I returned to Maui in the spring of 2011, almost 35 years to the day I’d left. In March 1976, Wayne and I embarked on an epic journey to Hawaii – epic at least in the minds of two 22-year-olds. We’d just graduated: Wayne, a Cougar and me, a Husky. Both of us were odd-jobbing, goofing off, and living at home. That winter we’d played a bit of tennis at the old junior high and hatched a trip to Hawaii in spring. Some details of this account are sketchy, primarily because I’ve forgotten much of what happened. Some memories are firmly embedded.
Figuring it would be hot and unruly, I’d cut my shoulder-length hair a couple of days before we left. We packed the little gear we needed and flew to Oahu. In the classic fashion of first-time Hawaiian tourists, we laid on the beach in the blazing sun most of our first day. That night we were lobsters. Our next three days would be fully clothed, so we decided to explore Oahu.
First stop – the bars of Waikiki. Back then these drinking establishments were open-air bamboo huts. Midday, they were filled with the drifters, drunks, and pseudo-adventurers, the kind of story-telling guys from whom you rarely hear a good story. While these Tiki bars were a pleasant diversion for a day, the drinks were expensive, and anyway, Wayne and I were in Hawaii for an adventure.
We decided to rent a car and explore the North Shore. We chose a cheap sporty rig and headed north from Honolulu. It was about when plastic garbage cans began replacing metal ones. And the garbage had just been collected, meaning every driveway had an empty plastic garbage can, on the edge of the road. Meaning we couldn’t resist smashing into empty plastic garbage cans along the way. We had lots of fun bashing cans, changing drivers every couple of miles until we’d left the populated areas and there were no more garbage cans left to bash. Is it any wonder car companies no longer rent to drivers younger than 25? We made it to the North Shore, saw monster waves, and finished circumnavigating the island. The rental car was returned, no worse for the wear. I don’t remember what we did over the next couple of days, but it wasn’t in the sun. By then, it was time to fly to Maui.
My Uncle Jack had recently bought a condo in Kihei. He told me the name of the nice Asian gal who managed it for him and the address for his rental management company. Uncle Jack had led me to believe that if we showed up at this certain rental agency, that this certain Asian girl could certainly do something for us. The bus ride from the airport was filled with dreams of the sweet condo and sleek ride all courtesy of Uncle Jack, or something resembling it. While Wayne waited in the park, I walked across South Kihei Road to the agency, and sure enough, there was a very attractive Asian gal, about thirty, who knew my Uncle Jack and yes, wasn’t Jack Morris a very nice client, but no she didn’t have any condos and no, there wasn’t any car, but thank you very much for stopping by, and if you’re ever back in Maui be sure to stop in and say “Aloha.”
Well, it wasn’t the easiest conversation to have with Wayne. I stuttered to explained, “No, I didn’t score a condo in Kihei,” and “No, they don’t have a car for us either.” Wayne didn’t say much, just an exasperated look as if to say, “What in the #%@&* are we going to do now, Kombol?”
The rental management agency was across the street from Kamaole Beach Park and within this patch of green was a parking lot and there to the far side were two hippies sitting at a picnic bench, near a faded yellow 1956 Ford station wagon with a “for sale” sign hanging in the window. The girl was quite attractive in a mid-seventies, hippie sort of way. Wayne sat impassively. I went to investigate. The hippie guy and gal were heading to New Zealand and willing to sell this gem of a rig, which included a 3” thick mattress laid across folded down back seats, with window curtains made from sheets, plus a 14” screwdriver in the glove compartment, in the event we might need a screwdriver.
They’d owned the car for six weeks or so and it ran well, except for its quirks, and got them everywhere they wanted to go. And for $237 we would have both room and vehicle. (I hadn’t remembered the amount until the discovery of a postcard written to my folks with a full description of the finer points of our purchase). Plus, we could sell it when we left the island. Such a deal – I pitched the proposition to Wayne. I can’t say he enthusiastically agreed, let’s say, reluctantly. Anyway, with $237 fewer dollars in our wallets, we now owned a condo and a car. But, part of the deal was to take the hippies to the airport as they were splitting for New Zealand. When we asked about the pink slip, they said, “It’s a floating title – no one has transferred it for years, no insurance, no nothing; in that way you’re not responsible for anything. Just sell it when you’re done.” One of their last warnings was the suspension wasn’t very good, so don’t drive on rough roads.
We took the hippie couple to the airport and said goodbye. Wayne hopped behind the driver’s wheel (no doubt owing to being my senior by a couple months). As we left the airport and pulled to the stoplight at the intersection of the Hana and Haleakala highways, the motor stopped and the entire dashboard of our ‘56 Ford filled with smoke and the acrid smell of burning electrical wires. Wayne turned slowly and looked at me, shaking his head in disgust. Feeling sheepish, I watched anxiously as Wayne ducked under the dash, messed with a few wires, and in no time the engine was humming. We turned left and were back on the road. I was feeling pretty happy. Wayne kept shaking his head, in time glancing my way, this time with a grin.
We drove back to Kihei and I suggested we continue on the unpaved road to Makena beach. My cousin Bob spoke glowingly of Makena beach. I was driving and must have hit some rough bumps in this well-rutted road because the muffler fell off. The hippies turned out to be right. The suspension wasn’t very good. After chastising me with appropriate vigor, Wayne found some baling wire, crawled under the car, and tied the muffler back in place. We’d already had two significant setbacks and only owned the car for a few hours.
Our days passed slowly. We were now wise and brown to the sun. We explored beaches by day and slept in parks and waysides by night. We drove around a lot. I can’t remember much of what we ate, but I do remember bananas for breakfast each morning. Neither of us drank coffee back then. We spent a lot of time at Makena beaches: Big Makena most of the time and Little Makena whenever we wanted to check out the nude sunbathers. One day we drove the long and winding road to Hana. We never made it to Haleakala Crater. I suppose the station wagon’s radiator was too weak to drive 10,000 feet up a mountain and we didn’t fancy more chances with our condo on wheels. We generally kept to the drier parts of the island because during heavy rains our condo leaked. It was something of a rust bucket and after each tropical downpour; we had to drag our mattress and damp sleeping bags into the sun to dry.
We’d bought masks and fins, snorkeled a bit, and sunbathed a lot. We drove around and swam, and occasionally washed our clothes at a laundromat. I don’t remember ever meeting any girls. We played lots of cribbage, for money – a nickel a point. I’ve always prided myself at being an expert cribbage player, but Wayne was clearly my match. I’d been a long-time political junkie and had great fun following the Reagan-Ford presidential primary battle in the local newspapers that spring. I usually remember events by the music of the times, but I swear the only song I recall from our trip was “Oh, what a night, late December back in ‘63” by Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons.
At the time there was a potent strain of antagonism from native Hawaiians, particularly those young and male, directed towards “haoles” (pronounced howl-lee). The term was derisively used for white tourists who were taking over their island. On one occasion at a state park, a gang of natives called out Wayne and me as “haoles,” with a tone and demeanor so menacing we promptly left without even a proper “aloha.”
Did I mention we drove around a lot? One day, we found ourselves in the working-class town of Wailuku, where there were far more natives than tourists. We’d never taken down the “for sale” sign in the car window, no doubt hoping that P.T. Barnum was right about a fool born every minute. Anyway, a Wailuku police office of large build, severe crew cut, and Polynesian descent rather forcefully informed us that it was a violation of the Wailuku municipal code to drive on city streets with a “for sale” sign in the window of a licensed vehicle. I suppose we could have thanked our blue-clad public servant for providing us with such a useful bit of information, but instead, we took down the sign with perhaps a bit too much attitude. As we drove down Market Street heading out of town, I begrudgingly turned and gave the cop the old stink-eye. This was not my finest hour! Blue lights flashed and this time he exploded with the force and temper of the Marine drill sergeant he resembled. With an improper registration and perhaps half a dozen other vehicle defects he could have impounded our car and left us homeless. Wayne took charge, blamed it on me, and apologized profusely, while I humbly sulked in the passenger seat. We were allowed to leave town with a promise to never come back to Wailuku. We never did.
One late afternoon, we decided to drive as far north as we could on the Honoapiilani highway. We left Lahaina and drove past Ka’anapali, Kahana, Kapalua, and beyond Honokohau Bay. Eventually, the narrow paved road turned to hard-packed dirt. On we drove, or should I say I drove as we generally shared driving duties, and I was commanding this particular expedition. We came to a beautiful yet remote area of rolling grasslands and picturesque meadows all adjacent to a clear blue ocean. At the top of one particular hill, Wayne wondered if we shouldn’t turn back. Before the words left his mouth, I’d coasted down into the next valley.
It was about 4:00 pm. It often rains in Maui in the late afternoon. At the bottom of this low point, the roadway was rain-softened. With our semi-bald tires, we could neither drive up the hill in front nor back up the one behind. Of course Wayne took the steering wheel, but he had no more luck in the sticky red clay than me. Turning his head, he said not a word, adopting the Stoic “Wayne look” while slowly shaking his head. We prayed another vehicle would come along, but apparently, every other driver on that road had the foresight or wisdom to turn around.
This isolated dale would be our home for the night. We had no food save for a coconut we couldn’t open. We played cribbage for a couple of hours. When twilight came, there was too little light to continue, so we crawled into our sleeping bags. Giving our recent, less-than-friendly encounter with a posse of rather large and surly natives, Wayne retrieved the 14” screwdriver from the glove compartment – for protection throughout the night.
Morning arrived safely. After several hours sitting around hungry and playing cribbage, a jeep came down the hill. It was driven by this hip-looking guy and his sweet-looking girlfriend. He stopped, listened to our tale of woe, and towed us back to safety. We tried to pay him, but he wouldn’t take the money. He told us of his T-shirt shop in Lahaina and we promised to stop in and buy something. We drove back to Lahaina, with a solemn promise to never leave the safety of pavement again. At the time Lahaina was a quiet, hippie-style town filled with shops selling turquoise jewelry, puka-shelled necklaces, and T-shirts. And every third long-hair you passed whispered, “Want some bud, man?”
It was there we met these two greaser-hippie-shyster dudes. They told us of their cool condo called the Whaler up in Ka’anapali and we should follow them and check it out. Back then, Ka’anapali was less than a half dozen high-rise condos and nothing like the perfected tourist oasis of today. So we navigated our rusty ‘56 Ford station wagon into the basement parking lot of the Whaler and zipped up the elevator to examine this posh 9th-floor condo with an ocean view.
Wow, what a place! Next, the greaser-hippie-shyster dudes pull out some Maui-Wowie bud and proceed to light up. The pipe was passed around. And though we’d seen a lot of sunshine and slept out in the rain, unlike the John Denver song there was no talk of poems and prayers and promises and things that we believed in. After the third hit, we stepped onto the balcony, looking straight down 150 feet. That’s when the Maui-Wowie slammed us. Wayne thought he could fly but fortunately didn’t. We crawled off the balcony, said goodbye to the greasers, stumbled to the elevator, rambled through the parking lot searching for our car, got in, looked at each other, and realized – “We’re not in Enumclaw anymore.” It was the last time Wayne ever smoked anything stronger than tobacco.
Driving in a car, sleeping in a car, changing in a car, eating in a car, and living in a car grows wearisome after three weeks. We were due for a change. Back in Kihei, we ran into this Canadian dude who had a big condo with a pool and was staying there all by himself until his friend arrived a few days later, and he wondered if we wanted to move in for a while. I can’t remember his name. He liked to drink rum and coke – for breakfast with his cereal, at poolside in the afternoon, and nightcaps in the evening. He was a lonely guy.
For our condo-warming gift, Wayne and I bought a case of beer, some food, and moved right in. The second night we asked our Canadian host if he liked to play cards. We started with a few games of cribbage, but it wasn’t long till the evening turned to poker. At first, it was small stakes – nickel-dime-quarter, but soon enough the game progressed to dollars-fives-tens. When all was said and done, I was $125 richer and Wayne was up $75. A few hours earlier that $200 had been the property of our Canadian host – the lonely dude who invited us to stay in his condo; eat his food; swim in his pool; shower at his pad; and drink his rum and coke. We were feeling a bit guilty, so the next day went out and bought steaks, and all manner of fancy food (including his favorite brand of cereal), plus more beer, rum, and coke. We ended up spending most of our winnings on our host plus his two guests from Enumclaw. Over the next few days, we ate well and drank well. The Canadian’s friend finally arrived from Canada.
Alas, all good things must end. Wayne and I were running out of money and the Canadians were too smart to play poker with us. Anyway, we had plans to meet Coppin on Oahu. I have no idea how we made arrangements in those pre-technology days before e-mail, cell phones, and texts; when long-distance calls cost as much as a half-rack of beer. We sold the car for $200, got a ride to the airport, and headed back to Honolulu. Chris had flown in for a few days, courtesy of George Coppin and Pan American Airways. We went to the zoo, watched a whale and dolphin show, visited Pearl Harbor, saw Don Ho, and told tales from our Maui adventures. I almost drowned, but that’s a story for another day.
Eventually, it was time to go home. Chris jetted back to Notre Dame while Wayne and I flew home through San Francisco. Of one thing I’m certain. We laid-over for several hours at SFO on March 29th. That Monday night, we each sat in plastic airport chairs with small, built-in televisions costing $.50 per hour watching the Academy Awards on one channel and the 1976 NCAA basketball championship game on the other.
As for the meaning of our epic journey I can’t claim, we were born in the springtime of our 22nd year coming home to a place we’d never been before. But we did have quite the time and our travel dollars went the distance. We also made saved some pretty good memories.
Fittingly, I returned to Maui 35 years later on the Monday of the 2011 NCAA championship game, this time with Jennifer and our three sons. We rented a bright red, Hyundai Tucson and stayed in an ocean-front condo in Kahana. We made the drive to Haleakala Crater and skipped the drive to Hana. We snorkeled and took photos with an underwater camera. We played on boogie boards and body-surfed the shore break at Fleming beach. We ate home-cooked meals in our full-suite, kitchen condo and enjoyed fine meals at nice restaurants. We attended a Luau.
We drove to the places I’d remembered from 35 years prior, but most everything had changed. I looked to find our yellow ‘56 Ford station wagon, but realized she was only 20-years-old when we owned her in 1976 and would now be 55-years-old. On the way to the airport, I saw a flatbed truck hauling the crushed hulks of junk cars, and Neil Young’s song came to mind . . . long may you run; long may you run.
We didn’t play cribbage, but each night I slept on a thick mattress in a king-size bed next to my wife with a cool breeze blowing in the window. Some things change, some never do, but I wouldn’t change either trip to Maui . . . for all the sand on Makena beach.
- Written on our United Airlines flight home from Maui to Seattle with a layover in San Francisco, April 11, 2011