Hawaii (hilo hello)

My travel book says a big black sand coastline mostly washed away in an epic storm but a vibrant medium-sized city remains, on the rainy side of the Big Island. The beach basically gone, Hilo, Hawaii, is a locals’ town more than a place for tourists these years, and amongst the full-time resident world transplants are many Thai folks and their fabled flavor-providing restaurants which masses of Americans adore, my true love and I included. So, we are zooming away from the Volcano and off to old Hilo to have some Thai food. Wrapping around Hawaii.

It’s an American Sunday morning, and the farmers’ market is hiving in the central city. Fun to walk in such a sort of almost familiar setting and recognize so little of the fare for sale. We buy nothing but marvel at the fruit and seafood, saving ourselves for a taste of Thailand. It’s suddenly becoming a steamy day.

ART and POETRY a sign boasts on my sightline horizon, small buildings at the edge of the market include a gallery custom made for me. My performance there a half hour later to a few painters, gallerists and the leading in-house poet feels foreign, as I mostly perform urban edge spoken word oh so of the mainland. I buy Belsky’s book and we bid a fond adieu.

Vance and Belsky

A gift shop away we buy a beautiful glass fish in several shades of blue, as the sky suddenly goes gray. Then, it lightens again as we walk in search of the perfect Hawaiian shirt. We enter the fancy Sig Zane store and see many good ones but not that perfect one. Announcing myself to the clerk as a culture writer, we become acquainted with the designer Sig Zane himself, not so busy installing a window display that he won’t break for our company. The shirt I really want is the one he wears, only available in small on the storeroom floor. Upstairs is the storage room for the whole company; he has multiple locations including one in Honolulu. Perfect pink with brown wooden buttons and white rain blowing sideways on Koa trees, it’s a great shirt and they find my size.

A few huge Hawaiians inked up and mean-mugging me in a small public park are to be avoided, scowling as if the whole pig they ate for breakfast isn’t agreeing with them or maybe they just don’t like white boys. I know I don’t either some of the time. Know me for what I am: a man of and for the people. A good white man.

The rain of this side of the island comes and we find the strip of Thai joints. A white Trustafarian eating with a pretty local lady next to us is to me the stereotype Hang Looser. I’m surface profiling him as those giants just prejudged me, but I’m not doing it with ill will.

The food is spicy and coconut milk sweet, the white wine is a nice wash down, and the rain softens enough for us to reach the rental and vacate this very real American city. We felt at its essence, and it was essentially good.

Hawaii (heart like a volcano)

We dine fine in the lodge and life’s good. I’m sipping a Brandy Alexander by the fireplace with my heart melting faster than the cubes. Face flushing, I’m gushing love at this little woman. I’m allowing myself to let go of the mainland of my mind and just dig my life with her. Drifting, a fog lifts and there is no looking back. Be here: Hawaii’s Volcano Village.

Looking back from the center of the volcano to the cloud forest atop and encircling it the next day. Heat hotter than last night’s jacuzzi soak, our skin searing in this vast black pit of lava burnt Earth.  We walked an elevated rain forest in and will walk an elevated rain forest out – but way out here there is barely enough water to hydrate against the bouncing heat, rising in sheets.


Funny moment before was when we checked in at the National Park entrance. They had a painting of the wild-haired Hawaiian Volcano God, Pele. My companion, freer and looking naturally wilder than I’ve ever seen her, was the spitting image. We didn’t even have to say it. We just looked at the picture and each other and laughed. For basically just a white girl, she’s ambiguously exotic. American Indian blood.

We cross over the big volcano. Up-up and away into a cool light, bright green reality which could hardly be more different. The plants are flutes and fiddles, forming a forested music I’ve only ever seen or heard today. No snakes in Hawaii but plenty of other creatures. Songbirds of every imaginable color singing songs mirroring the harmonious flow of local speech pitter-patter patterns. You can’t be here and not feel it. It’s brimming with life. A tingling energy shoots up your spine like black heroin hitting a junkie’s thirsty veins. You feel it in your core.

I briefly think of my friend who lost his mind in Hawaii, reading his journal from that time. It was just too much for him. Sort of an even more unpublishable more palatable location version of the Alexander Supertramp ramblings on Alaska which became the backstory of Into the Wild. My favorite part was when they knew they were losing it, my friend and the protagonist of that good book. A Walt Whitman moment where a man goes into the wilderness and questions what we accept as reality on the other side. Society. Commerciality. Badly distorted perceptions based on greedy career-isms. All the overdeveloped destruction…And then this Earth.

I guess I came closest to that moment way up in the California mountains, living inside my book Golden State Genius, but I was always only a few days away from glitzy LA or gritty San Francisco. So, I couldn’t really let go like they did; they were more far gone.

We come across the path to a lava tube and take it. Reminds me of the time I went spelunking. A cave, of sorts, created by the red hottest essence, not solid, not liquid and pushing through the ground: a drilling snake of hot inner Earth light, leaving nothing alive in its path. I’m being changed by this.

Hawaii (cold mountain home)

When I was in exile. Self-staged in the far suburbs of Marietta, divorced and living alone without much to do other than eat local fruit and lettuce, longboard skate or recite poetry to a wall I’d painted red to bring fame, between bouts of writing my book manuscript in my home office and my popular MySpace sports blog down the street in my step-dude’s home office where there was an internet connection, I combed through my folks’ bookshelves pretty hard and eventually read anything that even remotely interested me.

Amongst the hundreds of books I heartily avoided in the chick-lit genre and the stacks of Hippie 1960’s and Me Generation 1970’s self-help froth, I found a memoir by a Hawaiian San Francisco poet who had moved back to the Volcano Village to run this family-owned general country store on the edge of the National Park. Mom had recommended it to me a year prior I recalled, not as a great read but as a story of a poet who moved back “home” to write. It was otherworldly and eerily familiar.

Can we ever really go home again and if we did would it still be home to us? We aren’t what we were and can only remember in part who we were at the time. I’m a Texan with only vague notions of the place reformed from stories told and adult visits to the Republic. An Atlantan, I’m a big city boy who somehow suddenly has only fuzzy half-recollections of the suburb I lived in most of my life.

Seems many moons ago I read that book as I enter what has to be the same store – it’s the only one anywhere near here – with the lady who I already know will someday be my second wife. We buy some exotic Hawaiian sweet snacks and other basic travel supplies.

We are staying in the mountains again, this time in a full on lodge. I’m reminded of the happy summer I spent living way up in the Tennessee mountains as a boy with my Nanny and Mom and siblings, after my folks had finally split for good, which was a long painful time coming. Mom would like it up here.

I so miss my Texas-y Nanny and Daddy. I miss my sweetheart sons. I miss whatever it is that we call home.

The air is getting so crisp and cool up here as the sun threatens to set, I want to pull on a sweater. I find myself hollow, sad on the inside on a cold mountain in Hawaii contemplating home. I even miss my old travel companion some, but I’m ashamed when I have to admit this to myself, because my new travel companion is perfectly great.

And then I see my future-wife see into the near edge of the oceanic depths of me and she asks, “What’s wrong?”

Mt Lodge

Hawaii (black sand beach)

Here’s a “vu-ja-de”, something I have never done before. My shock white feet had not touched black sand.

black sand beach

Roughly abrasive and warm to the touch from soaking up the sun more than reflecting it. Reflections: the whitest sands I’ve seen are close to home, only a state away in Florida, the Panhandle’s fresh powder. And this is as otherworld as I have been. Hawaii just isn’t like anything else.

Hawaii (down)

We bid a fond farewell to our Holualoa friends, as sad as I’ve ever been to leave a vacation spot with more travel still awaiting. Then we find ourselves out on the road in a big blue America unseen by most. Little two lane highway dropping down and around the Big Island. Like much of America, once you are outside any city it gets country quick.

We stop for a Kona Brewery beer and some fruity, savory snacks at a roadside bar. The local service is sweet, too.

Down, down. Singing Elvis aloud to myself when I see the blue, blue oceanic view opening up to us. We stop for a photo op with the giant Pacific Ocean behind us, and I get some great shots of my special lady friend.

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Down, down. We have black sand beaches ahead of us and are approaching the southernmost point in the United States. Our home. Deeply in love and traveling in an exotic land, naturally intoxicating when at its best, this life.

Hawaii (holualoalocal)

Making up poetic words about this hidden village in the most western of American states because this ain’t no professional journalism. This is American culture reporting, and the village of Holualoa has some of the most per-capita culture of any in the Americas. Postage stamp tiny. Teensy. Tee-ninecy and with roughly the number of active art galleries as the capital of the South, where I live. Without the art, it’d only be the coffee. The great Kona region stretching below us and visible from our perfectly perched mountain suite.

Kona coffee

We stroll to town almost daily to have a nosh and engage with the locals. Many we see aren’t locals in the pure sense of the term, they are instead what I might guess the me-called Hawaiian “Nationals” call Howlies and the Mexicans call Gringos. Whites selecting to be in the service industry here or born into this paradise. Born into this. It’s as paradisiacal as popsicles made of Guava. Mango madness. Pineapple passion punch.

We hear they – the “real” locals – pick fights with the tourist whites in the watering holes here at night, but that’s way down the slope in the city of Kona where we had dinner last night, near the port. Tourism and real estate supports much of the economy here, and there is an obviously artisanal, by hand, ruggedness to the local residents, in many ways, regardless of the heritage of those individuals.

An acquaintance I met in a local bar back home lived in Hawaii briefly and said of it, ” The best thing to do with Hawaii, is leave it the Fuck alone.” He had a point, and I understand the level of privilege I’m receiving to be able to spend some time here. I intend no poaching.

Before dinner it was the quaintest little village. I needed a haircut and went to the local barber shop. The lady there gave me a slightly crooked cut but no more crooked than this slanted space we call Earth. Up in these volcanic mountains everything has a lean to it. She had eleven brothers and was as local as the coffee. They grew it. She exported it and ensured it was of the highest quality.

Before that I was once turned upside down, in my mind, altered, disoriented amongst the rough lava rocks.

They talk story. The locals.

Me too…me talk real pretty.

Hawaii (from the rhetta)

This has happened to me before: I have been in a relatively distant land and met someone from back home, and they have answered “Atlanta.” When I’ve asked what part it has been, “Marietta, actually.” When I’ve asked what part it has been, “East Cobb, actually.”

The eldest of the guests at Holualoa Inn run out of steam earlier in the day than the other couples, and they find my lovely lover and I in a state of lazy postcoital bliss, perched atop the resort, staring at the green coffee and pineapple growing, the mellow old cows, the preening peacocks and perfectly round avocados. Glancing upon the port far below.

They are from Shallowford Road. The road my folks live off. The road where I went to high school. This Big Island is huge. This country a true giant, especially when you add in Hawaii and Alaska, which are United States. Texas alone, where I was born, is a country. California, where I set my full-length book, could be a big nation. The largest state east of the Mississippi River, my Georgia could be a fairly good sized country. The United States is unfathomably mammoth.

And it’s a small world.

Jasper Johns flag

Hawaii (luau)

We couldn’t tell them “nothing much” again, the older folks at the communal table breakfast at the B&B who were sharing stories of repelling and hang gliding all over the Big Island. But we really weren’t up for big adventure yet. We knew a traditional Hawaiian luau was on the docket at some point, and we decided we were up for a party, as usual.

holulaloa han

We descended from the verdant mountains into that same black scorched earth, past the little airport to the big resort area, where an enormous pig was cooking in the ground and the fruity drinks and pretty flowers set the mood. A fire dance show and exotic food and the prettiest bird of paradise sat next to me. My wife had lived in Hawaii as a military daughter, so this was less foreign to her. This America.

Hawaii (on the cruise)

Big Island is big adventure more than relaxation, we see from the rest of the guests at the B&B. But not for us. Not yet. We plan to drive all the way around the island, to hike the volcano, to see black sand beaches, to stay in three divergent areas.

Every morning as we enjoy our farm-to-table breakfast and Kona coffee at a communal table full of folks much older than us, we hear of their adventures: repelling, hiking, exploring, and then the spotlight shines on us, and we say not much. “We had a massage: an hour-and-a-half massage…outside.”

on the cruise

We hang out with the staff and they attend solely to us, while the other guests depart for more adventure. We say, “Maybe a swim in the pool after our morning nap. I like to read and stare at the pineapple and listen to the birds sing. We are just enjoying the property and our suite together…and the little town. We may walk out for lunch, again. Maybe a late lunch.”

Our favorite staff member tells us, “You are on the cruise. Go relax by the pool and I’ll bring you some scones and delicious iced tea in a half hour. We baked extra scones this morning because you like them so much. It’s good to be on the cruise.”

Hawaii (we ascended)

Sweet dream songbirds sing me awake, as the sheer joy of realization dawns. We are here, perched in the suite of an open window resort atop the Kona coffee region of Big Island Hawaii. The busy tourist port of Kailua Kona visible to me as I stand, yet so far from our reality.


Only yesterday, my true love and I landed in the tiny Kona Airport, invigorated but exhausted from our far journey from the World’s Busiest Airport in Atlanta. We’d had an early dinner in the Jetson’s-like Encounter restaurant at LAX, where the fresh Cali cuisine was only a tease for the bounty which awaited us many miles across the Pacific. Plane two seemed to soar forever.

The rental car ride revealed a bleak black frontier of lava burnt earth. After stopping in Kona for a quick glance at the ocean and an adult refreshment, we ascended.