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September 8, 2006

Hovering Over Paradise

I have a rule when I fly. I don't fly without ear plugs. Period. I've had too many flights ruined by screaming fetuses, so now, as a rule, I don't board a flight without ear plugs. On the flight to Hilo, however, I made an exception. The flight from Honolulu to Hilo is a very short flight. It's just up and down basically. It might last 45 minutes, at most. So, I figured...no big deal. I'll chance it and go without the earplugs. Big mistake.

The plane takes off, and we watch the island fall away beneath us. Honolulu, Waikiki, Diamond Head, Hawaii Kai, Koko Head, and Hanauma Bay. Insidiously, a idea steals into my brain...we've made the flight and we're going to live. All is going to be OK, after all. Then, as if on cue, the kid behind us begins to show his true colors. He's a petulant little brat...age 6, I figured. And, he's sitting back there, wailing like a banshee....MOM!...MOM!....MOM! And, he's squealing like a pine marten in a leg trap, and I'm dreaming of cutting out his vocal cords with a plastic kinfe and handing them to him mom in an airsickness bag. Or opening the emergency exit and tossing him into the Pacific.

And if he's not screaming, he's coughing. Single, open mouth, uncovered coughs, every minute. You could set your watch by it. I swear he had TB or whooping cough or influenza or something, and I'm dreaming of swimming him out across the reef and drowning him in the surf.

Then, his little sister starts crying. Their whining, bleating voices converge to form a rotten symphony of resplendent petulance. As painful as an orchestra of maestros, simultaneously screeching their nails down the surface of a chalkboard. How could two children make so much noise? I wanted to drag them across the razor sharp barnacled lava reefs at low tide and toss their bleeding carcases to the frenzied reef sharks.

“Oh well. At least it's a short flight.? I figured. A few more minutes, and I'd be free of this juvenile pestilence. These future criminals. And Jennifer and I would be on our way, gliding gleefully above the Killuea crater, hovering over paradise on the windward side of the Big Island.

But then, as we waited to deboard in Hilo, I inadvertently caught fragments of their parents conversation. They were going on a helicopter tour also. No big deal, I figured. There were scads of helicopters criss-crossing the island, like flies at a luau. The odds that they'd be on my helicopter would be one in a million, right?

Maybe so, but, when Jennifer and I were stumbling through the Hilo airport, there they were, bumbling right along beside us, asking the same questions, generally heading the same place as we were. Jennifer and I rented a car before the helicopter tour, as we had an hour to kill, and this seemed like the best use of the time. The horrific family from hell that was shadowing us through the terminal, however, was too cheap. He made them walk in the boiling August sun to the remote helicopter terminal so that he could save an hour on the car rental. I know because I heard him explaining it to his family as he drug them, coughing, whining, and wailing, across the scorching asphalt parking lot.

Jennifer and I, on the other hand, rented a convertible. She had never been in a convertible, and was positively ecstatic. They asked me if I wanted to upgrade to a convertible for an extra $20 a day and I was like...why the hell not? This is Hawaii for Christ's sake.

When we were loading up our luggage, Jennifer retrieved a small rubber piece of a pair of sunglasses from the parking lot.

“Look, daddy. This is part of my sunglasses. I found it.?

“Huh? What? Are you on crack? What makes you think that's part of your sunglasses? There's a hundred million pairs of sunglasses in this world. What on earth makes you think that piece came from your shades? Do you even know where they are??


“Drop that right now and get in the car. Do what I tell you! There. OK. Let's go find the helicopter.?

And we were off, driving past the obnoxious family, in the sweltering august summer. We, in our convertible, top up, A/C blowing. They, the family with the juvenile delinquents, wailing in the wake of their parents, limping toward the helicopter terminal, dripping with sweat, melting beneath the solar flares like cotton candy in a rain storm.

When I got to the Safari Helicopter gate, the man greeted me and guessed, incorrectly, “Russel??

“No, but they're coming. They're right behind me.?

I had surrendered to the obvious. They were going to be the only other people in our helicopter tour for six. Me, Jennifer, and the four disciples of hell.

“Do y'all have ear plugs?? I pleaded.

“No, but everyone wears Bose acoustic noise-canceling headphones.?

“Fair enough.? That should do the trick, I figured.

He weighed us and, while I was retrieving my camera to be re-weighed, the ill-fated Russel party arrived and cut in front of me to be weighed. They'd probably lost five pounds a piece hiking over from the main terminal. But, there they were, coughing and pleading, cutting in front of me to be weighed.

Eventually, they weighed us all in, and told us to hang loose for a few minutes. I approached a vending machine. In the shade of the open air lobby, an ancient vending machine promised a fudgesicle, an ice cream bar, or an orange popsicle for seventy five cents. But, the sign warned, the helicopter tour operators could not be held responsible for money lost in the vending machine.

It was too good to be true. An oasis in the desert. Here, in this blistering august heat, on the big island of Hawaii, was a machine stuck in time. Offering frozen treats for seventy five cents. I began feeding it quarters like a man possessed, but it turned out to be more of a one armed bandit than a vending machine. Eventually, I coaxed a few frozen treats from it, but I wouldn't hazard a guess as to how much it truly cost me. After I'd lost some money in the machine, an idea began to gel in my head about asking the helicopter tour operators for a refund. What seemed perfectly logical five minutes ago, now seemed somewhat counterintuitive. How could they not be held responsible for losses incurred by a vending machine right here before them, when there was no one else to plead one's case to? Could they not act as surrogate owners? As proxies, keeping tabs on money lost in these illicit vending machines? Eventually, I let it go and we slurped our treats in the shade.

We regrouped with the fallen angels in a small briefing room. They explained everything from the barf bags to surviving a water landing, and how to signal planes from the emergency life raft. They numbered us. The satan worshippers would be 1, 2, 3, and 4. Jennifer was 5, and I was 6. I knew it. They were going to stick us in the back of the helicopter, and shove this family of miscreants into the choice seats of the helicopter. It was more than I could bear. I mean, I'm sure it made sense to them. This dolt bought four tickets. I bought two. He had the prototypical family – husband, wife, and 2.5 kids, where as we were a broken family of two. A shard of a family, at best.

It was more than I could bear. They warned us not to go near the rear rotor on the helicopter, and led us outside.

They boarded us by number. 1 and 2. The father drug the screaming, squealing jelly-fish daughter into the helicopter, leaving the crippled, coughing, genetically challenged freak clinging to his mother's dress like a gold dust day gecko on a rotten papaya.

The coughing dwarf contorted himself like Quasimodo, clinging to his mother's skirt- a walking Freudian nightmare. A coughing panty-waste of a child that would, no doubt, presently be seated next to the pilot, gazing on erupting volcanoes, while Jennifer and struggled for oxygen in the cargo compartment of the helicopter. I wanted to grab him by the lapels of his shirt and toss him up into the rotors.

3 and 4. They shoved the mother and son, bleating and squealing, into the helicopter. Nothing left now but the pain of fifty more minutes with these lepers.

Then, it dawned on me. All four of those mongrels had boarded the helicopter, but the two seats beside the pilot were still empty. Could it be that they numbered the seats the same way they numbered the terminals at DFW and Phoenix? Using a system so obtuse. So cryptic. That no one would ever guess it in a zillion years? They way they put terminal A next to C and B next to D at DFW? They way Phoenix's Sky Harbor Airport had a terminal 2, 3, and 4, but no terminal 1? Of course. Brilliant. They numbered the seats from the back forward. 1,2,3, and 4 was the back row. Seats 5 and 6 were in the front row. Wooohooo!

Suddenly, the sky seemed bluer. The water greener. The miscreants seemed less evil. With my headphones on, I couldn't even hear their whining, coughing antics behind me.

After the helicopter tour, I heard the woman saying to her little arcangel "Well, pickle, that may be the most expsensive nap you ever took."

Jennifer and I joked the rest of the vacation. “Oh my god! There they are! It's those freaks again, and they're staying in the room next to us.? In truth, we never did see them again, thank god, but one never knows. It's a small island, after all.

After the helicopter tour, I had planned to drive/hike up the volcano, but Jennifer was exhausted, and I was growing tired of our fervent pace. The Russels were driving down the Valley of the Craters Road to see the volcano and hike the lava tubes.

“How about we just check into the hotel and hang out at the pool?? I offered.


So, we checked into our hotel on Banyan Drive, tipped the bus boy, and then asked him to recommend a good local place to eat. He sent us to Verna's, promising they made good plate lunches. When Jennifer and I travel, we don't eat at restaurant chains. We eat the local food. So, we ate some hot Lau Lau, then retreated to the hotel, where we snorkeled around the tidal pools, and swam in the hotel pool for the afternoon. In the evening, we put the top down and drove up the coast looking for Malasadas and Hawaiian Shave Ice.

“Hey dad??

“Yes, angel??

“You know that black piece of rubber that I found at the airport that I said was part of my sunglasses??

“Yes, baby?? (I had a sinking feeling where this was leading.)

“Well...it was part of my sunglasses, after all. See? Look.?

Lo and behold, she was indeed missing that exact piece from her sunglasses. How she found it on the ground behind the rental car, and how she knew it was hers, I'll never know. But she was right. And I'd made her toss it back down on the ground and leave it just to prove a point.

“OK. Tomorrow morning, we'll go back and get it. I remember where it was. Alamo Car Rental – Spot 31.?

We pulled into a little scenic overlook turnout along the coast. The view was OK. Nice, but not much different than the coast we'd been seeing along the way. As I rolled out, I saw a guy that was also driving a Chrysler Sebring convertible. But, he had his top up. Now, keep in mind that, it was about 6:30 p.m. So, the sun was near the horizon, and the heat of the day had passed. And, I mean, we're driving up the coast of the Big Island north of Hilo. As in, it doesn't get much better than this. As in, if you don't have your top down now, then there's something wrong with you. And, why, after all, did you rent a convertible, anyhow?

So, I pulled up beside him and motioned for him to roll down the window. His significant other was out taking pictures with a cheap digital camera.

“Hey...buddy. Get with the program. Put your top down. It's not gonna get any better than this.?

He stared at me, like I was a circus freak. I smiled, gave him a chucka, and pulled out onto the highway. I said it just like that to. “Get with the program.? I said.

Outside the little nondescript collapsing town of Paiku, we stumbled upon a little roadside bakery hawking Malasadas. Tom's Bakery. We pulled in and began to interrogate Tom.

“We're in need of some Malasadas.? I deadpanned. We were a couple of junkies hunting for a fix aboard an epicurean cruise ship. A convertible land yacht burning through gas at $3.55 a gallon.

“Are you from around here?? he asked.

I observed that he was missing most of his front teeth. All the ones on the top. Possibly more. I would have thought he was a hippie dropout from the 60's, but he wouldn't be old enough for that. He was a hippie dippy drop out from somewhere, but the 60's was out of his class. Maybe his parents had moved him here from Berkeley. Maybe he'd found this place on his own. Hilo is the cheap side of the island. You can still buy land there, 'cause there's jungle there, but not much else. The tourists are all beating a fast track to Kona. They don't waste much time on this side of the island. It's green here. Think rain forest. But the white sand beaches are on the other side.

“Nah. We're from Colorado. Just beating around the island. Checking it out. You know the drill.?

“Right on. Our Malasadas are on sale two for one. We have plain ones, and fruit filled ones also.?

Set us up with about a half a dozen of them. Just surprise me.?

As he filled a bag with Malasadas, those delicious Portugese doughnuts, the nectar of the gods, he let us in on a little secret.

“There's a mother monk seal that just gave birth to a little pup down in that cove there. You should go by and check it out if you have a second. Not many people know about it. Even the folks that live here don't know about it.?

This is what you live for. These little jewels that the locals hand you if you treat them decently. If you talk down to them, or act like you're in a hurry, on mainland time, then they just don't offer up these little pearls of wisdom.

“Is that right? How do we find this place??

“Just go across the road there. It dead-ends where N.O.A.A.'s Monk Seal Rescue Team monitors them.

“Right on. Thanks.?

And we went drove down to the sea where he'd described, but they were locking the gate at the “Sea Farm? when we got there.

Another disheveled hippy greeted us.

“Sorry. We're closing for the day. I mean, you can hop the fence after I leave, it's not a big deal, but I'm locking it for the night.?

“We may come back in the morning. What time do you figure they'll open it up??

“Maybe about nine. Or ten.?

The hippies are enthusiastic scientists, but they're serious about their recreational drugs, as well. So, you can't expect too much from a colony of people that spend their lives burning through a federal grant watching seals swim in brackish water. If they smell bad, are missing a few or all of their teeth, and they don't get up as early as the monk seals, no one should be surprised at this.

On the way back into Hilo, we stopped at a cemetery to shoot some photos of the sunset. While we were shooting, a swarm of tiny mosquitoes descended on us, attacking us ferociously, and en masse. The mossies were very small, and you couldn't feel them biting you, but they were insatiable, like little flying pirannah, and we beat a hasty retreat back into Hilo.

At a local supermarket in Hilo, we bought some Off and some anti-itch cream. Jennifer picked up some snacks for the road, including a box of Little Debbie Oatmeal Cream pies. Later, when she complained her mosquito bites were itching,I suggest she “Get out that cream stuff we bought?. The next instant, she was contentedly eating a Little Debbie Oatmeal Cream cake.

“What are you doing??

“You said to get out those cream things.?

“I meant the anti-itch cream. Not the Little Debbie Oatmeal Cream snacks. Do those help your mosquito bites??

“Well....kind of. They're not bad. You should try them.?

“OK. Fair enough.? They weren't bad. Not as good as the Malasadas, but not bad.

“How old are your legs, daddy?? she asked.


“Do whales have feet??

“Where do you come up with these questions? Is something wrong with you??

“Don't forget, daddy. We have to go and get that piece to my sunglasses, tomorrow.?

“OK. That's right baby. We'll get it. Don't you worry.?

Posted by Peenie Wallie on September 8, 2006 at 3:00 AM


awwwwwwwwwwww..so cute (the seal pup of course)

Posted by: sl on September 8, 2006 at 8:57 AM

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