It's early. Toni and Agnes, the two-woman Morihara Store crew, have been at work for about 40 minutes or so. It's a hustle time of day, brewing coffee, putting out Home Maid pastries and getting ready for the hot dog, chili and rice crowd. Even so, they make time for talk story if the line at the checkout isn't too long. Nothing much, just ohana conversation.
The store is a regular stop for early risers on the way to work, and - in my case - those who don't want to bother with a coffee pot. That's not to mention certain social pariahs, nicotine addicts who try to control their smoking by assuaging their habit one pack at a time.
Motorcycling the two miles from home means pleasant minutes spent standing in the parking lot. Drinking coffee and smoking can be done on a motorcycle but the effort is shaky at best. One recent morning while watching rays from the rising sun slide across the central isthmus, an acquaintance rolled into the lot for coffee and a copy of The Maui News.
He's a surfer who never seems to find time to hit the waves. In his younger days, he lived in a California canyon near Malibu. Now he lives out Keokea way and spends nearly all his time keeping yards and gardens in good shape. He still wears white dress shirts, an apparent remnant of an enterprise he started in 2008. Bad timing. The one-man business failed when the recession dried up Maui's discretionary dollars.
"Working in the dirt is peaceful," he said during one of our ad hoc conversations. His six-day-a-week clientele was established by word-of-mouth. He lives in an ohana unit and savors the area's peace. It's quiet most of the time. "A rooster recently decided to park himself under my window and crow his brains out."
Sometimes he's in a hurry, waves and motors away. Other times he wanders over to drink his coffee and talk. The conversation often turns to what has happened to Maui. He originally landed in Lahaina in 1989 when the island had a population of 90,000 or so. He's struggling with an island population of 150,000. It doesn't help that in the late 1990s, according to census data, a very high proportion of our community was made up of newcomers. At the same time, younger islanders fell under the sway of Mainland culture as a result of images and ideas bounced off satellites.
"It's not the same," he said. "People don't seem to be as gracious. Everyone is in too much of hurry." He doesn't watch television so his evenings are spent reading or "just watching night fall." Partying is a thing of the past.
Pointing out his work depends on those reasonably well-off or just too busy to do the work themselves doesn't have much of an effect on his yearning for the Maui he knew.
"I've got an old surfing buddy living on the Big Island. He sent me a board when I told him I didn't have one. Maybe I'll move over there," he mentioned one morning. The obvious but unspoken hope was to recapture some of the island feeling he had lost.
One of the many downsides to aging is dealing with loss. The biggest holes are created by the deaths of friends and family. A loss is a loss, even though grief is a self-centered emotion. Grieving is grieving.
While many Maui-born islanders see the evolution of the island as a good thing, it's hard not to view the old days through rosy lenses. The thought brings up the memory of a liberally lubricated party in the late 1970s. The host was a gentle, big-hearted kanaka o Hawaii who earned his living operating the heavy equipment needed to prepare land for development. He also earned income by singing and playing old songs in places catering to tourists.
"Kihei was a dusty nowhere place," he remembered. "Great beaches. Lots of room. Camp anywhere. Spend days swimming, diving, surfing. Kaanapali was even better." His voice echoed the loss he felt. Not bitter, just sad.
Personal memories include backyard parties, empty roads, family-run businesses now replaced by discount houses with warehouse inventories and everyone-knows-your-name restaurants replaced by fast-food drive-throughs. The old days also included a lack of jobs. Lots of time, room and charm, not much in the way of money.
Maui's evolution is ongoing. Just like personal aging, there are drawbacks and losses along the way. The young look forward to tomorrow. Kupuna see the future in terms of the past. That's the way it should be.
* Ron Youngblood is a former staff writer for The Maui News. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.