YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections


Hawaiian Eyewitness : Reflections on a Rich Relationship With the Islands Via the Sea

February 26, 1989|JACK SMITH

WHEN YOU READ this, my wife and I should be on a cruise to Hawaii, with stops in Maui, Oahu and the Big Island of Hawaii.

It will be the first cruise I have taken since 1966, when we took a French freighter to Vancouver, and my first ocean-liner cruise to Hawaii since 1941, before Pearl Harbor.

I am glad to see the revival of the cruise ship. Today, though, it is merely a seagoing carnival.

In 1941, the oceangoing liner was the main means of transportation between land masses separated by water, and the train was the main means overland.

There was a grandeur about sea and train travel. One traveled in a time warp. Progress was too gradual to produce jet lag. One had time to really separate himself from his usual routines of night and day, work and sleep.

There was little or no anxiety about an accident. Trains were sometimes derailed; ships hit icebergs. But the likelihood of such mishaps occurring was too slight to be taken seriously.

And when one reached a destination, it was not overrun by tens of thousands of other tourists who had flown in by jet. When the Lurline docked in Honolulu, the Matsonia would be departing with all the passengers it had brought. Only the Lurline's passengers would be in town.

A band would be playing "Aloha Oe" on the dock. Native Hawaiian girls (oh, they might be Japanese, Chinese, Portuguese or Samoan) would be hula-dancing in grass skirts. When you disembarked, they would throw flower leis around your neck.

I have made four round-trip cruises to Hawaii. The first two were when I was a scullion on the S. S. Monterey, a sister ship of the Lurline. We sailed first to Honolulu, then on to Pago Pago, Suva, Auckland, Sydney and Melbourne. Then, we returned by the same route in reverse.

I will never forget that first day in Honolulu. I was on deck to see the landfall. Diamond Head was lit by the early sun.

We rounded it and there was Waikiki. The long waves rolled slowly up to the white beach. Two hotels, the pink Royal Hawaiian and the gray Moana, rose beyond Waikiki amid the palm trees. In the background, purple mountaintops were crowned by rain clouds.

We docked downtown, and I rode a trolley to the beach, my swimming trunks under my pants. At Waikiki, I swam far out, beyond the farthest waves. I turned around in the warm water, looking back over the surf toward the gorgeous backdrop. I promised myself that someday I would come back to stay.

I tried it two years later. I saved enough money to buy a cabin-class ticket on the Lurline for $110. I was on the beach in Honolulu. I hocked two German cameras to live. I hoped to get a job on the Advertiser on the basis of my year and a half as the Bakersfield Californian's sportswriter. That wasn't enough for the managing editor, but sports editor Red McQueen paid me $15 a week out of his pocket to work for him. After three months, I got discouraged and wired my father for the fare home.

In early 1941 I tried again, leaving my new wife behind. On shipboard, I struck up an acquaintance with two attractive young women who seemed to be traveling together. They turned out to be prostitutes on their way back to their jobs in Honolulu. We became inseparable. We talked at the rail with studied sophistication, looking out over the sea. We danced. We drank. Sex was taboo. After all, they were on holiday. They were ladies; I was their gentleman friend. We were enchanted.

Three months later, after my wife had joined me in Honolulu, we were walking down Hotel Street one day when I saw one of those women approaching us on the sidewalk. As she drew near, I smiled and said, "Hello!" with unfeigned delight. Eyes straight ahead, she passed us by. I realized that she didn't want my wife to know about us, but I felt betrayed.

Late in 1942, we sailed home on a small freighter, never knowing whether it might be torpedoed.

My last voyage to Hawaii was in 1943--on a small aircraft carrier.

I'm hoping that this cruise to the islands will be more carefree.

Los Angeles Times Articles