Hawaii’s Darker Side.

Hawaii has rainbows, and its share of rough spots, too.

On the heels of writing how lucky I am to live in Hawaii, I am reminded of Hawaii’s darker side. In fact, recent interactions inspired today’s blog post.

It is because of my fortune to have grown into my profession as a writer, and because of my love for the ocean, the valleys, the summits, and the beaches, that I love it here in Hawaii. It’s because of the relationships I have cultivated, my marriage, and my family. Each day I feel gratitude for all of that. Key to enjoying life in Hawaii is a social support system. It is family. It is friends. It is also being sensible and responsible.

Honestly, I do not know Hawaii’s dark side. I only see it. I drive by it, I quickly walk by slumbering figures on the sidewalk as I tip toe around stinky wet spots and make my way to work in the pre-dawn darkness. I have seen some horrible things in Hawaii, too horrible to describe. Surely Hawaii doesn’t have a lock on that sort of thing. I just think the year-round pleasant weather makes it more visible to those of us who live here.

And it makes it visible to those who visit. It’s embarrassing, actually, that rubbish has not been picked up in Waikiki and along the Ala Wai Canal yet this year. There has always been pollution floating around the Ala Wai Canal, and the harbor often looks like a cesspool. Waikiki, supposedly Hawaii’s jewel, is quite tarnished with litter and squatters who occupy the gazebos between Kalakaua Avenue and the beach. Years ago I used to go to Waikiki everyday to surf or to hang out with friends. But now I don’t ever go unless there’s an event.

After I got out of the Air Force and became a ciivilian with a job in the mid 1980s, I was checking out the waves at Ala Moana Beach Park and noticed a guy digging through the trash can next to me. It was a former roommate. We locked eyes and he took off. We didn’t have the best relationship. He was always in conflict with others, his employer, his roommates or his neighbors. It was sad to see him in this state, but, it wasn’t surprising. I remember him ranting about his job and here he was without one.

No matter where we live, to function in society we have to step up and do our part. We get a job where we need to be resilient each day, we pay for shelter, we take care of ourselves and we take care of others. Enjoying life is a benefit of working at a job one loves, living in a home we care for, spending time with friends, finding that one special person with which to lock hearts.

Surely there are people who have fallen through the cracks. Some come to Hawaii to look for work and never get a job. There are those who drop out of families and society and become scavengers who skirt life in the shadows. They resist relationships, they turn within and their minds lock into a psychosomatic cycle of paranoia and resentment. It is a sad thing to witness.

Living in Hawaii, just like living in Portland, or New York City, or Los Angeles, or London, or Tokyo, isn’t for everyone. But life should be an adventure. There should be risk and excitement. I think jumping without a bungee cord is foolish, but it works for some people. I prefer the assurance that a safety net exists, that there are options and alternatives. I’ve been fortunate. There have been times when I have faltered, yet my family and friends have always been there to right my bruised ego and tell me to try again. Just one of those things I will always appreciate.

Why did I write this? With more frequency it seems that crazy, stinky, homeless people ask me for money, want to talk to me, want to walk with me, want to spend time with me. I think it’s because I’m not intimidating. I’m generally approachable. In fact, when this happens to me, I try to shut down, I hide behind my sunglasses, I look straight ahead. It is an adjustment toward insensitivity I make that breaks my heart a little bit each time it happens. I do it to protect myself. One of those reality bites.

By lavagal

Hawaii Kai wife and mom. Melanoma Stage 3a Cancer survivor. English Language Arts teacher, English Learners Coordinator, and Paraprofessional Tutor. Super sub teacher. Dormant triathlete. Road cyclist and Masters swimmer. Gardener. Mrs. Fixit. Random dancer. Music Curator. A teenager trapped in an aging body. Did you know 60 is the new 40? It is.


  1. Lavagal,

    Two weeks ago I was running by the boat harbor at Ala Wai and was flabbergasted at how polluted and full of junk it was. It’s always been bad, but this was horrid. And it hasn’t been raining!

    Re: speaking to homeless. I used to not hide, until I was almost accosted by someone in chinatown, at noon, because I said hello (yes there was mental illness involved). Now I unfortunately just don’t feel safe, which makes me feel bad and ‘un-aloha’.

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