My own frugal purchase in hand, I returned to my car to find an elderly man standing inches from my back bumper. He announced that he had run out of gas and would like to, "earn" enough money to buy a gallon to get home. Thin as a Kenyan marathoner but frail and pasty, his polyester pants and an equally flammable shirt gave him a look that suggested he'd fallen from a jet liner by accident, a charter filled with pentecostal ministers en-route to a convention maybe, in the 1970s. He spritzed my back window with Windex, then rubbed and squeaked it clean with a rag. I handed him two bucks, thanked him, wished him luck. Out on the highway, I approached the first signal and half expected to see a Mexican man selling bags of oranges or bouquets of flowers at the intersection. Then I'd have thought I was the one who had fallen from a plane and landed smack onto the pavement, L.A., 1986.
Nourished, quenched and beach park bound, my swim suit, snorkel gear and I jiggled with the the rumble of the engine and our anticipation of a cool plunge in the blue Pacific. The plan was to hit Leilewi or Richardson, two local beach parks with great lagoons, but they were both packed, with no place to park but the street. That's the way it is every sunny day in Hilo, even if it's a Tuesday. So I settled on Onekahakaha. It only looks hard to pronounce. Break it apart -- Ownay...kaha...kaha. Put it back together. Say it fast. Easy. It's known as a keiki (kids') park because of its shallow, sandy-bottomed swimming hole, and there were, as always, toddlers with their mom's splashing about, but also a fair number of beefy, tough girls with tattoos and a healthy smattering of elders, drawn, no doubt, by the placid water and the horseshoe pits. Apparently, it's the keiki/tita/kupuna park, the latter group to which I must reluctantly admit affiliation.
I plodded across the pahoehoe, tossed my reef shoes onto the lava, donned flippers, mask and breathing tube and pushed in against the incoming tide. Hilo beach parks are not known as great snorkeling spots, but I brought the gear anyway, more for the benefit it presents when swimming than for spying sea life. Even so, I was surprised to see not a single fish. There were rocks overgrown with kelp that looked like wiggling Shrek ears, and an odd, white, worm-like creature writhing within reach on the bottom. Plenty of leaves floated on the surface, plus one sandwich bag, which I snagged and stuffed into my pocket. Yes, pocket. With my gams, and to avoid chafing, I always wear surf shorts, which conveniently have pockets, tank suit very much. A few sand crabs darted hither and yon, but no fish. Onekahakaha was relinquished to the use and abuse of humans decades ago, as were all the beach parks along this stretch, the shallowest areas long trampled and made inhospitable to coral. No coral, no fish. This shoreline was once covered with homes, but two tsunamis, 1947 and 1960, prompted government officials to rethink the wisdom of redevelopment. There are still houses along the road that will be swept away when the next big wave strikes. A few newer houses on the makai side (toward the sea), built upon thick, concrete pillars 15 feet off the ground, stand in stubborn defiance as they face Chile and San Francisco, as if to say, "Bring it on." As tall and stalwart as these structures look, however, my money is on the ocean.
Even without fish, the water felt perfect, the sun warm and bright. Just beyond the barrier rocks, the surf pounded. Spray caught by the breeze and blown into the air created a salty, fragrant haze. There was a high surf warning along north shores of all the islands yesterday, but some of that swell made its way to the east side, too. It's not every day you can see curling, six-foot waves breaking in Hilo Bay.
On the way home, a visit to Wal-Mart, my least favorite place, did what it always does; it makes me feel thin, less frumpy, classy even, never mind my wet, uncombed hair and wrinkled t-shirt. This feeling is always fleeting, of course, for the simple fact that I am there, perusing the aisles for deals like everybody else. My very presence in the store belies all the snobbery and rhetorical self-aggrandizing. The truth is, I am, no more, no less, and whether I like it or not, one of the Wal-Mart minions. So much for the healthy, sprouted, sprouting sprouts and the organic cane sugar soda. They sell cheap cheese doodles and Diet Pepsi at the big box. Thin? Less frumpy? Classy? Right.
Malama pono. A hui hou. Aloha.