Island Time

The Persistence of Memory
The Persistence of Memory

I remember long ago, as a grad student flying from Denver to Honolulu, reading about island time in an in-flight magazine:

“Hawaiian Time is very much like the concept of mañana – but without anywhere near the sense of urgency”.

It’s a much-maligned concept, and yet so much a part of to life in the islands that I thought it deserved some of its own space in this blog.

Having lived on O’ahu for a couple of years, and spent a fair amount of time on Maui, I’ve witnessed, and contributed to, both sides of the island time equation. It’s a concept that drives visitors and new residents crazy, and considering the culture they’re coming from, that may be understandable. In my experience, there are two prevailing points of view about island time:

Island Time is an excuse for lazy and unreliable people who show up only if it is convenient

On the mainland, you have millions of people who have to learn to get along in some sense of, if not harmony, then at least coordination. Those numbers of people impose a certain pressure on the rules people need in place to avoid what I’ve heard of as “the rat effect”, or too many people together with not enough goodwill or rules to keep them from biting each other. People perceive time as a rigidly-advancing ticking clock (what will we do when everything is digital and silent? Children are already having trouble with concepts like “clockwise”. But I digress.) and with a large body of people, small perturbations of schedule can cascade downstream into a total mess.

With the exception of parts of of the coasts, effects of tide and surf are irrelevant. The only sort of nature-related effects that legitimately impact schedules and commitments tend to be sufficiently extreme to make national news, like tornadoes or blizzards. There are no “surf’s up” excuses, and anyone who places something like an especially beautiful sunset ahead of a business appointment is considered an asshole.

Island Time is the result of people embracing priorities beyond “civilized” or “mainland” expectations

I used to do a lot of sea kayaking. And in the Pacific Northwest, especially up in the San Juan Islands, you lived by the tide tables – or more specifically, the current tables. Paddling routes could be easy or impossible depending on whether you followed nature’s schedule. Crossings could be trivial or highly risky if you didn’t read the tides and the winds correctly. Where you pitched your tent or when you made dinner largely depended on things greater than yourself. For a lot of people I paddled with, that aspect was one of the main reasons they loved the sport – having to give in, flex and adapt to what the planet had to say about their schedules.

Even before that, as a bar manager in Boulder, we stumbled upon a brilliant idea: since we had plenty of bartenders looking for shifts, we instigated “Bad Attitude Day”: the rule that, once a month, if a barkeep gave us at least one-hour’s notice, they could get out of their shift – they could literally say “I’m not coming in tonight because, well, I just don’t feel like it” and we’d cheerfully let them off. Being empowered to do that once a month helped morale to soar.

I use these examples to suggest that island time exists in a lot of forms in a lot of places. In a culture like the one found on Maui, the community is small by comparison, and interactions, at least in my experience, tend to have a more personal nature. Social networking existed here just fine, thank you, long before Mark Zuckerberg decided to productize it. People appreciate the influences family, friends, weather and yes, surf may have one one’s original plans.

And nature is a big deal here. Believe it or not, a lot of people actually move to Maui to live next to the ocean. They come here so that they can go kiteboarding after a long day of work. They come here to savor sunset after sunset with their love-ones. They come here to slow down, perhaps experience a certain amount of grace, placing relationships with people and with their environment at the center of their world ahead of clocks and organizers and email.

At least, that’s a part of why I’m relocating. I won’t say I don’t get frustrated sometimes if a person misses an appointment or leaves me without an answer. I will say that, as I anticipate landing in Kahului, driving up to Kula and starting a new life, I am determined to embrace the human and the cultural and the natural aspects of a situation before I decide to get pissed off because someone went surfing.




Island Bound 2: Timing is Everything

Off Maalaea
Off Maalaea

[continued from Island Bound 1: Dreams of Maui]

For months after leaving Maui without trying to buy the little house in Kula, I second-guessed myself. Did we miss a great opportunity? Should we have taken the shot when we had the chance? Sarah and I had many conversations about this, but we still felt we weren’t ready to make a purchase, and that we’d have to hope that, when the time came, the right property would become available.

In August of last year, the Kula house transitioned from For Sale to Pending. We’d lost that opportunity. Ah well, so it goes. But I couldn’t seem to let go, so I kept checking on Zillow. In September, and in October, and in November the Kula house remained Pending.

In the interim, we visited the islands again, but this time to the Big Island (BI), as a number of people (many of whom are BI residents) were saying “what? Moving to Maui? To Maui? You must mean the Big Island – that’s where everything is, there’s more to do.” As Sarah had never been to any other island but Maui, and as, if we’d have considered any other island it would’ve been the Big Island, we owed it to ourselves to spend a little time there.

Every island in Hawai’i is pretty dramatically unique geographically and culturally. O’ahu remains the center, the capital, and Honolulu is more than a million people. Traffic is amazingly bad, and my recollection is that the badness is independent of the time of day: on the mainland, if you see traffic at 3am, you consider they might have a long trip ahead and are getting an early start, but on O’ahu there simply isn’t anywhere that far away. Don’t be a noob and confuse Waikiki with being downtown. Kaua’i, the oldest island, feels as remote as it actually is, the beaches are very different from the other islands. Waimea Canyon is one of the most spectacular places, and the wettest place, on earth. Lāna’i and Moloka’i are slower and more rural (although Lāna’i is likely feeling impact from the two massive hotel operations. There didn’t used to be a hotel on Mānele Bay. We’d camp there – and to do that you called up the Koele Pineapple Company to reserve one of the campsites on the beach. Then call the Lāna’i City Car Rental Company to reserve one of the two or so cars they had. Air Moloka’i was how you got there, on planes so small you first had your baggage weighed then you had to get on the scales yourself.

Maui and the Big Island (yes, the island is actually named “Hawai’i”; some call it “The Big Island”, some call it “Hawai’i Island”.  “I’m going to Hawai’i” invariably refers to the state, the collection of islands. Imagine if Texas had a city named “Texas”, not “Texas City” or such. “I’m going to Texas”…) are somewhere in the middle, mixing more sophisticated infrastructures than the other outer islands but remaining less citified than O’ahu. This is all radically simplistic and subjective, but if you want more you need Wikipedia, not me.

The week we we stayed in Kona was eventful. We swam with spinner dolphins, several times. We played some challenging golf – where Sarah made a hole-in-one at Mauna Lani. We went night-snorkeling with manta rays. We went kayaking across Kealakekua Bay. We hiked the Kilauea Iki Trail. We had amazing fish at Bite Me. All touristy stuff, but mixed in with that was a lot of cruising neighborhoods, looking at properties, trying to get a feel for the place. Almost all of our time was on the Kona side (we did visit Hilo, but mostly because it was convenient from Volcanos National Park, and because it gave us an excuse to checkout the new improved Saddle Road). Throughout the week, we looked at everything through a lens comparing it to what we knew about Maui. In the end, we came to the conclusion that, while the Big Island was a lovely place to visit, Maui just, well, felt more like us. 

The Saturday after Thanksgiving, I checked up on the Kula house on Zillow, saw it was still Pending, and decided to reach out to my real estate agent on Maui to ask WTF? She said she’d get back to me ASAP, and called me about ten minutes later with: “I recommend that you put in a backup offer on that house right now. I mean it – NOW.” Through the wonders of DocuSign, we had a backup offer recorded about twenty minutes later, and were staring at each other across the couch in a state of “did we just buy a house on Maui?” shock.

from Wikipedia
from Wikipedia

High Technology isn’t always the winning solution: that weekend, it turned out that a number of other realtors expressed interest in the Kula house and submitted backup offers – but they inquired by email, where our realtor did it the old-fashioned way, and called using an actual telephone. That realtime conversation led to our offer being first in line. Come Monday, while we were still sitting on pins and needles awaiting the outcome, my realtor called and said something like “the seller wanted to know how you were set up with financing, and I told them you were pre-approved, working with Monica. The house is now yours.” Turns out that Monica has near-mythical status on the island for being excellent (that reputation is well-deserved: she and her team are truly the best at what they do, and everyone trusts them). Shortly afterward we were the buyers of record, and then the Financing/Underwriter/Escrow dance started. At one point, my wife had to submit a letter explaining why she waited for three years after our marriage to change her name. But we persevered, and on 31 December, we closed on the house: we were now officially owners of island property.

The next question was of course: “now what?”

[next: Island Bound 3: Plan A]