Maui Nei

The first serious rain of the winter was blowing across the island. The Waihee-Kahakuloa coast line was getting drenched and the Central Isthmus was getting soaked. Up in Kula, much-needed rain came and went. The skies stayed gray.

The rain caused some hesitation. The plan called for going to town and visiting a friend, Rich Zubaty. Actually, he was two friends in one. One I had known for something like 10 years, and the newest was a man who had lost his memory due to a weeks-long coma brought on by a massive heart attack.

A long-held island tradition is to never cancel due to rain. The water coming coming down is a blessing. Old-time Hawaiians knew it. Their word for wealthy is waiwai, literally water water. Onward, even though it might mean getting wet somewhere along the line.

A growling stomach dictated a stop for lunch. Besides, Rich was probably having lunch at the care home where he lives. He calls it a prison but recognizes he is far from being able to care for himself. Stillwell’s was on the leading edge of its noon rush. It was too wet to sit outside.

As the bakery-restaurant filled up, there was a gnawing guilt for being the only person at a table for two. A single patron arrived and stood off to the side, checking his smart phone.

“You can sit here if you don’t mind sharing.”

He sat, said “thanks” and went back to checking his phone. It’s awkward to sit a couple of feet from someone and not talk. It turned out he was a malihini still not used to ad hoc conversations with strangers. Between bites, we passed the time with idle comments about the weather, where home was and what we did. He was a young doctor who had interned in Dallas and was delighted to be living in Haiku with his family.

The after-lunch drive down Kaahumanu Avenue coincided with a heavy downpour that lasted only a few minutes. Turn down Papa Avenue into the confusing welter of curving streets in “Dream City,” Frank Baldwin’s development to give plantation camp residents fee-simple homes of their own.

The rain had tapered off to a persistent mist. The truck was parked in a puddle along the street. Head up a drive to the large house where Rich was slowly going through a return to his former self. It’s been a depressing journey. His memory is a jigsaw puzzle with all the pieces floating around. Now and then, he’ll connect two or three of the pieces. He has the most trouble with recent memory, forgetting stuff from minute to minute.

“Want to go for a drive?” He answers enthusiastically but needs to hit the lua before taking off. As he walks back into the courtyard of the big house, a voice comes from inside. “Comb your hair, Rich.” It’s his caregiver.

She comes out and we talk about the progress Rich has been making. “We stopped at the beach the other day,” she said. “He walked into the water and came out looking very calm and happy. Does he know how to swim?”

“Yes. He loves the ocean and used to do a lot of snorkeling and fishing. He’s painted several marine-life pictures.” But does he remember that? Maybe.

“On the drive, we were singing. He joined in,” she said. Music was a big part of his life only a few months ago.

Rich had combed his hair. In the truck, headed nowhere in particular, he asked questions about his life and smacked his forehead when told he was wrong about this or that memory. The big one today was about getting together with some others to play music, He’d been thinking about the session and worried about his ability to take part in another one. He thought I’d taken him to play but it was someone else.

We ended up at Kanaha Beach Park. “I know this place,” he said. “I used to come here.” What he didn’t remember was that he had spent a couple of years living in his truck. When told that, he said, “I couldn’t have slept here. The police would have rousted me.”

He was pleased to hear his memory was improving. “I get flashes of things when you talk about my life,” he said. “There are times when I think I’d like to be dead but when you and my son (who lives in San Francisco) come around, I have some hope.”

“Be patient. You’ve been this way only four or five months.” He liked hearing that. When he was back to where he lived, he said “tell me again. What I should do?”

“Be patient. Be patient.”

The sky was clearing. On the drive home, I thought about what would happen to Maui if its collective memory disappeared. It was a depressing thought.

* Ron Youngblood is a former staff writer for The Maui News. His email address is

Maui Nei

It was too early for national politics. The sky was still black. Curiosity won out. Flipped on Hawaii Public Radio. Turned on the tube for visuals. President Barack Obama’s second, ceremonial inauguration was just getting started.

The sun had just crested the northeast flank of Haleakala when the president was sworn in. He took his place behind a lectern surrounded by shoulder-high bullet-proof glass. Obama turned the lectern into a pulpit, preaching a sermon about government responsibilities and the need to transcend political philosophies and obstinate naysaying. Nothing much new.

Over coffee and after going through The Maui News, turned to a biography of Thomas Jefferson written by Jon Meacham. Ran across a paragraph that echoed the president’s speech.

” ‘It was a real fact that the Eastern and Southern members (of Congress) . . . had got into the most extreme ill humor with one another’ ” leading to an atmosphere marked by ” ‘the most alarming heat (and) the bitterest animosities.’ “

Jefferson wrote those quotes at a time when the foundation of a federal government was shaky and there were serious doubts about the survival of the United States as a republic. It was 1790.

The temperature in the house hovered around 60 degrees. A space heater fought a losing battle with the chill. I’d smoked the last cigarette, a prod to get moving. Making the five-minute run to Morihara Store for smokes has become an almost daily ritual. On that Martin Luther King holiday, it became politics in the parking lot.

He was a stranger, but like most islanders who have the time, was willing to talk story in the process of meeting someone. He couldn’t have been more local. His father was an immigrant. His family had moved to Maui from Oahu in 1963. He had attended both old Maui High in Hamakuapoko and the new Maui High in Kahului. “Going from the beautiful old school to the new one was a shock,” he said. “The new school looked like a prison without fences.”

“Did you catch the inauguration this morning?” I asked.

His face lit up. He was no fan of Obama’s. “He’s a communist,” my new friend said. “The economy is worse than it’s ever been and he wants to increase the debt to take care of everyone who won’t take care of themselves.”

“I’m not against him because he’s black,” he said. “I’m dark too and I’m glad Hawaii is American.” He paused and added: “I’m a Republican. Always have been.”

“One of the things I don’t like about politics today is the name-calling,” I said, trying to get him off the presidency. “You disagree with someone and he’s a liar.”

“Well, Obama IS a liar,” my new friend said. “Just read his books.”

He had to get going. We shook hands and exchanged names. I made a note to avoid politics the next time we met. Heated disagreements about politics or religion are not the island way. It’s too rude.

It was a beautiful morning, just the thing to prompt a ride out to Ulupalakua. The road beyond Keokea is a delight of many curves and vast vistas. Pushing the pace means forgetting to look at the scenery. No chance. Relax and look around while following a tourist car.

There’s a stream of rental cars going the opposite way. The hour of day made it likely they were coming from Hana. Some decades ago, rental agencies used to tell drivers to stay off the road between Kaupo and Ulupalakua. It’s a cruise today. Except for a few miles of dirt and puka puka asphalt, it’s a smooth run on undulating pavement.

Bad economy? The number of cars on the road and in the parking lot of the winery argued otherwise. Another sign of the times was some miles beyond Kahikinui and its scatter of houses. White blades rose and dipped from behind a ridge. High-tension power lines glittered in the sun.

A view spot had been carved out of the a’a. Metal stands had been erected but the informational panels hadn’t been installed. Sempra U.S. Gas & Power and BP Wind Energy, along with landowner Ulupalakua Ranch, have been conducting a public relations campaign on television.

The $140 million, 21-megawatt Auwahi Wind project is impressive. The eight turbines sit 428 feet high. According to Sumner Erdman, money from the land lease will help Ulupalakua Ranch maintain open space and grazing areas for cattle. The Erdman family is determined to keep the ranch going as it has for 165 years.

It’s another indication Maui can be kept Maui despite national politics and the world economy.

* Ron Youngblood is a former staff writer for The Maui News. His email address is

Maui Nei

The skies were swept clean by a wind that made trees bow and cats run for cover. Once ensconced, the felines could use whiskers and noses to keep track of the world around them. The trees were cleaned of trash but suffered no real damage. Months of drought had cemented their roots.

The wind continued in Waiakoa all day. This was no gentle breeze, but a gusty, gale-force torrent that turned the old-fashion, loosely hung sliding garage door into a bass drum. Coming up on the sunset, the trees stopped whipping and the cats checked out the yard.

A planned trip to the Makena end of Wailea would take longer than I cared to be caged, cut off from the elements and a true appreciation of Maui. The two-wheel alternative to the truck meant checking the weather. Never mind the forecasts. Just take a look.

Skies overhead were clear. Downcountry was shrouded. A thick carpet of wet-looking clouds ran from Kahului to Kihei. The wind in Waiakoa had abated but might pick up again. Hmmm.

Clouds began to drift across Kula. Later, they would get lazy. For now there was no need for the windshield wipers between home and Pulehu Road. Before Haleakala Highway was built in the mid 1930s, Pulehu was the most direct route from Wailuku to Kula. Its age also determined its character. Horse-drawn wagons and underpowered trucks couldn’t go straight up and grading was less expensive than filling in holes.

Recently repaved and widened by the county, Pulehu is a delight to ride – a scrawl of asphalt with no side roads. It’s even fun to drive. Down around the Kula Agricultural Park, the wipers were flipped to hesitation mode. You could almost hear the kiawe scrub pastures sighing in relief.

The rain more or less ended down near the Central Maui Landfill and there was evidence the clouds may have exhausted their cargo. A thought flickers. Anytime a Maui road runs below the level of fields, there is always the possibility of ponding. That was the reason for raising the level of Mokulele Highway. When the old road flooded, drivers had to take a bypass running behind the Maui Humane Society.

Ease up and peer through the gathering darkness. It’s hard to read the road ahead. There are remnants of muddy runoff nearly everywhere. The glare of oncoming headlights obscured the road. An appreciation of white stripes on the edge grew. There weren’t any.

Steer tentatively toward the gravel shoulder. Whoops! The steering wheel jerked right when the tires plunged into a rivulet. Rocks chattered against the underside of the truck. Gently guide the vehicle back on the road. Only seconds passed before a big vehicle sped by in the opposite lane, whipping up a wave of dirty, stone-studded water.

The wave swept over the truck. The windshield was opaque. Quick! Wipers! Relax. One swipe and the wipers made it possible to see again. There was no more rain until almost to Kihei, technically a desert since it gets an average of less than 10 inches of rain a year.

It was full dark. Let the other drivers roar along Piilani Highway. There’s a longish gap ahead and another behind. Watch an SUV make a right-hand turn onto the highway from Lipoa. There’s a second SUV ready to do the same. It sat. I watched. Within yards of the green light, the second SUV pulls out, apparently headed for the inside lane.

Yikes! There was no hope of braking, Without checking the inside lane, the steering wheel was wrenched left. Whew! Inches to spare. Settle into a sedate pace. The other driver followed at a distance. Chagrined?

At the entrance to Wailea, a serious rain turned into a soaking mist. It was light enough to allow a slow walk from the parking lot up to Mulligans On The Blue.

Inside, the jazz-standards-dance duo of Joyce and Gordo has become a trio with the addition of Jimmy C. Joyce sings and plays piano; husband Gordo plays clarinet, saxophone and standup bass; Jimmy drums and sings – three pros who have been performing for decades. Very agreeable.

Stars glistened during the drive home. Maui’s air is never any cleaner than right after a rain. Up old friend Pulehu. The ponds were gone but there was still one more hazard to face. At the intersection with Holopuni, those lazy clouds made their presence visible. The fog wasn’t that bad. You could still see the sides of the road all the way home.

On Maui, adventures – and pleasures – are where and when you find them. I’m glad I didn’t take the motorcycle.

* Ron Youngblood is a former staff writer for The Maui News. His email address is

Maui Nei

Reading how Maui winds nearly blew away the island’s premier golf tournament this week revived memories of a story told by a local golfer during a 1985 “Maui People” interview.

The event took place decades before the first PGA tournament of the year was played at Kapalua. The event took place on the opposite side of the island just a few years after the first course at Kapalua was built.

A little context. Up until after World War II, recreation in Maui County was organized and supported by the plantations and Alexander House, a nonprofit, youth-oriented welfare group put together originally by the distaff side of Maui’s plantation bosses. Golf wasn’t a game for kids.

Edwin Isaburo “Jojo” Nakashima was one of the first full-time recreation workers in the county. The 442nd Regimental Combat Team, 100th Infantry Division veteran of the fighting in France was hired by Libby Plantation Manager Harry Larson on Molokai. At the time, there was no such thing as a recreation manager, but that’s what the one-time Maui High football standout wanted to do. Larson was impressed by Nakashima’s service record.

After a couple of years on Molokai learning what a recreation leader needed to know, the Lanai Community Welfare Association lured him away to run its recreation program. In 1951, the Hana Community Association recruited him to run recreation in the East Maui town. The $325-a-month Hana job was funded by the William G. Irwin Foundation set up by Mrs. Paul Fagan of Hana Ranch and named for her father.

In 1969, Nakashima applied for a county job funded by President Lyndon Johnson’s “War on Poverty.” Nakashima was hired to coordinate recreation, transportation and nutritional funds for seniors at the multipurpose center at Kaunoa in former elementary school buildings.

A not-so-small irony: As a Paia plantation kid, Nakashima couldn’t have attended the Kaunoa English Standard School because his first language was Japanese. Hawaiian and pidgin were also banned at the school.

Although football was the big sport in the 1930s and Nakashima was named to the Maui All-Star football team as a tailback – what is known as a quarterback today – golf was an early love. He learned the game on the Maui Agricultural Co.’s nine-hole course in upper Paia.

The course was located roughly behind Holy Rosary Church. Milk cows kept the grass chewed down. Barbed-wire fences kept the ruminants off the greens. The animals also supplied cow chips that could be used as tees instead of the then usual mound of sand. Nakashima and other Paia youths caddied and played when they could.

Clubs were way too expensive for plantation workers. The youngsters assembled their own. It wasn’t that unusual for hickory shaft clubs to break. Frustrated players would give the heads to the caddies, who would carve shafts out of guava wood.

There was another source of shafts. During that 1985 interview, Nakashima said, “I used to walk up to the old polo grounds in Haliimaile and look for broken polo mallets.” He recycled the shafts into golf clubs.

As an adult, Nakashima twice qualified for the Hawaii Public Links Tournament. He enjoyed the game for its own sake, but . . . “Golf is a game. It’s like poker.” He left the impression golf could be a little boring “if you don’t play with something at stake.”

He told a story about playing at the Maui Country Club, but asked that it not be included in the interview. E kala mai, Jojo, for putting the yarn into print now. The story is just too good to be left behind.

It was during the mid 1960s. Jojo wound up taking on two teams of two players each. They were high-rollers from the Mainland and liked to bet on each hole. So, here they were, playing with a 5-foot-2 local. Easy pickings, yeah?

The seaside Maui Country Club is notorious for wind. Nakashima knew the course intimately. If I remember correctly, he said, “They kept lofting their shots. I kept ’em low. They never figured it out.” He walked off the course with his wallet bulging. Nothing like the winner of the Hyundai Tournament of Champions, but still an impressive wad of money.

One of the big visitor selling points is Maui’s proliferation of stunning golf courses, and there’s no telling how many snowbound players watch the tournament at Kapalua on television and dream of playing in paradise. They’re all welcome but should be warned: Don’t underestimate the locals.

* Ron Youngblood is a former staff writer for The Maui News. His email address is

Maui Nei

It was a lazy day in Kihei ending with the realization of a young man’s fantasy and an old man’s faint wish for yesterday.

Huapala, a Maui girl from birth, lives on Oahu but visits an old family beach home on Maui on a regular basis. The invitation was to enjoy an escape from a multitude of chores at home. Her house also has cable television, which would enable watching professional basketball seldom seen on plucked-from-the-air TV.

The welcome was warm. She’d already begun a late-afternoon meal. “OK if I watch the tube? There are a couple of basketball games on.” A’ole pilikia. “I’m still working on the food. How’s roast beef, Yorkshire pudding, ginger carrots and broccoli sound?” “Ono!”

There was time to check the ocean held at bay by a thick hedge of naupaka and a large tree that has survived decades of storm-tossed waves. Inshore, the ocean was flat. A few waves broke on the outside reef.

A solo stand-up paddler maneuvered to catch the waist-high rollers. A couple of boats sat on the horizon. Off Kalama Park, ripples bobbed a diver’s float and flag. The water off Cove Park, which used to host student surfers, was speckled with clumps of tourists wobbling on their boards and tentatively dipping their paddles.

A motion pulls eyes right. A juvenile turtle had come to the surface, showing its entire 20-inch-wide shell. That’s unusual. Most of the time, all there is to be seen is a head. There’s little or no beach, but the shallow water encourages limu that seems to attract the turtles.

(Before the beach disappeared decades ago, one of Huapala’s kids nearly stepped on a mother hihimanu and a convoy of her baby stingrays hovering over the sand just inside the near reef. A couple of years ago, a monk seal beached itself on the rocks near the house. Everyone was worried about its health. Turned out it was just resting.)

The boats on the horizon hadn’t moved. Hmm. Into the house for the binoculars. Yup. They’ve found at least two whales. The humpbacks are frolicking just astern of one the boats. Judging from the size of the flukes, the whales are two adults. Even at a distance, the sight is thrilling for an Upcountry resident.

Head back into the house.

“Got a critter report,” I said, “one honu and two whales.” She ran out to see for herself. The honu poked up its head. Peering through the binoculars, she saw the whales.

The day lazed on. Basketball on the tube and enticing aromas from the kitchen. “Do you realize this is stereotypical domestic scene?” I asked, “the guy watching sports while the woman cooks?” She laughed.

After an excellent meal, it was time to get ready for the night’s entertainment – a showing of “Les Miserables.” We had to go after seeing weeks of TV ads and wanted to see if it lived up to the hype. For the first time, I’d obtained tickets online.

We were moving slowly through a kapakahi line at the ticket window, not sure how to obtain the pre-paid tickets. A quickly moving individual caught my attention. The young lady was more than worth watching – slim, elegantly dressed in a blouse and skirt that hinted at curves, and a cap of short, platinum-blond hair. In a word, beautiful. She looked as if she had just stepped out of a fashion magazine cover.

We were close enough to hear her ask a young man near the ticket window, “Are you Jason?” He must have answered yes. They joined in a pro-forma hug, she stood back a couple of feet and leaned forward for the chaste embrace. The question made it obvious this was a blind date – the realization of a young man’s fantasy and the kind of occurrence that makes old men wistful. Mea culpa.

Wandered around in the lobby, looking for what the online info called a “kiosk.” Finally ask the concession cashier for directions. She pointed over to a machine that looked like an ATM. It certainly didn’t qualify as “a small open-fronted hut or cubicle.”

Watched a couple of what appeared to be complicated transactions. My turn. Followed onscreen instructions: “Swipe your credit card or enter the last four numbers of your card.” Swipe. The machine belched two tickets. We walked past two lines for other movies and quickly found seats.

The movie was OK. Maybe it lived up to the hype.

It was a satisfying day. Good company in a beautiful setting, the realization of a Maui fantasy shared by individuals around the globe. And no need to be wistful.

* Ron Youngblood is a former staff writer for The Maui News. His email address is