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LA To Lei

Welcome to Hollywood baby (Randy Jackson, American Idol voice). My eyes opened and closed during the course of the overnight flight. The pilot’s voice fills the air as he announces that we are approaching our descent into Los Angeles. It is insanely early. I definitely slept, but I was nowhere close to fully functioning at 5:00 am. That doesn’t even happen at home. Everyone drags themselves off the plane the best they could. Our connecting gate was a ways away and somehow we ended up taking this long and confusing path entangled with the current construction. On every corner stood men in hard hats near some confusing way finding. At one point I realized that one of our fellow Anchorage passengers must have been getting on the same connecting flight or at least going to the same gate area as us. The three of us were unconsciously following each other in a baby chick line, bumbling around following the direction we thought we were to go. Had it not been for the LAX employee standing there at a crucial turn, we would have been stumped after we ran into a dead end. I know I was tired, but they could have done a slightly better job with the ad hoc paper terminal and gate signs.

LAX is buzzing already, in spite of it being the break of dawn. Our gate is full with a combination of folks. There were large families with multiple children, couples, gaggles of older people and a few I would classify as “interesting characters.” One such “interesting character” had a canine companion who was free roaming and extremely calm, to the point of not even being seen, until another even smaller dog crossed his path and there was a Napoleonic bark-off. Thomas and I take this time to settle down. I got in a long line at La Provence Patisserie and Café for hot chocolate and returned. The plan for this 2 hour or so layover was for both of us to get a significant amount of work done and sleep away the 5½-hour leg to Maui. While I am working on a blog post, this woman’s voice comes over the intercom. I paused as my ears squinted so I could hear. This woman sounded exactly like the actress Tasha Smith (Why Did I Get Married, Empire, Couple’s Retreat, The Whole Ten Yards.) I know she has a twin sister. It had to be one of them. I would have bet my fancy hot chocolate on it! Click here for Tasha Smith audio (play).

Time goes pretty fast and the call was made to board. Per our usual conversations, Thomas cleverly made a suggestion. Wouldn’t it be easier to board the back of the plane first? That way if people want to jam the aisles up while they stow their items in the overhead bin, it wouldn’t be any sweat off of anyone’s back. It wouldn’t be this rush to go nowhere and wait for people to play Tetris with carry on bags-system that they have. It is actually nonsensical to let passengers seated at the front to board first. I understand that the airlines would want to allow their “preferred members,” “those needing assistance,” or “first class” passengers on first, even if I don’t want to see Mr. and Mrs. Executive sitting in their oversized, cushy leather seat with drink in hand as I squeeze by. It is starting to feel elitist.

* Other airline thoughts: 1. How many people wonder if the ramp agents have ever used their aircraft marshalling wands (that is the proper term, I looked it up) to have a Star Wars lightsaber deul? 2. Are we time traveling when we get on flights to locations with different time zones?

Thomas and I were in the same aisle, but separated on this flight. I had the window seat on the left side of the plane and he had the window seat on the right side. This arrangement placed us with a family whose origin I couldn’t place. On Thomas’ side were the two teenage sons of the woman sitting in the aisle seat on my side. Between the woman and myself was her mother in the middle seat. The woman was very nice and leaned past her elderly mother to ask me if this was my first time going to Hawaii. It was theirs as well. I can now rule out Hawaiian. Maybe they were from the Philippines. Her mother didn’t speak, at least not to me, but she pointed or touched me to get my attention. The beauty of the unspoken word; it took a few times for me to understand what she was trying to communicate, but eventually I figured it out.

Most of the window covers were pulled down because of the bright morning sun and because the view would be a nondescript blue Pacific Ocean for the next 5 hours. I was going to do my best to sleep to prevent becoming a zombie once we arrive in Maui and I kept our cover down as well. I fiddled; I wrote; I read and ultimately went to sleep. Hours and time zones pass as we zoom through the sky. As we near the dots of land amongst the water, our pilot makes an announcement that we will arrive in Maui shortly. He also gives us some front of the bus, tour guide information about Haleakalā (Maui’s highest peak), which we could see to our left, protruding through the clouds at over 10,000 feet above sea level.

We land. The large group of passengers gathers their belongings and deplanes. Still in disbelief about this journey in its entirety, my mind is churning as much as it could and I don’t know what to expect. In my childhood mind, when I think of getting off a plane in Hawaii, I fantasize that I will be greeted as if I were a guest at Fantasy Island, complete with beautifully browned Polynesian men and women who welcome me with a traditional song of their people, a cold tasty beverage and present me with a lei (minus the creepy story plot). Fantasy aside, Kahului Airport is different than any airport that I’ve known. The terminals were the usual but when you get close to the open air, baggage claim, you can feel the moisture of the tropics. Architecturally, the airport was a large Hawaiian hale (home), with a pitched roof with exposed timber beams.

While we wait for our luggage to come around the carousel, I grabbed 5 pounds of tourism brochures within arm’s reach. I thought it would be helpful to have as many suggestions of things to see and do as possible besides what I had planned. We grab our luggage and we head out towards the rental car counter. The sky was gray and it was humid and windy. At the outdoor car rental counter was a sign stating that all Hertz renters are to take the shuttle over to the rental car office. Everyone aggressively jumbles up as the shuttle approaches. The shuttle ride was less than 2 minutes, including getting on and off. The rental office is pretty empty with a lot of activity going on outside. I got in line and the agent at the counter had a flower behind her ear. She had a very warm smile and highly recommended the Elvis Show that was offered per complimentary tickets. I took her word for it. Retrieving the car was a simple process. You were given a lot number for you car and off you went.

In lot G, space 127 rested our white chariot with a Hawaiian rainbow license plate. I think we were both pleased with the car make and model. Last year we had a Nissan as well and we knew what to expect. As I inspect the car, Thomas begins to google down our next meal. Once I get in the car, we make final decisions and chose Marcos Grill and Deli. I don’t remember the last real meal that we had, and somewhere between the time change and travel I was famished. Luckily it wasn’t far and we arrived pretty quickly. It was in a two-story semi strip shop and occupied the bottom corner. The awning was a scalloped green with white lettering that in my hungry eyes shined the North Star. The interior was classic Italian restaurant, with crisp white linens on every table and wait staff with equally crisp white shirts. All of the high backed booths were white leather with a black triangular shape with seating divided by glass block. It almost felt like we were in Miami.

I remembered to call home to let my parents know that I was still in one piece and now 6 hours behind them. Malie, our waitress said her name at least 3 times as we tried to mimic her and pronounce it. She was very attentive at the right time. An oversized Caesar salad was ordered for the two of us to share. I was ravenous in my movements to add more to my plate while we waited for our main entrée. At that very moment, that was the best tasting salad I have had the pleasure to consume. Following the salad massacre was the brief engagement with the turkey burger wrap. If you are in Maui and are looking for a place to eat once you get off the plane, go to Marcos.

Full and satisfied, we lingered for a while. Check-in to the Airbnb was not until 3:30 pm. Seeing that it was only 2:00 pm, we still had some time to spare which was fine for Thomas. He had a deadline and needed some devoted work time. Being the Starbucks hunters that we are, we tracked the closest one down and proceeded to set up our temporary workstation. Beverages in hand, and laptops flipped, we are busy at the counter table. I get a little distracted by a young girl I am seated next to. Her eyes were completely fixed on my movements as I began to pull out all of my blog accouterments: laptop out of sleeve, spiral notepad and pencil. Not too much later, my young friend leaves with her mother and younger sibling. It is the middle of the day on a Wednesday and there was a lot of people traffic. I sipped on my coffee and stared out of the window to observe this new world around me. It looks the same, but not really, kind of like Anchorage. The sky is still gray and things are blowing about. It wasn’t quite raining but it looked threatening.

By the time we left Starbucks, Thomas was able to finish his task. We packed up and navigated our way to our home for the next 5 nights. For the record, I have never used Airbnb for accommodations. Many friends and acquaintances have used or participated in it and were pleased and I have recently seen their national commercials. The commercials have helped demystify the idea of it being potentially questionable. I imagine that with all things in life, there are bound to be some exceptions but otherwise you should hope for the best. I selected our Maui home based on cost and location. Maalae Bay is toted as being a laid back part of town with views of Haleakalā and sea turtles and whales. Unfortunately, I was too late for whale season, but that is on my list of things that I must do.

Hauoli Street is a quiet side street off one of the many main drags in Maui. On this block, there were only condominiums that nested right on the oceanfront. Each of the clay colored units has a distinctive name. We were staying in Lauloa. The Airbnb host made checking in way too easy and we hurriedly broke the silence hauling all of our belongings in. What an internal sigh of relief. The place was exactly as presented on the website. It was spacious, clean and had all the things you need for a plush and comfortable stay. Every detail was considered, down to a printer that sat next to a pile of Maui vacation guidebooks. There was a full balcony with sliding glass doors off the back bedroom and living room. HOLLY MACKREL! The view from the balcony was A-S-T-O-U-N-D-I-N-G. Right outside of our third floor balcony was the most pristine water I have seen and it was lapping about at the bottom of this perfectly green flat grass that looked like AstroTurf. Shooting out of the ground were tall swaying palm trees that bend effortlessly in the wind.

I’m guessing that I was on the balcony for some time. Sooner or later we picked rooms, unpacked and regrouped. Quarters had been tight between the RV and flights and I think I can speak for both of us when I say it was nice to have breathing room. I think our minds and bodies were also grateful to have a home base after being nomads in Alaska. It was also a nice change to not have hundreds of miles to travel in a day. The evening crept along as we slowed. We needed to get groceries and decided to go to Wal-Mart. It was around 8:00 pm and it was dark but welcomed. We pawed the souvenir items right at the entrance before we got to the rest of the store. Tons of macadamia nuts! Quite a fascinating variety of food and people in the store, with a lot of “Hawaiian Style” products and local items I had never seen before. Browsing the aisles alone was a unique experience. When I was l walking down one of the freezer aisles, a woman stops me and asks if I could help her by getting something off the very top shelf that was pushed back out of her reach. I laughed and told her that my mom has the same height issue and uses me often to grab things. It was no problem for me. I jump in the freezer and grab it. Our cart was loaded and we got in line. Across from the cashier, against the wall was a refrigerator case with lovely fresh purple orchid leis.

While we turn into the parking lot, I enjoy the stillness after a long day. Thomas and I carry our purchases inside and put them away. We dawdle around for a little while longer. It was time to give up the fight and get in bed. I did it! I made it through the day without turning into a zombie. The sound of the waves crashing is muffled by the closed door and whirling ceiling fan. I peer out of the window as the white lights on the horizon dance with the reflection of the moon on the water. The white noise of the wind kissed palm fronds rocks me to sleep. Aloha.

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