FRIDAY JANUARY 12, 2001
Even before I opened my eyes I knew I was hearing night voices – that the conversation was surrounded by darkness. The sounds came the persons' mouths as if pressed and suppressed. They spoke as if they did not want to be heard and yet the persons were standing so close to our open window above my ears and speaking loud enough to me to understand the words but not the content of the conversation. Slowly I sat up, pulling the thin rayon sarong over me, as I bent a blind to peek out. A van was parked in the driveway instead of in a parking slot (strange) and two figures were standing on the shadow side talking. "Now what?" I thought. As I stared I was finally able to make out that the female voice belonged to a ranger and the male voice to someone with whom she worked and was familiar. I sat there trying to figure out what was going on. I felt in no danger, but something was afoot. I would tell myself that this had nothing to do with me and I might as well lie down to go back to sleep. Then I heard the van door slide open and I was up with my eye back at the peephole. The male put one of the white plastic lawn chairs into the back of his vehicle. The lady kept flipping the papers that were blowing about on her clipboard as she made reassuring comments to the man. "Don't worry. There is nothing to do. Don't pay any attention to her. Ignore her calls." She repeated these same comments over and over so often I got the feeling she was talking to me so I laid down again to sleep.
When the van drove around and out of the parking lot I again sat up to see if I could see what they had been talking about. The strange orange juice landscape seemed serene and half-asleep. I heard Heidi moving around so I whispered to ask if she was awake. "I've been awake since two," she said. I looked and it was now 3:00. "You missed the big show." she whispered down to me. "Two cop cars and an ambulance were here." At first all she could think of was that one of the campers had been murdered but all she heard were voices at the opposite end of the parking lot. No one was put in the ambulance and after a short bit they and the cop cars left. Then the ranger and the guy in the van started talking – which was where I had come in. As we were just telling each other the event was evidently over and that we should go back to sleep another cop car rolled past us driving to the end of the lot so it was facing the car parked in the security guard's place. The cop cars in Hawai'i are not labeled as such on their doors. The only way once can detect them is the blue light on the roof. As we sat spellbound with our noses pressed to the windows (Heidi squished in the loft and me squeaking on the couch of ruined springs) we watched an old woman giving a police report that we could not hear. At this point Heidi suggested we get dressed just in case. Before this cop finished with the visit, another police car pulled in just in front of us. We could see a female cop get out of her car to go over to also question the old woman. Just as our backs and elbows were beginning to ache, the male cop left. Soon afterwards the female cop started to walk back to her car. The old woman came running out from behind her car shouting very loudly, "Madam, madam, he also dumped water in the corner of my van." The lady cop went back where flashlights shined into the van. She made some more notes on her clipboard and left.
Just as we begin to think that this was the end of the disturbance, the glimmer of car lights filled the RV. We were determined to ignore whatever else went on the parking lot. But when this car backed up several times in order to place itself right next to us, in a ready-to-drive out position we both sat up to see who this was. It was our worst fears. It was a lone male in a very abused car. We sat there in the dark watching him drink from a milk carton and eating a sandwich. Just as it seemed he was probably harmless enough, he turned on his radio. He got out of the car, took a leak in the bushes, turned up his radio and began wiping down his car with a rag. There was no way on God's green earth that we were going to tell him to turn that radio down, but there was no way for us to sleep, we thought, with such racket. Just as we despaired of ever getting to sleep, in comes the van of the security guard and with a word of Hawai'ian, made him turn off the radio. The guard now parked his van over a space on the other side of this car. Ah, we thought. With the guard here it would be quiet enough to salvage the rest of the night. It was now about 4:30.
Even as we lay, flat and stiff on our beds, trying to relax, we heard the loud voice of the old woman coming in our direction. She came walking to the car asking the guy if he had been here all night. As she leaned on her walking stick (longer and stronger than she was tall) she told him she needed a witness. Even when she found out that he had just come here, that he was only waiting for it to be time for him to report to work (which made us feel better) she began to tell him her story. From her loud voice we got the rest of the story – her version.
She said she had gotten up to go to the bathroom and on her way across the picnic area a cat chasing a rat had leaped out of one of the trash barrels and the cat had scratched her foot. She said she had called to the guard to help her because her foot was bleeding but he was asleep in his van and would not wake up to help her. Unable to get his help she walked down to the public phone on the beach where she called the police and demanded that they bring an ambulance. (Evidently this is where Heidi came into the story.)
The old woman said she refused to be taken to the hospital. Then she began a long and colorfully worded narration that the cause of all her troubles was because the security guard slept on the job. And, according to her, she had to wake him up to open the gate to let the authorities in to help her.
While the old woman stood there ragging on the security guard, he gets out of his van and was busily photographing the woman's camp. In the flash of his camera we could see that she had truly taken over his spot. Jugs and bottles were set out so no one could park right next to her (good idea! we could have used that earlier!). She had strung up a clothesline between her car and the trees and with sheets had created a couple of rooms. There was a trampoline, and a huge wall-sized mirror leaned against the tree, clothes dangled from the windshield wipers and some lay like rags on the ground. She either had been here for several days or had an incredible ability to make herself instantly at home.
The old lady was so intent on trying to convince the bored young man of how she was wronged that she didn't even notice the telltale flashes of light. Only when the guard walked over, faced her squarely with a blinding flash of a photograph did she charge him waving her staff and screaming, "You can't photograph me without my permission. It's against my religion." As she came ever closer to him trying to strike him with her thick staff, he retreated by jumping into his van. She stood outside his open window menacing him with the stick. He was reduced to yelling at her to get away from his van. If we had not been so scared of seeing more mayhem we would have been laughing.
We were just thankful when she gave up and came back around the car to talk to the young Hawai'ian man. We could see his face in the light of the partly opened door. He, too was a bit scared of her, yet he seemed to feel he could stay here. She began to talk to him in a very quiet and rational way. Soon she was deep into his personal life (he had married, had two children, had been thrown out of his wife's house and now had no place to stay, so he was thinking of getting a divorce to live with his new sweetheart). The old woman began talking to him like a Dutch Uncle, telling him to stop making children, telling him he should always use a condom, that he should not take on the financial responsibility for a new wife but give his money to the old one for the children, etc. I suddenly wanted to cheer for her, wanted to say, "What a brave old white woman you are to stand here alone in a darkened parking lot telling this young, strong man how to live his life." Before I did anything as foolish as this, the guy said he had to be going and he did. As he drove out the security guard followed him out. The old woman went back to her car to drag out all her bedding which she hung on new ropes stretched to the "no camping" signs.
In the newest quiet we undressed again and lay down to sleep. At 7:00, when the parade of cars bringing the homeless in to use the facilities woke us again, we decided to just get up and begin packing. We had promised to bring the RV back to Harpers between 12:00 and 1:00. I had been looking forward to a brief morning relaxing on the beach before we faced this hated job, but ability to just enjoy was gone. As we sat there eating breakfast we watched the most incredible sunrise of our whole trip. It was just the one Heidi had wanted to have for her temple shot the week before. Now we were too tired, too nervous, too full of the end-of-the journey feelings. So we ate up a hodge-podge of leftovers renamed breakfast.
As I cleaned out the things in the kitchen I put the usable things in a sack thinking I would offer them to the old woman if I saw her. Otherwise, I'd leave it on the table where surely someone would find something they wanted.
With both of us trying to pack 7 pieces of luggage, gear bags and purses in one small RV was like a ballet as we moved in and out of each other's way. Giving up I began cleaning the bathroom with baby wipes (they worked well without water). Then while Heidi talked to some friend on the cell phone from the driver's seat I was able to pack my bags. I felt strange listening to the one-sided conversation so to give her some privacy I took the bag of groceries, now including my brand-new raincoat which I had never worn (I hated its plastic smell) and the flashlight that only flashed its light if you shook it right, paper plates and cups.
The old woman was sitting in the sun in the open door of her van. She watched me narrowly as she saw me coming in her direction. Mistrust was all over her face. I was surprised at my eagerness to charm her enough to give her these things. It would have been so much easier to just make a small jog to set the bag on a picnic table and walk away.
I introduced myself and she said her name was Julie. At first she was a bit miffed that I was giving her these things but when I reassured her that we were going to throw them out, which she could do also, if she did not want them. When I mentioned that she could also pass them along to the homeless if she wanted, she became excited and began dragging out the stuff to inspect it. As she did this, very slowly and with great deliberation, I found out she had once lived in the campground at Bodega Bay. She didn't admit to anything but I began to feel that this was her life – going from campground to campground, fighting with authorities for her "right" to stay in public parks. As she told me more I had to admire her grit, determination and I felt she was one smart old lady. It was hard to get away from her but I needed a shower as much as she did.
To keep the homeless from using the facilities all the time, there was a notice taped on the wall that the water was turned off from Thursday night to Friday noon. But I found there was a tiny stream of water about piss-wide and witch cold but the sun shining in the roofless room made me feel much cleaner. Back at the RV Heidi was moping the kitchen floor with a baby wipe. There were the last minute "what are you doing with this," (the branch of bougainvillea I had stuck in the dashboard) and "didn't you want to take this?" (my little stuffed lion still in the cup holder) as we each in our own way finished up. I felt the windows all should be washed (it was on their list of things to do to prepare the coach for return) but now I was clean and tired and did not want to raise a sweat working on windows.
We sat in the seats, ready to go and it was even too early to go shopping! The beach looked very inviting but there was no way to go back. We were now too clean and too ready to return to another world.
We circled the low end of Kona's commercial district trying to find a discount fabric store. Instead we found a body repair shop! What a good idea! Surely a mechanic could quickly attach a new plastic electrical outlet cover and our damage would be taken care of. I sat in the car watching Heidi charm this middle-aged guy in overalls. "She's winning!" I wanted to cheer as the two of them walked up to look at the rear of the RV. Too soon she was back in the driver seat and very angry.
"Do you know what? The rental car agencies have told all the body shops that they are NOT to work on any rental cars. They don't want individuals getting the damage fixed. They want to be able to charge them for having their goons do the work with inflated billing. He warned me that they would try to charge my credit card for the repair but not to let them." She had talked to Ray this morning when she couldn't reach her insurance agent and they had agreed how to handle whatever the rental agency tried to do. But this information had only added to her stew. By the time we hiked up the steep already-hot-in-the-morning hill to the fabric store she was totally bummed and in no mood to buy anything. I would have gladly left right away but I found the perfect pattern for a yukata. She very graciously helped me shop to make sure I was getting the very best one.
I felt I wanted to do something to help her over this hump so I suggested we walk down a hill to the Salvation Army Thrift Shop with the hope that a cheap Hawai'ian shirt would rescue the trip for her. We only found that it is possible to make truly ugly Hawai'ian shirts, give them a bad smell and charge $8.00. Heidi bought a vest for $1.25 that I doubt she ever wears but I appreciated her attempt to buy her way back to joy. I took her action as a step in the right direction. What we really needed was a splendid shopping shopping shopping. As we ran into dead ends and one-way streets, we gave up trying to get to the better part of town. We decided to gas up the RV (to avoid another overcharge) and headed back to Harpers even though it was early.
We barely got the vehicle halted when the owner and another guy were going over it. Right away, as soon as she could get out of the van, Heidi admitted and explained the damage. Thus, in addition to the trillion-fold forms to okay, sign and notate, she had to fill out the damage claims, too. The circus they performed (the office girl got up out of her chair to get into the act by going out to take several photographs, even inside) made us more nervous. I had forgotten to let the blinds down and hook the kitchen one. They were acting as if the blind was broken because it was not in place. How relieved I was when they brought in the check sheet from inside with no damage noted. They did try the trick of putting the repair charges on her credit card but she wrote in big angry letters all over the pages that she would only accept claims made to her insurance company and not to charge anything to her. It was a very tense moment when the secretary saw that.
The men roughly shoved our stuff into a shuttle van and the guy who was new to us got into drive. As we went along, I wondered if he was just a truly nice guy working for a bunch of gangsters or if he felt sorry for the mean way we had been treated at Harpers. He worked really hard to make conversation, to make us feel good, to dissolve the bad taste in our mouths. He had some music on the radio. When Heidi expressed a mild interest in it his happiness bubbled up (covering up his rather erratic driving) and he launched into a detailed 10-mile long discussion of Hawai'ian music. As we watched a bellhop load, and groan, our heavy bags, I was surprised to hear Heidi say, "Remind me to buy some Hawai'ian music before we leave."
Stepping into the faded elegance of the King Kamehameha Hotel was the end of one long phase of our vacation and the beginning of the Hawai'ian experience most tourists have. We were surrounded by utter efficiency, and even kindness. When I asked the receptionist about up grading to a waterfront room, she said, "Oh, that will cost you $60.00 more. You can go out on the balcony of your room, lean out and see water for only $130." So we went up to look at the room. It looked so good to us (after the dirty RV) we were totally happy with it.
We washed our hands of Harper and headed out for lunch. I was relaxed and hungry now but Heidi had to stop at every shop we passed. Finally we went into the Kona Gallery Restaurant because it was do that or drop dead of hunger before a rack of clothes. We sat on the balcony (overlooking a street and the tiny bay which one could see had been designed by a king) as if we were two new women. Heidi asked for champagne. Only for a moment did I wonder at her mood. Yes, we deserved champagne today! But they had none so she ordered a beer with our hamburgers that were not all that great. The spot however, was marvelous and we lingered as we watched the tourists, the horse-drawn carriages, the man delivering boxes to the store across the street – this whole other world – busy, varied and extruding pleasure and money. As we looked at its richness we realized that almost everything here had to be carried here by ship or plane! What a shock to think how so much, the good, the bad and the ugly had come to this beautiful land. We made dumb jokes, laughed, and touched our elbows to see if we were really the same women we had been that morning.
From our second story lookout we began to plan our shopping strategies. We had been impressed with the low prices of the ABC store so we decided to go out to do the comparison-shopping. With the store under our hotel we could save ourselves carrying stuff by getting it on our way in. We dashed in and out of various nameless tourist shops as we raised and dashed the hopes of countless clerks. It was only when we got to Hilo Hatties that we let go. We were so charmed by the 'greeters' at the front door – kind looking women in muumuus who said a charming 'aloha' and hung a shell lei about our necks, offered us orange juice, Kona coffee or cold water as their old arms scooped us into the store. While I blew on the too-hot coffee I thought about my previous plans to visit a macadamia nut farm, a coffee plantation, the art galleries of Honaunau and wondered where the time went.
So what did we buy? I got a picture album covered with pressed leaves, tied with raffia and a strange stick containing handmade papers. It was so special we both bought journals made the same way. Heidi loved the perfumed candles so she spent much of her time deciding which ones were the best, which ones were the best prices and how many she needed of each for her friends. She also did major damage to a rack of importable plants and starts (this is the girl worried about the agricultural inspection).
I was very tempted to get a ukulele but hated the idea of trying to carry it as hand luggage on the homeward journey. Also I could not believe the cheap prices. I knew the one for $9.99 was a toy but the best one only cost $39.99. Hmmm. Plus a book on how to play it. But was it good enough? Or was that too much to spend on an instrument I will never in this lifetime master? Getting overwhelmed and dizzy I found an area for tired shoppers (mostly men). The invitation of canvas deck chairs and a group of hometown musicians playing guitar and ukulele entertained me. While I stared around I could not stop shopping even from a chair. Soon I had earphones pressing my head as I searched out their selection of Hawai'ian music disks. Here Heidi found me and together we were able to agree that one was better than the others. Heidi was sure she had seen the same disk offered cheaper elsewhere.
I got Kona coffee and a cigar for Werner, a feather and raffia mask for the cat and an assortment of small gifts. $99.00 went on the credit card. As we walked outside into the new and heavier humidity of afternoon I dreaded the thought of walking all the way back to the hotel carrying these bags. Just then we saw the open shuttle van the store used to haul people from the cruise ships up to the store and back again. Because we could easily walk from the pier we got a ride and a little talk with a woman who was cruising from island to island. I could not imagine anything more boring. Suddenly all our problems of the last week were just adventures.
We stopped in the ABC store where I bought a bottle of glue to fix my cane and the biggest bargain of the whole trip. Shell lei for the price of "three for a dollar". On the beach at Punalu'u the very same ones had been $5.00 and sixty cents each at the farmer's market in Hilo. Here they had a ukulele that seemed like the $39.99 one at Hilo Hatties and it only cost $19.99! Oh how I was tempted. But I felt too tired to make a decision so I helped Heidi decide on a silk shirt for Ray and t-shirts for Shaun.
I was beat by the time we got to the room. Heidi was jazzed by all our great finds so while she spilled out the treasures (and divided up the lei which had tangled together) I laid down. I was surprised that by the time she had looked at everything and put it all away I was ready for more ventures. I was not eager for shopping but wanted to see something. I wanted to see something that I could photograph and wonder at. It had to be outdoors. Even so, we went into several shops on our way out of the bottom of the hotel. Fortunately "outside" was the summer palace of King Kamehameha (thus the hotel's name) so we only had to go a few feet for me to find a temple area where I could not go, sea in which I could not swim, boats on which I did not want to ride. As we wandered around the area where it was obvious the evening's luau was being prepared, we did get to watch a young girl using ti leaves to make her 'grass' skirt for the evening's performance. I got to see how easy it is to remove the stem and rib (after only reading the instructions in a book). I regret being too shy to ask to take her photo. Another girl sat on a step applying her make-up tattoo marks.
Satisfied with this brush with culture we continued to find new stores and finally, just as it was closing, an outdoor market. I got to see a banyan tree up as close as I wanted. When I came back to earth Heidi was trying on dresses but had her eye on the place we could get the CD of slack-key guitar music so we were off and running to beat the closing shops.
We ambled along the bay, sweating with its own humidity, as the outdoor merchants hustled their things back into their cars and trucks. Heidi still had the buying gleam in her eye. As we got closer to the ABC store she admitted she also wanted a silk shirt like the one she had gotten for Ray. So we went back in. Again I checked the ukulele prices, sizes and nearly gave into my desires to have one. Instead I bought more shell lei and a bunch of colorful pens and paper. Still loaded down with ABC bags we walked by the pool area and Heidi decided she needed a drink. It was so pleasant sitting there, watching the tall palms before a sunset colored bank of storm clouds. There was almost no wind, just the softness in the air that said, "relax" so we did. I asked Heidi how many Mai Tai's she needed to get into the pool. "Only one." "And how many to get in which me?" "Two." "And how many to get in nude?" "Three!" The drinks were gigantic and even my diet Pepsi had pineapple, cherries and an umbrella in it. We had such a good time. In order to stay longer we ordered tacos as our supper. A man was singing to his guitar, people were in the mood to feel good, it was Friday night and we were all tourists. We just relaxed to let the day go into night while it carried us along.
What a completely different Hawai'i from the one we had gotten to know. How safe and secure, how smooth and efficient, clean and neat. Nothing ruined any of the storybook illusions. Even when our waitress, who saw us watching the storm clouds, told us it would not rain and then minutes later drops began falling, it seemed like a grand tourist joke. As soon as we laughed at it the rain stopped. We were feeling so good that as we passed a shop on the way to our rooms I stopped and bought coral ear studs for $65.
Back in our room with our gifts admired and a phone call from Ray we got into our swimsuits. I wrapped myself in my newest $6.00 ABC sarong (Golly, I love buying those things) and Heidi in her new silk shirt we paraded through the hotel to the pool. At first the water felt cool (but good on my still-stinging sunburn) so we swam ourselves warm as the gentle night all around us. Still too cool, Heidi got in the hot tub and I dangled my feet because there was no way I was putting my skinned knee into that hot water. There we met a woman from Anchorage Alaska who also only put in one leg because she had skinned her shin falling on lava. They had been here three weeks and she had a marvelous tan. I wondered what it would cost to change our tickets to stay another couple of weeks and let the rest of the world take care of itself – along with the credit card bills.
Warm and totally relaxed we sat on the lounge chairs staring up at palm trees outlined by stars. All the clouds, ours and Hawai'i's had disappeared. Off in the distance we could see the floorshow but it was too much effort to hold our gaze there with a turned neck. It was easier to just lean back to go with the music, The guy with the guitar was still singing and playing for the bar guests. Heidi completed the scene by ordering a drink. When it arrived I was amazed at its bright turquoise color. Even as a child she had dyed the filling for frosted graham crackers this same startling hue. "Blue Hawai'i." she told me. "How does it taste?" Her answer was to extend the cup to me. I took a sip. Nothing I had tasted in all of Hawai'i tasted as good as this flavored slush. A hint of grapefruit, which I normally hate, and about six other subtle flavors – that were all new to me. "What's in it?" "Vodka." As I leaned back into the arms of the night I thought about the last time I had drunk vodka. Neither of us wanted our last night to end but finally they began to close the pool and we were forced to leave.
Back in our room we each showered and washed our hair. Wrapped only in the thin sarongs we sat in the dark on our tiny balcony to let it dry as we watched the last of the day's traffic find the streets. Across the way we could follow the upward curve of the mountain by the glow of the streets lights. These too were orange so if one squinted the rows of lights on wet eyelashes looked like frozen lava flows. Getting sleepier it seemed the volcano was still trying to push light toward the sea in a wave of humanity.
Finally we crawled into our beds. What a joy to have a true bed under me. Not a broken down couch with a bar down the middle. My last night in Hawai'i – suddenly it was perfect
Next day - SATURDAY January 13, 2001.
Hawai'i with Heidi Copyright © Jane Reichhold 2001.