When you visit Hawaii for the first time, one of the first things you learn is that the people here take their “Aloha” very seriously.
“Aloha” is everywhere in Hawaii, and in my case, it was on the island of Kauai, starting with a large sign on the way out from the Lihue airport wishing me “Aloha” upon my arrival. All the car license plates tell you that Hawaii is “The Aloha State”. The great Hawaiian swimmer Duke Kahanamoku, who won five Olympic swimming medals, including three golds, between 1912 and 1924 was named Hawaii’s “First Ambassador Of Aloha” back in 1960 shortly after Hawaii became a state.
I was full of Aloha myself, as this trip was meant to be something special for all of us. It was me, my six-months-pregnant wife, our 18-month-old daughter and my mom. Ostensibly, the trip was to serve a few purposes: It was an early 70th birthday present for my mom, as the timing of our new daughter’s birth would prevent us from attending a family gathering for her and her twin sister in October. Also, it would be the last trip my wife and I would be able to take before our new daughter’s arrival and the last time our toddler would be able to fly anywhere for free as a lap infant.
And anyone who has traveled with a toddler knows what happened next.
On the flight to Kauai, My daughter proceeded to use me as Jungle Gym, climbing all over me to say “Aloha!” and “Hi!” about 500 times to the people behind us, for six of the six-and-a-half hours of our flight. Of course, she since she is a toddler, she didn’t finally fall asleep until the last thirty minutes of the flight as our plane descended, and finally landed in Lihue.
I have been to airports on four continents, many of which have terminals that resemble futuristic shopping malls and food courts with enough dining choices to impress the editors at Bon Appetit magazine. But even the airports in Bangkok, Costa Rica and Mexico were completely indoors. Not so in Lihue, with its baggage claim area half-open to the greenery and humidity of Kauai, and with chickens strutting around our bags as we waited for the rental-car shuttle.
“Because he is in Kauai” is the answer to the question, “Why did the chicken cross the road?” Apparently, when Hurricane Iniki tore through Kauai in 1992 it blew all the chicken coops away and resulted in a sort-of Chicken Diaspora around the island. The chickens went wild, repopulated, and since Kauai is the only Hawaiian island without any mongooses or any other natural chicken predators, they took over the island and now peck their way along the sides of the roads and everywhere else you go there.
And that included our hotel’s courtyard, where at about 4 a.m. on our first morning there one of the local roosters cock-a-doodle-dooed us awake with his own version of Aloha. I asked my wife if we were back on my grandmother’s farm in North Carolina. This rooster would say “Aloha” to us like this every morning of our stay. Sometimes it was at 3:30, sometimes 4:00, sometimes 5:00. Sometimes it was at 2:30 in the afternoon. Kauai’s roosters must not have the sense of timing that their Mainland cousins do, because they issue their morning “Aloha!” at all times of the day, whether dark or night.
The Alohas weren’t limited to the roosters, however. We got Alohas everywhere we went. From the McDonald’s cashier who served up my “Local Platter” breakfast that included Spam (yes, Spam) and Portuguese sausage, to the guides on the Steelgrass Chocolate Farm tour, to even the waitress at the St. Regis Hotel, where I got to find out what a $20 cheeseburger tastes like, everyone greeted us with “Aloha.” I half-expected Mr. Hand, the teacher from “Fast Times At Ridgemont High” who greeted every class with “Aloha”, to show up at the interminably long timeshare presentation we got roped into attending.
All of us soon discovered that “Aloha” even permeated Hawaiians’ senses of humor. Our driver who took us to the take-off spot for a helicopter tour of Kauai was named Bones, but he sure didn’t look like he had missed too many of the Spam-and-macaroni salad platters the locals love. Bones said that if any of us felt sick on the flight to use an “Aloha Bag”, which had the word Aloha printed right on it.
And sure enough, I felt that Aloha spirit in full force at about 4,000 feet above Kauai’s North Shore when my daughter, whom I had been holding on my lap, Aloha-ed her lunch of french fries and assorted fruit all over my arms, legs and the front of my shirt.
My mom, who had been checking out the lush scenery below, luckily had a seat between us and was, for the moment, oblivious to her granddaughter’s commentary on the ride. However, my wife wasn’t as fortunate. Some people can’t handle being around others when they get sick, and my wife is one of those. Within a minute she, too, had her Aloha bag in action.
Our pilot, Ian, remained cool. Without a hint of emotion, he produced out of nowhere a container of disinfecting wipes and handed it back to me. When we landed, I apologized profusely and gave Ian a $20 tip. He certainly deserved more.
“Hey, man, no problem. It’s happened before,” Ian said. “Aloha.”