HONOLULU — Every city has its special time, I suppose. Or should I say, times ? Waikiki I've seen often enough, in different lights, different moods. I confess I've never been in love with it, never mustered the enthusiasm displayed by all those couples from Cleveland or Bayonne.
But I resolved to make my peace with Waikiki. I might have to find the right "time," sneak up on the place, catch it perhaps when it was napping--or literally sleeping.
How about Kalakaua Avenue at 6 a.m.? I wondered. What sorts of colors, sights, sounds and smells would Hawaii's hub offer at that odd hour? I would find out.
Having arranged for a 5:15 a.m. wake-up call, I was out on Ala Moana Boulevard near the top of Kalakaua. It was not yet dawn.
Crossed Against Light
Empty streets . . . a rare sight in Waikiki. What few cars there were had their headlights on. Emboldened, I walked against the light, an action that would be hazardous later. A man on a bicycle--one doesn't see many of them here--cut diagonally across the street.
The air was refreshingly cool. The sky, in that limbo state between night and day, began to fill with whiteness; ominous dark clouds swarmed along the tops of the mountains.
Kalakaua Avenue is, of course, Waikiki's main thoroughfare. But its famous beach is not that easy to get to. Along the grassy expanse of Ft. DeRussy there's no problem, but the ocean-front hotels limit access. In places the beach narrows so much that the would-be stroller must resort to a tiny path along the top of a seawall. So I decided to stay on Kalakaua.
Just past the fort I caught sight of the Lollipop Lounge. A few years ago the avenue had been blighted by topless shows and adult movie houses; the Lollipop, I gathered, survived the clean-up. "Quality Topless . . . Monday--Wet T-Shirt Night" promised the headlines on the marquee, but the place looked somnolent, as if last night's raucousness had been only a dream.
On a small patch of grass near Lewers Street some transients slept on benches while sea birds paced soundlessly among them. I looked up at the towers of the Sheraton Waikiki: Their curved lines seem to twist in the early light.
Next to it the three-tiered Royal Hawaiian Shopping Center showed an interior dark and forbidding: Cameras and jewelry rested behind metal grates and elsewhere, colorfully printed Hawaiian shirts and dresses draped themselves in lifeless shadow. Fluorescent lights gleamed from an always-restive McDonald's; a young man, preparing for the morning crowd, hosed down the sidewalk.
"Hi, my name is Amy," said a neatly dressed woman, accompanied by a young man bedecked in shirt and tie. "We're just sharing some thoughts," she said, handing me Jehovah's Witness material. I silently admired their early morning zeal, their immaculate attire.
Padlocked Souvenir Stands
Outside the International Market Place a truck unloaded cartons of pineapples at curbside. Inside, the market was hushed. Sinuous banyan trees rose eerily. The souvenir stands, grouped together, were shuttered and padlocked, their exposed wheels at the bottom providing a strangely comic effect.
It will look different later, I told myself, moving easily down the deserted street. Past the Moana Hotel I finally reached Kuhio Beach Park, a peaceful spot made all the more so by a small lagoon inside the breakwater. No one was sunbathing yet, but a few people were already in the lagoon.
In the distant surf, bronze bodies glistened on their boards; coming out of the water, a middle-aged resident, board under his arm, headed for the street. It was not yet 7 a.m. and he'd already caught his share of waves.
The park benches--no sleeping transients to be seen--were dotted with people: one sipped coffee, another read a book, still another just stared at the horizon. They were obviously not there to people watch; that's better done at noon, when the well-oiled bodies will loll or pace before one's eyes.
No, perhaps in kinship with me, they seemed to be pursuing another kind of beauty: the long roll of white water that might be a mile offshore, the barely perceptible accumulation of light that changes the horizon's clouds from gray to white and the myriad corrugations on the sea's surface, looking richly detailed, the fine edges soon to diffuse under a blander, mid-morning sun.
The joggers were out; they headed toward nearby Kapiolani Park. Other stragglers approached the beach, Japanese tourists among them. Undeterred by the low sun they arrived with cameras; some set up tripods, recording their subjects with their backs against the sea.
Pace Begins to Quicken
American tourists wandered in; were they hoping to find Waikiki in an unguarded moment, too? Perhaps they were just suffering from jet lag?