As a veteran wanderer whose travels took her from biking across postwar Europe to arriving in Honolulu by freighter in the 1950s, to sailing around Micronesia and the Far East in the 1960s, to cruising the Pacific on the Queen Elizabeth just last month, it could be said that Janet Go has spent a lifetime following itchy feet.
"I'm not quite a vagabond," she says with a chuckle. "Well - maybe I am."
Along with her thirst for travel and adventure, Go seems to have been a born journalist. From an early age, "I just began writing," she says. She published a community newsletter out of her house at age 10, reporting on births, deaths, fires and other neighborhood news, and sold her first story to the Washington Star a year later, earning one dollar.
She went on to write for her hometown weekly paper throughout her teens, and she worked as a junior reporter for the Star.
After years working in government secretarial and administrative jobs, including in Honolulu and Saipan, Go's twin passions converged in 1966 when she was living on Guam and noticed a want ad for a reporter at the local paper. She spent the next 10 years covering local crime and government, writing Sunday features, and penning columns on the island's shipping news and the burgeoning tourist scene.
The job made her a big fish in a small pond - she interviewed "everybody who was anybody" on Guam, and they all knew her byline.
"I loved it," she says. "I didn't make hardly any money, but I loved it."
The island was a treasure trove of stories (which she wrote on an old-fashioned manual typewriter), a haven for the eccentric, the colorful and the corrupt. She spent long hours observing the scene at Guam's Legislature while covering proposals including laws to allow nude sunbathing or legalize gambling.
"While one senator was bloviating for the record, others were doing their own things," she recounts in her book "Where America's Day Begins." "One senator was always zipping up his fly, another was scratching his 'little soldier,' one was picking his nose, and some were chewing betel nuts. I used to think one member was always bowing, but someone said his suspenders were pinching him."
On another occasion, a proposal to choose Guam's official flower grew contentious.
"For weeks, flower-power lobbyists leaned over the railing of the second-floor gallery in the legislative hall," she wrote. "They roared or booed and waved bunches of their favorite flowers: plumeria, hibiscus and orchid. Some joker even suggested tangan-tangan," a ubiquitous, invasive weed.
Producing a newspaper on Guam was a unique experience. The upstairs plumbing leaked into the downstairs darkroom, a resident cat gave birth to a litter of kittens in the newsroom, and the paper occasionally had to reduce its page count when the island ran out of newsprint. Go recalls her editor attributing the paper's frequent typographical errors to the multilingual staff. "Guamanian typesetters spoke Chamorro to each other while they set stories in English," she writes. "A Filipina read galley proofs, and a Palauan made corrections."
After losing her job in the closure of the Guam Journal, Go went on to work as a freelancer, editing Guam's TV guide and producing the first-ever travel guide to Micronesia, which included listings for popular activities like cockfighting and fruit-bat hunting season.
After leaving Guam, Go moved to New Orleans to work as an editor of the Naval Reservist News, then to Florida for a job writing Air Force technical manuals.
"I always bounce back," she says. "I've been left with nothing, and I've always been fortunate to find work."
A woman of many talents, Go took up ballroom dancing in her 50s, while living in Florida, then competing on the pro-am circuit and advancing to the U.S. National Ballroom Championships in 1982. "I won third place in the nation for jitterbug," she says, showing off her awards.
Go retired to Colorado to enjoy skiing, one of her favorite activities, but moved to Maui in 2010, saying she had many happy memories of visiting the Valley Isle for weekend trips while she was living in Honolulu a half-century ago. Today she lives at the Kalama Heights retirement center.
But even though she says she's finally settled on Maui, Go hasn't lost her itchy feet. She recently returned from a monthlong voyage to New Zealand and around the Pacific aboard the Queen Elizabeth, which stopped in Kahului Harbor on its maiden voyage March 8. After having sailed on both the first and second Queen Elizabeths, Go says she was eager to see how the third ship compared (bigger, she says, but not as much character) - and to revisit some of the ports she remembers from her earlier life in the Pacific.
And she still has a fascination for ships and boats - perhaps a carryover from her old shipping news column on Guam. Go says she loves harbors and follows the comings and goings of the vessels that stop there.
"They come from all over the world," she says. "Each one has a story. They have history."
* Ilima Loomis is a Maui-based writer and editor. Do you have an interesting neighbor? Tell us about them at email@example.com. Neighbors and "The State of Aloha," written by Ben Lowenthal, alternate Fridays.