Maui Nei

Seeing the “supermoon” this week was a bust in Kula. The sky was shrouded by a thick layer of ao. No complaints, though. Every drop of rain is treasured. And that’s about all that fell, a few drops here and there.

According to the experts, the “supermoon” appeared 14 percent larger than normal since it was only 222,000 miles from Earth. It would seem even bigger and brighter just after it cleared the eastern horizon. Hmmm. Getting that perspective is a little tough on the west side of Haleakala. Still . . .

Being a sucker for Mahina’s silvery glow, it might be worth a run eastward. Lassitude and a lack of organization ruled out traveling to Hana. Check maps for some closer point of land that allowed an easterly sight line. Kailio Point on the left side of Mamalu Bay out Nuu way looked like it might be a good spot. Actually, just about any place between Ulupalakua and Kaupo would probably work.

Head out to chase the “supermoon.” No luck. Clouds everywhere. Get splattered with some rain on the way home. Still . . .

When a Maui experience proves elusive, there’s always something similar ready to lure a person into the past.

It was around 1980. The sun had just dropped below the top of the West Maui Mountains. The sky was still bright, the ground just dark enough to highlight the string of taillights snaking up the mountain. Heading home to Kokomo from town, meant pointing toward Haiku. Look up.

The full moon, Mahina Piha, was just clearing the northeast flank of the mountain. Huge. Gorgeous. A perfect orb framed by a consort of clouds. The sight was exciting enough to warrant stopping off at an artist’s house in Haliimaile. Had to share the experience with someone who would appreciate the view if I got there in time. Ride into the yard and blip the throttle. The moon was nearly overhead.

The artist, Sharon Carter Kelly, interrupted her dinner preparations at the sound of the motorcycle outside. She and her photographer husband, Marty, came out with their infant daughter, Casey. We stood and gazed in a silence interrupted only by the ticking of the motorcycle’s hot exhaust pipe.

“That would make a great subject for one of your weavings,” the scribbler ventured. Sharon shrugged. She’d just had a one-woman show of her loom work in a Wailea art gallery.

“I could sell every piece I make if I just include a full moon, palm tree and pineapple in it – Kodak stuff,” she said light-heartedly. “If I want to really guarantee success, put a whale in it.”

We laughed.

Her voice went weary. “Can’t do it though. Two or three times, OK. More than that it stops being art. Might as well be in a factory on an assembly line.”

Marty looked up one more time. “Good memory shot. Too far away for film, though.”

The image is still vivid, all these decades later. It’s firmly mounted in the scrapbook chronicling a Maui that had a third of today’s population – a time when loosey-goosey lunacy was tolerated, if not understood, by born and raised islanders. Full moons tended to bring out bizarre explanations for otherwise ordinary events.

Flip through the scrapbook. Ah, there it is. “UFOs spotted in night sky.” Although new to the island, those kind of reports were common in the 1960s in the Midwest. Working the nightshift in a news office often included calling Air Force officials for routine denials even though its “Blue Book” detailed dozens of unexplained nighttime sightings.

Haleakala Crater was “Mu,” an energy source that attracted alien attention, some said. Remember the harmonic convergence celebrated by what skeptics called the harmonica virgins?

A common source of Maui’s UFO reports were flashes of light too high in the sky for ground sources and too low for airplanes. A recent news item led to this particular page in the scrapbook – a power outage “when a power line possibly affected by salt air corrosion came down.”

Haven’t seen one of the trucks in years, but there was a time when Maui Electric crews would routinely wash down power line insulators. Seems they’d get encrusted with salt and then arc over with big flashes of light when there was a light rain. Those fiery flashes were exciting for those wanting to believe we are not alone in the universe.

Forget the flashes. Let’s savor the moonlight, even when it can’t be seen through life-giving rain clouds. There’s always next month.

* Ron Youngblood is a retired editor and staff writer for The Maui News. His email address is

Maui Nei

The hero dreaded being stopped and being ordered to produce his “papers.” The scene was a frequent feature of old black-and-white movies about Europe around World War II – a staple of KGMB-TV programming between midnight and dawn in the early 1970s.

In the home of the brave and the land of the free, being asked to prove you are who you say you are was outlandish. Then came Sept. 11, 2001. In the years since, getting a plane ticket or renting a post office box or being stopped for a traffic violation requires producing your “papers.”

Today, the “papers” are plastic cards, usually a driver’s license issued after the applicant has shown the DMV a birth certificate and some official document with a Social Security number. Ladies might need a marriage certificate. The process also includes submitting three fingerprints – right thumb and index finger and left index finger.

Your identity has to be established not only to the satisfaction of the State of Hawaii, but the United States of America. Homeland security, don’t you know. National data bank info, don’t you know.

The latest version of the “Hawaii Driver License” is something to behold. The 2 1/4-by-3 5/8-inch piece of plastic is a marvel of anti-forgery technology. In addition to two photos of the license holder, a signature, physical description, address and birth date, there are 12 “marks” that can only be seen by holding the card just so – the word “Hawaii” five times, five state seals and two state maps showing the outlines of six islands. That’s just on the front. The back of the card has a bar code and what looks to be some sort of Internet-access blob.

For the license holder, the most important numbers are on line 4b – the date the license expires. Ignore this at your own peril. An official state driver’s manual says, “Every Hawaii State driver’s license is void after the expiration date. There is no grace period. . . . You must follow the procedures for an original license if you fail to renew your driver’s license during the renewal period.”

By the way, if your license has been “suspended” for any reason, it won’t be given back. You have lost it until you go through “the procedures for an original license.”

In practice, that boils down to starting all over again, getting a learner’s permit and taking the driving test. You might think, Eh, ‘a’oli pilikia, I’ve been driving for decades. Think again.

Getting the permit is no sweat. Get a manual, study it and take the written test. The humbug for experienced motorists is the driving test. Just getting an appointment for the test is an exercise in patience. At 8 a.m., call. Listen to a busy signal. Call. Busy signal. It helps to have a phone with a redial feature. If you haven’t connected with someone within 15 minutes of repeated calls, give up and resign yourself to trying the next morning. And the next. And the next.

The limited number of driving examiners can give only so many tests a day.

And it is very definitely a test. The examiners have a 94-item check list. Some are minor transgressions but the points subtracted add up quickly. Break a law such as going over the speed limit and that’s that. Test over. Try another day.

The more experienced the driver, the more likely he or she is to fail the test. I should repeat that. The more experienced the driver, the more likely he or she is to fail the test. A couple of common trip points: Failing to keep both hands firmly on the steering wheel at all times. Using your mirrors to back up or make lane changes and failing to actually turn your head and look back or to the side.

Once you’ve accumulated too many points, the test is over so you don’t get a chance to practice the rest of it. I had to take the test seven times before passing and I’d been driving legally and with normal competence since 1957.

On the next-to-last attempt, the driving examiner said, “You’re a good driver but you have to remember this is a test.”

Mr. or Ms. Veteran Driver, if you must go through the driving test, do yourself a favor. Sign up with a driving school and pay whatever is charged. A one-day session should teach you what you need to know. Kids who were taught by certified driving instructors seldom fail when the rubber hits the road.

I have to admit I’m a better driver than I was and I’m looking forward to the next time I’m asked to produce my “papers.” Don’t forget to check line 4b on your license.

* Ron Youngblood is a retired editor and staff writer for The Maui News. His email address is

Maui Nei

The note stuck to the computer monitor had grown dingy with age. It says “mcycle safety 984-3231 to register.” It’s a reference to one of the EdVenture UH Maui College classes offered through the Office of Continuing Education and Training.

Punching out the telephone number resulted in talking to Laurie. She said the first class available was June 6. Fine. Sign me up. She did, collecting the $200 class fee via 16 numbers on a plastic card. Make that 19 numbers if you count the card expiration date.

There were legitimate reasons to take a Motorcycle Safety Foundation Basic Rider Course. Never mind more than 50 years of motorcycle riding and even more years of reading motorcycle magazines. Never mind that MSF Advanced Rider Course passed in the 1990s. Dangerous habits can get ingrained and there’s that little matter of an expired license.

Two nights of classwork devoted to getting your head on straight would be followed by two mornings of hands-on, ride the sucker with a couple of coaches pointing out the error of your ways. It is much saner than buying a motorcycle and going for your first ride through downtown Chicago.

My first Hawaii motorcycle license was acquired in the days when the Police Department did the testing. It involved taking a written test and then being shepherded through a “skills” test by Sgt. Apo. We met under the monkeypod tree outside the old police station on High Street. On his Harley three-wheeler, Apo led the way to the test site in the jail parking lot.

Sooner than expected, Apo said, “Eh, you can ride.” That was in 1973.

Last week, instructor Robin Webster faced eight students, seven men and one woman. Robin can often be seen riding around remote areas of Maui on her high-performance Ducati. Tight roads and traffic are just welcomed challenges. She’s done the same all over the Mainland and in Europe.

The MSF Rider Handbook and accompanying videos are designed to keep riders out of hospital emergency rooms and morgues. At one point, Robin invited the more experienced riders to talk about their crashes and what caused them. It’s less painful to learn from another’s lack of skill or simple stupidity.

Some salient facts: Helmet use reduces the risk of brain injury by 67 percent. Riders must always be aware of what’s going on around them. They need to see and be seen. Almost 50 percent of all riders killed had been drinking. Two-thirds of them “had only a couple of drinks in their system, not enough to be legally intoxicated but more than enough to impair their mental and physical skills.”

The fun – sometimes sweaty – part of the course came on Saturday and Sunday mornings. Instructor Cory Williams rolled up on his custom cafe Yamaha and began pulling eight 250cc motorcycles out of a storage container. The bikes showed signs of abuse. A new bunch of bikes are ready to be shipped to Maui as soon as the dealer gets paid by the state Department of Transportation.

“These will all be sent to the crusher,” Cory said. “It’s a shame.” Perfectly good old bikes but the state wants to avoid problems down the line due to our sue-me, sue-you society.

Instructor Emory Lee pulled up and began setting out little orange cones marking the “range.” Helmets are handed out to those who don’t have one. The other old-timer in the class grouses about wearing the lid and gloves with fingers.

One step at a time, Cory and Emory coach the riders through exercises covering control, braking, clutch work and balance. Everyone gets a second or third or fourth chance to succeed. It’s all upbeat, friendly and encouraging with Cory describing the moves to be made and Emory demonstrating them.

“You’ll be better tomorrow after you’ve had a chance to think about stuff and are more familiar with the bike,” Cory says.

Sunday morning brings Robin back. Cory shifts over to being the demonstrator. One of the riders is a natural athlete and shows it. Others are shaky in this or that exercise and get needed coaching and encouragement. One rider has major problems and decides to retake the course another time.

Sunday ends with the skills test required for a license. Pass the DMV written test, hand over the MSF Basic Rider Course skills waiver and you can tuck a license into your wallet.

Whew! Money and time well spent.

* Ron Youngblood is a retired editor and writer for The Maui News. His email address


Maui Nei

A skimpy breakfast and a craving for a good burger led to a favorite motorcycle ride. Baby Dancer was aimed at Ulupalakua, a favorite destination for weekend motorcycle riders. During the week, the ranch store/grill/deli is a common stop for tourists and local locals. One of the signs outside the store explains it is a “restoration station” for travelers driving around East Maui.

To Keokea, it’s only three miles of wide, tree-shaded gentle curves swinging around small groups of older houses and lush pastures. The 3,000-foot altitude makes the generally flat route a favorite of bicycle riders and runners who enjoy the views and cool temperatures.

The wide highway ends at the age-old Henry Fong General Store with its Chevron gasoline pumps, an adjacent art gallery and Grandma’s Coffee Shop across from the uphill road to Kula Hospital.

Gear down to 20 mph for the school zone running by St. John’s Episcopal Church, a one-time mission for the area’s Chinese, a park and the Roman Catholic Our Lady Queen of Angels.

There’s a four-wheel-drive pickup being refueled at Fong’s. The driver stands outside his beat-up vehicle, no doubt talking story with one of the store’s employees. A half-dozen cars and trucks are parked at Grandma’s. The place is more a local source of caffeine and conviviality than tourist stop.

Pick up the pace at the start of the serpentine scrawl of asphalt that makes riding a motorcycle both demanding and rewarding. Up, down and around. Baby Dancer’s small engine makes it mandatory to tap dance through the gears. It’s either that or accept the fact she’s not happy coming out of sharp turns when the tachometer is below 6,000. Making the turns at a quick pace means paying strict attention to the road and being ready to whoa for a tourist car on the other side of a blind turn. Pickup trucks driven by akamai residents are a different story, but constitute a different kind of hazard when coming the other way. With a rear bumper in view, forget about jamming and motor along at a bicycle pace.

Run by a restored rock fence neatly constructed without mortar. Only waist high, it’s no Great Wall of Maui but it never fails to bring to mind how much labor and skill it required – in the old days and now. One pasture sports a number of half-grown native trees, each protected from grazing cattle by a circle of fencing.

A clutch of tourist cars are cooking in the sun overlooking Sun Yat Sen Park. Oprah’s Road to Makena stretches down one side of the collection of lion statues and calligraphy noting the importance of the father of modern China and the role Keokea played in the country’s early 20th century revolution.

A few miles on the Keokea side of Ulupalakua, it’s raining enough to dapple goggles and dampen pant legs. Island lore: Never put off doing something outside just because it’s raining. There are dry patches of roadway under trees. The rain continues on into the center of the ranch. Park the bike and head into the store with its collection of tourist and cowboy stuff.

The routine calls for placing your order in the back of the store. Sign of the times: There’s a choice of cheeses that can be added to the meat from ranch-grown cattle. Pepper jack sounds good. Pick up a beverage. On a cloudy day, coffee seems most appropriate. Belly up to the counter and pay the tab to one of the smiling employees. Motorcycle trade has inured the staff to leather jackets. No one says anything about riding in the rain so there’s no chance to say, ” ‘A’ole pilikia, haole skin no leak.”

The burger is expertly cooked on a side lanai grill. The cook calls my name for the pickup. It’s a little too wet to sit at one of picnic tables. There’s a lanai spot under a sign that says “Chewing is permitted but spitting is not.”

A couple of tables away, there’s an old friend. Emily Bott and one of her daughters have been out looking at the wind farm out Kanaio way. Both were impressed by the huge size of the propeller towers.

A bare-chested ranch kid juggles a burger, chips, a soda and change from a 20. No pockets in his shorts. He manages by stuffing the bills in his waistband. Later, he’s spotted slowly driving an ATV up a steep driveway, lunch tucked away somewhere. A horse on a short length of rope plods along beside him.

As usual, the burger is juicy and filling – one of the best on the island. The motorcycle ride out and back is a bonus. The rain has stopped.

* Ron Youngblood is a retired editor and writer for The Maui News. His email address is