Monday, August 29, 2016


The first glimpse of Hawaii, framed thru the jet’s window was simply beautiful. Diamond Head, Waikiki Beach, Pearl Harbor, everything I'd thought and dreamed about was there and getting closer by the minute. 

We land. This was before the era of jetways so as we walked down the ramp we were greeted by our Hawaiian hosts with flower leis for us and as we left the airport our new Vista Supervisors had decided that the best introduction to Hawaii would be a picnic on the beach, and not just any beach. We got into these old grey government cars, Rambler Americans (fitting name), and drove for an hour or so up the coast to the legendary Makaha Beach. But we didn’t stop at the parking lot, no, we drove over the curb and parked the cars pretty much right at the water’s edge. Wow. We were the U.S. Government. We could do anything. What a day. Wow.

After that fantastic experience they took us to where we’d be living. I was to have a room in a regular house in a neighborhood called Upper Kalihi. The homeowner, Hollis Chung, rented out rooms in his home, and there were three other renters, non Vistas, already there. We were all to share the bathroom. This was bad. After my space and freedom in Alaska I felt like a caged animal. Actually after Alaska I was a caged animal. I didn’t know what I could do about it that night but I didn’t think I could survive in that house and room. Not a chance. I went to sleep. 

I’m an early riser so with the dawn I wandered out to see where I was. Upper Kalihi, as you’d expect from the name, was on the side of one of the many lush mountain ridges rising up from the ocean and from the front door of the house you could see the whole panorama of Honolulu and the wide ocean beyond. Spectacular. I was still upset with my living conditions but soon Vista picked me up and took me to where I’d be working, so I have to figure that out later.


I was assigned to the Hawaii Curriculum Center. It was on the beautiful grounds of the University of Hawaii Manoa Campus. I was introduced to everybody, but the truth was that they had already heard about me because of the ruckus I had caused in Alaska, but they were squarely on my side because they had wanted an industrial designer on their team for the past year and they seemed as genuinely happy for me to be there as I was.

Not only that but this group was a research team, tasked with developing creative curriculum materials specifically for the children of Hawaii. The people that they had assembled were incredibly talented and believed totally in their mission. They were a passionate group. My specific job was to oversee a group of about 12 student artists who created the ‘camera-ready’ art to be produce for testing, to design the materials so they looked and worked better and to get them out for bid to the printers on the island. Truth be told I had no idea what ‘camera-ready’ even meant (Pratt didn’t teach us everything) but I kept my mouth shut and quickly learned what I had to to make things work. The truth was it was fascinating work and it was in Hawaii. 


Let me start by saying this. Although I got what I wanted in the end, what VISTA put me thru, for no reason except total government inefficiency, left me with no respect for the organization's managers. Today, in 2016, I can appreciate their fuck-up gave me an experience living with the Eskimos that I treasure, but at that time I was in no mood to listen to anything Hawaii Vista said, and conversely, the last thing they needed was for me to complain (in writing) about anything so we co-existed. Besides, my job at the curriculum center was going well and as long as the University was happy with my work, so were they. Except:

I had these two little issues to solve. The first was my living conditions. So the morning of my first weekend off from work I started to scout the area around Upper Kalihi. I didn’t have to go far because in the back of Hollis Chung’s house was a big sloping yard. I followed it down to where he kept bees (he was very entrepreneurial) and there I saw a wall of overgrown foliage and an old weathered handmade sign that said ‘KAPU’. Figuring this was the Hawaiian version of ‘TABOO’ or ‘KEEP OUT’ I quickly parted the palm fronds to find a set of ancient giant stone steps that led down to a luscious patch of dwarf banana trees and at the end of the patch,beyond and below another old stone wall there was Kalihi Stream. This was amazing.This was real Hawaii. I knew right then that I’d be living here.

I made a deal with Hollis. He could keep all the money Vista paid him for my room rent and he could rent the room out to someone else as long as he’d let me ‘camp’ down in the banana patch and use the shower occasionally. He, of course, thought I was crazy but couldn’t pass up a business offer like this so he agreed. Besides, he saw I was picked up by a  government car all the time and I might have inferred this had something to do with the government. The deal was set. Only one piece left to put in place. Tomorrow. Sunday.

I mentioned VISTA had these cars to use for their business. There were I believe four or five Rambler Americans that were stored at the Marine motor-pool in Honolulu. The deal was we were supposed to fill out some form, days in advance, if we were going to need one for some official VISTA business and the head honcho would decide priorities. We all had been given these beautiful U.S. GOVERNMENT DRIVER’S LICENSES and GOVERNMENT GAS CREDIT CARDS (can you believe it?)

Well, the next morning,  being the early riser that I was, I headed to the motor-pool where I just took one of the cars without telling anybody. These cars didn’t have a radio so my first stop was a radio store where I bought and installed a Sony stereo tape cassette deck and multiple speakers. Next came the Stones and Zep and all the music that I hadn’t heard for a year in Alaska (because while I had a radio there, reception was incredibly poor and when you have no electricity, a battery is more important for your flashlight than for your radio). 

And that was that. I was now bombing around paradise, exploring this magnificent island, in a car that said U.S. GOVERNMENT  FOR OFFICIAL BUSINESS ONLY with Mick telling me 'ya can’t always get what ya want, but if ya try sometime…..

VISTA, of course, called me in for a lecture. I listened passively while they explained the proper procedures for requisitioning a car and why they needed the cars for their other obligations etc etc. They asked if I understood. I said I did, but after all I'd been through with VISTA I couldn't care less about any of their 'rules' and the next morning I got up, went to the motor-pool, filled the tank and was off. They really didn’t know what to do with me but after the third day they just gave up.The car was mine. Also I have to say that I was doing a good job designing educational materials at the Curriculum Center and I really did need a car occasionally to meet with printers or go to a bindery so maybe the Curriculum Center got involved. All I know was that the car was all mine and now I could go about building my new home in the banana patch.

to be continued

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