Yesterday was the 30th anniversary of my arrival in Hawaii. It’s been home ever since. I came courtesy of the U.S. Air Force, following a two-year assignment at Edwards AFB in California’s Mojave Desert.
Beach forever. Dry lake beds that filled in the winter, reinforcing my longing to be ocean side. Jackrabbits with ears so long they could probably hear the stars falling. The sky over the desert has no secrets. I worked the night shift on computers that tracked missiles, test aircraft, and NASA’s first Space Shuttle, and sometimes we would take a break to watch the sky. It bustled.
But desert life is not the life for me. I grew up with the Jersey Shore handy, and I’m used to having an ocean within reach. While at EAFB, I put in for a worldwide assignment. I didn’t specify any place in particular, I just wanted to go. I ended up on lists for Germany, Korea, North Dakota, Nebraska, England, Guam, and Hawaii. I and my first sergeant would watch my name as it moved along like babies in a diaper derby. One month I’d be nearing the top for Germany, the next for Nebraska. It took a year for my SCI clearance to come through, and when the derby was over, I was getting shipped to Hawaii. Lucky or what?
When I first flew into Honolulu International Airport, it was evening. My first experience of Hawaii goes along with the lyrics of “Honolulu City Lights.” I didn’t really see Hawaii in the daytime from the air, until a year or two later when I was returning from a visit with my family in New Jersey.
I was first assigned to a dormitory room with a roommate who lived off base with her boyfriend, so it was essentially all mine. Because there weren’t enough rooms and I had enough rank, I got authorized to live off base, too. Since 1981, I have lived at these places:
I lived in places 1-9 during the first 10 years I was in Hawaii. Most of them were with roommates, a couple of times I was on my own.
I learned to surf within the first six months of moving to Hawaii. When I first got here, I had no desire. But then I had a boyfriend who thought he surfed, but what he really did was paddle around on an old orange Lightning Bolt at Canoes in Waikiki trolling for tourist chicks, whom he’d take out while I was working on base in the evening.
Yeah, that relationship didn’t last long. How long was I expected to obediently SIT on the beach? I was a certified lifeguard, had swam competitively for years, and could body surf like no one’s business. I sure as hellas wasn’t going to be some dumb beach bunny wiping away tears while a$$hole wooed weekly transients!
So while he continued to bob like a buoy, I learned to surf. And within a year, I was entering contests, got to know the surfing community and felt as though I belonged. In fact, when it was time for me to cycle out of Hawaii, and I had orders for Sunnvale AFB in California, I opted for an Honorable Discharge and I stayed. I took a job with Kaiser Permanente working on the same computers. I was happy because I had made so many friends. I really wanted to stay. Surprisingly, many of my military peers don’t!
My first surfboard was a 9-foot Morey soft spongy board, affectionately known as “The Maxi Pad.” That board would soak up water as it slid down the waves, so it was a slow ride and easy to learn on. I remember the first day I rode it. I wore a white bikini with a bandeau top. When I got home, I could see that when soaking wet, that top hid nothing, which explained why three young teenage boys decided they would help me learn, LOL. Technical malfunctions occurred a few times while I was surfing. Once, when I was riding some really nice big waves at Diamond Head, I caught the eye of a newspaper reporter who was paddling back out from his own ride. When I popped off my board to turn around, I realized that my left boob was catching air the whole time. He told me it was the best wave he had ever seen. I’m so over it, LOL.
Surfing is something you can do when all you have to eat is saimin and ketchup. If there’s gas in the car, you can go surfing, which doesn’t cost much after the initial investment of a board purchase. I’ve had used boards and new boards. I’ve had long boards and short boards. My first short board came out from under a friend’s house on Booth Street. It was a little swallow tail twin fin, and it felt like a skateboard compared to the big boards I was used to riding. I’ve had nose riders from Local Motion and Downing Hawaii; I’ve had a quad-fin from Ben Aipa, I had the sweetest little board made for me by Eric Arakawa that, at my request, had Hello Kitty on it. I still have an old Buddy Dumphey because Buddy is long gone. I now have a pressed out Gotcha board that’s red with hibiscus flowers on it, my 2004 Mother’s Day present. And I now have a SUP, which I haven’t been on in a long time because of my Achille’s injury. Soon! After the Na Wahine Festival, and when I can start doing things like that again.
I guess I could have surfed every day for the rest of my life without regret. But I had an itch that needed scratching. I took a casual clerk job at The Honolulu Advertiser in 1989 after working at Kaiser for about four years. The pay was squat, but it was the place I wanted to be. Within a couple of months I was promoted to editorial assistant. I helped out the copy desk by proof reading, edited and entered letters to the editor, made friends and fell in love with John on my second day of the job. He was tasked with training me, and he did a good job. I always felt like he had a natural affinity for teaching. I see it when he’s with our daughters.
About two years after, John realized he was in love with me, too. I was working at the paper and going to Kapiolani Community College, slowly inching my way toward a degree. John got me on the fast track at the University of Hawaii-Manoa campus, and I learned how to navigate the scholarship system. Each semester I won a scholarship by writing essays and keeping up my GPA. I gravitated toward writing-intensive classes because I knew I’d do well in them. It worked and I graduated without a school loan to pay off.
And once I graduated, John and I secretly got married at Iolani Palace one Sunday morning in October, Judge Patrick Yim presiding. You know, it’s no small feat for two newspaper employees to do anything in secret, and yet, none of our peers figured it out. We went to Kauai for our honeymoon and I dropped the announcements in the mail. Oh. Yeah.
While at The Advertiser I’d put in for promotions to be a reporter, and I got to be one for a little bit. Discouraged yet confident in my abilities, I applied to write at Pacific Business News and built up my experience there in business writing. I also tried public relations but I came to my senses. I’d rather write.
Fortunately for me, while I was trying to be a mom and eventually succeeded, I was hired quite a bit to do free-lance writing. A lot of the times while I was at home conducting phone interviews, my babies would come and talk to me and demand my attention, so it was pretty challenging to succeed at that. I think I made 99.9 percent of my deadlines. I appreciated the work and I turned no one down. I didn’t get rich, but, my byline was out there and I felt like I had value in our community. I also worked for Oceanic Institute in Waimanalo. Many people don’t know that Sea Life Park is actually a tenant of Oceanic Institute. While there I got to learn about aquaculture, and I wrote a newsletter for the U.S. Marine Shrimp Farming Program. I enjoyed working with the scientists and got a taste of what it was like to work for an ideal that required vigorous lobbying for federal funding. I also learned that federally funded programs and properties cannot be used by private institutions or the funding goes buh-bye! Oceanic Institute is where I learned that shrimp could be farmed without hormones and chemicals. Eat domestic farmed shrimp!
I would like to write novels, so I could eat all the shrimp cocktails I want. But when I try to write fiction, all I seem to generate are blank pages and a vacuum between my ears. Articles and other assignments are pretty easy for me to do. Most of the time this blog is pretty easy to pop out as well.
I’m always one to look beyond my achievements and see what I could do next, so the focus on novel writing will come. I used to say that I don’t have the attention span for it, but, when I see what’s out there, I know I can do it, too. Fortunately, my writing job here at Hawaii Medical Service Association is the gateway for more opportunities within my department. I’m going to take a stab at video production, script writing and writing ad copy. I want to take advantage of every opportunity made available to me. My “day” job here is writing on behalf of HMSA to doctors and other providers of care to our members. It can be dry, but I try to give it warmth. It’s all about people!
Life is good. I may visit my New Jersey childhood haunts every few years, but when I step off the plane here in Honolulu, the warm air hits my face with the fragrance of plumeria, and I’m once again in my own comfort zone. I like it here. I love how diverse it is. I love raising children here. And I like that I can step outside my house at night and gaze at the stars and the moon and, while watching space junk fall from the sky, I think about how fortunate I am to call Hawaii home.