Like always, the alarm in my head chimes right before the one on my nightstand. Still, I lay there for a few moments listening to the warm breeze blowing through the banana leaves. It’s soothing, calming, relaxing. In the distance, I hear the faint cock-a-doodle-do of a rooster yet there are no farms. We can thank Hurricane Iniki for them.
The bed shakes. It’s Milkbone, our English springer spaniel. He’s moving to snuggle with mama. I think he knows the alarm is about to ring, too.
And it does, right on time.
I get up and Milkbone follows. It’s time for his morning pee. I slide open the back door and let him loose in the backyard. As he sniffs the grass for geckos, I stand on the lanai and look upwards. It’s too dark to see but there’s a volcano out there. It’s extinct, or so they say.
I squint. Are those specks of light?
Yes, they are. It’s early morning hikers throwing caution to the wind to climb the 1,048 stairs to the top. I wish them luck because I’ve done it. The sunrise is spectacular from the top.
Despite what you think, it’s chilly at 4:30 in the morning so I plan accordingly: a pair of jeans, a shirt, and a hoodie. It’s all I need for this time of day. I’ll shift to shorts and a tee shirt for the ride home. They are rolled and packed tightly at the bottom of my bright orange backpack.
After a quick shower and my morning kiss from a very sleepy Christine, I grab my gear and step outside. The carport flickers to life, bathing me in its pale florescence. I can see the thick layer of dead bugs caught in its plastic cover. As much as I’d like to clean them out, I probably won’t.
Kneeling to the ground, I brush away a few cockroaches to unlock the heavy chain that keeps my moped secure. Our neighborhood is safe but keeping it locked up is good practice. Across the street, I catch movement out of the corner of my eye. It’s just a cat, one of hundreds on the island.
From the compartment under my seat, I remove my black half-helmet and my $12 safety goggles from Home Depot. I replace these with the chain.
Donning my riding garb, I look more like Kazoo than Easy Rider – at least that what my Christine tells me. I think she’s right.
Turn the key, press the button, and vroom: my 49-cc engine springs to life.
I take a right out of my driveway onto Kaumakani. I twist the throttle slightly and slowly accelerate. On the right, two houses down from ours, I throw a quick shaka to my neighbor. While I can’t remember his name – I’m terrible with names – I know he’s Otto’s son-in-law. Otto, a big burly cigarette-smoking biker dude, was born and raised on the island. Despite his appearance, he was one of the kindest people you’d ever want to meet. He loved to talk story, too, and often caught us when we were walking Milkbone. Sadly, Otto died a year or so after we moved to the neighborhood.
My friend-with-no-name returns the shaka and I set my sights towards the drive. He would be the one who buys my moped when I leave.
At the end of Kaumakani, I stop at the light. Across the street is Koko Marina Center. It’s a small strip mall but has a movie theater, a Starbucks, a Subway, and the Dog the Bounty Hunter store. More importantly, it has two of our favorite places to eat: the Pa`ina Café and Bubbies Homemade Ice Cream. The former has some of the best-tasting poke and the latter the best macadamia nut ice cream.
There was nothing finer than a bowl of marinated raw fish followed by an ice cream cone chaser.
Running perpendicular to Kaumakani is Lunalilo Home Road. To the right, about a half-mile on the right, is Kaiser High School. We’d hear them at night, their cheers telling us the score. As a runner, I’d often head that way to exercise my aging legs. I’d run past Kaiser, dodging the wild chickens, and hook a right past the Skateboard Park on Hawaii Kai Drive. It follows the backside of the volcano for about a quarter mile but what a quarter-mile it is. It’s my Moby Dick. Despite numerous attempts at running the hill, I succeeded but twice without stopping for air.
There was no time to run at this hour of the day so I turned left. I pass the Hawaii Kai Library to my left and the shopping center to the right. I see the homeless woman sleeping at the bus stop. She’s been living there for quite some time.
Across Kalaniana`ole is Portlock, an upper class neighborhood where Duane “Dog the Bounty Hunter” Chapman lives. His house is easy to find: his front gate has a huge picture of him on it.
I take a right on Kalaniana`ole and head Ewa bound. I’ll stay on Kalaniana`ole for 15 minutes or so as I head towards the city. It is here that I need to be cautious. Notwithstanding the aloha spirit, motorists here drive fast. It’s only when I pass Keahole Drive and slide over to the bicycle lane that I relax. I’m probably no safer there but I like to pretend I am.
I pass the beach catch a brief smell of the ocean. It’s salty but not fishy. I imagine the view during the day: Koko Head to the left and Diamond Head to the right. I visualize the crashing surf in the distance – the thin white line breaking up the baby blues where sky and ocean meet. All I see now are the pinpricks of a cargo ship’s lights. Are they coming or going?
I zoom pass Kuli`ou`ou Valley where the lights of its neighborhood wind up the Ko`olaus. To my left is Holy Trinity Church where Christine would attend Sunday Mass and where a car hit me.
I pass Niu Valley, Pu`uikena beach, Hawaii Loa, and Aina Haina. There’s a Foodland in Aina Haina with some pretty tasty poke. Further on, I pass Kalani High school on my right and the Waialae Golf course on my left. We volunteered once, Christine and I, parking cars for the Sony Open. With our free passes, we spent the afternoon getting autographs from the golfers. Neither one of us had any clue who any of these people were… but whatever. It was free.
Ahead of me I see the beginning of the H1, one of four interstates on the island. I can’t ride my moped there so I veer to the right and dip below the highway. Waialae Avenue runs past the Kahala Mall. It’s home to Whole Foods, Barnes and Noble, and The Counter – where they make some tasty burgers. I used to buy books at Barnes and Noble but they closed up shop a few months before.
Waialae runs beneath the H1 for a short distance and then takes a jog to the right. As I clear the concrete roof, my moped starts to gasp: the hill is steep. I chug and I chug, watching my speedometer drop from 30 to 25 to 20 to 15. Fortunately there’s no one behind me and I clear the hill. Two-stroke or four-stroke, mopeds are not built for speed.
I make my first stop light on Waialae. As always, there is no traffic in any direction but I sit and wait. I catch the sweet smell of Plumeria. This tree is common on the island and as become my favorite fragrance.
The light changes and I quickly find myself stopping at the next intersection at the corner of Waialae and Koko Head Avenue. Coffee Talk and Goodwill are dark. They’ll spring to life in a few hours. From here I can see the lights of Honolulu.
I swoop past Chamidade University towards the intersection of Waialae and King, making sure to do dodge all the road construction. It is here that Waialae ends and Kapi`olani begins. I’m briefly surprised by another moped that pulls along side. It’s a young Hawaiian boy but neither one of us speak.
Ahead lie the condominiums. At Christmas, some of the larger condos light their emergency exit floors with alternating read and green. Today they are just white. I accelerate to top speed. I peer to the left and remember the time I stopped and called 9-11. One of the trash dumpsters had caught fire, spewing devilish flames into the night sky.
I round the bend and head towards the Convention Center passing University Avenue and Mccully. I stop at the corner of Kalakaua and notice that the city is beginning to wake up.
Continuing along Kapi`olani, I pass Soul Signature Tattoo to my left. Their artists provided me my humuhumunukunukuapua`a. I’ll carry him around for the rest of my life. To the right, an all-night fitness center; beyond that, Papa John’s; soon I zoom past the Pan-Am building. For a while, Christine worked as a massage therapist there. Further down, I stop at the red light near the Ala Moana Mall. Pedestrians pass by and I look at their clothing. Some look homeless while others look overdressed. I see some girls on the corner. They look too good and I wonder if they are working girls.
I peek at my watch: it’s ten minutes to five. I’m almost there.
Beyond the mall I pass the row of Asian restaurants and strip clubs. Between them lies Suzie’s Place. Suzie’s is always busy because sex never sleeps. Eventually I reach the corner of Kapi`olani and Ward. This area is at the heart of the entertainment district. Blaisdell Center sits to my right. I sit and read the lighted marquee, breathing exhaust from The Bus.
The light changes and I’m on my last leg. I pass the high-end Ferrari and Mercedes dealerships and take a left on Cooke. I immediately smell Karen’s Kitchen, its door purposefully ajar. The wafting scent of maple and pork sausage fills the air and I’m suddenly hungry.
I cross Queen Street and Halekauwila Streets, turn right on Pohukaina, and pass Fisher Hawaii, our favorite office supply store. This area is dirty and dark. Graffiti marks the walls and fences. The homeless sleep in makeshift tents while others sleep on cardboard. I feel a mixture of sorrow but I trust the stars above will keep them safe.
At the corner of South I stop at the signal. No one is in sight so I go rebel: I run the red.
I approach Punchbowl and stop.
Across the street is the Prince Jonah Kuhio Kalanianaole Federal Building glowing in pale orange light, its gardening crew breaking the quiet solitude with their stupid leaf blowers.
I scoot across the street and up the sidewalk ramp to lock my moped to the bicycle rack. It’ll be nine hours before I see my trusty steed again and I need to keep her safe.
Stowing my helmet, I take a deep breath. The scent of flowers fills the air. I’m certain it’s going to be a great day.
Still, I’m already looking forward to the drive home.