There's an intriguing, slightly funny commercial running on TV these days. Maui landowner Oprah and friends are urging everyone to be casually friendly with seldom-seen friends and strangers. On Maui that kind of urging seems superfluous. Maybe the campaign is needed on the Mainland.
Polli's was packed. It seems everyone's stomach goes off at about the same time. It doesn't matter if they are local, surfers of all persuasions or tourists. Decades of operation have made Polli's Mexican Restaurant in Makawao something of a Maui institution. The food's good, the servers are attractively efficient and the prices are right.
The houseguest surveys the place and suggested going someplace else. "I'm not that hungry," he said while walking across the filled parking lot. Speak for yourself, chum. Stomach is saying fill me and mouth was set for a chili relleno plate with refried beans and rice. Maybe a beer and some salsa and chips.
Empty stools beckoned. "We could sit at the bar." It would be quicker and provide a good video view of surfers braving "Jaws" at Peahi. The screen was blank. Later, someone with a flashlight began poking around behind the big screen. The barkeep was hustling. In a few minutes he came over. "Waiting for a table?" "We can eat here," he's told. Salsa and chips arrive quickly. "These are great chips," houseguest from Northern California says. Orders are taken. In short order, "not that hungry" houseguest goes to work on a heaping plate of food, including frijoles and sides.
A young, good-looking guy slides onto the next stool and goes through the routine with the barkeep. He's got the kind of tan that goes with working or playing in the sun. Hmmm. Run through a series of opening lines. Finally come up with "You a sailor?" "No, do I look like one." "You look as if you spend a lot of time in the sun." He grins. Pause. "You a Maui boy?" "Yeah, King Kekaulike." Pause. "So what do you do?"
He's done construction but is driving a tour van. "Let me see your hand?" He extends it. Yup, calluses. "In the old days, before power steering, tour drivers got really thick calluses." Pause. A certain kind of mistrust left his eyes. "So how long have you been on the island?" He relaxed even more at the answer: "Uh, 40 years or so."
The fitful conversation continued. Found out he had been drag racing a motorcycle the night before. That started a discussion about bikes and racing techniques. Newspaper guys generally know a little about a lot of things. He warmed up even more. Turned out it was his first time on the strip but had clocked a respectable time. Plates on this side of the bar were empty. Bill was paid. As usual in this sort of meeting, names were exchanged at the end of the talk.
Out in the parking lot, houseguest says "That's the thing about Maui. Everyone is friendly." He's also into talking to strangers, a holdover from the days he lived on the island. Meeting Kimo - yeah, that was the local kid's name - wasn't an isolated incident.
Standing in the parking lot at Morihara Store, a gray-haired guy pulls in. His car is tweeting. A comment about having birds under his hood turns into a conversation about cars and the strange noises they can make. That was only the first of many conversations with Mark.
During the parking lot talks, learn he is an Oahu-born jack-of-all-trades - cars, appliances and electronic stuff. He was once a ham radio operator but gave it up. Not that interested in "rag chewing." Over time, common interests led to forging a real friendship, each helping the other with various kinds of problems that crop up when you live alone.
Real friendships seldom result from casual meetings, but they always brighten the day and illustrate a basic point about islanders. Folks born out here in the Pacific pay attention to individuals around them. If eyes meet, there's always some acknowledgment, maybe only a head tilt or raised eyebrows. All it takes to turn the acknowledgment into a conversation is a little time and a little effort to find some common interest.
On the Mainland, interest in a stranger usually is met by suspicion. Is this guy ready to run some kind of game on me? Maybe that's behind Oprah's "get friendly" campaign.
Home is where you're always welcome. Maui is home.
* Ron Youngblood is a retired editor and staff writer for The Maui News. His email addressis firstname.lastname@example.org.