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The New Wailuku Safeway, Geographic Isolation, and TV’s Doomsday Preppers
September 28, 2013 - Ray Tsuchiyama
In a prior blog post (see above), I mentioned that World War II brought deprivation and shortages to Hawai’i residents, a stressful period up to the end of the Pacific War in August, 1945 (and for some time thereafter, since shipping was scarce and still devoted to the War effort).
Mauians maintained their disrupted lives in creative ways, mending the same clothes over and over, growing vegetables and fruits, hunting boar and deer, fishing, collecting guavas and passion fruit in the forest. A can of Spam was a wondrous delicacy. But it was a more “sustainable” period, with soda plants manufacturing bottles for “local” consumption, which meant that Lahaina had its own soda brand and Central Maui another brand.
But people did acquire cars and increasingly would make trips around Maui – my father and his best friend once took a car from Kahului on the road to Hana, and this would be in the mid-1930s. Their car got stuck in a ditch and they did get the car out, but their journey was abandoned. Yet the fact that twenty-year olds could drive and go for joy rides give insights to Maui’s future.
In the post-War period, fast ocean-going freight transportation changed society: Matson container ships would make weekly (and more) trips to and from a couple of California ports, and from the Northwest, and all these new products supported the gasoline-fueled commuting lifestyles of the 130,000 cars on Maui (probably 500,000 on Oahu) for residents and tourists throughout the Hawaiian archipelago. Of course every drop of gasoline is imported, from Southeast Asia, Middle East, and North America.*
Every can of Spam, every grain of rice, every bottle of shampoo, every television set, and every i-Phone – all imported to Hawai'i. I noticed the abundance of things at the opening of the new Safeway across from Baldwin High School – big, brightly-lit (especially the pharmacy section, and evoking a colorful warehouse). I don’t think twice about NOT buying another bottle of shampoo (since I may be concerned that they may not get another shipment in time), since there are many rows of the shampoo bottles lining the shelves. A good secure feeling. And psychology is at the core of people's buying habits.
A weekly trip to a stores (and more stores) seems a very ordinary part of life – yet it was just like yesterday – up to the mid-1990s when people throughout Maui kept stacks of mail-order catalogs or kept lists of “things” to buy on semi-annual trips to Honolulu’s Ala Moana Center (there is a reverse pilgrimage of Lanai residents hopping on a ferry to the Kahului Costco’s now).
How do residents react when the unthinkable happens: an economic crisis, a barrel of oil at $1,000, or a natural catastrophe (a tropical storm, stronger than a Flossie) – and all kinds of manufactured products stop coming to Hawai'i?
Up to the 1920s Hawai'i was the center of rice cultivation, and then California launched a huge agri-business revolution, and this drove rice prices down and down, and ultimately made Hawai'i-grown rice more expensive than importing California rice, even from across the Pacific ocean. When that happened, it was a significant event – since many imported products soon followed to stop local Hawai'i production, even staples like milk (Is there a dairy with real cows left on Maui?), clothes, soda, and furniture. Repeating a previous blog: there came a time when importing a ton of carrots was equal or less than importing a ton of fertilizer – from the Mainland to Hawai'i.
I don’t have any quick answers to this precarious situation. After a while there arises in a few individuals a feeling of impending dread, and they begin to plan for the apocalyptic end of our current abundant lifestyles.
On television, they are a lively, hard-working group called “Doomsday Preppers” and go beyond the “Chicken Little “ shrieking about the “End”, and start building secure structures and stock food, gasoline, guns, ammunition, and presumably a lot of their own brand of shampoo.
One series featured a patriarch with his children, all grown-up in their twenties and practicing defending their “Castle” (which really looked like one) against invaders, which would be their nice neighbors who transform overnight into heavily-armed guerilla bands. I wonder how they come up with their money to buy bricks and guns, but I guess this is one family that never goes to Disneyland or Vegas to throw their money away for Magic Mountain rides and Circus Circus tickets. (I liked the fact that the children honor their father in doing a project together – but they seemed so somber and un-motivated.)
I wonder why can’t people band together and work out solutions that could benefit everybody – in other words, this current utter import dependence situation and future sustainability strategies have to be reviewed carefully in Hawai'i, since it does seem precarious and our children would inherit the entire system, built on a house of cards.
*Gasoline prices are, of course, relative. Gas even at $4.75 a gallon in Hawai'i is still half the price of gasoline in Japan or in Western Europe. I used to spend nearly $85 filling-up a smaller-sized station wagon in Tokyo. However, there was an inexpensive bus-subway-train system throughout Tokyo – I am amazed at $2.50 one-way bus rides in Honolulu, since I could travel a much farther distance in a Tokyo subway for less money. If gasoline was much more expensive and Honolulu residents had the option of a cheaper, viable mass transit system, they would keep their cars at home. Will 100,000 Honolulu residents – 1 out of 8 adults -- ride the mass transit system daily?
Again, if gasoline prices reached $8 - $9 a gallon there would be Hawai'i street riots – plus all the food and items imported to Hawai'i would increase in price dramatically, since fuel costs would soar, as well as a crisis in tourism, as visitors would balk at high fuel air ticket surcharges.
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