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April 1971

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Lahaina Town, Maui, Hawaii



Great Britain in the 18th and 19th centuries had a tradition that was practiced by its elegant monied upper classes. They were plagued by swarms of over-educated, elegant, unworldly offspring who were the world's first Children Of Affiuence. After the Old Man had hacked a fortune and a title out of the unfriendly world, he wound up a tough old bird wise in the ways of Man, saddled with male offspring given to gambling, drink, opium puffing, faggotry, and the penning of limp poetry, dealing mostly with Love. There was only one thing to do, and the tough old bird did it in style. He shipped the simperers off to the far reaches of the Empire, to languish away their lives amid tropical decadence far away from the family. They were called Remittance Men. A few very ancient survivors of this 19th Century English tradition can still be found in Sumatra or Pango Pango, still receiving their checks from a Post Office box in Dorset. It was inevitable that America, a 20th Century Imperial power, would ultimately be forced to create its own Remittance Man. Today, wherever an airline can get you where the breezes blow balmy and the opium is plentiful, and there are wide seas separating you from the homeland, there you will find a growing horde of indolent, self-indulgent highly subsidized Children Of American Affluence. The American Remittance Man is now a familiar sight on the sands of Maui and the coral beaches of the Caribbean. They have many names: hippies, flower children, love freaks, druggies, yippies, and they all have one salient common denominator. They are, almost without exception, products of monied upper class American families. And some-where back on the Mainland a tough old bird is mailing out the checks, glad to get his pot-smoking, moon-eyed offspring out of his hair and not really caring too much that someone else has become lumbered with his ex-headache. As I write this I am actually, at this moment, lounging in a beach chair on the sands of the Pacific a few miles out of Lahaina town on the incredibly beautiful island of Maui. Maui is the island that the Hawaiians come to when they go on vacation. If you've ever promised yourself that one day you really would take all your available cash and visit a real tropical Paradise, you could do no better anywhere in the world than Maui. The climate is almost perfect, since Maui lies in the path of the trade winds. It rarely gets hotter than 80 or so in the day, and it drops down to a balmy 75 at night. You can do damn near anything on Maui that the human being has contrived in the name of Pleasure. Surfing and scuba diving are totally out of sight, and it is one of the last places in the Hawaiian island chain where genuine Hawaiians live, roasting pig in their emus, plunking away on ukuleles, dipping poi and being just what they are: genuine love children of Nature who haven't a nasty bone in their bodies. By an incredible stroke of the famed Shepherd luck, I wrangled an invitation to a luau being thrown by Big John Luuwai at his house on Makena Bay. Big John is a sort of unofficial King among Maui's Hawaiians who has lived in the same spot for 60 some-odd years. The luau was nothing like the Pan Am commercials. It was the best day I've spent since a family reunion back in Indiana when I was ten. I played the washtub bass for the ukulele plunkers until my hands were blistered, stuffed my face with emu-roasted pig, mountain shrimp, seaweed salad and God-knows-what. The mothers, grandmothers, and Auntie Angie sang, and sucked up beers all night in a rolling, Down Home sitting-around-the potato salad party. It .was ostensibly given for Julie Alo's third birthday. She got a new flower-covered dress, and everybody else got skunked on Primo. It was a hell of a birthday party. The Hawaiians radiate such good will and grooviness as to make our painfully contrived Hippies look and sound like Rotarians from New Jersey on a convention, and almost to the man the Hawaiians loathe the love babies who bring thievery, disease, and think nothing of making a mess of the beaches and the forests in particularly obscene ways. If you've ever been curious about what a real volcano looks like, Maui has a couple of beauties. They are extinct, and run down the middle of the island like a gigantic towering spine of green, lush, orchid filled jungle. Every time you buy a drink on Maui, usually a Mai-Tai, they float an orchid among the ice cubes. Lahaina, an old whaling town on the southwest coast of Maui, is one of the greatest towns I've ever been in for sheer poetry of feeling. Five minutes after I drove my Hertz Chevy into Lahaina I was sitting in the Pioneer Inn, downing my first mahimahi burger, which is a great way of saying broiled dolphin on a bun. The Hawaiian breezes were blowing in from the sea, and mynah birds were squawking in the banyan tree, when I spotted my first Maui Marauder. It roared past the wharf and slewed to a stop near the stern of the Judy Ann, a fishing boat moored nearby. I knew the sound instantly. World War Two Jeeps of the '41-'43 vintage have a sound all their own. There are countless guys around the world who know that singing, angry .transmission buzz so well that they could identify it in their sleep. If there is one car that is the vehicle of Maui, it is the 1941-'44 U.S. standard Willys built General Purpose Vehicle, better known as The Jeep. They are everywhere, in all stages of preservation and in some spectacularly non-GI configuration. But oddly, most are still in their original OD green, complete with blackout lights and spare gas cans, and this is the hooker: practically every one I saw was driven by a Japanese. The haole, or white population, ironically enough usually drive the Toyota version of the Jeep. There must be some kind of obscure principal at work here, but it bores me to think about it sitting here on the beach as I write this. Maybe it's the same perverse drive that compels many Jewish intellectuals to drive VW's. I don't know, but it's entertaining. Right now, from where I sit, across the channel and lying low.in the sea is the Island of Molokai, which seems to be always capped by a low bank of drifting clouds. The surf is beginning to pick up again, and it looks like good Surfers' weather is setting in. I drove almost the whole length of the island yesterday to Hana and the Seven Sacred Pools of Maui, which in the old days of the Hawaiian Kings was forbidden to anyone but royalty, since the beauty was considered so special thatit was fit only for the eyes of warriors, kings and their princes. The ordinary walking-around Hawaiian was unfit to lay eyes on such poetic grandeur. They were right. It is so lovely that there really isn't much that words can say about the flowers, the valleys, the orchids, the tropical pools, the gorges, the ocean and the fragrant air that is Hana. Getting there by road from Lahaina was one of the world's great driving experiences. I hereby officially recommend for the International racing bodies that they consider instituting a Maui Marathon, to be run from Lahaina town to Hana and back, for Formula 1 cars. A narrow lane and-a-half, corkscrewing, S-turning, climbing, plunging, tilting, sliding, twisting, awe-inspiring, scaring, terrifying, magnificent strip of asphalt that has wind-blown orchid petals sliding across it to catch in the coal-black lava rock that rims it. 'Way down below, off a sheer drop of three thousand feet or so, there are taro plantations jutting out to sea like sets from an old Dorothy Lamour movie. In fact, everything about Maui seems vaguely familiar, as though you've somehow experienced it before in some obscure prior incarnation. Even a place as outrageously exotic as the Iao Valley, which is 20 minutes from Lahaina, made me suspect that somewhere in those jungles amid the waterfalls there crept the last dinosaurs. I'm sorry, it's just that kind of place, and if you think I'm exaggerating I am actually understating Maui, because everything I say seems to look silly on paper. On my way to Hana I stopped off in Paia town to gas up at a Conoco station. Paia looks like a little Kansas frontier town of the 1850s, except that almost everyone is Japanese. While the Japanese attendant was fooling with the radiator I wandered across the street to see what the crowd was about. A group of Japanese fishermen were waiting to be X-rayed by a traveling Mobile X-ray unit. The man in charge, a haole named Herb Hynson, was kidding back and forth with a tiny Japanese woman as I wandered up. I asked him how far it was to Hana. "Another two and a half hours or so," he answered. "You better take some lunch with you if you expect to eat 'cause there's not much on the way." "You live here?" I asked him. "Yeah. I live in Paia. Up in the hills." "Are you a native of Hawaii?" "No. I've been here about four years or so. I used to live in Michigan. Detroit." "What the hell made y0u come out here?" I asked. "Well, I was here for a little while when I was in the Navy as a pilot, and then after banging around the world for 18 years on carriers, flying everything from A4Ds to Navy fighters I finally left the Navy and went to work in Detroit. I figured I wanted a taste of Corporate Life." "How come you left the Navy?" I asked. "Well, one night on the Wasp I climbed out of my plane in a gale and got blown across the .deck into a propeller." He held up his hand to show me that there was almost nothing left. "There ain't many guys survive walking into a prop." He looked around to make sure the Japanese were staying in line. "Well, what happened in Detroit?" "Well, it was okay. I was making it in the Middle Management Class, as they call it out there. One day I just figured I'd had enough. Not that there was anything wrong with it. But I wasn't enjoying life. I guess it was just that I had this itch, or something, and I just had to go." It was beginning to rain slightly, as it does on the Islands, without any warning. Zap, it rains, and then zip, it goes and the sun comes out. A skinny Japanese man carrying a bag of dried octopus and a cone of sushi trotted past. "So you quit out in Detroit? Just like that?" I asked. "Well, after all, I had this pension because of getting hurt, so I figured I could get by. I just had enough. I wanted to go." "How come you picked Maui?" "Easy. I had been all over the world with the fleet, and Maui was the most beautiful place on earth, at least the parts of the earth I'd ever seen. And I never could forget the time I was stationed here in the Navy. So I said 'I'm going to Maui' and my wife and I packed up and came over." He waved at a couple of Japanese passing by in an old World War Two command car, trailing smoke. "How'd it work out?" "What was that?" I asked, "How'd it work out?" The rain came down a little harder, in big soft tropical drops. "I'll never go anywhere else again as long as I live. It's the smartest move I ever made in my life. I help the fishermen out with the X-ray unit and after work I go home to my house which I built most of myself, look out over the valley and have a Martini. Then I go around the back and see how my orchid garden is doing. I got about fifteen hundred kinds of orchids I grow. Nope, I won't go anywhere ever again." "Did you ever fly the F8F?" I asked. "Jeezuz, you bet! Greatest prop ship I ever flew. Like havin': a motor on your ass." He climbed into his X-ray unit and I drove out onto the road to Hana, with the sun just breaking through the rain clouds and the smell of orchids in the air.


Copyright: 1971 Car and Driver