Oahu, Hawaii – Day 1 (Saturday, March 23, 2013)

Whoever Said Getting There is Half the Fun Better Have Died in a Plane Crash

I didn’t sleep well before the trip.

Truth be told, I never sleep well the night before a big event or trip. I am, like many people, a creature of habit (Some affectionately refer to it as “OCD”), finding solace and comfort in my daily routine. Wake up, go work, eat lunch, work some more, fight traffic, go to the gym, eat dinner, watch The Daily Show, go to bed.* Not that I don’t enjoy the adrenaline-inducing zeal of shaking things up that’s inherent with any adventure (This includes online dating), but the edgy, nerve-tingling excitement regarding the impending unknown, and muted paranoia of the thousand possible things that could go wrong throughout the next day race through my mind as I stared at the ceiling. Will the flights be on time? Who will sit next to me? Will the in-flight movie suck (And/or star Julia Roberts)? Will TSA respect me when I giggle during the pat down?**

My flight from Dulles International Airport (IAD) departed at 7:00 AM, so factoring in the minimum, recommended pre-departure time before the flight, as well as waking up, showering and a last minute check of everything, I did something that’s pretty damn rare for me. If today seemed particularly nice, lucky, in some way blessed, or the mythical snowball actually did have a chance in Hell, then it’s because I was awake at 4:00 AM. Bleary-eyed and without a drop of coffee in my system to stave off my already-present early morning crankiness (My parents, college roommates and ex-girlfriends will confirm this about me…with varying levels of affection or disdain), I arrived at a surprisingly busy Dulles, the victim of a massive invasion of teenagers and college students of D-Day proportions. Why was I in a sea of acne-riddled nose talkers and knit-headed hipster wannabes not looking where they were going because of their staring at cell phones that were all but surgically-attached to their hands? It was a genuine Scooby-Doo mystery for me at 5:00 AM…until I remembered that it was spring break,*** and all the kids were bolting to destinations where local dress codes consisted of little more than never-taken-off-during-the-entire-trip swimwear,**** flip flops and beer bong paraphernalia.

I don’t know if God, the Patron Saint of TSA or blessed Karma took pity on me, but security whisked me through and away from that teenage wasteland and onto a pleasant flight to my connection at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport (DFW). However, whatever grace made my first flight magically delicious quickly forsook me at DFW. In truth, it was my fault. I was the one who miscalculated that instead of a leisurely 90 minute layover, I had less than 50 minutes to race from where I was to my connecting flight. For those virgin travelers who may be reading this, DFW is big, and I mean REALLY ginormously fucking big. I don’t know if it’s big because it’s that important a hub or if Texas made it that big because it compensates for some unknown insecurity by making or claiming everything in it is big. Somewhere, there’s a middle-aged and balding, less-than-well-endowed, Ferrari-driving, supermodel-dating airport designer whose very survival depends on travelers like me never finding out who he is. Nevertheless, DFW is infamous for two things – the first you know already, and the second is for notoriously placing connecting flights on opposite ends of its massive terminal complex.

Presentation1

Suddenly realizing my timing mistake and how little time I had as my flight landed, I anxiously pounded off the plane, jumped onto the tram, and took what must have been one the longest tram rides of my life (This includes Disneyland) in a patience-testing slow pace while racing the clock to the far side of the airport. Checking my watch every few minutes, slight but noticeable beads of sweat formed on my brow as time ticked within 10 minutes of flight departure and there were still several tram stops to go until my gate. A couple holding the tram up at one stop while struggling to grab their bags and fight their kids forced me to contemplate expediting their departure with a well-meaning but abrupt shove. Finally, the tram dropped me off at my gate, and with five precious minutes to spare, I reached the gate as a hot, sweaty mess with crumpled boarding pass in hand. As I stood there trying to compose myself, the so-perky-they-might-inadvertently-endanger-their-lives-with-the-wrong-customer airline attendants explained to me that the flight was delayed due to a group of kids who were on a late connecting flight. Considering that the alternatives were the uncertain prospect of hopping on an undetermined later flight, or worse, being stuck in Texas, I was understandably happy and grateful for the delay.

Relaxing on the plane, the other passengers and I waited patiently for the remaining kids to board. Now, it isn’t the waiting that was getting on our collective nerves, but the looped track of Hawaiian ukulele music they kept repeating over the speakers. I’ve always said that a little bit of Cajun zydeco music goes A VERY LONG WAY,***** and I now share that feeling about ukulele music. I was never so happy to hear the squealing gaggle of caffeine-crazed pre-teens, heralding the end of the in-any-other-situation-it-might-be-soothing Hawaiian music. The flight from DFW to Honolulu was nearly nine hours, but uneventful and even comfortable. The only downsides were constant cloud cover hiding our approach to the islands, and discovering that my cell phone wouldn’t power back up after landing because I mistakenly left it out of “Airplane Mode” (i.e., lack of cell signal means the phone switches to active search mode, draining the battery in minutes).

* There may be some porn-watching time mixed in here somewhere, but I will neither confirm nor deny it, nor when I watched it…I mean if I watched it. Don’t judge me.
** I don’t think they cared.
*** Paul picked this week specifically so that any teachers could take this trip, and in fact, several of the people in my travel group were teachers.
**** Possible exceptions include stripping for Girls Gone Wild cameras, drunken flings, orgies and impromptu hotel toga parties…all of which can happen at the same time.
***** Don’t believe me? I worked at the Wolftrap Farm Park ticket office one summer in college and had to help with their annual Cajun music “Swamp Romp” festival. I’ve done my time in Purgatory.

Aa – lo – HAAA, BITCHES!

I landed in Honolulu around 3:00 PM local time and Paul said to call him after I was done at baggage claim. Honolulu International Airport (HNL) is an interesting airport, where you alternate from indoors to outdoors several times on the long walk to baggage claim. Waiting for my bag to come around, I found a power outlet and briefly charged my phone a little so I could fire off a couple of text messages telling Paul where I was. Quickly enough, Paul pulled up with another of the recently-arrived group in tow and we were off…until we wondered why we still heard outside traffic so clearly. A glance backward showed us that the van’s back gate hadn’t latched shut and was wide open, but thankfully none of our bags had fallen out, becoming airborne missiles or improvised speed bumps. While Paul was his usual, jovial self, the other passenger was a shy, dour woman with absolutely no sense of humor. Her only other remarkable quality was her proclaiming that she is a vegan without anyone really asking her in the first place.*

The Ohana Waikiki West Hotel is in downtown Honolulu, across Kuhio Avenue from the famed International Marketplace and a few blocks from Waikiki Beach. When we arrived at the hotel, there was yet another reminder that tis’ the season of spring break as the lobby was wall-to-wall with high school bands and sports teams, as well as their blatantly ignored parents and teacher escorts. Ohana Waikiki West is in the middle of one of the most in-demand travel destinations on Earth, so I didn’t think much of that until the front desk explained how there were network cable connections in every room, but the only available wifi signal was in the lobby. My mood darkened at this unfortunate development. For the past few years, I’ve traveled with my trusty Samsung Galaxy tablet, which is a godsend for accessing email/internet, carrying multiple books without the bulk, and/or having games to play without lugging around a laptop or going blind from miniscule smart phone screens. The fact that most hotels and airports have complimentary wifi made that tablet worth every penny I paid for it…until now. Not that I intended to be checking emails that often while in paradise or that I couldn’t access them on my phone, but it meant trucking downstairs 15 floors anytime I needed to use my tablet. Plus, the cherry on top of this particular crap sundae was having to fight for couch space next to squealing teenage girls and no-concept-of-personal-body-space boys** was a damn convincing reason to stay off the tablet.

After a badly-needed shower to wash away 12 hours of travel funk and brief nap, we met down in the lobby for a quickie introduction since not all of us knew each other, a quick review of our itinerary for the week, and then journeyed across the street to the International Market to check out its food court, which reminded me of many of the street food locales Anthony Bourdain frequents on his travel shows.*** After a more than satisfying meal of shrimp and calamari, we made our way back to the hotel where I enjoyed the cool night air with the room’s sliding door open…until the neighbors below me lit up and graciously shared their secondhand pot smoke.**** I didn’t mind too much since the wind blew most of it away and my body, exhausted and confused from crossing far too many time zones in one day, was steadily convincing the rest of me that it was 3:00 AM instead of actually 10:00 PM. Nevertheless, I collapsed into bed without remembering falling asleep.

* Except for our scheduled tours and events, we saw very little of her. So little in fact, that we all speculated that she may have spent a significant amount of her free time in her hotel room. We were on the same floor and I only bumped into her twice, one of which we took the elevator down without her speaking a single word.
** As well as their questionable hygiene or applied amounts of Axe body sprays which should be considered a felony.
*** Coincidentally, my choice of reading for this trip was his book The Nasty Bits, which is a collection of his magazine articles and essays. I recommend it if you love food and/or biting sarcasm.
**** Except for a cigar once in a Blue Moon, I never smoke. In fact, the one or two times I tried cigarettes were the times I was convinced I was going to die from my own curiosity. As for pot, I can safely say that I’ve never tried it and the smell alone makes me gag.

First Impressions

Three things immediately struck me about Honolulu.

First, the vibe of the place reminded me a bit of Miami, but without the emphasis on style and image. At the risk of sounding stereotypical, there’s a definite “hang loose” mentality, and despite it being a bustling city, the locals all seem very relaxed.* Pretty much the only people I saw dressed up were either hotel staff or wedding parties. Second, the city’s layout is an odd mix. Part of it comes from the hilly terrain of the island, so you go from what looks like any city block, urban skyline to suburban-like housing complexes lining the sides of steep hills. The other thing that struck me about this was as the city spreads out into the suburbs, there are tall, narrow apartment and condo buildings reaching up into the sky, surrounded by almost unnoticeable houses next to them. Very few of these skyscraper-esque buildings were grouped together, so they looked strangely out of place compared to their much lower surroundings. Finally, I noticed a definite homeless population. I’m not talking about just a few scraggly-looking bums wandering around, but whole packs of them patrolling the streets while pushing shopping carts littered with their few earthly belongings and creature comforts. Not that I assumed that everything is perfect in “paradise,” but the homeless have a definite, in-your-face presence. One that’s absurdly curious and sadly interesting at the same time.**

* Compared to the Washington, DC stick-up-their-asses atmosphere, this was a bit of a culture shock for me.
** Honolulu’s homeless problem is far more serious than I thought. It’s become a huge concern based on tourist complaints and major headache for the locals given the limited space and resources inherent with island life. A Google search brings up articles like Hawaii Homelessness and For Honolulu’s Homeless, an Eviction Notice that paint eye-opening portraits of Honolulu’s dark side.

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