Paved Paradise and didn’t put in ENOUGH Parking Lots

Okay, I admit it, I muddled the lead because I wanted to riff on Joni Mitchel’s song. The real problem isn’t enough parking lots, it’s too many cars. Yesterday morning, far too early, I woke up and went to sell at the Aloha Stadium Swap Meet. It was a good first experience there – I … Continue reading “Paved Paradise and didn’t put in ENOUGH Parking Lots”

Okay, I admit it, I muddled the lead because I wanted to riff on Joni Mitchel’s song. The real problem isn’t enough parking lots, it’s too many cars. Yesterday morning, far too early, I woke up and went to sell at the Aloha Stadium Swap Meet. It was a good first experience there – I was mobbed before light by vendors and early birds who knew that I was fresh meat – and then I stayed four hours in a not very good location and still made more than a day of work at my day job. By noon, I was home and loading my family into the car for a day at the beach – now to be fair – I should have known better than to head to Waikiki on a Sunday – but that was where the girls wanted to go and I figured we would find parking somewhere…I was wrong. We had plate lunches in the back of the car getting cold and by 1:30 we had not found a single parking space but I nearly got in fisticuffs with another guy who decided to zip by me when I thought I found a space (it was a fire hydrant) and then changed my mind. His road rage was such that I thought he might ram my car with his truck and then he started yelling and making threatening gestures and me, I just ignored him and drove on knowing that my wife and daughter were in the car and that engaging with a road rager put them in danger – eventually, he stopped following me. Granted, I did veer in front of him – which was an accident – but it wouldn’t have been a big deal if he hadn’t of decided to try to zip around me at a high and unexpected speed. So, there we were – lunch getting cold, not finding a parking space, and everyone in the car getting grumpy while other drivers were doing the same. Finally, I decided to give up and we headed to Ala Moana beach park where there is more parking usually – or used to be. One parking lot was shut down with a sign “shut down for workers’ – on a Sunday? And the only space we saw open up had three people lined up waiting for it. After two hours of wanting to enjoy the beach but instead being in the car, I was done. We weren’t going to go to Waikiki or Ala Moana so instead we drove East to Aina Haina and found a parking space close enough to a nice little rocky beachpark where we ate our pokebowls and I taught the girls how to snorkel. It was a lovely afternoon – but the parking thing. Parking isn’t the problem. Cars on Oahu are the problem. Cars need to be removed and banned from this island. I love my personal vehicle as much as the next guy, but the problem is too far gone. Cars are destroying the Hawaiian vibe – to a large extent have already destroyed it. I have the solution – it wouldn’t be impossible but people wouldn’t like it until they realized just how good it is. Step 1) A taxpayer funded buyback of clunkers and low value cars. $1000-$1500 per vehicle for any and all vehicles with no title, paperwork, running or not running. Ship all those cars to a junker on the mainland to be auctioned off to the highest bidder. This would also include all the abandoned vehicles and impounded vehicles. If the transport to the mainland could be negotiated well, this could actually result in a profit for taxpayers.
Step 2) A moratorium on new vehicles being brought to the island. For each vehicle brought to Hawaii, a vehicle would need to be exported. Auto dealerships would need to buy and export as many vehicles as they intend to sell. Thise would create a brisk business for future clunkers and abandoned vehicles. The same rule would apply to car rental agencies. Trade in values would go up with dealers. Step 3) A ban on military POVs (personally owned vehicles). Our troops don’t need to bring their huge Iowa trucks and their spouses and children’s vehicles to Oahu. The military could be a good neighbor with this policy and could also provide additional transport options for garrissoned troops like buses, military taxis, etc. Step 4 – This one would be very controversial – banning vehicles from downtown Honolulu, banning personal vehicles from Waikiki and from Ala Moana. Setting up park and ride lots nearby with free shuttle service to these areas.

I realize that banning cars in the United States is about as realistic as banning guns – but the truth is – cars are turning paradise into a parasite (hat tip to my wife for that one) by sucking the time and the joy from people without them even knowing it.

Ancient Hawaiian Death and Burial Practices

Here I am, an archaeologist working in the State of Hawaii, City and County of Honolulu – and I’ve barely shared a bit about what I do. My job is to monitor construction and infrastructure sites – primarily looking for burials and artifacts of significant cultural value. That being said, here is a bit about ancient Hawaiian death and burial practices.

When a person died in pre-contact Hawai’i – a kapu was imposed (kapu is taboo) during the time between death and burial. A couple of days for a regular person and ten days or more for a chief or chiefess. So the house and family of the dead became taboo for this period and were not to be touched or interacted with or the interactor would be defiled – in Hawaiian HAUMIA. A haumia person was also kapu until the defilement was lifted. Lots of loud weaping and tears and those most pained would show it by cutting their hair. Not a nice style or fancy do, but an ugly cutting that showed the grief and pain. A tooth might be knocked out with a stick. Ears might be cut off and tattoos might be placed. Personally, the tattoo and the hair sound reasonable to me, ears and teeth, that’s pretty extreme grief. There was also a sort of blistering branding with the ends of burning sticks. Ouch.

The dead were sometimes wrapped in kapa (tapa aka barkcloth). Sometimes the bodies were laid out extended and more often they were put in a fetal position. Some bodies were salted and if the cause of death was sorcery (which happened a lot more than you might think), then a kahuna kuni was brought to cut out the liver, chop it up, put it in dogs and birds, and then burn them to ashes. After this, the body was clean enough to be buried.

Hawaiians were also known to keep the long bones and skulls of their loved ones as momento-mori. The other bones would usually be burned with the flesh. Chief bones were especially valuable because they contained the mana (spiritual power) of the chiefs and so these bones were hidden by trusted retainers who in some cases were said to then kill themselves so that no one would find the bones or know the location.

All of the above explains why it’s not uncommon to find a tooth or a bone disarticulated from the rest of the body. Bone bundles were wrapped in kapa and sometimes tied with a braid of human hair – possibly from the head of the deceased. It is said that Captain Cook was treated this way and confusion over the custom led to the belief that he was eaten – in point of fact, he may have been eaten as it was not unknown to eat a tiny portion of a powerful enemy or ally in order to gain their mana. We will never know if Cook was eaten raw, cooked, or not at all.

In Hawaii, human bodies were sometimes burned, sometimes dessicated and distributed, sometimes buried in the sand, sometimes buriend in the earth, sometimes fetal – sometimes laid out, and occaisionally buried in stone cysts – piles of rocks to mark grave sites. Faces were usually pointed upwards. There are various cave burials scattered through the islands and also a number of royal mausaleums – mostly from the post contact period. Two known mausoleums were moved or destroyed after Queen Kaahumanu forced the abandonment of the old Hawaiian religion on her people in 1830.

The creepiest and coolest of the burials of old Hawai’i are the sennit caskets which are a sort of woven casket reminiiscent of the Egyptian sarcophagi. There are only a few of these that have ever been found. I would love to find one. And of course, when you have something like that – you are not far from making your kings and queens into immortal gods.

One of the most striking implements associated with Hawaiian death and burial are the tall feathered staffs known as Kahilis – it is believed they evolved from fly swishers but they came to signify important and powerful mana.

The photo above shows a large number of artifacts that were plundered from Hawaiian burial caves in 1905. A hundred years later they were repatriated and returned to the cave only to be taken from the cave again at a cost of several million dollars. They are currently back where they were before they were put back in the cave – at the Bishop Museum where no one can see them.

The Death of Affordability in Hawaii

Coming back to Hawaii – there are lots of obvious changes – there are now lots of really expensive trendy shops. Whole Foods is here and you can spend a fortune on groceries if you choose to, Bed Bath and Beyond, Gucci, Saks Fifth Avenue, etc – the list goes on and on. There is no shortage of expensive shops here – and seeing all of that, it’s easy to forget what used to be in those spaces. Same goes for restaurants – every famous chef you can think of has a great little corner location and all the little great cheap places that used to be here – they’ve all grown into bigger, multi-location restaurants – so you can find the same great food on all the different corners of the island. Here’s the thing though – the quality in those little hole in the wall places that have grown so big has gone down and the prices have gone up. And guess what all those fancy retailers have replaced? Affordable stores. And guess what’s happened to the rents in those little places where you could buy everyday things for living cheaply? They’ve gone up – so no more cheap sponges and coffee in Chinatown – no more cheap produce from Farmer’s Markets – no more dollar stores, no more Grocery Outlets, no more big affordable Daiea markets or semi-affordable Don Quixote – instead those stores are closed and moved off island and Don Quixote is no longer a bargain. Those who have stayed here through the last 10 years may not have noticed – like looking in the mirror each day and missing the ten years of wrinkles – but all the little shops that used to make it affordable to get by each day – those shops are gone. I notice it because I went looking for them – and instead found Chuck E Cheese and an upscale boutique or found higher prices than I get on Amazon. Safeway doesnt do $5 Friday on Oahu. This island has seen real estate prices skyrocket since the recession and at the same time these systemic changes – where affordable shampoo, rice, or toilet scrubbers are no longer available – they are stealing the pennies and dimes. Parking downtown costs $30/hr and an expired meter will cost you $35-$50 depending on where it happens. I’ve always said that Hawai’i was worth what it takes to live here – but I’m not sure about that any longer. It seems that the truth may well be that it has reached the point where paradise is only available to those who already have enough money to not worry about paying $15 for a jar of peanut butter.

Here is whats missing in Honolulu….and I don’t mean Not Native American Restaurants

I understand why…the cost of renting space here is insanely prohibitive…if you are going to have a space it has to be able to generate at least enough to pay for itself – i.e. Be a very profitable little enterprise anywhere else in the USA…but here in Honolulu, there is a big obvious gap (and I’m not talking about the complete and total lack of Native American restaurants anywhere…anywhere in the world) I’m talking about micro-museums – little owner passionate shops that focus on the insane hobbies or odd interests of a single person – Gordy’s Fairhaven Pharmacy in Bellingham, Washington or the Bug Zoo in Victoria, BC – the museum of bad record album covers or the museum of bottles bill collected. These little places are completely missing in Honolulu. Also missing are hobby and passion stores – meaning things like doll hospitals and Teddy Bear museums (there was one, but it was an animatronic Korean thing and it closed after three years, I never saw it).

The main reason, I believe, is that even a small dumpy space tends to cost at least $1000/month – and that requires quite a large volume of sales or admissions. Sure, on a rainy day there might be 1000 tourists looking for something to do that isn’t the Bishop Museum, the Honolulu Zoo or Aquarium, a bus tour, the Polynesian Cultural Center, or The Honolulu Museum of Art (can I please still call it the Academy of Arts?) but that means you need to collect $5 each from those 1000 people to cover your rent, utilities, insurance, the rent of your home, your home utilities, food, childcare, and other expenses. That’s a big risk in a city where 97% of days are beachworthy.

I don’t have a solution. Just like I don’t have an answer as to why there aren’t millions of Native American restaurants in North America but you can find pretty much every other ethnicity’s cuisine.

This Heartbreaking World

I want to start by saying that I don’t usually give homeless people or people that are begging anything except my compassion. We all know that story about the rich beggar with the garage full of undriven cars and the big house filled with unworn clothes – the beggar who sits on the corner asking for money. Or the drug addict or alcoholic who takes handouts to fuel their addiction. Or the professional beggars who find it more profitable than having a job. All those stories and well intentioned advice have led me through the years to refrain from giving to individuals. I sometimes donate to charities or drop a dollar here or there but generally, like almost everyone, I keep my distance from the homeless, the needy, the sick, the impovershed, and the dying. Aside from all of that, I struggle to pay all of our bills, I struggle to meet our obligations, and each dollar is too hard won to give it away. So you should know that before I write any more.

It’s impossible to ignore the suffering here on Oahu. Just like it’s impossible to ignore in Oakland and other places where the class divisions have grown so pronounced that there is nearly speciation between those who have and those who do not. We are forced to look at them as a different species – because the moment we stop doing so- the moment we let the wall down between us – it’s such a heartbreaking and awful feeling that it would be nearly impossible to let the world continue on as it is. They are ‘the homeless’ which carries a laundry basket of associated terms like drug addicts, mentally ill, alcoholics, criminal, unfit, and more. We put those terms on them – and we say sometimes ‘there but for the grace of God go I’ but we have to delineate the line – there is us and there is them. Us and them. They are not like us, we are not like them. There is no we, only us and them.

So, that’s what I’m writing about. Today, I went and got my car washed. I stopped and bought some spices at a health food store. I was sitting at a stoplight at a corner and there was one of them. Sun-baked skin like the back of a sailor’s neck, unbrushed grey hair frizzled like a sheeps coat in winter, dirt sticking to her clothing and sticking to the dirt on her clothing, second hand pants too big, rolled up and cinched with a rope. There she was sitting and staring at the ground, talking to herself, picking up small stones and throwing them at her feet, holding a sign “Please help. Homeless and Hungry” She was just like so many of them. Another of the homeless begging on a corner. She wasn’t any different than the last one you saw outside Walmart or next to McDonalds or sitting at the divider. And there I was, sitting in my car listening to the news on the radio and trying to ignore her, trying not to make eye contact, trying not to acknowledge her in any way. I caught myself devising a strategy if she caught my eye. I would smile, nod, and look away. I caught myself and I felt disgusted by me. I wanted to throw up all over myself. I knew what I was doing. I’ve done it so many millions of times. As she talked to herself and threw those pebbles at her feet, I told myself she was obviously crazy. I told myself that she might be one of the rich scammers or the lazy do-nothings. I told myself every lie that we all tell ourselves. None of them worked. I’d caught myself. I told myself that I didn’t have money to give away, that my money wouldn’t make a difference, and frankly, I don’t and it wouldn’t – not really.

But I couldn’t do it – I thought to myself “I’m going to give her $5” and I reached for my wallet, I opened it and I only found a $1 and a $10. The voice in my head said “Never mind, just move along” and then “Just give her the buck, you can’t give her the ten” but my better self, the financially stupid self, the compassionate human self was in the driver seat of my car. I took the ten, I rolled down the window and I said “Hey”

She looked up in surprise. She never would have caught my eye. Her eyes had never looked up. She looked at me and slowly began to push herself up off the ground to move towards the money I was holding out to her. She reached it and before she could say thank you or anything else it was me that spoke “I’m sorry for this world”. Our eyes were locked on each others – hers as blue as mine, as clear as mine, her mind as clear as mine, her humanness as clear as mine. “It’s a pretty messed up world,” she said in return.

The light was green. I rolled up my window and drove on. I wept all the way home.

It’s a pretty messed up world.

Moving is Hard Work….

Just in case I forgot to mention it – moving is really hard work.Mentally and physically it is extremely challenging and the past month, I’ve been working in a state of hyper-overdrive. The amount of stuff that has been accomplished seems insurmountable when I look back on it…this is just the major list…there were countless smaller tasks and heavy objects…

1) Selling our antique store
2) Selling our little community paper
3) Training the new owners and taking care of details
4) Finding a job in Hawaii before moving here
5) Finding an apartment in Hawaii before moving here
6) Coming to Hawaii on a brief trip to secure said job and apartment
7) Packing our lives up into a 10×6 trailer
8) Delivering the trailer to Oakland and then driving back (1000 mile trip)
9) Liquidating our entire household (except what we shipped in the trailer)
10) Selling our vehicles and other cargo trailers
11) Storing my Vanagon
12) Flying across the ocean with my wife and five year old
13) Buying a car
14) Renting a storage unit
15) Furnishing our apartment
16) Starting a new career
17) Selling the trailer
18) Selling at the Hawaii All Collectors Show
19) Unpacking
20) Registering my daughter for school
21) Changing my phone anddrivers license over to Hawaii
And the list goes on and on …. technically, to be fair, this process started at the very end of May, so it’s been about 40 days … I’m exhausted and my body and mind feel like they’ve been through a serious beating…thank god it’s time to get to work. My vacation is now almost over.