Maui Nei

There’s an intriguing, slightly funny commercial running on TV these days. Maui landowner Oprah and friends are urging everyone to be casually friendly with seldom-seen friends and strangers. On Maui that kind of urging seems superfluous. Maybe the campaign is needed on the Mainland.

Polli’s was packed. It seems everyone’s stomach goes off at about the same time. It doesn’t matter if they are local, surfers of all persuasions or tourists. Decades of operation have made Polli’s Mexican Restaurant in Makawao something of a Maui institution. The food’s good, the servers are attractively efficient and the prices are right.

The houseguest surveys the place and suggested going someplace else. “I’m not that hungry,” he said while walking across the filled parking lot. Speak for yourself, chum. Stomach is saying fill me and mouth was set for a chili relleno plate with refried beans and rice. Maybe a beer and some salsa and chips.

Empty stools beckoned. “We could sit at the bar.” It would be quicker and provide a good video view of surfers braving “Jaws” at Peahi. The screen was blank. Later, someone with a flashlight began poking around behind the big screen. The barkeep was hustling. In a few minutes he came over. “Waiting for a table?” “We can eat here,” he’s told. Salsa and chips arrive quickly. “These are great chips,” houseguest from Northern California says. Orders are taken. In short order, “not that hungry” houseguest goes to work on a heaping plate of food, including frijoles and sides.

A young, good-looking guy slides onto the next stool and goes through the routine with the barkeep. He’s got the kind of tan that goes with working or playing in the sun. Hmmm. Run through a series of opening lines. Finally come up with “You a sailor?” “No, do I look like one.” “You look as if you spend a lot of time in the sun.” He grins. Pause. “You a Maui boy?” “Yeah, King Kekaulike.” Pause. “So what do you do?”

He’s done construction but is driving a tour van. “Let me see your hand?” He extends it. Yup, calluses. “In the old days, before power steering, tour drivers got really thick calluses.” Pause. A certain kind of mistrust left his eyes. “So how long have you been on the island?” He relaxed even more at the answer: “Uh, 40 years or so.”

The fitful conversation continued. Found out he had been drag racing a motorcycle the night before. That started a discussion about bikes and racing techniques. Newspaper guys generally know a little about a lot of things. He warmed up even more. Turned out it was his first time on the strip but had clocked a respectable time. Plates on this side of the bar were empty. Bill was paid. As usual in this sort of meeting, names were exchanged at the end of the talk.

Out in the parking lot, houseguest says “That’s the thing about Maui. Everyone is friendly.” He’s also into talking to strangers, a holdover from the days he lived on the island. Meeting Kimo – yeah, that was the local kid’s name – wasn’t an isolated incident.

Standing in the parking lot at Morihara Store, a gray-haired guy pulls in. His car is tweeting. A comment about having birds under his hood turns into a conversation about cars and the strange noises they can make. That was only the first of many conversations with Mark.

During the parking lot talks, learn he is an Oahu-born jack-of-all-trades – cars, appliances and electronic stuff. He was once a ham radio operator but gave it up. Not that interested in “rag chewing.” Over time, common interests led to forging a real friendship, each helping the other with various kinds of problems that crop up when you live alone.

Real friendships seldom result from casual meetings, but they always brighten the day and illustrate a basic point about islanders. Folks born out here in the Pacific pay attention to individuals around them. If eyes meet, there’s always some acknowledgment, maybe only a head tilt or raised eyebrows. All it takes to turn the acknowledgment into a conversation is a little time and a little effort to find some common interest.

On the Mainland, interest in a stranger usually is met by suspicion. Is this guy ready to run some kind of game on me? Maybe that’s behind Oprah’s “get friendly” campaign.

Home is where you’re always welcome. Maui is home.

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

Maui Nei

On Maui, solutions for today’s problems can often be found in the past. The May 12 story in The Maui News about the Civilian Conservation Corps was a peek at the past with hints for the future.

The CCC was set up as part of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “New Deal” attack on the Great Depression. A companion program was the Works Progress Administration, renamed in 1939 as the Work Projects Administration. Both programs were designed to provide meaningful work for America’s unemployed.

On Maui, the WPA put salaries in the pockets of the island’s unemployed while improving public infrastructure such as sidewalks in Makawao, bridges, roads and improvements to the trail up to Polipoli. As was the rest of the country, Maui was hard-hit by the Great Depression.

In areas such as East Maui, families could subsist by hunting, fishing and growing food, but there was still a need for kala, cash. There are old-timers who can remember how the few federally subsidized jobs could be spread around for maximum effect. It’s been said that as many as three men might share one job, each doing a third of the work and taking a third of the money.

The WPA was for adult breadwinners. The CCC was designed for young men who concentrated on, as the name implied, conservation. The May 12 story had to do with Arthur “Rex” Ornellas and his six-month stint working at Haleakala National Park. In 1985, William Kealoha Kanekoa told The Maui News about living near the top of Haleakala at “Camp Wingate” as part of the Civilian Conservation Corps.

“We had some 30-odd boys at the old rest house. Some stayed in the crater in tents. Two stayed up at the observatory and took care of the tourists,” said the man who would later become one of the first residents of “Dream City” and was the last locomotive engineer to drive a train from Haiku to Kahului.

Kanekoa remembered working on the cabins in the crater, hand-carrying lumber and ceiling panels. “Most of the stuff was carried in by the boys.” There were pack animals but they were reserved “for bags of cement and heavy stuff.” He remembered being paid $38 a month. “Thirty-two dollars a month was sent home and we were given $6” for pocket money.

Kanekoa worked on the top of the mountain for “about three years” before being transferred to Polipoli to plant trees. “I remember planting the pines, plums, American peach, apples and ash trees.” For fun, the boys chased wild horses and goats or hiked up to the top of the mountain via the Skyline Trail.

After his three-plus years with the CCC, Kanekoa found work at the Kahului Railroad, cleaning and maintaining the steam locomotives. He eventually became a locomotive engineer and was able, with the help of the railroad’s manager, Buster Burnett, to buy a house in Kahului’s First Increment for $6,600. The railroad put up the down payment, leaving the Kanekoa family with a $42-a-month mortgage.

Kanekoa and fireman Steven DePonte operated the last cargo-passenger train run on May 28, 1966. Trucks had made the railroad uneconomical. The railroad’s public bus system ended around the same time. Forty-eight years later, Maui’s most visionary leaders believe a light-rail train system, paired with the county’s buses, is the most likely solution to the island’s cross-island traffic.

Stories about the CCC instantly bring to mind today’s need for troops to battle invasive species such as fireweed, miconia, fire ants, deer and other pests. As recently as 2001, there was such a workforce. In response to the radical drop in tourism following the Sept. 11 attacks, the state Legislature appropriated $1.5 million to create an emergency environmental workforce.

On Maui, that meant some 50 workers who were available when dengue fever appeared in East Maui. The workforce was administered by an office at the University of Hawaii. The workers, mostly young men with deep ties to the land, methodically eliminated places where fever-carrying mosquitoes could breed.

When the money ran out, the emergency environmental workforce was abandoned. The need for such an agency exists today. Last year, the University of Hawaii Economic Research Organization reported natural resource work brings an estimated $456.6 million to the state’s economy each year.

Today’s environmental problems, including threats to water supplies and visitor satisfaction, have been around for decades. So have the solutions.

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

Maui Nei

Chalk it up to being old and cranky. The “news” on television has become less informative and more annoying. It’s not so much the content as the presentation. Admittedly, there’s a bias here, one created by a half century of working with ink on paper.

The annoyance factor has deeply eroded a very old habit of having the boob tube on around dinnertime to catch whatever the talking heads in Honolulu have decided is “news.” The habit began decades ago with a couple of Bobs, Sevey and Jones. The newscasts were mostly an appetizer with the entree coming the next day when the paper was devoured.

The change from “just the facts” broadcasts to information-based entertainment – radio is a different story – led to giving local TV newscasts something less than complete attention. Occasionally, a local teaser will jump out of the electronic wallpaper. The other day it was the unique name of a professional dive guide.

In the late 1990s, Rene Umberger was the guide to a number of underwater explorations around South Maui. As a member of Ed Robinson’s team, Umberger was a passionate naturalist concerned with the health of Maui’s reefs. Unlike other divers who used knives to tease he’e out of their holes, Umberger used plastic chopsticks. She didn’t want to risk hurting the animal while showing divers an octopus.

Apparently, the big Hawaii story of the day involved an underwater confrontation. The video showed a couple of divers around a couple of canisters. One of the divers swims toward the camera held by Umberger. There’s a tussle. Umberger says she was attacked, her respirator ripped from her mouth. From the video, it’s hard to tell just what happened.

Umberger said she was part of a team surveying coral growth off the island of Hawaii when they came across aquarium collectors, divers scooping up reef fish for sale. She said the attack amounted to attempted murder since losing your air supply at depth, even briefly, can be lethal. She credited “10,000 dives” with giving her the training and ability to avoid shooting to the surface and risking a case of the bends.

The news presentation four days after the event seemed an overblown excuse to run underwater video. As reported, the divers were down only 50 feet or so. Barring panic on the part of the diver, that’s a manageable depth, with or without air. CBS picked up the video story and ran it on its national newscasts and website with the headline “Environmentalist attacked while scuba diving in Hawaii.”

The next-day follow-up, which included replaying the murky video, indicated the episode was part of an ongoing dispute between conservationists and divers exploiting Hawaii’s diminishing reef life. It’s an old dispute. Conservationists say there is a need for more legal protection of the reefs. No argument there. Aquarium collectors and hunters say dive tours scare off fish.

Years ago, stories circulated around the Maui scuba community about aggressive skin divers and fishermen. Shoreline night dives were harassed by ulua fishermen who bombed them with heavy sinkers. “They know exactly where we are because they can see our lights,” said Charlie, a veteran, freelance scuba tour leader. He moved his night dives to a less-desirable location. Another tour leader told about diving off Puu Olai and having a spear sizzle past her. Kim said she looked up to see skin divers aiming their weapons in her direction. She said it appeared to be a group of tourists being led on a hunting tour. She made a rude gesture toward the “thanks, no tanks” guys but let the incident pass.

There were questions to ask about last week’s incident, particularly since Umberger was a longtime acquaintance. They went unanswered. Umberger’s Maui phone listing didn’t work. She had no listing on the island of Hawaii, if she’d moved from Haiku. Maybe, like many others, she’d eschewed a landline in favor of a cellphone.

The most disquieting aspect of the whole affair was the apparent enmity between two types of ocean users who should be united behind the idea of protecting the ocean and its critters from overuse and land-based abuse. For some, it provides food. For others, it is a recreational escape from the stresses of modern life. For an island economy based on tourism, a healthy ocean is essential. Whale watching, sport fishing, diving and snorkeling bring millions of dollars every year to Maui-owned small businesses.

Sensational “news” coverage doesn’t help.

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

Maui Nei

The mailbox held a bunch of junk and one envelope with a portentous return address: “Circuit Court of the Second Circuit – The Judiciary, State of Hawaii.” It took no imagination to guess the contents.

At the kitchen table, slice open the envelope. Yup. At the top of the first page was “Summons for Jury Service.” Name, address, a bar code, “Participant Number” and a “Pool Number.” Below that: “Failure to appear as summoned may result in the issuance of a bench warrant for your arrest and may be grounds for contempt proceedings under Section 710-1077(1)(i) of the Hawai’i Revised Statutes.”

Once upon a time, such a summons would have evoked a mild feeling of dread. It meant missing at least one day of work, probably more. At The Maui News, work didn’t stop just because someone was missing. The work was just added to someone else’s load or taken care of outside of ordinary hours.

Ah, but not for those of us out to pasture. Who knows, it might be something of an adventure. There was always a chance the trial might be rife with personal drama and getting to know the other jurors might lead to something delightful.

Twice before, there had been a summons to duty. The first involved a criminal case. After sitting around in the hallway, prospective jurors, including a young woman of casual acquaintance, were ushered into the courtroom. It would have been great to serve on a jury that included Kat Hargis, a very attractive – in every sense of the word – sales representative for a west side radio station.

The memory of sitting next to her is vivid some decades later. Flowing auburn hair above wide-set, animated green eyes, high cheek bones, and a trim figure only slightly disguised on that day by a red, “I’m a serious businesswoman” jacket and skirt.

The prosecutor asked a couple of questions. Was I familiar with the defendant, the case or any police officers? Nope. The defense attorney asked if I could understand how a person might get caught up in situation involving drugs. Yes. The defense attorney smiled and sat down. At the same time, the prosecutor rose and had me kicked off the jury. See you later, Kat.

The second time was a civil case involving a personal injury at Kapalua Resort built by the Cameron family’s Maui Land & Pineapple Co., Judge Joel August presiding. Walking over to the jury box, smile at Joel, a friend from back in the days when he was a public defender. It’s a small island.

As soon as the prospective jurors sat down, Judge August said, “Would Mr. Youngblood approach the bench?” Not exactly standard procedure. Four attorneys joined the march. There was an air of expectant excitement. August smiled and asked the legal beagles if they had any questions. The answers left both sides satisfied. But not the judge.

“I believe Mr. Youngblood may have a personal interest in this case,” His Honor said. What? “Isn’t it true, you have been associated with a member of the Cameron family for some time?” he asked. Oh, boy, he’s been listening to the Coconut Telegraph. It’s a small island.

“Yes, sir.” Oh, well, it’s no secret my huapala was a member of the Cameron family, the sister, in fact, of the man who built Kapalua. The Camerons had little or nothing to do with the resort or Maui Land & Pine by that time, but Judge August wasn’t taking any chances.

“I’m going to excuse Mr. Youngblood,” Judge August said.

The summons for the latest chance to serve on a jury came last month. There was a Monday, 9 a.m. show-up. Plans were made to get to Wailuku no later than 8:30 a.m. and park in the municipal lot. The time before, The Dancer had been tucked into a cross-hatched section of on-street parking. Nice try. A parking ticket was stuck under the “Jury Duty Parking Permit” taped to the tank of the motorcycle. The fine was nearly the same as the $30 paid by the state to show up.

Part of the “required” routine is to call the court “after 5 p.m. on the prior business day” to see if the trial is still on. Punch in the nine-digit participant number. Find out the trial is now set for a half-hour and a day later. Make another call 24 hours later. “The trial has been settled.”

Oh, well, there’ll be another time. It’s a small island.

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

Maui Nei

In 1946, being able to turn on a radio and hear a Maui station was a marvel. Up until that time, listening to a broadcast on the island meant trying to listen to one of two Honolulu radio stations. Today, there are 123 radio stations broadcasting in the islands – 26 of them on Maui.

Early this year, the first radio station on Maui changed its spot on the dial. KMVI swapped spots with the second radio station on the island, KNUI. KMVI went from 550 on the AM dial to 900. KNUI moved from 900 to 550. It was a move that all but sports and Hawaiian music fans probably didn’t notice.

There’s a lot of Maui history in those two paragraphs.

You are very much an old-timer if you can remember using imagination and the sound of faraway voices to bring the world into your living room. Those voices came out of bulky radios powered by glowing vacuum tubes. Today, those radios are most often used in cars. At home, they can supply a wide range of music in state-of-the-art fidelity.

This is an age of fast-food entertainment, standardized, homogenized and determined by the tastes of individuals on the Mainland. The Internet and the cable have it all, but you have to know exactly what you want and where it might be. Radio is more local, more surprising. The best radio is full of surprises, an idea you hadn’t considered, a song you hadn’t heard. All of it free.

In the beginning, hometown radio was more than just entertainment. It was a prime source of news, particularly during times when Mother Nature threatened death and destruction with a tsunami, earthquake or storm. It still is. Yes, television can warn, but since nearly all of Maui’s TV comes out of Honolulu, the boob tube isn’t as reliable a source of information as local radio about what is going on down the road or across the island. Homegrown programming taps into local taste. Playlists drawn up in urban centers don’t reflect Maui.

Yes, those words reflect the distinct bias of an individual who grew up with all those radio voices in the background and whose first introduction to Maui in 1973 was via a pocket radio alternately tuned to KMVI and KNUI. There were Filipino programs at dawn, local news stories during the day, a Japanese language program in the evening and live disc jockeys picking and playing the music. That first day on Maui ended with the radio tuned to 900. KNUI concluded its daily broadcasting with Barry Folks, who used the name Barry K. Aloha, playing a slightly risque tune off Billy Joel’s album, “Piano Man.”

KNUI began as a “Makawao” station in 1962, broadcasting out of a three-room, hollow-tile building in an Olinda pasture. Its spot on the radio dial was at the extreme opposite of 16-year-old KMVI. Fred Duldulao, the Filipino morning guy on KNUI, remembered going around and showing people they could retune their radios from KMVI to up around 1300 for his station. Later, KNUI changed its frequency to 900 and a transmitter was built on the edge of Kealia Pond just off Mokulele Highway.

KMVI soldiered on with its transmitter in Wailuku where The Maui News is published today. For some four decades, KMVI’s signal was radiated by its original tower. Time and salty air finally spelled the end of that tower. A shorter, less-efficient but more economical tower was erected on the same spot.

A little technical stuff here. FM stations can get along with relatively small transmitting antenna. AM radio stations need tall towers for maximum coverage. The lower the frequency, the taller the tower needed. KMVI’s signal from the new tower didn’t reach as far as the old one.

Pacific Radio Group owns both stations. Some time ago, KMVI became an ESPN sports station. KNUI centered its programming on Hawaiian music.

“We’d lost coverage on KMVI,” said Pacific Radio Group CEO Chuck Bergson. The sports programming on KMVI attracted more advertisers. “It made better business sense to increase the coverage of KMVI,” Bergson said. So, last January, KMVI moved to 900 and KNUI went to 550.

There are three other Maui stations on the AM band: the Roman Catholic Church’s new KCIK at 740, KAOI AM at 1110 and King’s Cathedral’s KUAU at 1570.

The first of 21 FM stations on Maui was KAOI. It began broadcasting in 1974. The other stations include seven nonprofit operations – three by Hawaii Public Radio, one by AKAKU: Maui Community Television, one by the Paia Youth Center, the KEFX Christian music station in Kihei, and Mana’o, which is off the air for the time being.

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