks, where it's apparently possible to live pretty much year round without much hassle. One notable difference, however, from some of the mainland cities with large homeless populations: most of the Hawaiian tramps seem remarkably non-aggressive and non-psycho, unlike those in, say, San Francisco. The whole time I was there, I only got spare-changed once, by some tweaked-out hippie on Kalakaua Avenue, and even he didn't seem particularly bothered by the whole business.

There is something distinctly feral about the place, though, which generally seems to be the case in tropical locations. You could easily picture - say if the financial meltdown continued to even more disastrous levels - Hawaii reverting to some sort of Heart Of Darkness-cum-Lord Of The Flies scenario, with the rich and previously well-fed providing sustenance to the younger, more vigorous residents, at least until the population had been reduced to more manageable levels, i.e., about 10% of what it is now.

Leave it to me, of course, to detect the rudiments of anarchy and cannibalism in one of the friendliest, most relaxed places I have ever visited. It's just how I roll, I guess. Will I go back again? Most likely, but at a warmer time of the year, which, from what I've been told, comes around the same time as it does in the rest of the country. That kind of defeats the purpose, though, doesn't it? If it's already hot and humid in New York, why would I need to go to Hawaii? Somebody should have thought this through a little more carefully. Perhaps me.

Meanwhile back home, it's 20 degrees outside (-6C), with half a foot or so of snow on the ground, and a cold draft permeating even my normally snug and warm apartment. Never mind, it'll be spring soon, and even if it wasn't, I still love New York the best.

1 comment:

Joseph said...

You’ve never been to Louisiana? It beats Hawaii in many regards – food, music, nightlife – and it is way more affordable. True, Louisiana is littered with kooks (Gov. Bobby Jindal, for example), but the history and culture make up for it. Larry, get your ass down to New Orleans this spring. Eat some crawfish. Roam the French Quarter. Imagine a young Little Richard pounding on his piano. Or Fats Domino. Or Ernie K. Doe. Or Esquerita. Walk along the Mississippi. Visit the Chalmette Battlefield while singing Johnny Horton’s Battle of New Orleans (Yeah, they ran through the briars and they ran through the brambles. And they ran through the bushes where a rabbit couldn't go.). Do it!