Last weekend, I had the pleasure and the honor of attending the Takamiya family reunion. No, I'm not a Takamiya, and neither is my alter ego, Tita, but her presence was requested by reunion organizer Curtis Takamiya, a grandson of Takamiya Market founder Jissho Takamiya. Curtis thought it would be fun to have Tita tell the story of the iconic Happy Valley store, now in its 65th year of operation.
Indeed, it was a lot of fun for me, not just at the reunion, but in the weeks leading up to the party, as I prepared my presentation. Curtis supplied me with many details of the market's history, and of course, I had my own recollections of the beloved Little Giant of Happy Valley. You know, I've probably uttered that phrase more often than the Takamiyas themselves, having done hundreds of radio commercials for the market in the 1970s and '80s. Although I wrote and voiced their weekly commercials for years, I didn't coin the catchy phrase; credit for that goes to Maui radio veteran Rick "Da Carabao" Medina. I'll confess further: I was never sure whether the Little Giant was then-proprietor Jimmy Takamiya or the market itself.
Writing Tita's version of the Takamiya Market story, I had plenty of material from the '70s to the present, but I needed a better feel for the Little Giant's early years. So I Googled "Happy Valley Maui history" and that's when the trip down Memory Lane ended, along with the fun.
The first result was an AOL Travel News article entitled "Safe and Dangerous Places in Maui," posted two years ago. The search snippet read, "Widely regarded as one of the most dangerous places in Maui, the ironically named Happy Valley is a haven for Maui's criminals. . . . "
Naturally, I had to see what else AOL had to say. Imagine my shock at learning that not only do I live in one of the five "Areas to Avoid" on Maui, I can't even get to my home without passing through at least one of the other four. Presumably listed in order of threat intensity, the Big Five are Happy Valley, Pakuz (the author was either too cool or too clueless to acknowledge Paukukalo by its real name even once), Lower Main Street/Wailuku Industrial Area, Waiehu and Harbor Lights. All are painted as sordid little hotbeds of crime and depravity, although the article did note that Lower Main is "not so much a dangerous area as it is a seedy one."
Among the tips offered by the author, who claims to have lived on Maui for over 25 years, is the declaration that "there really should be no reason for you to take a trip to Happy Valley." Obviously the author has never tasted Takamiya's kalbi ribs or fried squid.
But what surprised and disturbed me most was the description of my own Waiehu neighborhood as unsafe, with acts of violence not uncommon, including "the odd shootout and car chase." I'll have to ask my neighbors, I can't remember even one bullet fired in the area, and I've been here nearly 20 years. Either my hearing or my memory isn't what it used to be. Or maybe it's the author's memory that's at fault here, or at least his or her state of mind.
Who made the other list, the good list? The five "Safe Areas of Maui" are, again, presumably in order of achievement, Wailea, Haleakala National Park, Kamaole Beach Park III, Queen Ka'ahumanu Center and Iao Valley. Never mind that only one of those is an actual neighborhood, or that Iao is on someone else's list of Maui locales to avoid. The author gives Wailea glowing reviews, calling it a "very safe place to visit, stay, or live." I'm sure it is, what with all the gates and private security patrols. We Central Maui drug dealers and prostitutes don't have those amenities.
I wasn't the only one bristling; seven comments were posted, all critical of the racist overtones and elitist attitude. I thought the point was best stated by a nonlocal longtime resident: "It's not about where you are, it's who you are. Treat people with the respect they deserve and you will get that back."
Another reader admonished the author to get the facts straight. "Happy Valley (is) where Takamiya is located; they have some awesome Ahi poke!"
Oh yes, Takamiya Market, that's what brought me here in the first place. I left the AOL page to continue my research but never found any useful information on Happy Valley history. I did receive a valuable reminder, though, about the pitfalls of the Web, where practically anyone can post practically anything and call it the truth. In my mind, that makes the Internet a far more dangerous place than Happy Valley could ever be.
* Kathy Collins is a performance artist, broadcaster and freelance writer whose "Sharing Mana'o" column appears every Wednesday. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.