It’s been a long time since Robert and I had more than a two- or, at most, three-day weekend for a vacation, but the end of August this year seemed like a good choice for a leisurely trip, just the two of us. With things slowing down at Robert’s office at the end of the summer, and my summer classes over, fall classes not yet begun, and book safely away at the publisher, we decided to spend the week—the entire week—before Labor Day in Hawaii.
Why Hawaii? Robert remarked that we always have odd, though enjoyable, vacations, including such things as an alpaca farm bed-and-breakfast, and in frustration, he said, “Why can’t we just go somewhere and sit on a beach for a week, like normal people?” I thought about it, and agreed that Hawaii would be an acceptable choice—having heard of the bounty of Pacific fish, and the legendary shave ices, I thought I could make it into an odd, enjoyable trip to a normal destination.
Of course, we didn’t just spend the week on the beach, and of course, we did quite a few off-beat things, but even Robert, in his most conventional moments, would agree that that’s the way we like things: they give you the best experiences at the time, and the most interesting stories to look back on.
So, on Monday, August 30th, we flew on Delta to Cincinnati, Ohio, and then straight from there to Honolulu. Along the way, we napped a little and had lengthy discussions about whether it was the 31st or the 30th and why the Cincinnati airport code is CVG—which one might logically think slightly more appropriate for Cleveland, perhaps. The best answer we ever got to why CVG was from an employee at that Los Angeles-familiar chain, Wetzel’s Pretzels, when we stopped at their Cincinnati outpost.
“CVG?” she repeated, smiling heartily, “Well, Cincinnati Very Good!”
We ate a cheese pretzel-wrapped hot dog and an almond caramel pretzel to fortify us for the rest of the trip. Along the way, with Robert in his pineapple-print Hawaii shirt—bought, of course, specially for the occasion from the sale rack at Old Navy—we attracted many “Going to Hawaii?” comments from security guards and flight attendants.
“Are you two honeymooners?” one of the flight attendants asked us on the Cincinnati-Honolulu leg, “You were looking pretty cozy.”
As though only honeymooners can look cozy! I was indignant, and said nothing. Robert was hesitant—should he lie? would it really be a lie if we felt like honeymooners? could we say this was our second honeymoon?
The flight attendant laughed at him, “See, he’s hesitating because he’s getting ready to lie to us!” she told her fellow drink-cart pusher.
Robert still seemed unable to say anything, so I stepped in: “We’re actually on an anniversary trip,” I said, which was true enough—we were just over two months past our sixth wedding anniversary and just a week before the eleventh anniversary of the night we met. All of this got us offered the same free alcoholic drink as the other honeymooning couples on the plane, but we declined, and settled back to get some sleep.
Sleep was hard to come by on this flight, though, at least where we were sitting. It was a fairly empty flight, so Robert and I were spread out across three middle seats, with lots of legroom, but a family of four across from and ahead of us were also spread out—with parents across the aisle from us, sitting together in a pair of seats near a window, and obnoxious seven- and eight-year-old children taking up the entire row of three seats in front of us and of two seats in front of their parents. The various shuffling child movements pushing back their seats, the spilled cup of ice the boy just had to have to play with which went tumbling down into Robert’s sneakers, and the swinging from the armrests in the aisle were nothing, however, compared to the repetitive, monotonic chant of the girl every four or five minutes:
“Mooooommmmmmm, are we theeeeerrrrrrre yet?” “What timmmmmmmme is it?” “Mooooommmmmmm, wheeeeeerrrrrrre are we goooooooooing againnnnnnn?” “Mooooommmmmmm, how long until we get there?”
The girl repeated this over and over, cutting through dreams and sleep more effectively than a smoke alarm above your bed. Ignored by the parents more often than not, she sometimes got a late, half-hearted, “Still seven hours left, sweetie,” or an off-hand “It’s only 11 a.m. in Hawaii.” Eventually, after about six-ninths of our flight was spent in this manner, the mother happened to be standing in the aisle stretching her legs when the child asked one of these interminable questions about time. The mother looked over at us, as though our glares had attracted her gaze, and smiled a typical “isn’t she just adorable?” smile.
“This is what they’re like at seven and eight, you know,” she said, still smiling, not at all apologetic.
“Oh, I know what it’s like to travel at that age,” I volunteered, since she had opened the subject. “I remember being that age and flying to England with my parents. I believe I had a watch of my own, and our flight schedule so that I could check the time left myself.”
“Yeah,” Robert joined in, “You could always just give her a watch.”
The woman gave a “oh, the cute kid!” smile and shrug and sat down. With still three hours left trapped on the plane together, we glared at the seatback.
We tried to amuse ourselves with snacks, including organic cheese bunny crackers, an excellent homemade trail mix, and good Japanese rice crackers. Toward the end of the flight, our excitement at the trip and our destination blocked out all though both of snacks and even of the children in front of us.
Random pretty building, clouds, and palms in Honolulu.
We arrived in Honolulu right on time, just at 4:20 in the afternoon, and when leaving the plane we saw other people being met by tour representatives giving them leis. “Did you ever wish we’d done that?” Robert asked. I ignored him, because although I hadn’t explicitly asked for the representative and the lei, when I booked our flights and hotel on Orbitz the final confirmation email did in fact mention something about being met by a representative who would give us fresh-flower leis and arrange for free ground transportation to our hotel. So when I saw one lei-bearing woman looking a little lost, I walked over to her, and sure enough she put the leis around our necks and led us over to the baggage claim and then to one of those hotel shuttles. Robert and I put up with the leis because we were here, after all, in an odd indoor-outdoor airport we didn’t understand, and with people who looked far stranger in leis than we did—including a large bearded man in a Harley cut-off tee shirt and many silver studs—being hung with flowers all around us. Also, the leis happened to be made out of our wedding flower, which intensified the honeymoon feel.
Our first impression of Honolulu, as we drove through parts of it in rush hour traffic, was that it was like a smaller version of Los Angeles. We checked into our hotel at 5:30, washed up, changed, and got ready to go out again. The Hawaiian Monarch hotel was in Ewa, or west, Waikiki, away from the Las-Vegas-like strip, and right on the Ala Wai canal, with a great view of the canal, of Diamond Head crater, of the city, and, if you craned your neck, of the ocean as well. The room was small but decent, with our biggest amenity a mini fridge. As we found out later, the twenty-five-floor hotel had only one ice machine, three floors below our room, and then you had to pay a quarter for the ice. Out of principle, then, we relied on tap water and our fridge rather than pay for water or ice. We discovered we had a very slow, weak, but free wireless connection, as well as great cellphone reception, so we immediately went online to find a map of the location of the Honolulu Fish Auction we had read about and desired to go to the next morning at 5:30. Sadly, we found out that the Fish Auction had moved to a new location only two weeks ago, and we couldn’t find the exact pier or address. The front desk people had never heard of the Fish Auction and couldn’t help us, but we began to doubt their reliability when, hungry, we asked how long a walk it was to Chinatown.
“Oh, you don’t want to go there at night!” the woman said in horror.
It was all of 7:00 by that point. “We’re from cities,” I said, “and we’re used to walking around a downtown or a Chinatown.”
“And we eat everything,” Robert added hastily.
The woman looked skeptical, and only replied that it was too long to walk. This disappointed us, since I swear that Orbitz had said, when I booked our room, that the hotel was in Chinatown (which it obviously, now, wasn’t), and here we were too far away to even walk there. I changed gears, and asked the woman how long it would take to walk to the Ala Moana Mall and Beach, which I could see on my map and which we’d passed in the car on the way in from the airport. She said it was about half an hour, and that we should just walk straight down Ala Moana Boulevard.
“Well, we drove down that street on the way in,” I said. “Is there a different street we can take—maybe a more scenic route?”
The woman at the desk stared at me blankly, so I elaborated. “I mean, it was just kind of an ugly street, a couple fast-food places and then all car dealerships, no real sidewalk, no view of either the canal or the ocean. . .”
Again, a blank stare. I started to think that, in my sleep-deprived, adrenaline-driven state, I had confused the apparently hugely scenic Ala Moana with the car-dealer road we drove in on, so we headed out to walk down Ala Moana Boulevard.
View down Ala Wai Canal from our hotel room at dawn.
As we walked, we reflected that our initial Chinatown conversation with the woman had been very much like our experiences calling tech support for something like our cable modem.
Tech guy (bored): Hi, this is Comcast, how can I help you today?
Us (very quickly): We’re advanced users, we know what we’re doing, we’re used to using computers and everything used to be working fine, everything’s plugged in, we already reset the modem, but the modem stopped working this morning.
Tech guy (in his best talking-to-idiots voice): Now, you say the modem stopped working. Is it unplugged?
And so on, forever.
Meanwhile, walking down Ala Moana, we realized that we’d been right: this was indeed the same car-dealership, narrow sidewalk, unattractive street we’d been on before. Robert was longing to walk two blocks over to the beach, but I wanted dinner, and we stood a better chance of finding that on the ugly street and in the mall than on the beach in the dark.
We ended up eating a progressive dinner, one of our favorites. Our first course was sushi, at the Ala Moana Boulevard branch of the local chain Aloha Sushi, next to a Subway and a Starbucks in a mini-mall just past Todai. We paid $1.79 each for an ahi handroll, an unagi handroll, and a Portuguese sausage and egg handroll. The last one was recommended to us as much better than the $.99 Spam handroll by a chubby, happy regular who was paying for his order just ahead of us. The woman in the shop seemed to like him—she made an odd speech about how, just for him, she was going to give him six napkins since he’d ordered six handrolls. We ordered our rolls, and she disappeared into the back of the shop to make the rolls. We paid, the chubby man trying to chip in a dime while I fumbled in my purse for one, and the rolls were indeed delicious. Sushi doesn’t get much cheaper than this—I was in heaven.
Hoarding our two precious napkins, we walked on toward the Ala Moana Center. Along the way, I pointed out the vog (volcanic fog) in the air, and Robert laughed at me. Still, having spent the entire trip reading guidebooks—since we were unable to sleep—we not only knew about vog, but we also knew about the seatbelt laws, sales tax rates, and bus costs. We were indeed well prepared.
At the mall, we ran through the “Aloha Shirt” department of Macy’s and headed straight to Shirokiya, a Japanese department store with an outpost here. In their upstairs food department we bought a $.25 piece of fried butterfish, a $1.50 unagi in egg roll, and a $1.50 unagi and sticky rice leaf-wrapped pyramid. Comfortably fortified, we walked through the rest of the mall, stopping at the Apple Store to feel at home for a moment, and then admiring the foodcourt and its many enticing Japanese chains. We stopped at a fresh fruit and pearl drink stand in the middle of the mall, and when we went to order a shake, I was torn between corn (!!) and mango, on the different grounds of novelty and taste. I asked the guy in the stand about the corn shake, and he said that it was good, but that they’d discontinued it because they couldn’t keep up with demand. Intriguing. Instead, we ordered the mango—a great shake, with decent, not super, tapioca pearls. Drink in hand, we went into a See’s Candies (It’s been so long! See’s, come to the east coast!) and got free samples of peanut brittle along with our favorite truffles from Los Angeles days (Bourdeaux milk brown sugar and Key Lime for me, Kona coffee for Robert).
Around 8:15 we suddenly began to feel dead tired, so we staggered home to the hotel via the clearly more scenic canal route along Ala Wai. We washed up, planned for tomorrow, and were asleep by 9:30.