Maui Connections

How sweet it was to wake up in Kula last Wednesday.

After a happy family vacation in Montana, we had flown home Tuesday. Having to change planes in both Seattle and Portland, it took most of the day to get from Missoula to Maui.

That was nothing compared to our seatmate, Michelle Assis.

Michelle had left Moscow — the one in Russia — that morning, and just kept adding hours to the day as she flew halfway around the world. She, her husband, Cesar Assis, and fellow Maui Brazilian transplants Henrique and Vanessa Vasconcellos had been to Russia to cheer on their nation’s soccer team at the World Cup.

Michelle spoke glowingly of the land and its culture, the awesome architecture of St. Petersburg, the taste of Russian stroganoff. . . . There hadn’t been enough time to take it all in. As opposed to the daily dose of bad news emanating from Russia’s despotic strongman leader, she said the people there were welcoming, warm and friendly.

Hmm, sounds like home.

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Several of you responded to last week’s column about the challenges of Mainland freeway driving, especially for Maui motorists with “Slow Down — This Ain’t the Mainland” mentalities and 200,000 miles of island driving on the Tacoma odometer.

A morning visit to the Kula Post Office to pick up our stopped mail reminded me, it ain’t the Mainland when you’re standing still, either. A recent National Public Radio story reported that in the age of iPhones and Amazon, no one goes to the post office anymore. In Upcountry Maui, that’s not the case.

The helpful, friendly women behind the counter at the Kula PO make “going postal” something you look forward to. They take the snail out of snail mail. The post office is still ground zero of our ZIP code, still playing the key role uniting our society mail has had since America was born.

Our mail carrier, Lorri, is like the guardian angel of the neighborhood, knowing who’s home, who’s away, who’s moving in or out, and just generally what’s what. Better yet is the smile that comes with every stop at your mailbox. Even when she comes bearing bills, everyone’s always happy to see Lorri.

Driving home from the post office, I can tell it’s Dr. B on the radio from the happy, eclectic playlist, even before hearing his voice. His is only one of the many unique voices — each belonging to a human rather than a computer — that continue to make Mana’o a Maui treasure.

Being one of those people who only listens to NPR and its neighbors at the far left end of the dial, our recent trip demonstrated that unlike many Mainland stations that have thrown in the towel to Sirius and Pandora, radio is alive and well, and hipper than ever, in the islands.

Things — and people — just work different here. A few days ago I watched Island Movers’ Scotty Miller, Veetutu Faiva and Matt Aganos unload three containers worth of furniture and household items and nimbly carry them up a flight of stairs. They’re big fellas, my back hurt just watching them, but they hefted the crates effortlessly. Iz’s song “Hawaiian Superman” came to mind, watching them in action. They even found time for a hula-hoop break when one turned up loose in the container.

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Work’s great when you can’t differentiate it from play. The best kind is the work you’re happy to do for free.

Case in point: Maui OnStage’s exuberant “Singin’ in the Rain,” continuing through Aug. 5 at the Historic Iao Theater. It’s a wonderful farewell gift from Maui OnStage’s outgoing directors Alexis and Steven Dascoulias, capping their brilliant tenure guiding the company and theater.

Ingeniously adapted from the classic film and set at the advent of “talking pictures” in Hollywood, it features stellar performances, ingenious stagecraft and superb artistry throughout. The nonstop happy feet, classic songs and boundless energy produce a charming if old-fashioned sense of innocence and optimism that keep modern malaise safely at bay outside the theater as long as the cast members keep singing and tap-dancing.

Charismatic, vastly talented Chris Kepler in the Gene Kelly role more than earns all the kudos coming his way, but winsome Lia De Souza, smiling John Galvin and hilarious Laura Cole all play key parts, adding to the giddy joy engulfing the audience.

Even though the production dumps actual rain on the Iao stage, the show is full of sunshine. It’s a touching reminder of just how great it feels to be in love — and how contagious that feeling can be.

* Rick Chatenever, award-winning columnist and former entertainment and features editor of The Maui News, is a freelance journalist, instructor at UH-Maui College and documentary scriptwriter/producer. Contact him at