Candy from strangers

Candy from strangers
1969 was a very passionate and confused year in America. It was the time of “do-your-own-thing” individualism and the Viet Nam war draft. There other mind-boggling events like the moon landing and riots taking place to keep your world stirred up. I was living in south Florida and that place was beyond crazy on a good day. For teenagers, life seemed uncertain at best.
A small group of enthusiastic teens formed an organization that we called the “Davie Rodeo Club” which was not affiliated with any school (like they are now.) I belonged to a close knit group of bull riders, consisting of myself, Stan, Dubby, and Pollard (he had a first name, but we never used it.)
The four of us were close and always watched each other’s back. If one had trouble, the others were there… if you needed money, the others were digging in their pockets. In a time that stressed individuality, we had unity. And we were glad of it.
There were other bull riders in the club as well as bronc riders, bulldoggers, and ropers who hung around with us, but had their own cliques too. The kid whose dad owned the property that we built our arena on was a team roper, but he spent more time with us than the other ropers. It was obvious that we were a team and that was attractive to others who were used to being alone.
We did all the normal teenager stuff; if you can call anything a teenager does “normal.” There was the usual dating, dances and school and we did have our own interests outside of rodeo. Bull riding was the common bond between us and it was strong brotherhood. To outsiders it was probably considered an insane passion, but to us it was life.
Pollard was a year older than the rest of us, but in the same grade. A little trouble (probably not so little really) along the way had interrupted his school career and he repeated a year, thus ending up with us. He was never rude or disruptive in class but he was treated like a troublemaker by every teacher in classes that we had together.
We all thought that being underage and drinking beer was OK, with the typical misconception that drinking beer made us cool. The need to seem older and more sophisticated than our peers at school made us do stupid things like that. Some members of our group had more trouble than others with growing out of that bad choice.
Our teenage years are difficult at best, and can be devastating at the worst. Successfully navigating those years was often dictated by who you had around you. If you had someone to either look up to for an example, or listen to for guidance, it made a world of difference. Some of us figured out how we were being “extra stupid” on our own.
It wasn’t really apparent to us at first that Pollard had a drinking problem. We were after all still teenagers and a year younger than him. The guy always had a beer on him when he was away from school, but he never seemed to get drunk when we were around him. He started skipping school and going to work instead, more and more all the time. He said it was because he “needed” more money.
Pollard lived by himself in a small three room cottage apartment in Davie. His father had run off when he was young, his brother died in Viet Nam during the early years when we were just there as “advisors,” and his mother had problems with alcohol and other substances of her own. His mother being a substance abuser was the one reason why we didn’t think that Pollard would get “that way.” We were wrong.
If he couldn’t get beer or hard liquor, he would drink cough syrup or anything with alcohol in it. Stan caught him straining Sterno through a cloth to drink because he was out of booze and money and needed a fix just like a junkie. We decided right then and there that we were going to put a stop to this before it killed him and/or us (he often drove the car with us in it.)
Pollard wasn’t left alone after the Sterno incident, and we wouldn’t allow him to take a drink of anything with alcohol in it. It was pretty tense for a long time. There were several fights and we didn’t fight fair, we’d gang up on him. We were determined to save our amigo and beat the booze.
After a few weeks it appeared that Pollard was over his craving for alcohol. We were elated, sure that we had won the battle. He told us that he was OK and didn’t feel the need for alcohol any more. It seemed like everything had worked according to our plans.
He had switched addictions and was chewing Redman and dipping Copenhagen or Skoal a lot more, but we figured that was a good trade off. No one thought about cancer much back then… well, the rest didn’t. I had lost my grandfather and an aunt to cancer in the previous ten years and the idea of getting cancer bothered me. We thought we had it all fixed, but we were wrong.
Somehow Pollard had hidden a bottle of vodka where we couldn’t find it and was “spiking” his tobacco products with it to get his fix. He repeatedly said that he really wanted to quit and knew that we loved him like a brother and only wanted to help him. He felt the same about us and wouldn’t intentionally do anything to hurt us. But alcohol was still ruling his life, in spite of what he wanted… until we found out about the vodka in his tobacco.
That discovery caused a blowout of huge proportions. As always we were “plotting against him,” (as he saw it) so he told us all “where to go and how to get there.” We had finally had enough of spending all of our time on him and angrily stormed out of his place and went to Stan’s house to discuss what to do next. It was decided to do nothing; the next move was Pollard’s.
A week went by and we hadn’t seen or heard from Pollard and we were getting worried; the “what if” scenarios kept playing out in our minds. Then on Saturday morning about 11:00 a.m. Stan got a call from Broward General Hospital. He in turn called Dubby and I and we sped to town.
Pollard had gone fishing on the sea wall by the jetties near Dania Beach. When he went to stand up he reached back over his head to grab the handrail that went all along the wall, missed, and fell over backwards. The drop was about ten feet.
He landed on his head on some great big rocks that were jumbled up all along the dry side of the sea wall. The one-point landing split his head open and knocked him completely out. The witnesses said that he didn’t move after he hit.
Fortunately for him there were several other people out there that day and one of them ran to a phone to call for an ambulance. The response was very quick as there was a beach substation less than two miles away. The crew had to climb down into the rocks to get to him and check him over.
Keep in mind that this was 1969 and procedures were not anything like what you see today when a Paramedic or EMT arrives. They picked Pollard up, sat him upright, and put a bandage against his head wound to stop the bleeding. While checking his vital signs they noticed that he had a kind of green pallor about his face.
He just didn’t look right to them so they hauled him up the seawall bodily and manually carried him to the parking lot. There they strapped him onto a gurney, loaded him into the ambulance and hit the lights and siren. They didn’t have a clue why he would be green, but they were sure that it wasn’t right and that they had to get him to the ER, ASAP!
What they didn’t know (and Pollard was a little too unconscious to tell them) was that he had about half a pack of Redman Chewing tobacco (non-alcoholic version) in his mouth when he fell. He swallowed it all, and I promise you, that will give you a green color!
The call Stan got was from Pollard himself, wanting more chew (or at least some snuff to dip) and he sounded clear and alert. We met at Stan’s and then got into Dubby’s Oldsmobile and went to the hospital. They indeed did have him registered there, but no, we couldn’t see him until after 5:00 p.m. They were running tests on him and would be all day.
So, we went over to Leroy’s Coffee shop and drank coffee until we thought the tide had come in and we were about to drown. Then we took a road trip to Boca Raton to see the new Horse Track and finally, we thought we had burned up enough time and drove back to Broward General.
It was only 4:30 p.m. and that grumpy Charge Nurse would rip our heads off if we bugged her again asking to get in early. So, we sat in the car and listened to Dubby’s tapes. He was called “Dubby” because he had a speech impediment and could not say the letter “W” correctly. It always came out sounding like “Dubby” and that was a bummer since his first, middle, and last names all started with “W.”
We waited out our time and it seemed like forever because Dubby only had country music tapes in his car. He always claimed that it was because nobody would steal them like they did rock music. I would have gladly given them away to anyone who wanted them, especially when Dubby decided to sing along. The guy was tone deaf and didn’t care what he sounded like.
While we waited we had been watching two little boys, around six and eight years old, playing in their car while the adults went inside. They were obviously brothers and had been fighting most of the time. All of the windows were rolled all the way down in a failed attempt to keep them cool.
The boys had been repeatedly jumping from the front to the back seat and back again. They played with everything in the car; especially anything that they weren’t supposed to touch. The cigarette lighter, the ashtrays, the horn, everything was fair game to them.
Before too long they were even bored of fighting with each other. The young boys were just kind of lying across the backs of the seats with that,” been there, done that, too bored to bother” look on their kissers. The only thing that they didn’t even consider was getting out of the car; that would have brought the wrath of mom down on them.
Dubby said that it was time to go in and Stan and I gave a cheer. It was less because we now got to go see Pollard, and mostly because it meant that Dubby would quit that infernal noise. He said, “What? Don’t you like my singing?” I told him the sounds he made would give a Barn Owl hot flashes and he chased me around some cars. That boy just couldn’t take a little friendly critique.
While we were running around cars, Stan had been talking with the two little boys that we had been watching. They wanted to know if we were real cowboys, and Stan said, “Yep,” which was cowboy talk for, “Uh huh.” Then they asked him what that was that he was putting in his mouth.
I failed to mention that Stan had a broad mischievous streak. He said, “Candy, do you want some?” The little brother of course said, “Yeah” (which was little kid talk for “Yep.”) Stan gave him a big wad of Redman chewing tobacco, which he quickly jammed into his mouth so his brother couldn’t have any of it. I had been the target of his practical jokes in the past myself, so I felt sorry for the kid.
We were almost to the front door when we heard the sound of the involuntary expulsion of foreign matter. The little guy was being dangled out the window held by the ankles by his big brother. He lost his wad of chew and probably his lunch too. I could hear the older one saying, “Don’t you get any of that on Momma’s car, I ain’t getting a beating for you.”
We slapped Stan in the back of the head and called him bad names for doing that to that little guy. He said that he just wanted to teach them the lesson not to take things from strangers. I told him that he just convinced those two that all that bad things being said about cowboys were true.
Pollard was wearing one of those silly open-down-the-back hospital gowns and every time he got out of bed his entire butt would hang out. The nurse thought it was cute, which really worried him. She looked like a Marine drill sergeant, and she told him that she was going to give him a sponge bath later. He wanted out of there!
We had smuggled in his chew (which he wasn’t supposed to have) and he promptly loaded up his jaw and eventually had to spit. He looked around for anything convenient to spit in, (that the nurse wouldn’t see right away anyway) and settled on the bedpan. It was stainless steel and held quite a bit.
Even though he was able to get up and go to the bathroom just fine, they still put the bedpan next to his bed. It freaked him out that the nurse asked him if he needed help using it every time that she came in to check on him. We of course, picked up on his aversion to her attention and teased him every way that we could think of about their “romance.”
We asked our amigo how he was feeling, really. What we wanted to know more than anything was if alcohol was involved in his accident, but none of us would ask. Pollard said that he was fine, just a cut on his head and they had sewed that up and he was as good as new. He stressed over and over that he couldn’t wait to get released… before “Nursey” came calling again.
In a moment of rising bravado I finally asked about his drinking and was he having any trouble needing a drink in there? He told us that after we left him on the day of the big argument, he sat down and took stock of his situation. That day he had come to the conclusion that he had to either quit drinking or die. Pollard said that he thought long and hard about which one he wanted.
He reached the decision that life was worth living and it was up to him to make it work. No one else should have to be responsible for his actions, and he hadn’t touched a drop since. He was afraid that he would backslide and was embarrassed about how he had acted. So he wanted to wait until he had a week of sobriety under his belt and knew for himself that he could do it.
According to him he had gone out to the jetties to fish and think about what to say to us, and then fell off the wall. There was a long silence where we thought about what he said and stared at this guy that we cared about, wanting to believe him. It was fair to say that there was a lot of doubt in that room.
Dubby said, “Pretty speech, but if you don’t mean it, we’re all through with you.” Stan and I stared him in the eyes and nodded our agreement…. he got the message.
It was past visiting hours by then, so we were about to leave when Dubby said that he had to go dump the bedpan somewhere, so Pollard wouldn’t get caught. The little monster took it to the Godzilla nurse and told her that Pollard had a bowel movement and it didn’t look right to him.
When the nurse looked in that bedpan and saw the chew spit and chunks of tobacco leaf all chewed and mashed (it did look awful) she nearly screamed. Dubby had said, “Get out of here quick” but didn’t say why. From the panicked look on his face we knew better than to delay.
She was heading for his room when we took off down the hall, at a very fast, I-wish-I-could-run-now speed. Pollard got to stay an additional night while they analyzed his “sample.” He not only got the sponge bath, Nursey gave him an enema as well to “clean him out.”
The next day, Sunday, he got “out” all right… when the sample turned out to be chewing tobacco spit they practically threw him out the front door. We were there waiting to pick him up, and give him more chewing tobacco. We knew it was a filthy habit, but still indulged in it anyway.
The good news was that Pollard got off the alcohol completely and the rest of us didn’t want much to do with it either. We had seen enough with his struggle to convince us to not let anything get grip on our lives like that. There was a funny (to us) side effect from Pollard’s hospital experience; he said that whenever he took a chew after that it gave him the weirdest feeling, like he had to go to the bathroom.
My family and I moved to Georgia the next year and I lost track of my friends. It is true that all of us have to go our separate ways in life. I like to think that we learned enough from those hard lessons to make better decisions.
I am sure that those other guys are still out there somewhere having fun; and probably at each other’s expense if I know them.
Epilogue:
Pollard and Stan are gone now, but Dubby is a wealthy business owner with a stack of kids and grandkids. I would bet that he is still playing that crappy music and singing along with it while he plays tricks on his friends.

Hiding from the Rain

Hiding from the Rain
As a young teenager I had many adventures not commonly available to most kids. Many of these were because of where I lived, south Florida, but I have to say some of them were just different because of how I looked at life.

If you know about Florida, you will be aware that it rains a lot there. June is usually the wettest month, with ten to twelve inches accumulation being about average. That is also the month that signals the beginning of freedom from school, and the opportunity to escape from the routines of everyday life.

I have written about going to visit my Seminole friends in the Everglades in the story, “The Only White Boy There” where I was privileged to attend the Green Corn Dance/Celebration. I learned valuable lessons about life and myself in those three days and became even more a part of the family of the host tribal clan.

During a visit to Big Cypress (Indian reservation) I had occasion to spend time with a very elderly woman who spoke little English and was thoroughly unimpressed with my command of the Miccosukee language. We did communicate as she felt necessary, but that was not frequent.

 
 It wasn’t the fact that I was a white kid in a decidedly Indian place, as I was very much accepted as a member of the tribe. Rather it was my age by itself. The old girl only liked babies and people with gray hair, everyone else irritated her. She said we all talked too much and got in her way.

I was at the old woman’s “house” waiting for her niece, her granddaughter Scarlett, and our friend Larry to join me. We were going to celebrate Scarlett’s birthday and my own, neither of which fell on the dates we were there, but was the best we could do.

I use quotations on the word “house” because in the white world it would not be consider as such. The structure was called a chic-kee in the Seminole language. The chic-kee was quite functional as a domicile for traditional Seminole people but it did not have walls, doors, electricity, or plumbing. It had a raised platform for a floor and a thatched roof to keep the sun and rain off of you. It had everything that people needed to live their lives in comfort.

Can you imagine white people of today living in an open structure with no electricity or plumbing, no separate rooms for the inhabitants, no television or computer? You would actually have to look at and, talk to, each other.

While we waited for our fellow party guests, the elderly woman known to me only as “grandmother,” was busy cooking on an open fire with multiple pots going at the same time. She seemed to be in a hurry to get things done and sent me to the nearby communal garden plot to pick things like bananas, tomatoes, and some green herbs that I can’t remember the name she used, but just looked like weeds to me. They still do when I see them in grocery stores or on my plate.

When I returned from that errand I was inclined to take a nap in the shade of the chic-kee and sleep away the wait, but grandmother had other plans. She told me to go back to the garden plot; but this time go to the back and cut several large banana leaves from the older trees with no fruit and bring them back to her undamaged. I chuckled to myself all the way there about her admonition to not “damage” the leaves. What was so important about banana leaves and why did she assume that I would mess them up? She sounded like my dad.

I was to get only complete, non-split leaves, and as large of ones as was possible. It wasn’t a terrible job and it did allow me to use a big knife on something. I did love swinging a blade at stuff, so I was not unhappy.

While standing in front of the small grove of banana trees trying to decide which leaves to cut I noticed how hot and muggy it was. I removed my shirt and looking down to get it in the right spot, I dropped it on the ground with my coil of string. As I looked back up at the tree in front of me I caught movement and launched forward like the experienced snake chaser that I was.

 
I grabbed the tree and pulled myself around one side of it as I reached the opposite way with my hand. That technique had worked many times in the capture of fast moving reptiles. On that occasion I found myself up close and personal with a very large and hairy spider. Quick recognition caused me to reverse direction in an instant and not out of any irrational fear of spiders; I knew what I was faced with.

Thanks to my experience with animal importing, I was familiar with the spider commonly known as a “Banana Spider.”It was more accurately called the “Brazilian Wandering Spider.” This creature has a very potent poison and had been known to kill humans with its bite. The dock workers at Port Everglades were terrified of them.

 
Being young and slightly cursed with the “invincibility” of youth, I still pursued the spider, much as I would have done with a rattlesnake or alligator. Luck was on my side and the spider disappeared before I could get my hands on it. I have no idea what I thought I would do with it, it was simply a thrill of the chase kind of thing.

Back to the job at hand, I hacked off the biggest leaves I could find (while still watching for spiders) and laid them carefully on the sandy soil. The very first one that I cut, I stepped on and ruined when I went to put the second one on top of it. I cut a dozen more and then bundled them together with my string and picked up the load to carry it back to grandmother.

 
It wasn’t as easy as I thought it would be. Those leaves were as long as I was tall and while not heavy, they were awkward. The bushes and trees between the garden and the compound where the chic-kees stood, was the natural equivalent of an obstacle course. I knew that if the old woman could see me she would be chuckling and shaking her head, which is the Seminole version of “I told you so.”

The Seminole are a wonderfully kind people. They never hit or even openly ridicule, humiliate, or even embarrass their youth. Their elders can convey more with a glance, grunt, or chuckle than most of the lectures I had received in the white world. Grandmother types were the most powerful of all and I have seen them make grown up tough guys wince and cower with a single look.

This was all in my mind as I twisted, turned, lifted and sweated my way through the bushes. I finally put the load on the top of my head like I had seen in so many films of other countries and it worked!

It never occurred to me to question why I was doing this task (such was the power of this grandmother’s will) or what she was going to do with them. I just did what I was told. When I returned with the banana leaves she told me to put them in the chic-kee, not on the ground by the fire where everything else was assembled. I thought that was odd but kept my mouth shut; I was learning.

As I watched I noted that she was moving very quickly for an old woman and I couldn’t figure out what the rush was. Seminoles are a very laid back, easy going society and not prone to hurrying. Grandmother started directing me to pick up things and move items into the chic-kee, which again was odd.

 
Meals were eaten either in the open or sitting in a communal dining shelter where logs were burned in a star pattern with the big pot cooking in the middle. That wasn’t happening this time, at least that I knew about. As usual and in proper custom, I just did as she said. But, I was a lot more curious than any Indian boy would have been.

When I could stand it no more, I broke down and asked her, “Grandmother, why are you in such a hurry, what is going on?” She chuckled, pointed up and kept working like it should be completely obvious to me. I looked up and only saw blue skies with white puffy clouds. There were no spaceships, no pterodactyls and no answer to the puzzle.

The look of confusion on my face was so amusing to her that she chuckled and pointed to my ear and said “fah blee chee,” which I did understand; it means wind. Was she saying that I was an airhead? She then pointed at her own ear and made motions of going by her ear with her hand. Wind going by; she wanted me to listen to the wind. Grandmother then pointed to her own nose and said “okee,” which means water. Since her nose was not running, I guessed that she meant that she smelled water.

I finally got it; listen to the wind and smell the water in the air. I looked up again, but with a more educated eye that time; I knew what I was trying to see. Sure enough there were clouds on the horizon and the wind was picking up and you could smell the rain if you tried hard enough.

But how did this old woman, who had probably never seen a weather forecast in her life, know so far in advance that rain was coming? It was Florida and it did rain a lot, especially in June, but it had been sunny and beautiful all morning.

Grandmother had finished the cooking and was moving pots of great smelling food onto the chic-kee platform. From there she had me move them to the center of the floor and put them on a pile of green palmetto leaves which acted as a mat to keep the hot pots from scorching or marking the cypress wood.

The wind picked up and the clouds rolled in and I wondered what we were going to do for shelter. I had always lived in the city in a concrete block house and while I had been rained on before, it was not a “planned” thing. I couldn’t imagine grandmother wanting to get wet, although I had witnessed Seminole women washing their hair in the rain, I just didn’t see her doing that right then.

There was only one modern, or “white man,” item in this totally traditional woman’s life. That item being a treadle powered Singer sewing machine, which sat in a corner of the platform. That baby had its own rain cover, which had covered something else in a past life but now provided a waterproof barrier for the machine and its cabinet. Grandmother reached under the cover and pulled out a cushion, which she placed on the platform, and then made sure the cover was closed up tight.

Finally, I found out what the banana leaves were for! Grandmother had me tuck the stem ends of the leaves into the underside of the thatched roof where a vine as been woven in and out around the support pole. I secured the end and then overlapped each leaf by half.

 
That was repeated with six leaves which made a large curtain of green and didn’t seem to be affected by the wind at all. She had me save the two largest for something else, and directed me to hang the remaining four at a spot which blocked the wind and rain from hitting the pots. That was actually kind of cool, in a “Tarzan” sort of way, and I liked the experience.

Rain hit me in the face while I secured the last banana leaf into place and made me look outside of the chic-kee. It was raining hard and moving towards us in sheets of water. I hoped that the banana flavored raincoat would work.

Grandmother had me sit down against the pole in the corner protected by the six leaves and handed me a banana leaf. Then she picked up the other one and plopped down on her cushion, where she sang a little song to herself and fussed with some threads on her skirt.

When the rain blew hard the old woman gestured to me to put the leaf over me. She did the same thing, but she stretched out on the floor with the leaf over her face and started snoring. That sight made me laugh to myself, but quietly.

I first put the leaf over my head like I had hung them from the pole, with the stem side up. That wasn’t comfortable, so I reversed it and put the soft leaf end over my head and tucked the end between my skull and the post. That worked much better and it actually cushioned my head.

 
With that natural barrier in place I saw the world through a translucent green veil, with occasional drops of water running down the leaf. It was quite beautiful and the air smelled amazingly fresh and clean. I was dry and warm under my leaf, and fairly comfortable, although my bony butt could have used a cushion between it and the cypress pole platform.

That was where I was when the others arrived in their truck. I was found asleep and still hiding from the rain, under a banana leaf like a monkey in the jungle. Of course with it being Florida, the sun was already out again. Grandmother was out bustling around doing her thing like nothing had ever happened. So naturally I got teased by Scarlett for being afraid of a little water.

Things are never dull in a world where wondrous experiences just wait for you to live them. I am happy to have had so many of my own.

The Road to Hana

The Road to Hana
 
The title of this story may sound like it should be a Bob Hope and Bing Crosby movie, but it was just a little outing during our Honeymoon in 1996. We were staying on the beautiful island of Maui and were trying to do and see as much as we could.
 
When in Hawaii you really should do as the locals say and, “Hang loose brudda!” That means that it really doesn’t pay to try and do anything at all in a hurry, it’s just not going to work that way. Life on the islands was best lived “Aloha style” which is slow and easy.
 
We had been hearing about the “Road to Hana” in all the places that we frequented on Maui, and had seen several T-shirts about the road trip. Everyone said it was a beautiful drive and that “You can’t go back to the mainland without going to Hana.”
 
I looked at a local island map and measured it out using the map legend mileage key; it was less than 60 miles. That wasn’t very far and it was all paved roads, so we should be able to make the trip around Maui, see Hana, and get back in time to go out to dinner in Lahaina. The trip should only take a couple of hours.
 
It was around 11:00 a.m. when we left the hotel and started off on our road trip. Traffic was heavy everywhere we went, especially through the center of activity around the airport and commercial district; lunch time rush I guessed. We crawled along in traffic until we passed the business areas and then things opened up and we felt relieved; we didn’t come to Hawaii to sit in traffic all day!
 
As we entered the coastal highway (state highway 360) we saw our first sign for our destination “Hana 54 miles,” and the road was four-lane and nice. We followed the coast and made our turn southward going around the eastern side of Maui. Out in the ocean breakers of Maui’s north shore we saw some crazy surfers.
 
I say crazy, because there were big rock outcroppings sticking up out of the water and a rip tide that would either drown you, or throw you into the rocks. We watched one young fellow riding in on one wave and when another broke across it, he kicked over to the second wave. By doing so he avoided a deadly collision with some very unforgiving rocks by a margin so close, that everyone on the highway stopped.
 
We were sure that he would be crab bait, but he never even slowed down. It’s good to surf your own break, you know what’s up and what to avoid. It reminded me of shooting (surfing through) the pier at Dania Beach in South Florida. If you didn’t know it intimately, it was best to leave it alone.
 
I had just formed the idea in my mind that we were going to be in Hana in about an hour, when the next several road signs changed that thought completely. They came at us in such rapid succession that we could barely read them: ROAD NARROWS, SPEED LIMIT 35, ONE LANE BRIDGES NEXT 53 MILES, WATCH FOR SLOW MOVING TRAFFIC, WATCH FOR TRUCKS ENTERING HIGHWAY.
 
What had happened to our cool scenic highway? With a speed limit of 35 mph it was going to take a bit longer than I thought. Quickly, the road narrowed until it was only wide enough for two very friendly vehicles with no mirrors or door handles sticking out.
 
When the first sign stated, “ONE LANE BRIDGES AHEAD,” I had no idea that there were 54 one lane bridges in the next 53 miles. It became even more “exciting” as we saw that the road was (just barely) carved out of the side of the mountain.
 
State highway 360 followed the contours of the terrain with absolutely no thought of “level.” That word was evidently not in the vocabulary of the engineer who constructed the coastal road. If you were into thrill rides it might be considered kind of cool the way they made it. It was a roller coaster ride of unbelievable length!
 
It was in a way fortuitous that Anna was a photographer on this road of endless curves. Frequently she would get “woozy” from the back and forth motion of the car on the curves, blazing along at speeds approaching 20 mph, (sometimes we would go that fast, but not very often.)
 
I would find a place to literally jam the car into the bushes and stop, so she could recover. When I did so, she pulled out her camera and she forgot all about being sick. That camera worked better than any drugs we could have used for motion sickness.
 
She doesn’t have any trouble on airplanes and nothing happened when we went out on the water in a dive boat; it just seems to happen in automobiles on curvy roads. For whatever reason, we knew that it would happen and found ways to deal with it.
 
Somewhere about the half way point on “the Road to Hana,” there was a Botanical Garden on the inland side of the road (which even had places to park.) It was the Keanae Arboretum where there were plant representatives from all the Pacific Rim Islands and other countries which had influence on the development of the Hawaii that we know today.
 
There were many different varieties of trees and plants, but the one that impressed me the most was the species of tree known as the “Painted Eucalyptus.” These trees were tall (about 50-60 feet) and very straight in the trunk. There were no limbs until the top (or crown) similar in that respect to some of the pine tree species of south Florida.
 
The most interesting features of this tree was their absolutely smooth surface, and color marks like someone had gone wild in the forest with different colors of paint. Those marks were mostly vertical and the same colors were present on all the trees of this type. However, the marking pattern was individual to each tree.
 
After a brief stop we left the trees and continued our journey towards Hana. We discussed our options before pulling out onto the road and knew that the smart thing to do (time wise) would be to turn around and go back to the hotel. But, we were determined to reach our destination and refused to quit.
 
There were many more one lane bridges to go. At each one we were behind slow trucks and invariably encountered people blocking traffic standing in the middle of the road. They were tourists (just like us) and wanted to get a better look at each one of the thousands of little water falls that decorated the hillside. The problem was that the cascading rivulets were on every hillside, all the way down the fifty-four miles of road.
 
The tiny waterfalls were pretty, but they each looked almost exactly like the one before and the one after. I doubt that you could pick out one from another in the millions of photos taken of them. But hey, tourists are like that! That was also still in the time of film cameras and I can only imagine how much revenue those little trickles of water engendered for Kodak and other film developers. They were liquid gold!
 
Finally, the tiny community of Hana came into view. We had arrived, along with the many other “Hana Trekkers” that had been in a conga line all day. Anna decided that she was hungry, which was not unreasonable, given the amount of time since breakfast.
 
It was around 3:30 p.m. by then and as we meandered around the little village of Hana, we came to the realization that there really wasn’t much of a choice for dining. There was a little convenience store with packaged munchies, a couple of food stands (that were closed,) and then there was the Hana Hilton. So we opted for the Hilton.
 
The Hana Hilton was truly a beautiful place, located on some very breathtaking real estate, both from the stand point of view, and cost. The clientele was very exclusive and were most often flown in by helicopter to their private landing pad.
 
Some of their guests did sail in on their yachts, dropped anchor in the private cove, and were then picked up by Hilton speedboats. This place was a secret hideout for the rich and famous, or infamous as the case may be.
 
We were informed at the desk by a fellow who acted like he needed a bath after speaking with me, that lunch was over and dinner would not start “seating” until 5:00 p.m. … and me without my Tux! I was not impressed by his attitude.
 
As we were about to leave a younger, female “junior desk clerk” (according to her tag), spoke up, (a bit hesitantly it seemed, probably out of apprehension that her superiors would not approve) and said, “You can get snacks or maybe a sandwich in the lounge.”
 
“Lounge” being typical hotel speak for the bar. That would fit the bill rather nicely actually, a sandwich was more what we were after anyway. She asked permission to show us to the lounge and got a back-handed wave from the senior desk clerk. I apologized to her for any trouble that being nice to us might bring her. She just smiled.
 
It took forever to get waited on, and we got lots of strange looks from the bartender and staff, who finally broke down and got us some iced teas. We were determined to get something to eat after waiting all that time. A man and his family of six came in and sat down without any staff escort. They took one look at the menu and got up and left again; too pricey for that many folks on one ticket I guessed.
 
It was a good thing that we were prepared for “ridiculous” as far as price went, because two turkey sandwiches on sliced wheat bread (like from the grocery store) and two iced teas, with NOTHING else, cost over thirty ($30.00) dollars before the tip. It was a rare privilege, that dining in the Hana Hilton Lounge in 1996 … one that I shall not repeat.
 
After our “fabulous” lunch, we had one more destination to see. That was a place called “The Seven Pools,” which was a little further south along the road past Hana. It was reputed to be a favorite spot of the Hawaiian Royal family in their glory days.
 
We found the spot and it did indeed have seven (actually more) pools of water, which were rain and run-off filled on the upper ends, and tidal on the lower part. There was a bridge over the largest of the upper pools; actually it was highway 360, the same road we had been traveling on all afternoon.
 
This bridge was notorious for kids jumping off of it into the pool some 40 feet or so below. It looked like a great spot for it, providing the pool was deep enough, but I had no way of knowing that detail.
 
The only policeman that we had seen all day (on the entire trip) was parked on that bridge. He was hassling the kids and eyeballing the girls in their bikinis (I guess that’s the same wherever you go.)
 
There was a sign that read “No jumping from bridge” but it didn’t seem to stop anyone. Frequently we would see a group of kids gather in front of the cop to block his view while someone jumped; impressive team work for a bunch of kids. It was a very steep hike back up the trail on either side of the bridge to jump again, but the kids kept doing it.
 
It had been raining all day off and on and there were some pretty impressive waterfalls along the road south of Hana. Unlike the ones north of town, these were high volume gushers. We were concerned with a couple of those falls because we could feel the road shaking beneath us while we were in the car. We read later that a section of the road we were on collapsed.
 
That road really was single lane (as in one car width) from a point about three miles south of Hana; to much farther than we could drive in that rental car. It turned into jeep trail within a mile after Seven Pools. A friend, who rented a jeep while on vacation four years after we went, drove that “jeep trail” section of the road around the island. He said that he would never do that again as it nearly destroyed the underside of the vehicle.
 
We had to start back. I was concerned with our gasoline situation and the thought of driving that crazy road in the dark was not creating the mood of lighthearted fun that I had anticipated on this road trip.
 
I was pleasantly surprised by how much the traffic had lightened up on our return trip. It was much easier to see when someone was approaching the bridges that you were trying to cross. It was very, very dark on that road.
 
There was an unexpected plus to it being dark; Anna wasn’t bothered by the motion of the car at all… it must be a visual thing, like vertigo.
 
We made much better time going back to the Kaanapali Shores hotel and pulled in to the parking lot at 9:30 p.m. Our “couple of hours” road trip to Hana had taken us ten and a half hours. But, we still had time to visit our room and get to the hotel restaurant for some yummy cheesecake before they closed at 10:00 p.m.  
 
As for the trip to Hana, it was a “been there, done that” and you can bet your last nickel that we got the T-shirts, which read (and we understood why):
 
“I Survived the Road to Hana!”