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Norm Blackburn
Hawaii Revisited
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          It has been a couple of years since I returned to Hawaii. I moved there in 1965 and returned to the Mainland in 1998. During those 32 years I witnessed many changes in the 50th State. Some changes on Oahu were positive like the building of a stadium (all right, it looked rusty from day one and didn’t change from baseball to football by sliding on girders), Ala Moana shopping center opened as the country’s largest and many of the hotels were updated and new ones opened. A new international airport welcomed visitors. Some changes were not so good; lots of condo and office highrises marred the views of the ocean and the traffic moved from heavy to gridlock.
          The Neighbor Islands also went through changes, not a few caused by hurricanes, earthquakes and volcano eruptions. But on balance, the state has weathered the last 46 years quite well. The balance between tourists (oops, I mean visitors) seems to be holding. The locals benefit from the money they spend and the interchange of cultures from people all over the world. The visitors bathe in Hawaii’s legendary weather and scenery and some learn a bit about Hawaiian history and culture beyond the luau fire dancers and plastic leis.
           But all is not well in Paradise. When we returned for a two-week stay on Oahu and the Big Island, we were shocked and displeased at what we encountered. Tent villages have sprung up at the entrance to Waikiki and in some parks. Like Mainland states, Hawaii has fallen on hard fiscal times and generous social support programs have diminished. Hawaii’s liberal government has had to come to grips with reduced income and increased demand. What to do about these poor people is an ongoing topic in the newspaper.
           Waikiki seems to be in a constant state of repair. The sidewalks are torn up again and the usual traffic snarls have only gotten worse. Out in the rural areas, urban sprawl is relentlessly creeping into once quiet neighborhoods. With this expansion comes new demand for commercial buildings and housing developments. Years ago the City and County of Honolulu (which includes the entire island of Oahu) decided to open satellite offices out beyond the airport. This created whole new communities and the attendant stores and services. Jobs were created outside congested downtown Honolulu but so were demands for more social services. Where sugar and pineapple once grew, Costco and Best Buy now rule.
          Kona, on the Big Island, remains its old sleepy self. Not much seems to have changed except a few new restaurants and small hotels. The commercial development has been mostly out of town on the slopes of Mauna Kea volcano. That’s a good thing as Kona is an easygoing seaside fishing town. Driving north up the Kohala Coast the luxury resorts are well off the highway and do not mar the view of the cobalt ocean. The small town of Waimea (or Kamuela as some locals call it) has expanded considerably. More stores, more housing developments, more traffic is the new norm for this up country town. Thankfully, Waimea wears its development well. There is still a small town feeling where locals and tourists mix well.
          The best thing about changing Hawaii is still the people who live there. Sure there are the bad guys we see on Hawaii 5-0 but mostly everyone we encountered from hotel housekeepers to those who bring your plate lunch to you in the small restaurant across from the beach all have smiles and a friendly greeting. I am convinced this comes not from corporate training or the State tourism industry but from a culture that instills in its people a genuine love of people and place (“aina” in Hawaiian). So when you next travel across the ocean and become a visitor, look beyond the street people and housing developments and savor the morning sun on the Pali mountains, the soft air you will breathe and the nods and the greetings you will get from the locals as you pass them on the beach. Hawaii is still no ka oi. Hawaii – da best.
My Family Album 2030
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