Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Aloha State?

     It's amazing how much aloha (love/goodwill/friendliness) Hawaii has retained over the past hundred and thirty years of economic and population growth. I see some every day in courteous drivers that let others cut in, in library patrons that hold the door open for others, in store clerks that walk customers through the store to show where difficult-to-find items are, and in bus drivers that gesture not to deposit money when a passenger forgets for a day his monthly bus pass.
     Praise God the aloha spirit is alive and well!
     I take Hawaii's aloha spirit for granted at times as I do its gorgeous beaches, sunsets, and temperate climate because it's always there and tends to blend into the unnoticed background of everyday life.
     But that makes it all the more jarring and alarming to witness a spate of uncalled-for rudeness in close succession:
  • Upon return from an outer-island trip, our family caught a taxi. I asked the driver (age sixties) the approximate fare and he quoted a high (but manageable) price. He said also, “Plus sixty cents for luggage.” As he loaded our one suitcase and three carry-ons in back, he counted the four and said, “Anymore?” I said, “For those small things?” but he didn't answer. As we departed he thrice asked the address even after I told him I didn't know it and instead gave him the name of our church destination and specific driving directions to get there.
    Nonetheless he showed his displeasure and jerked the car about in very aggressive manner (not too uncommon in the profession). As we continued, he announced his race and asked, “What are you?” I ignored the question but he asked again so I said, “Local.” He then asked Pene's age and after I ignored that question he asked again so I said “middle school.” A lecture filled with sentimental nonsense ensued with an admonition directed to Pene, “Don't ever forget that.” Then followed a self-congratulatory eulogy of his merciful nature, including three profane hand gestures directed at me (as if I were him on the receiving end).
    I wasn't offended but had by then long wearied of his inept attempts at warm-heartedness and poor taste and off-kilter banter.
    At our destination, I gave him the metered fare plus ten percent, which I consider standard (on work trips, this is the maximum my employer will reimburse). He groused thrice with great bitterness about the small tip so I said, “Okay, give me five dollars back” (which left him a twenty percent tip), then he groused twice more that he'd expected more (his initial quoted estimate).
    During our drive over he'd said he arrived from Asia four years prior so I suppose that may explain his “ream 'em” attitude. (All other local cab drivers I've ever had have all been appreciative of whatever tips they'd received and rarely charged for baggage, much less carry-ons. In hindsight, even from the outset, the guy didn't seem very happy, with permanent scowl lines etched in his face.)
  • At a major retailer recently, I was paying by check and the machine I was asked to sign suddenly froze up. The store clerk whined, “It's because you hit the button.” I said “I didn't do anything, I just grabbed the pen and accidentally touched the screen.” She fiddled puzzled with the cash register and whined again about my hitting the button. I said, “I didn't do anything. Can't you just cancel it?” She said,” I tried, but it won't take it. It's because you hit the button.” I said with a chuckle, “That's not my problem it's yours.”  “You have to pay some other way,” she said with a final sigh. I said, “No I don't.” She whined about my hitting the button again and finally my check went through. Her lips curled, she passed me the receipt sans apology or thank you, acting as if her extended hand was peace offering enough (and proof that she didn't deserve firing.) 
  • At a big box retailer with atrocious long, disorganized check-out lines and slow service, Pene and I stood with our shopping cart five customers away from our line's register. The two clerks manning it were ridiculously slow (after twelve minutes, they were still working on the same customer that had only three items.) So I told Pene “stay here” while I waited with an item in hand in an adjacent line that was at least moving. Not much later, a store clerk announced to customers nearby in now ten-deep lines, “there's a shorter line here behind this gentlemen” (me). An aggressive (middle-age) guy with a shopping cart wove past others that had been waiting far longer than he had to take the coveted spot. Five minutes later, I could see that mine was the speedier line, so I called Pene over, who brought our cart along with her. I heard muttered behind my back, “You must be pleased with yourself,” but chose to ignore it. I later heard the guy behind me complain to a store clerk “...he cut in front!...” I said, with a gesture “Go! Go ahead,” and with a hand toward Pene said, “she was with me.” As he cut around, the store clerk thanked me with an apologetic look. After she went, he snapped over his shoulder (while avoiding eye contact), “Don't ever do that again! That's very rude!”
     reckoned it was a judgment call whether splitting up and waiting in separate lines then jumping to the shorter line was kosher or not. It certainly made sense—first come first served versus tough-luck-if-you-chose-the-slow-line, better-luck-next time! And though I never had that problem before, perhaps next time I'll reconsider.
  • On the bus the other day a common occurrence occurred: A number of seated passengers got off at a bus stop, then an impromptu game of musical chairs ensued as dissatisfied (seated) passengers dove for more desired (vacated) seats. An elderly gentlemen took a window seat toward the front. A middle-age man came forward from behind, shook his head as he looked at him, and muttered as he passed, “Yeah, way to go!” as if he'd stolen his seat, and continued to shake his head in disgust as he took a vacant seat further up, still muttering.
     The last two gentlemen mutterers may have had mental issues. (Does that excuse rudeness? They weren't muttering prior to the incidents or much long after.) Regardless, it's apparent that Honolulu is becoming an increasingly rude and unfriendly place. I've noticed it since 1990; my wife's noticed it since arriving later in that decade. Where it's headed is not difficult to see with so many struggling families, burgeoning homelessness, explosive (and extortionate) costs of living, laws favoring the wealthy and fleecing the voiceless poor and middle-class, and ever growing immigrant populations.
      Too bad, it's just such poor and struggling middle-class populations and immigrants that from the late 1800's on, transformed these islands into the beautiful melting pot Aloha State it now is. With the continuing changes and pressures, though, Hawaii's “aloha” may not survive. I hope it will, but Honolulu residents are increasingly looking and acting like U.S. Mainland counterparts. That's not all bad, but it's far from the Hawaii I've known and loved all these years.
      Live aloha, Honolulu, before aloha—like grass skirts, plentiful fish and opihi, cheap rice and poi, reasonable commutes, ample parking, and affordable housing—becomes a relic of the past, irrecoverable and sorely missed. 

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