Monday, May 19, 2014

They Say You Can't Go Back - repeat blog from 2012

They Say You Can’t Go Back,
and in my case, it was true. Last year, in 2011, I went back to Waikiki after 40 years. I don’t know what kept me away...or perhaps I do. I think I was afraid to be an outsider again. Somewhere along the line it finally dawned on me – I am an outsider.  What was I thinking?
  By some stroke of serendipitousness, I’d booked a beachfront house on the North Shore. I needed to relax, having undergone some dramatic changes in my personal life, and it sounded ideal for my purposes. Haleiwa was a perfect choice, and I’d go back again in a heartbeat.
  But Waikiki called to me. I worked in travel back in the 60s, and those of us in the business knew each other by sight, if not by name. Bellhops, bartenders, tour drivers, taxi drivers and office workers –we were one big happy family as the saying goes.
  I lived in central Waikiki – on Lewers, just off Kalakaua. Up the street from me was a small drug store and around the corner, a fabric store. Further along Kalakaua you’d find Henry Yim’s Tours, a large open lot with Henry’s yellow stretch limos jockeying for space on the pavement, his tour drivers talking stories while they waited to be dispatched by Carole or Cynthia.
  On the corner of Kalakaua and Lewers was Stewart’s Pharmacy. I remember it fondly, because it had a lunch counter. One of the tour escorts who worked for Trade Wind Tours encouraged me to try my first Monte Cristo sandwich at Stewarts. They served it with delicate guava jelly and I’ve never forgotten the taste.
  Nothing remains of the shops and restaurants that lined Kalakaua in those days. Even many of the hotels have disappeared, replaced by sleek new buildings. That’s as it should be, I suppose. At least the Moana/Surfrider is still there, and I imagine that there are still employees who recall when Hawaii Calls was broadcast from the Moana on Saturdays.
  The International Market Place was there in the 60s, looking much as it does now. When I first moved there, Duke Kahanamoku’s night club sprawled over a large percentage of the space. Don Ho had a little corner in Dukes that he called Honey’s at Waikiki...a reference to Honey’s in Kaneohe, where he performed songs by Kui Lee, many of which solidified his fame.
  My most poignant memory of my years in Waikiki was hearing Kui Lee sing at Queen’s Surf. To the best of my knowledge, it was the last time he sang in public.
  Under the best of conditions Kui was a slight figure. The man who appeared that night was frail, but his voice held all the passion for which he was famous. He sang “Beyond The Reef” by Jack Pitman, a heartbreaking reminder that his ashes were to be scattered in the ocean off Waikiki. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house, and the silence when he finished was profound. I consider it a gift to have been there that night.
  Has Waikiki changed? More than I can say. Can I go back? No. But no matter how many changes there are, Kui’s haunting voice remains with me, reminding me that life is fleeting, life is good.


  1. Mona, I've been to Hawaii three times now. My dad grew up there in the 1930s, so he took the family back around 1960. I still remember swimming off Waikiki. In the 80s, my husband and I honeymooned there and had a lovely time. When I returned in the early 90s, accompanying my 13 yo daughter on a summer class in Marine Biology taking place on Hawaii, we got a few days on Oahu, and my, how things had changed. I walked through the Mauna Loa hotel, feeling oddly out of place. I'm not sure I want to go back again.

    Love the wind and waves on the North Shore, however. Hmmmm....

    1. Hi Tracy:
      Funny, isn't it? You know it's going to be different, but when you see it, you're so disappointed...