Maui Nei

Looking over the obituaries every morning is a dismal ritual for those still living long after what they once expected. Note the names and the number of years allotted. What memories of a more intimate Maui are jogged by the modest notices?

Forty years ago, a malihini from Oahu first became acquainted with Sanford J. Langa. It was only the first of many casual meetings. He was one of a handful of attorneys on the island and that meant he was involved in what a reporter considered were news stories. That was later. There was no news story in that first meeting, just a personal crossing of paths.

Some months before the malihini made the move to Maui, there was a minor matter of an unpaid medical bill resulting from a crash on Ward Avenue, just off Kapiolani Boulevard. Lesson learned: Don’t try to cushion the fall of a heavy motorcycle with a foot, even if it does mean avoiding a collision with a left-turning automobile. The driver was turning into a filling station. The bike rider’s judgment was fogged by a late-night confrontation at work just minutes before.

The crushed foot required a plaster cast. Six weeks would fix it. Or, so the doctor said. Six weeks turned into 12 weeks. The bone man said another six weeks should do the trick. When the doctor gave a wobbly prognosis at the end of 18 weeks, that was enough. No more plaster cast. There was enough pique involved to justify ignoring the money due the indecisive medico. It wasn’t a smart move, but it was typical for a guy whose fuse was short when he thought he was being jerked around.

A month or so after making Maui home, letters began showing up in the mail. At first, the letters were polite. Something along the lines of “we want to remind you of the unpaid balance.” Two or three letters later, the tone became more threatening. Something along the lines of “pay or face legal action.” Later letters became more strident. Finally, there was a letter saying the next step was small claims court. The bill had been turned over to a debt-collection agency. The attorney for the agency was Sanford J. Langa. The case would be taken up in District Court.

OK. Let’s see what this is all about.

At 8 a.m., the courtroom in one of those old, one-story territorial buildings on the mauka side of High Street was nearly empty. Langa leaned against the judge’s bench. It all looked pretty pro forma. Langa rattled off a string of names. No response apparently meant a summary judgment. At the right name, a hand went up. Three names later, the judge saw the hand and stopped the recitation.

“Are you requesting a trial?” the judge asked.

“No. I’ll pay.”

Langa jotted a note on the list.

It was still early morning. Might as well go to the agency and get this taken care of. No point in trying to argue. The bill was legitimate. The agency was in a building at the foot of Wells Street. Nice young woman at the counter. When told about the case, she located a folder.

“That will be $130,” she said sweetly.

“There must be a mistake. The bill was for $83, not $130.”

She explained there were clerical costs and attorney’s fees.

“May I talk to your supervisor?”

He appeared and repeated what the woman had said. The total was $130. Would it be check or cash?

“Uh, how much did you pay for the paper? Ten cents on the dollar?”

The agency manager, a young local, took a breath and looked down at the papers in the folder. “So you know about that?”

Yes. Collection agencies bought due bills for a percentage of what was owed. Getting part of what was owed was better than nothing. Whatever the agency could get over what it paid for the outstanding bill was profit after paying an attorney’s fee and whatever the clerical work cost.

The collection agency manager was willing to negotiate. Apparently Langa’s fee wasn’t that high. Or maybe the doctor had been paid peanuts. The agency’s profit margin got trimmed, but not by that much. A check was written for $85. It seemed a reasonable amount to get the matter settled.

That was 40 years ago.

During later decades, Sanford Langa would pop up here and there, representing this or that person or organization. It’s what attorneys do. He always did it affably. Langa plied his profession for more than 59 years. For many of those years, Maui had a small legal community, more friends than adversaries and Langa was a born-and-bred Maui boy. Services will be held at Pookela Church at 2 p.m. May 18. Aloha oi, Sandy.

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

Maui Nei

The inky night sky is as much a part of the Maui experience as the more celebrated blue of the day. For Hawaiians, perhaps the night sky was more important. Sunset marked the start of the Hawaiian day. The hours of darkness were also the time when the veil between the natural and supernatural parted. Night, known as po, was also the time for Mahina, the moon, and na hoku, the stars.

Hawaiians had star observatories known as hale kilo hoku. The stars played an integral part of Polynesian navigation. They showed the way. On its 29-day cycle, the moon marked the Hawaiian year while the phases of the moon indicated the proper time to plant particular crops and when to gather particular food fish.

Mahina piha, the full moon, received a lot of attention during the last week. The Earth crossed its path and turned its normally silver hue into a shade of red. The media trumpeted what news stories called a “blood moon.” If the appellation was appropriate, the blood was anemic when viewed by eyes plagued by a minor color blindness.

The color was caused by the Rayleigh effect, a scattering of minute particles in the air. The effect is also responsible for the blue color of the daytime sky, the color of the sun and the sunset pallet, green flash and all. It was discovered by John William Strutt Rayleigh. The English baron won a Nobel Prize for physics in 1904. So much for the scientific explanations.

Over parts of Maui, the April 14 eclipse was shrouded by clouds. Not so in Kula. The sky was particularly clear from Kula – a velvet black punctured by stars only visible in places where ground light is at a minimum. A Maui girl who has a home in Kihei always marvels at the night sky over rural Maui and wishes she had studied astronomy.

Mahina appeared over the southeast flank of Haleakala. At about 10 p.m., she was accompanied by two vivid stars and a planet. If an inexpert study of a star map put out by Bishop Museum and Melody Chang is to be believed, Spica appeared below and to the left of Mars. Arcturus was above and to the right.

Arcturus should be familiar to everyone in Hawaii as Hokule’a, the star of gladness. The name was chosen for the history-making voyaging canoe soon to set off in an around-the-world journey to spread the message of aloha toward the land, the sea and the Earth’s people. The crew will be using the same star- and ocean-based navigation techniques used to sail across the Pacific while Europeans were still hugging continental shorelines.

Spica is called Hikianalia, the star near the horizon. Mars, which was abnormally close to the Earth this week, is called, appropriately enough, Hoku’ula, the red star.

Visible this time of year, there are a number of other stars important to Hawaiians. Crux, aka the Southern Cross, is known as Hanaiakamalama, cared for by the moon. In the southwest sky lies Sirius in the constellation Canis Major. Hawaiians call Sirius A’a, or fire.

Ursa Major, or Big Dipper, points to the all-important Polaris at the west end of the Little Dipper in the north sky. Polaris is known to Hawaiians, especially those far out in the ocean, as Hokupa’a, the stationary star. The more visible Big Dipper is known as Na Hiku, the seven. Jupiter is called Ikaika, the strong and powerful. Nearly overhead is the constellation Leo, which Hawaiians call Hokupa, or star fence.

Not visible from Maui at this time of year are Antares, Corvus and Venus. Antares is called Lehuakona, the southern lehua blossom. Corvus has the lyrical name Me’e or Mele, the voice of the chant. Venus is known as Hokukauahiahi, the fiery setting star.

For those who want to know and understand, the names of stars – both Hawaiian and Greek – are important. For the rest of us, the stars are simply the stars, bright points of light decorating the darkness overhead.

On most nights, Mahina covers the island with a ghostly sheen. Mahina piha, the big, round moon, also has a kind of power over the susceptible – a sleep-killing urge to get out and about. Cats prowl, dogs howl, cows bawl when calves are taken away, and some humans become restless to the point of wandering byways and getting into trouble. Just ask any police officer.

This week, in her red, or ulu, guise, Mahina provided a celestial spectacle, one that made the night sky a thing of wonder and amazement. Just ask any reporter or editor looking for a news story.

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

Maui Nei

Imagine Maui in 2040.

A reporter for a national news organization sits in the office of William “Coba” Costalana. The reporter is doing a story on how Maui County became one of the world’s most successful visitor destinations.

Costalana is a professional administrator hired to be managing director of the County of Maui. His office is on the top floor of the county’s newest office building, a 15-story structure that had replaced the old county building. Through the windows, there is a sweeping view of Central Maui. Kaahumanu Avenue is lined with bustling businesses from Sand Hills to beyond the busiest airport in the state. Green fields separate Wailuku-Kahului from Upcountry.

On the mountain, the island’s “second city” encompasses the Paia business area, a string of housing developments stretching over to Maliko Gulch and up to country town centers in Haliimaile, Makawao, Pukalani and over to Kulamalu, where ranchland takes over. Here and there, low-rise apartment buildings and boutique hotels stand out among individual houses.

Kihei-Makena is a park-dotted, mostly residential area. A few of the old hotels and apartment buildings have been replaced with structures set back from the ocean. Most of the beaches are bordered by tree-shaded green lawns.

The sun sparkles off the tracks of a light-rail train. The third section of the system is being built out to the “second city.” The other two lines connect Kahului with Makena and Kapalua. Bicycle and horseback riders are enjoying themselves under the elevated tracks. Out of sight, the west-side line runs around the pali above the sightseeing highway and a miles-long shoreline park.

“To what do you attribute Maui’s success against all of the sun-and-sea resorts around the world?” the reporter asks.

“The short answer is public will,” says Costalana. “The future of Maui was very much in doubt before a few of the county’s elected leaders supported by a variety of environmental and industry groups convinced voters the environment was the economy. Please excuse the cliche.”

“But isn’t administration of the county up to the managing director? I understand you have a 10-year contract and the elected officials just set policy in addition to hiring the managing director.”

“You’re right. Taking administration of the county out of politics was one of the major reasons local government has been able to operate efficiently. Before the charter was changed, the council and the mayor were constantly squabbling over the smallest details at the expense of controlling development.”

“How did that change take place?”

“Community leaders finally convinced the public. An intensive grass-roots campaign got the charter amended. Finally, the master plan was implemented after a decade of debate. A succession of changes demanded by the public was needed later.”

“How was the voting public motivated? I understand that at the beginning of the century the voter turnout was down to around 40 percent.”

“That’s an interesting story that would take too long for this interview. Basically, all of the groups, both for-profit and nonprofit, understood what was at stake, joined forces and literally went door to door and person to person. In the last election, 90 percent of registered voters actually went to the polls.

“How long did that take?”

“More than a decade. The construction trade unions had to be convinced limiting sprawling development was in the best interests of their membership, which slowly began to grow as the master plan was implemented. The jobs involved in tearing down aging resorts and rebuilding them was big factor. Don’t forget how ocean preservation created hundreds of jobs in small, locally owned businesses.”

“I understand the underlying idea of making Maui attractive to wealthy visitors is nearly 100 years old.”

“Yes, it was formulated in the 1950s. At one point, it was nearly forgotten. Don’t forget the contributions made by the state Legislature, Congress and Hawaiians. After getting political recognition, Hawaiians were in the forefront of the most important policy changes.”

“Well, thank you, Mr. Director. I need to talk to industry leaders and some ordinary citizens to round out the story.”

“Pick just about anyone. I think nearly everyone will agree the best of Maui’s past has been preserved while keeping up with worldwide changes.”

Walking through the bustling outer office, the reporter thinks, “This is one helluva story.”

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

Maui Nei

Maui as a home is a paradise. Island views never fail to enchant. The ocean is inviting and connects us with them. Most importantly, most people are honest friends and neighbors. A paradise, indeed. A recent event proves it may be a fool’s paradise when it comes to keys in vehicles.

Ahead was a regular Sunday treat – three hours of listening to a jazz session over upper Haiku way. Days of rain had encouraged too many trips in the truck. So, escape the cage and ride Baby Dancer, a sweet, attractive motorcycle. Nevermind the gray clouds over Pukalani. Recent rains had been light and brief. Besides, haole skin no leak.

Across Kula, a few drops splatter against a pair of French-made goggles. The drops are fat enough to make a noise when they hit a rare and expensive leather-lined English helmet. Along about Kulamalu, the rain becomes persistent, but is light. There’s little or no danger of soaking through a tank bag holding three music books, a bandana, some sterile wipes, Band-Aids and a small altimeter.

At Five Trees the rain is serious enough to bounce off the asphalt. Head for the Minit Stop for cigarettes, a sandwich and to wait out the squall. Instead of the usual parking spot in front of the convenience store, slide Baby Dancer up on the sidewalk along one side of the building where the eaves would supply a little cover.

Quickly doff the helmet and goggles, setting them down over the key still in the ignition, as had been done hundreds of times. The Minit Stop was one of a couple of places Upcountry where taking the key didn’t seem necessary.

Eat the sandwich inside. The rain backs off just enough to allow a smoke out front. Snuff the butt. Walk around the corner. At first, eyes don’t believe what they don’t see. Baby Dancer was gone. Walk around back, foolishly thinking maybe someone had moved her. No such luck.

Decades ago, before McDonalds and the convenience store had been built, a hard-to-start motorcycle had been taken from a parking spot out of sight from inside a small, old-fashioned grocery. The bike was quickly found around in back. The would-be thief didn’t have enough kicking power to get her started. It made for a slightly amusing Maui anecdote.

The Minit Stop clerks allow a phone call to 911. The outside pay phones had been forgotten. Patrol Officer J. Burkett shows up in minutes. He’s simpatico, mentioning he had ridden his motorcycle to work. He says this was the second Upcountry motorcycle theft he’d investigated in the last week. A thief had taken a bike parked in a Haiku driveway.

Details are taken down in a small notebook. Burkett is thorough, asking about accessories and other details necessary to identify Baby Dancer. “I’ll get dispatch to issue an all-points so patrols can be on the lookout.” Outside, he looks for surveillance cameras and found one at McDonalds that covered the right area. He went inside to see what he could see.

Wait, kicking self for having left the key in the ignition. Strangely, the disappearance of the helmet, goggles and bag is more upsetting than losing the bike. In due time, Burkett returns.

“Couldn’t see the perp take the bike but did see him come around from the back and ride off. He looked like a kid, wearing a grey hoodie, shorts and skateboard shoes.”

The thief had come from a side street during the heaviest part of the rain. Burkett says he’d take a look on the off chance he’d see the motorcycle. Nope.

Ten hours later, around 11 p.m., another patrol officer rolls up to the house. Baby Dancer had been found in the upper part of Pukalani Terrace. After getting permission from his supervisor, he drives me over to where two other officers are keeping watch on Baby Dancer.

Relief turns to dismay and then anger. Baby Dancer had been disfigured. The thief had begun repainting her before having a change of heart and parking her next to a 5-foot-high concrete wall where an officer spotted her. About half of her glossy, black surface had been sanded. A spare key didn’t work. No sign of the helmet and tank bag. The officers hang around until a transporter truck designed to carry up to four cars shows up. Baby is loaded and driven home.

Why, oh why had the key been left in the ignition? The answer was a bad habit and trust born of years on a Maui that had definitely changed. It was embarrassing not to have noticed.

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