An unexpected text last week led to a delightful couple of hours with an old friend and the revival of long-buried memories, a few of which weren’t nearly as pleasant as our miso butterfish lunch at Ichiban.
I was barely 22 when I moved to Honolulu to work for KITV-4 News as a reporter. Donn Yabusaki, one of the station’s half-dozen news cameramen, was around the same age. Yabu and I shared similar backgrounds, political views, and a slightly warped sense of humor. We became friends the moment we met; within a couple of months, we were virtual siblings. But we worked together only for a year, and in the 30-plus years since I returned to Maui, I can count on one hand the number of times Yabu and I have talked story.
The text asked whether I’d be free for lunch on Wednesday, when Yabu would be making a day trip to Maui. Happily, I answered “yes.” Over the next two days, random flashbacks interrupted my routine and sent me on retrospective side trips.
My brief tenure at KITV was supposed to be the first step toward becoming the next Connie Chung or Barbara Walters. Channel 4 was the local ABC affiliate, and I planned on trying for a network position after a few years. I was assigned to the court beat and covered spot news as well. The job was every bit as thrilling as I had anticipated, and more.
When designating personnel for each story, assignment editor Alex Tod would consider the skills and strengths of the camera operators as well as the reporters. Yabu was his go-to guy for spot news. Together we covered numerous traffic accidents, protest demonstrations, fires and floods, racing to the scene in Unit One, a sleek navy blue Pontiac Sunbird hatchback. Sometimes on lunch breaks, we’d cruise up Round Top Drive to pick white ginger blossoms and just enjoy the cool, crisp air of Tantalus until Alex’s voice would crackle through the two-way radio, interrupting us with a new assignment.
The day he sent us to Nanakuli High School was the only time I truly feared for our safety. Long-simmering tension between Hawaiian and Samoan teens had erupted into a riot at the school. Alex knew better than to send a haole news team to the scene — even the police department put only their biggest, brownest officers on that beat — so Yabu and I were drafted. Never mind that we were both around 5 feet tall and weighed maybe 200 pounds, combined; we were the only locals in the newsroom at the moment.
By the time we reached the school, HPD had stopped the fistfights, but the mob of hundreds hadn’t yet dispersed. A few kids threw rocks at Unit One and, even with a giant policeman escorting us to the principal’s office, students swore and spat at us. I had never before, nor since, felt so physically intimidated. If Yabu felt the same, he sure didn’t show it.
There were many other adrenalin-inducing moments that were far more enjoyable: barrel rolls in a stunt biplane, getting trunk-nuzzled by Daisy the elephant at Honolulu Zoo, Anthony Quinn kneeling before me to kiss my hand and flirt outrageously. Yet I rarely think about my time at KITV, mostly due to one particular moment in the newsroom.
It was a slow news day, and Alex was fretting over the newscast lineup. Several reporters and a couple of cameramen were sitting around idly, when the police scanner came alive with a report of a serious car wreck in Pearl City. “One Delta,” the dispatcher said, which meant there had been a fatality. Every one of us jumped up, almost gleeful in the knowledge that we now had a gripping lead story. Pearl City was close enough that we’d be sure to get video of the crash scene, maybe even beat the ambulance to the body.
Someone — it might have been me — shouted, “YESSS!” and in that instant, I was immediately sickened and ashamed. My career goals changed that day. A few years later, Don Henley expressed my sentiments in his hit “Dirty Laundry.”
I make my living on the evening news;
Just give me something, something I can use.
People love it when you lose,
They love dirty laundry . . .
You got the bubble-headed bleached blonde who comes on at 5;
She can tell you ’bout the plane crash with a gleam in her eye.
It’s interesting when people die.
Give us dirty laundry.
At lunch, Yabu and I didn’t waste any time reminiscing. Instead we talked about family and future plans, like we used to on our joyrides. No more dirty laundry for us.
* Kathy Collins is a storyteller, actress and freelance writer whose “Sharing Mana’o” column appears every Wednesday. Her email address is email@example.com.