Maui Nei

Just a week to go. Excited anticipation growing.

Keiki of all ages counting down to the County Fair. A day off from school. On the west side, looking forward to the ride to Kahului in a Pioneer Mill truck. Out Hamakuapoko way, there will be a special train.

Over on Oahu, the high-rollers booking passage for themselves and their horses. Check bank accounts and figure how much can be wagered on the races in front of the grandstand. Maui horse guys checking their ponies and guessing which will do the best in what race. The stables behind the fairgrounds hum with activity.

Truck farmers, big and small, look over their crops, selecting the best of the vegetables and fruit. Women put the final stitches in quilts and refine recipes for baked goods. Members of 4-H groom calves, pigs, sheep and goats for judging. Bird lovers check coops of exotic fowl – pigeons, chickens, ducks, pheasants and others. Bragging rights are more important than blue ribbons.

That was when the Maui County Fair and Horse Racing Association staged the annual community get together. Members of the association built the fairgrounds on Puunene Avenue, erecting buildings and digging a canal to drain the low-lying, swampy land. Individual sheds are dedicated to edibles and animals. Among the first of the construction jobs was the Territorial Building, which turned into the Homemakers Building every year.

The Portuguese community created a traditional stone oven behind the Territorial Building, ready to turn out malassadas and bean soup. Flying Saucers draw the hungry to a red, plywood booth near the midway. Ethel Baldwin and others involved with Hui No’eau build a small, cinder block art gallery not far from the caretaker’s house occupied by George and Mabel Ito.

With only a week to go, E.K. Fernandez has crews erecting rides on the midway. Bare light bulbs are strung overhead to provide a ghostly glow in the night. Up in Olinda, inmates carve and polish all manner of wooden implements, art objects and furniture for display in the Hawaiian Building.

All that was then.

Next week, the annual county fair opens with a parade down Kaahumanu Avenue on Thursday. The parade grows longer every year. Much of the fair is the same as it always has been. The location changed in the 1980s from the fairgrounds to the War Memorial Complex when A&B no longer ignored the area’s development possibilities after the grandstand and the Territorial Building burned down.

There was a nearly yearlong wrangle about where the fair should go, or even if it would continue. The Maui County Fair and Horse Racing Association turned down suggested locations and gave up coordinating the event. A private, nonprofit organization was set up, led by Avery Chumbley, who went on to be chairman of the fair for many years. The county allowed the fair to be held at the War Memorial Complex but left everything else to Chumbley’s group of civic leaders.

The homemakers, vegetable and fruit growers moved into the gymnasium, along with a student art exhibit and a photography display. Maui’s avid and accomplished orchid growers had the rear of the gym for ever-more elaborate presentations.

The old sheds have been succeeded by tents. The fair runs despite the weather, which is usually pleasant but can get damp. A food court was established with a cornucopia of delectables being offered by nonprofit, community organizations, which rely on the income to carry them until next year’s fair.

E.K. Fernandez is still around, creating a neon-lit midway to the delight of keiki and “games of skill” fans. Visiting the livestock tent requires walking through the Fun Zone crowds and around lines for the rides.

Between the food court and its ranks of picnic tables is the entertainment tent. And, beyond that are the tents housing booths for nonprofit groups, handicrafts for sale and a variety of commercial products. Between those tents and the gym, Maui’s firemen and police officers have exhibits.

It takes hours to see, taste and enjoy everything the fair has to offer. Bring a smile and endurance. The fair runs from Oct. 3 through Oct. 6 – Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday, including one morning devoted to Mauians with various handicaps.

For some of us, the best part of the fair is the string of meet and greets, fleeting contacts with friends seldom seen during the year. See you at the fair.

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

Maui Nei

Sometime they are known by name. All of the time, the face and the purchase are familiar. Another clue is their manner – how friendly and how willing they are to talk. The polite ones save the talk story if they are at the head of a line.

These are the regulars, the mostly males who are in the store at about the same time each day. The regulars who have one sort of addiction or another appear in the dark hours.

The sleeping sun has yet to wake. A graybeard rolls up. His older late-model pickup truck glistens in the halogen lights. It’s a well-cared-for machine. It takes muscle and sweat to win the battle with country dust, mud, irrigation water spots and salt air.

The graybeard is a regular. At the counter, he grins at the clerk and asks for a pack of cigarettes.

“‘Date of birth, please.’ Minit Stop cash registers need a date before the bar code can be scanned. Otherwise, the clerk has to type in the bar code number.”

The date springs to mouth easily. Daily repetition tends to sharpen certain memories. For example, PIN numbers stored in either mind or muscle. The mind stores the figures. Hand and finger muscles will automatically march across the keypad.

The clerk is young. She considers the date. “How old does that make you?”

An eight-decade answer. He expects her to say “You don’t look it” or something similar. The graybeard recoils in surprise. “What’s most important to you?”

Hmmm. After a pause, he reels off a series of activities, ending with a person’s name. The question deserved a more considered answer. Maybe she’s a student facing some sort of essay assignment. Could be philosophy or literature or . . . whatever.

The early-morning regulars straggle in, their nerves jumping from the lack of nicotine, caffeine or alcohol. They ran out sometime during the night. Of course, they could have gone to a 24-hour supermarket or one of those mini-marts behind the pumps of a all-night gasoline station. Yes, “gasoline,” a volatile liquid fuel that produces “gas,” a generic term for stuff floating around in the air. OK, put the high horse out to pasture, Mr. Wordsmith.

A few decades back, Maui’s legal drug addicts had to be organized. Stores closed before dinner and opened for breakfast. Filling stations dispensed only gasoline, oil and service. Got enough cigarettes, coffee, beer? No place to get ’em. The last night places with cigarette machines were carefully charted. Upcountry stores took their time getting in step with the all-night da kine imported from the Mainland. Today, er, tonight, there are any number of choices. See above.

The irregulars might be looking for a Coke, something salty, something sweet, an impulse buy in this place today and that place tomorrow. Impulses are strong early in the day when there is a full selection of fresh pastries delivered by a guy who starts work at Home Maid Bakery at 3 a.m – donuts, cinnamon rolls, apple fritters, glazed crescent rolls, bread pudding, chunks of corn bread, twists, etc. Anytime of the day there are bags of chips, stacks of cookies and bins of candy bars.

A Mustang convertible pulls into a stall. The man and woman were obvious tourists. He approached two local guys talking story. “Are there any coffee shops around here?” Places to sit and talk? Nah, places that serve a legal stimulant.

Coffee is no problem. Maybe credit Starbucks – there’s even one Upcounty – but nearly all of the available brew is palatable. Like coffee-flavored drinks? Head over to the cappuccino machine and load up on stuff that should be reserved for pancake syrup. The last truly bad coffee was served in Pukalani by the late, lamented Bullocks. Paul made the stuff out of instant. Down country, Toda’s in the old Kahului Shopping Center served a good cup early but allowed the pots to cook. Not so tasty later in the day. Morihara Store serves cowboy coffee to those who like to get their teeth into an eye-opener.

The addicts among the regulars could stock up. Buying a pack at a time enforces a kind of limiting control. Not much, but a little.

Pack crumpled. Can or bottle emptied.

A run into the night can wait. But soon: The road is empty. The sky is littered with stars. Once a month, mahina piha turns the landscape into a wonderland. It’s nice being out. The store is an island of light. Inside, there’s what you want, and maybe need. Maui is all grown up.

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

Maui Nei

Turn off Pukalani Street into a tunnel of overarching monkeypod trees. A scatter of empty parking stalls behind the Hannibal Tavares Community Center in Pukalani promises a quick visit.

At hand are the annual tag visits for the truck and two motorcycles. It wouldn’t be problem with safety certificates in hand. Of course, to get the safety sticker attached to your bumper you have to have an insurance card. Oops, forgot the checkbook and a debit card is no good when dealing with the county. Look over wallet and the old registration card. OK, there should be enough cash to cover the registration and weight fees.

This is the first of two visits this week. Today, for the truck. Tomorrow, for Baby Dancer. Both had overdue tags. Ah, well. That meant getting a provisional safety check, getting the registration up to date and returning to the Calasa service station for the sticker. Getting Baby Dancer legal meant going to Waikapu for David to do the inspection. There are a very few places on Maui – Patao’s in Wailuku is another – to get motorcycle safety stickers since two-wheel inspectors must have motorcycle licenses.

While doing the truck inspection at the old Calasa station in Waiakoa, Joe had said it might be a long wait at the county office since it was the first day after a three-day weekend. He was wrong. There are fewer than a dozen individuals sitting in the red plastic chairs. Most are older, probably retired guys. The county’s satellite office hours make it tough to visit if you have a Monday-Friday day job.

First, a visit to the number machine just inside the door. Scan the four categories. Registration falls under “other.” Hit the button and pull out a ticket with a three-digit number. Find a seat and glance at the TV screens. Judging from the voiceless captions, one was showing a cable talk show. The other has various soundless pitches for county programs and projects. An inset shows the number of the tickets being served and reminders to have all necessary papers in hand.

Hmmm. The ticket number is only six from the one being served. The wait should be just long enough to duck outside for a cigarette. Addiction taken care of and back in a seat, start a conversation with a young guy. He’s there with his wife, a baby and a thick, dealer da kine envelope stuffed with papers. The baby belongs to a niece. The papers are for his new truck.

“The best thing about babysitting is . . . ” The young guy grins and finishes the sentence, “you can give ’em back.”

We settle back and wait. One of the first Maui lessons was in the art of waiting in line at a county DMV office. Remember getting sunburned while in the line in at the War Memorial Gym? And before that, the lines were in the cool lobby of the county building on High Street.

At one time, the best thing about the gym office was its supervisor, Henry Rosa. He was a rare bureaucrat. If you had a situation that had clerks throwing up their hands and saying “no way,” Henry would figure out a solution to the problem.

The folks at the Pukalani satellite office are good at handling most everything. They handle the routine stuff efficiently and are pleasant even when facing someone who is upset.

The next number comes up. A tall, older guy marches across the office. He ignores the chair at the counter and stares down at the clerk. His back is ramrod straight. His hands are full of papers. Overall, he looks ready for combat.

He begins outlining some sort of property tax pilikia. Apparently he’s disputing how the county was classifying his two houses on ag land “I’ve lived on for 20 years.” The longer he spoke, the louder he got.

The young guy and I raise our eyebrows. We exchange shrugs and grin knowingly. The loud dude is definitely being maha’oi.

The clerk hands the pushy man a sheet of paper. “Here are answers to your questions.” It took concentration to hear her soft voice. The upset customer takes the sheet but doesn’t look at it. He wants to finish chewing on the clerk about “ridiculous” government rules. She listens calmly until he winds down and marches out, muttering “this is going to take all day.”

The clerk deserved applause. “It’s nice to hear you say so,” she said. While she processed the papers, we chatted. It turned out she’d been working in the normally library-quiet office for just a few months. She’d been laid off after 20 years with a private outfit.

The next day, Baby Dancer was made legal. The parking lot outside the county’s satellite office in Pukalani was just as pleasant. So were the clerks.

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

Maui Nei

This is fiction, but it could become fact.

Able was an artist. If it weren’t for a Social Security disability check and food stamps, he would have been a starving artist. The disability didn’t prevent him from painting and hustling the result. He wasn’t that successful.

Able had a rust-bucket Maui cruiser good enough for runs to the grocery and other in-town errands. The ancient station wagon wasn’t reliable enough for runs up the mountain over to the other side.

“When it conks out, I want to be close to home,” he once said.

On this particular day, he had a hot lead on a possible customer. A friend told him there was a woman looking for a big painting to hang in her shop on Front Street. A drop-by visit to his place in Wailuku found him adding a decent aloha shirt to his paint-splattered shorts. Able called it his business outfit.

“Got to get over to Lahaina,” he said.

“Need a ride?”

“Nah. I’m going public.”


“Not this time. The bus takes too long, makes too many stops along the way. I’m taking the train.” He grinned. “It’s a great ride. Super views of the ocean and the mountains. I’m taking my camera. And, it’s fast. I love barreling by those cars creeping along the highway.”

The train had been talked about for years. It finally got built when someone remembered how the Central Maui transmission line was built. Without the water it carried from Waiehu, Kihei and Wailea would have stayed a lightly populated, desert wasteland.

Financing was a four-way deal. There was money appropriated by the Legislature after a lot of wrangling. The county came up with more funds. The remainder came from two South Maui developers with land and little prospect of selling or building.

The idea was picked up by a particularly courageous member of the County Council. Selling politicos and the public on the chance to give Maui a much-needed alternative to driving from the airport to Kapalua or Makena became a mission.

Airport landing fees funded a line from OGG to the Puunene hub. The airport trains would sail straight through on branches to Wailea on one side and Kapalua on the other. There was one short stop in Maalaea where a big parking lot was filled with cars driven that far by west side hotel and resort workers.

It was a rare tourist who turned down the chance to ride in air-conditioned comfort to a hotel or condo. Baggage was automatically transferred from plane to train to connecting buses on the other end. Once settled in, tourists could rent cars at the resort.

The Maui Rapid Transit train was a rubber-tired monorail. Tracks ran from pylon to pylon about 50 feet in the air. It was powered by electricity, most of it generated by the train’s wheels, the rest from Maui Electric. Pretty ordinary technology. Under the tracks, which also carried storm-proof utility lines, the route was one long park except for the section through the pali. A narrow asphalt path on one side of the pylons was popular with runners and cyclists. On the other side, there was a horse trail.

In the pali section, the route ran above the old road perched above the modern road. At one time, the state Department of Highways talked about cantilevering two lanes out over the ocean or double-decking the Honoapiilani Highway. The train eliminated the need. The old road was made useable by bicycles, horses and human feet.

The MRT came in for its share of criticism. The ILWU hotel members swung the vote when they realized how much easier and cheaper it was to ride rather than drive to work. Workers in the construction trades also lobbied for the train.

The project, hailed by travel writers as a beautiful addition to the island, was financed with federal, state, county and private funds. Once convinced the train was a financial asset, the resorts chipped in. When the total ran short, the MRT board remembered how the Golden Gate Bridge was financed during the Great Depression and sold a limited number of shares to the public as an investment in Maui’s future.

Able jumped into his cruiser. It coughed to life. He drove to a free parking lot outside the Puunene terminal. It took less than an hour on the train to make the run to Lahaina. Able was on his way to making a sale. Along the way he collected a series of Maui images he would turn into his most lucrative paintings.

You’ve just read a piece of fiction, but it could be fact.

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