HALEIWA, Hawaii — Shortly after passing Pearl City I left the H1 Freeway, turning north toward Haleiwa Town. Black clouds scudded across the horizon and breezes blowing through the open window of my car were cool, which was surprising, what with the overcast and an earlier forecast of high humidity.
I was well beyond Honolulu with its crowded streets and was passing flatland with only a few houses and a country store now and then, the sort of run-down plantation place where customers gather on sagging stoops, drinking beer and exchanging bits of gossip.
In the little town of Wahiawa I asked directions at a juice stand and the girl behind the counter smiled widely and said, "Just keep going straight. You can't miss Haleiwa Town." And then, wistfully, she added, "It's special." Everywhere it was green. Everywhere the sugar cane waved like a waxen carpet alongside the road, and I could smell the sweetness of pineapple hidden somewhere beyond the cane. Solitude. It was good to be away from the congestion and fast-food joints of Waikiki.
The road wound past a pineapple plantation and more clusters of shacks with rusting tin roofs and TV antennas pointing drunkenly from precarious perches. By now I was deep into sugar-cane country, only I hadn't realized that soon an era would be ending, an era that had spanned nearly a century. For shortly, only memories of the good life would remain, a simple life with simple pleasures that had rich meaning beyond the comprehension of strangers: the ancient sugar mill serving the villages would be shutting down, an old mill that had been a symbol of hope to the locals of these two towns.
Along the Way
En route to Haleiwa Town and my search for a resort called Ke Iki Hale, I passed places with names like Waipio and Kukaniloko, and others with general stores and service stations and little cemeteries so old that the names on the headstones were obliterated by years of wind and sun and rain.
Occasionally a gigantic truck loaded with cane snorted through a field and onto the highway, kicking up a billowing cloud of orange dust from the unpaved cane road and settling on trees and funny little houses that rose like caricatures in a Tennessee Williams tale of the Old South.
It was shortly after passing the cane truck that the road turned abruptly and Haleiwa Town appeared like the set in a Hollywood Western, rather than a village in Hawaii.
Frame buildings with little galleries and surf shops and cafes lined both sides of the narrow street. I stopped at a health food grocery/cafe called the Celestial whose shelves were piled with the good stuff that healthy dudes who don't blow pot and are careful about their diets eat.
Soy Burgers on Wheat Buns
There was nothing fancy about the Celestial. The grocery operates up front, the cafe out back. The specialties of the day were scrawled on a blackboard and a pretty waitress handed me a menu that listed soy burgers on whole wheat buns along with tofu in barbecue sauce and vegetarian tamales and chili.
I ordered a drink called a galaxy, which was a combination of papayas, bananas and apple juice stirred furiously in a blender. An older woman stood in the background creating sandwiches and stirring the chili. A young man with a blond beard strolled in, ordered a glass of carrot juice, dispatched it in one huge gulp and disappeared.
I asked for a bowl of the vegetarian chili, although this wasn't what I had in mind when something like saimin would have seemed more appropriate in Hawaii. Still, the chili was first-class.
A lad entered the cafe. "A Coke," he told the waitress.
The girl shrugged. "Don't serve no Coke."
He looked at the menu. "OK, pineapple juice, but be sure it's cold."
The service was fast. No waiting. I made a mental note to stop before returning to Honolulu. Before continuing my search for Ke Iki Hale resort, I decided to stroll through Haleiwa Town. I passed the Banzai Bowl, another cafe. It specializes in omelets called the Rip Curl, the Tube, the Barrel, the Pumping Surf, the Wipeout and the Winter Swell, all terms relating to surfing.
A few doors away I ran into John Costello, an artist from New York who peddles his paintings along with T-shirts at his Kaala Gallery. He was barefoot, wearing an earring and long hair, the sort of lost soul one once saw in San Francisco's Haight-Ashbury when the flower children were spaced out on drugs and searching for life's elusive meaning.
Only John isn't a pothead. Rather he's dedicated to his art, which is depicted in the scenes of his travels to the South Seas, Tahiti in particular, a sort of latter-day Gauguin who dreams of returning some day to French Polynesia and painting the same figures Gauguin painted. Costello came to Hawaii as a surfer and this, he insists, is the surfing capital of the world.
A note taped to a glass case in his gallery tells the story: