Saturday, August 04, 2012


New Jersey Times - July 22, 2012

Everyone talks about seeing the “real Hawai`i” when they take a trip or honeymoon there.

On my recent trip, I encountered three versions of “the real Hawai`i,” or rather, a strangeness in Paradise - Paradise Lost, Paradise Found and Paradise Bought. This is the new Hawai`i of the global age.

Peppered among the palms of Paradise are the homeless, gathered in groups of twos and threes along Kalākaua Avenue (The Strip) at Waikīkī Beach. Elsewhere on O`ahu are the Occupy Wall Street groups.

Living outdoors under the tropical sun, the latter have found a common, if strained, bond with the homeless. These are the residents of Paradise Lost.

The throngs of tourists who come to Waikīkī are the fortunate ones who can afford an average $200-plus per night for a hotel room with a lanai (balcony or porch) with ocean views. They are transient residents of Paradise Found.

Alone in his own surreal wonderland, Oracle CEO Larry Ellison just bought Paradise — the island of Lāna`i. Third-richest man in America and a global potentate, Ellison now has a territorial homeland befitting his stature.

The three Hawai`iʻs clash and interact in many unexpected ways and are indicative of what the new globalism promises.

Hawai`i has the third-highest ratio of homeless to the general population in the US, the numbers swelled by migrants from the US mainland.

George, a Vietnam War vet, is a sharp-eyed, wheelchair-bound regular on The Strip. He came via Chicago to the islands for a construction job. When he was seriously injured at work, he became homeless.

Every day, if the police let him stay, he is found on the sidewalk outside of a Starbucks. He is helped by a small circle of friends also stationed near the Starbucks.

Like many of the homeless on The Strip, George has relied on and benefited from the kindness of strangers. He is flush with belongings, packed tightly into luggage given to him (he says) or discarded by tourists. One woman gave him a beach umbrella that he and his friends retrofitted as a shade piece for his wheelchair.

I saw no sign of tourist unhappiness with the homeless, whom they rarely notice.

But the police do enforce various ordinances on a selective basis. Such policing seems most concerned with demarcating living/sleeping spaces from the plants and lush greenery, which is so attractive to visitors.

Demarcation issues are more stressed by police in the OWS encampments. At a main camp, in Thomas Square across from the Honolulu Museum of Art, a sign declares that if we enforced regulations on the banks as closely as we do the park regulations, America wouldn’t be in its current mess.

In common alliance, both police and tourists bristle at the OWS presence.

Dean, a protester and a tech-educated ex-mainlander, told me he once got a $170 jaywalking ticket for crossing a deserted street at 2 AM.

In Paradise, OWS folks are an unwanted burden to those pursuing passing pleasures and summer luxuries before returning home to resume their status as one of the 99 percent.

Not so, though, for Larry Ellison, a tippy-top 1-percenter who now owns 98 percent of the island of Lāna`i.

I asked various individuals what they thought of the island purchase. Opinions were mixed.

Travis, a government worker, firmly believed that one person shouldn’t have the whole island, not in this time of concerns about sustainability and stewardship.

Emelia, a busy Burger King worker, opined that she’d like to have the island, because then she’d have a free honeymoon.

A young Army man from North Carolina saw nothing wrong with the purchase - “Good for him! Wish it was me.“

George on The Strip had this idea, his eyes lighting up a bit as he spoke - Maybe some kind of home and work could be found on Lāna`i for the homeless.

But like the pigeons on the beach, George might move when necessary from where he is now, but not too far and not for too long.

A waif from Jersey said it best, perhaps, when she hoped that Ellison didn’t think he owned every lanai (balcony) in Hawai`i!

I couldn’t ask him. He wasn’t hanging out on my lanai.

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