It was too early for national politics. The sky was still black. Curiosity won out. Flipped on Hawaii Public Radio. Turned on the tube for visuals. President Barack Obama's second, ceremonial inauguration was just getting started.
The sun had just crested the northeast flank of Haleakala when the president was sworn in. He took his place behind a lectern surrounded by shoulder-high bullet-proof glass. Obama turned the lectern into a pulpit, preaching a sermon about government responsibilities and the need to transcend political philosophies and obstinate naysaying. Nothing much new.
Over coffee and after going through The Maui News, turned to a biography of Thomas Jefferson written by Jon Meacham. Ran across a paragraph that echoed the president's speech.
" 'It was a real fact that the Eastern and Southern members (of Congress) . . . had got into the most extreme ill humor with one another' " leading to an atmosphere marked by " 'the most alarming heat (and) the bitterest animosities.' "
Jefferson wrote those quotes at a time when the foundation of a federal government was shaky and there were serious doubts about the survival of the United States as a republic. It was 1790.
The temperature in the house hovered around 60 degrees. A space heater fought a losing battle with the chill. I'd smoked the last cigarette, a prod to get moving. Making the five-minute run to Morihara Store for smokes has become an almost daily ritual. On that Martin Luther King holiday, it became politics in the parking lot.
He was a stranger, but like most islanders who have the time, was willing to talk story in the process of meeting someone. He couldn't have been more local. His father was an immigrant. His family had moved to Maui from Oahu in 1963. He had attended both old Maui High in Hamakuapoko and the new Maui High in Kahului. "Going from the beautiful old school to the new one was a shock," he said. "The new school looked like a prison without fences."
"Did you catch the inauguration this morning?" I asked.
His face lit up. He was no fan of Obama's. "He's a communist," my new friend said. "The economy is worse than it's ever been and he wants to increase the debt to take care of everyone who won't take care of themselves."
"I'm not against him because he's black," he said. "I'm dark too and I'm glad Hawaii is American." He paused and added: "I'm a Republican. Always have been."
"One of the things I don't like about politics today is the name-calling," I said, trying to get him off the presidency. "You disagree with someone and he's a liar."
"Well, Obama IS a liar," my new friend said. "Just read his books."
He had to get going. We shook hands and exchanged names. I made a note to avoid politics the next time we met. Heated disagreements about politics or religion are not the island way. It's too rude.
It was a beautiful morning, just the thing to prompt a ride out to Ulupalakua. The road beyond Keokea is a delight of many curves and vast vistas. Pushing the pace means forgetting to look at the scenery. No chance. Relax and look around while following a tourist car.
There's a stream of rental cars going the opposite way. The hour of day made it likely they were coming from Hana. Some decades ago, rental agencies used to tell drivers to stay off the road between Kaupo and Ulupalakua. It's a cruise today. Except for a few miles of dirt and puka puka asphalt, it's a smooth run on undulating pavement.
Bad economy? The number of cars on the road and in the parking lot of the winery argued otherwise. Another sign of the times was some miles beyond Kahikinui and its scatter of houses. White blades rose and dipped from behind a ridge. High-tension power lines glittered in the sun.
A view spot had been carved out of the a'a. Metal stands had been erected but the informational panels hadn't been installed. Sempra U.S. Gas & Power and BP Wind Energy, along with landowner Ulupalakua Ranch, have been conducting a public relations campaign on television.
The $140 million, 21-megawatt Auwahi Wind project is impressive. The eight turbines sit 428 feet high. According to Sumner Erdman, money from the land lease will help Ulupalakua Ranch maintain open space and grazing areas for cattle. The Erdman family is determined to keep the ranch going as it has for 165 years.
It's another indication Maui can be kept Maui despite national politics and the world economy.
* Ron Youngblood is a former staff writer for The Maui News. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.