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Elaine Olelo Masters

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Life in Waikiki
5/29/2012 9:33:11 PM

You mean, people actually LIVE in Waikiki? Yep. About 20,000 of us. It's a tough job, but somebody has to take care of all the tourists.

I've lived in Waikiki now for about 28 years. Right in Waikiki. You mean, people actually LIVE there? Yep. About 20,000 of us right in Waikiki, with around a million people living cozily in Honolulu. We live and move and have our being in what may be the most sought-after, dreamed-about place on earth. What is it like?

Well, today a friend came over and brought a rug shampooer and we moved furniture and shampooed the rugs. How's that for an exotic experience? We do lead lives that are somewhat close to what other Americans do.

1) Here in Honolulu, we don't get snow. We get rain, mostly showers, but sometimes hard, steady real rain. Gutters overflow, traffic slows even more, and the world gets all green and sparkly with the volcanic haze washed off.

2) When I walk down the street, I usually hear at least five different languages being spoken. Our big tourist demographic is Americans from the mainland (that's the contiguous 48 states), with a predominance of Californians. We joke that Hawaii is a county of California, because on 3-day weekends, at least 50% of California's population is on some Hawaiian island. We have eight islands, you know.

3) We're a lot farther away from the mainland than maps would have you believe. Maps of the United States tuck our islands just off the coast of Baja California, which is a lie. If you look at a Pacific Rim map, you'll see we're actually out in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, reputedly the inhabited land mass furthest away from any other inhabited place in the world. Which means, we have a lot of unique plants and animals with peculiar characteristics. For instance, our native plants don't have thorns because they didn't need to protect themselves from predators so never developed them. And don't bring your pet snake over here in your suitcase, either. Leave boa and home. We work hard to keep the islands snake-free, which is lovely when you go hiking. You don't have to wear high-top boots to ward off snakebite. One disadvantage of being so far away is that you have to fly (expensive now, you know) to see your relatives who haven't been able to cut their ties on the mainland.

4) We smile a lot. Tourists go around with sappy grins on their faces. Local friends always have a few minutes to stop and chat, whether in the check out line at Wal-mart or making a withdrawal from their bank account. This annoys tourists from Seattle who are often hopped up on caffeine and want to get to the next place NOW.

5) We go to work same as the rest of the Americans. In fact, for many of us, that means we are working one job full time and another job part time, because living here is expensive and we're still sorting out our needs from our wants. Food costs are a bit higher than California (depending on where you shop) and housing is exorbitant, unless you're from San Francisco or London, in which case you'll love our real estate prices. The recession has hit many islanders, particularly those in construction, but overall we haven't been impacted quite as hard as many of our fellow states. (We are American, you know. Please don't begin your conversation by telling us how things are back in the States. You're still in the States, buddy!)

6) It's not all about tourists. We have an awesome astronomy department at the University of Hawaii with an international gaggle of telescopes on the Big Island of Hawaii. Our ocean biologists are doing neat things with flora and fauna, both to eat and to use as energy. Our ag research is top notch. We have people coming from all over the world for medical treatment and for international conferences in what I think is the most beautiful convention center in the world.

7) Honolulu has just been named the worst city in America for traffic congestion. So there! We do have a lot of people here! Told ya so.

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