|THE ALLEGHENY AND MONONGAHELA MERGE AT PITTSBURGH, TO FORM THE OHIO RIVER.|
This article has nothing to do with Pittsburgh! Instead, it has to do with the "confluence" of carelessness and over-confidence, to form stupidity.
In 1995, a former employee of mine went on vacation to Barbados. In this slice of Eden, he went snorkeling, had a heart attack and drown. It's wrong to speak poorly of the dead. So without all the facts, I'm not implying that stupidity was a variable in his death. Out of common decency and respect, I'll call him Jonny.
Oddly, this article has nothing to do with Jonny either. But I flashed back to his demise during my December 2015 vacation in Hawaii. That's when my carelessness and over-confidence merged into stupidity and netted me an all too real, near-death experience.
I'm no stranger to vacation carelessness. In December 1995, my wife Sue, baby son Andrew and I landed in San Diego. Friends picked us up and drove us an hour, to their house. When we got there, the return tickets (that I was entrusted with) were missing. Together with our host, I returned to the airport. We actually found the specific luggage cart that brought our bags to their car but the tickets were gone. Unfortunately, they weren't turned-in to lost and found either. In addition to costing me an extra sixty dollars each to re-buy them, I had cost my host over two hours of his valued leisure time.
Twenty years later, (last month) I accidentally tried to re-enact that screw-up. Sue and I celebrated our mutual sixtieth birthdays with a trip to the Hawaiian island of Maui. Unless you are a frequent flyer, with all the new TSA procedures cemented into your memory bank, just getting on the plane can be daunting.
|THE TRANSPORTATION SECURITY ADMINISTRATION (TSA), IS AN EXPEDITED AIRPORT SECURITY SCREENING PROGRAM. TO THE UNINITIATED (ME), IT'S AN UNFORTUNATE YET NECESSARY, COLOSSAL PAIN IN THE ASS.|
I admit it, I was nervous. In addition to all the preparation and worry about forgetting small details, Sue and I woke up at 2:AM for our frantic drive to Philadelphia, to make our 5:15 flight.
The first step in the airport, is checking your luggage. Sue had a strong handle on that. However, many of the do-it-yourself computer terminals weren't working. We were getting pissed-off because others who lucked-out with working terminals, went ahead of us. Then the actual airline employee who checked our bags, was a bitch.
Up one flight on the escalator, is the TSA checkpoint. An agent checks your paperwork before allowing travelers into the inner sanctum of the security system. All he asked me for was our boarding passes. I didn't have them! My heart sunk and it was all on me. I flashed back to my lost tickets in San Diego and bolted down the escalator to the only place they could be. Luckily for my sorry ass, they were right next to baggage check bitch's station.
We flew on American Airlines. The first three and half hour leg of our epic journey took us to Dallas. I expected it to be easy to sleep but I was overcome by high anxiety. Back on the ground, we ran like lunatics from one corner of the airport to the other to find the jet to Maui. Along the way, we stuffed crap from a 7-11 in our mouths because we learned the hard way that even our eight and a half hour flight, did NOT provide meals.
Dallas to Maui would be my longest flight ever. I caught a catnap but it was nothing significant. I finished a Sudoku puzzle and suffered through a Meryl Streep soap opera-like movie.To further emphasize the monotony, I kept looking out the window at the land below. I knew we couldn't be making much progress until we were flying over the Pacific Ocean.
Those first three hours were an eternity. I wanted to cheer when the brown earth below was replaced by the glistening, briny, deep blue sea. Crazy but true, within seconds, my perceived bliss of progress came to a screeching stop! That's when a screeching woman ran back from the front of the plane and screamed, "My husband's dying!"
Like the movies, the stewardesses announced if there were doctors aboard. Later, passengers with diabetic sugar sampling equipment were urged to volunteer.
The next two hours were surreal. American Airlines, to avoid liability, made a U-Turn back to Los Angeles. We were never informed whether the man's life was in danger the whole time we were on the ground.
All the other passengers had to be careful, so nobody complained that this emergency caused extra time to be added onto our marathon flight. Just imagine a dream-fest vacation ending with a loved one (or you) sickened or dying on the way.
Hours later when our irritability and exhaustion were maxing-out, the movie screens were turned on. For the next half hour, our dulled senses were amped-up by a collage of scenic photos backed-up by relaxing Hawaiian music.
|(STOCK PHOTO) EVERYONE ON OUR PLANE BECAME RE-ENERGIZED WITH EXCITEMENT WITH THE FIRST SIGHTING OF LAND . I CAN ONLY IMAGINE HOW THE CREW FELT ON JANUARY 18, 1778 WHEN CAPTAIN JAMES COOK BECAME THE FIRST EUROPEAN TO DISCOVER HAWAII.|
We charged off the plane with ukulele music in our heads. In the concourse, on our way to baggage claim, those wonderful sounds were replaced by Christmas music. If we came any other time of year, we would have been better off, because the holiday tunes we were already familiar with dominated every loudspeaker, gift shop, elevator etc., for the rest of the trip.
In our first half-second outside, (3:PM), Sue and I were intoxicated by the fragrant scent and natural beauty...and we were only in Maui Airport. Even though it was overcast and breezy (almost windy), we knew difference between eighty degrees in Utopia and forty in South Jersey.
Our hotel, the Maui Sheridan was a one-hour shuttle bus drive away. Our burnt-out, main-lander driver gave us a history lesson, showed us points of interests and patiently answered our typical tourist questions, (so many of the male grunt workers were spaced out pot smokers).
|(STOCK PHOTO) AERIAL PHOTO OF SHERIDAN PROPERTY, (COMPLETE WITH THE FAMOUS BLACK ROCKS, FAR LEFT).|
We soaked in the cultural shock as every view of the hotel grounds was greater eye candy. I'm happy to report...that feeling never ended, the whole time we were there. But as soon as that initial rush subsided, we came to our senses and ran out to eat.
|EVERY MORNING, TEN FEET OUT OUR DOOR, WE WERE SMACKED IN THE FACE WITH THIS VIEW. ON THE FIRST DAY, I TEXTED MY SON ANDREW, "EVERY SECOND SPENT INDOORS HERE, IS A WASTE!"|
We correctly chose Maui because we wanted to do more kicking back than sight-seeing. We swam in the ocean, took long walks on the beach and chilled in hot tubs.
Beyond the Sheridan, we enjoyed long walks in both directions, in the surf or along the paved beach walk. Going south, the beach was commercialized but behind the hotel, the coastline seemed secluded and had a more pristine beauty.
We saw unusual critters like, black crabs and a seagull-like bird with a duckbill.
|WE LEFT THE ISLAND WITHOUT FINDING OUT WHAT SPECIES THIS ODD-BOID WAS?|
The worst animals were the omnipresent vultures trying to sell you shit along the southern arm of the beach walk.
|MEET FRANK. HE'S A JACKSON'S CHAMELEON. THE ANNOYING TIMESHARE SALESMEN USED HIM TO LURE US TO THEIR BOOTH. INSTEAD, WE USED THEM FOR THIS PHOTO-OP.|
We later learned that Jackson's Chameleons are native to East Africa but have been introduced to Florida and Hawaii.
|(STOCK PHOTO) A CLOSE-UP OF A JACKSON'S CHAMELEON.|
I got it in my head that giant sea turtles are all over Maui. We heard that two miles south of our hotel, they love to hang-out every afternoon on the beach.
|HOW BIG WERE THE TURTLES SUPPOSED TO BE IN THAT SPOT...BIGGER THAN THIS! HOW MANY DID WE SEE...NONE!|
On all but two mornings, before sun-up, I did a ninety-minute power walk. Hard to believe, even at that hour, the beach walk was clogged with runners and walkers. To avoid the congestion, I went different ways and scouted out cool places to show Sue. Along the way, I came across one celebrity.
The Sheridan offered a great perk, a free, hourly *shuttle bus service to the next town, Lahaina, as well as shopping centers. Lahaina has a tourist destination called Front Street. For us Front Street was the laid back confluence of Greenwich Village meeting Bourbon Street. We went there on three nights and loved the restaurants, quaint curio shops and art galleries.
* The Hawaiians are so laid back...that when our shuttle bus, (at a stop) was slightly run into (a hit-and-run), our driver didn't get out to access the damage.
|ON FRONT STREET, IT LOOKS LIKE I PICKED A PERFECT TIME TO WEAR MY WO HOP SHIRT. EARLIER, A COUPLE FROM NEW JERSEY STOPPED ME AND CALLED IT, "THE PRIDE OF NEW YORK CITY'S CHINATOWN."|
The concierge at the Sheridan recommended a restaurant with a whole lobster special. It was on the last block of Front Street and over a mile walk. Of course when we got there, the bait-and-switch bastards said they were out of lobsters. We wound up at Bubba Gump's and had a blast.
|AT BUBBA GUMP'S, WE WERE SEATED AT THE OCEAN'S EDGE. THE FOOD WAS TERRIFIC AND THE WAITER LIKED US SO MUCH, HE DIVULGED THE SECRET OF THIS CUP STACKING MAGIC TRICK.|
Sue and I also went on two tourist excursions. The first was a two-part adventure to the volcano at Haleakala (Holly-ock- ala), State Park. Followed by a 26-mile bike ride down to the beach town of Paia, (aka Hippie-Town)..
|AT 10,000 FEET UP, SUNRISE IS SUPPOSED TO LOOK LIKE THIS. WE DID NOT SEE ANYTHING LIKE THAT.|
To get to Haleakala, we woke up at 2;AM. A van picked us up and whisked us away in the star-filled night, ninety minutes away, to the "the upcountry" and the mountain. The native Hawaiian driver was quick to point out how perfect the conditions were to see an immaculate sunrise.
Halfway up, their business office, was across from a property called "Cloud-Ten." It was built and owned by George Harrison of the Beatles. Inside, we were introduced to Jack our guide and shown a safety video on biking down the mountain. He provided us with gloves, a coat and pants because the temperatures at the mountaintop might be near freezing.
Further up at 6700 feet, the clear skies and crisp air was sweet ambrosia for the soul. We were told on the way back down, that our bike trip would start at that spot. Later, as we twisted up the mountain road, it started to sprinkle. Soon the wind picked up and a hard rain blew horizontal.
At the state park's main gate, it felt like we driving through a hurricane. A ranger who was having trouble holding his ground while hold down his Smoky the Bear hat, told us that the peak was experiencing wind gusts of 80 MPH. He added that the information station was closed at the time.
In the dark, I saw that the parking lot was empty at the top. While the wind howled and the rain pelted down, I told these guys funny stories until I needed to pee. Jack had to get out and hold my door, to protect its hinges from being bent back the wrong way.
Outside, I could barely see ten feet. In no time, I was freezing and drenched despite being all covered up...and, it didn't help that I stepped in a deep puddle. Soon tons of buses and cars filled the lot. People went to the observation deck and braved the conditions, to be where the spectacular sunrise would have been seen, (I know that because I went too).
The storm continued as the obscured, rising sun failed to penetrate the thick fog. Defeated, the van drove down from the summit. Minutes later, the cloudless skies reappeared. Behind us, the one huge dark gray cloud crowning the Haleakala's peak reminded us that it was still crappy up there.
At 6700 feet, the bikes were brought out and for a short time ,we zoomed down but Sue didn't like it.
|SUE REMAINED IN THE VAN AND TOOK HIS SHOT OF MY POSTERIOR.|
The ride was 95% coasting. For me, it was fun and easy. I wished Sue would have joined me. We finished at the beach town of Paia.
|AT PAIA, (HIPPIE-TOWN). BEHIND ME, BEYOND THE SUGAR CANE FIELDS, THAT'S WHERE WE STARTED, HALEAKALA, TWO MILES ABOVE SEA LEVEL.|
The next day, we rented a car and took another excursion to, "The Road to Hana." Hana is a tiny town on the furthest end of Maui. The only way there, is a slow drive around the back side of Haleakala. This magnificent, heaven-on-earth, side trip includes the most scenic mountain road imaginable. Every place you stop, there's an opportunity to hike the trails, swim in lagoons and find one Kodak moment after another.
|SUE AT A RAINBOW EUCALYPTUS TREE. WE HAVE MANY ROAD TO HANA PICTURES BUT YOU REALLY HAVE TO BE THERE BECAUSE OUR SNAPSHOTS REALLY DON'T CAPTURE MOTHER NATURE'S FINEST MOMENT.|
Sue took a gazillion selfies of us. Luckily a family came by and took this shot.
|OUR CAMERA MISERABLY FAILED TO CATCH JUST HOW DROP-DEAD-GORGEOUS THIS WAS.|
We had a picnic lunch, at another slice of perfection. A man came by and said, "I came all the way back here because three hours ago, I tripped over this wall and fell down the embankment."
|SUE IS GESTURING THAT SHE WON'T GET CLOSER TO THE LITTLE WALL. THE MAN FELL OVER IT. IF HE DIDN'T GRAB ONTO VEGETATION AND CLIMB BACK UP, IT SOON BECOMES A SHEAR DROP. CAN YOU BELIEVE IT, ANOTHER NEAR DEATH EXPERIENCE ON OUR TRIP.|
We took tons of photographs; waterfalls, trees, flowers and ourselves. But for the sake of brevity, I just included my favs.
|IT LOOKS LIKE A STOCK PHOTO OR A POST CARD...BUT IT ISN'T.|
We put in seven hours on the Road to Hana. On the way back to civilization, we stopped for dinner and do some shopping, in Paia.
|PAIA (aka HIPPIE-TOWN), REALLY MAKES YOU FEEL LIKE YOU'RE IN A "TWILIGHT ZONE," EPISODE, SET IN 1970, DURING THE FLOWER-POWER ERA.|
Sue and I were amazed that modern-day hippies hung out in clusters, smoked pot on the beach or sat in circles on sidewalks, humming their mantras. Curiously, while the streets were uncluttered by people, Mana Foods, (the one food market) was jammed with young, spaced-out people, (it looked like a convenience store from the outside but inside it was a throwback 1960's mini-supermarket). It had narrow aisles, rickety wooden floors and a claustrophobic room filled with health foods, vitamins and supplements.
We also went to Makawao (aka Cowboy-Town). It was smaller and more rustic than Paia but far less interesting.
In the morning, we drove to Slappy Cakes for breakfast.
|SLAPPY CAKES WAS A CUTE PANCAKE HOUSE WITH THE GIMMICK OF COOKING YOUR OWN FOOD, ON THE BUILT-IN GRIDDLE ON EACH TABLE. WE LEFT OUR EATING DESTINY UP TO THE CHEF IN THE KITCHEN.|
Our trip was winding down. We took one last beach walk and poked our heads in at two rival hotels, the Westin and Hyatt. They were equally Polynesian but more corporate than the Sheridan. The Westin featured live flamingos in their humongous koi pool but we liked the Hyatt better because they had a pen with South African, black-footed penguins and several huge parrots.
|ON THE HYATT'S WALKWAY BETWEEN THE PARROTS AND THE PENGUINS, THEY HAD A BOTANICAL GARDEN FEATURING NATIVE PLANTS AND TREES. HARD TO BELIEVE BUT TRUE, PINEAPPLES WERE HARD TO FIND IN HAWAII. BUT THAT'S A WHOLE OTHER STORY.|
Perhaps it was an omen of what was to come. At the Westin, I met up with a trash talking tiki statue.
|TIKI TOTEM POLES ARE HAND-CARVED SPIRITUAL FIGURES WHOSE SCARY, EXAGGERATED EXPRESSIONS ARE USED TO WARD-OFF EVIL. IN PREPARATION OF FLYING HOME, MY INNER BROOKLYN CAME OUT IN THIS ARGUMENT. REMEMBER...NOBODY CALLS ME EVIL!|
At the Sheridan, Sue and I decided to do some snorkeling. The rental station is at the base of Black Rock. I was excited because the buzz in the crowd included talk of turtles feeding along the shore.
Sue and I waited behind a Barbie and Ken couple (early 20's) getting their equipment. The girl was truly a knockout and I confess to checking her and her minuscule bikini out. The illusion was burst when she copped an attitude and refused the snorkeling fins and face mask, in favor of an inflatable raft.
I do have snorkeling experience. In 1992, Sue and I did it in the Bahamas. Like swimming in an exotic fish tank, it was unbelievably cool. My memory of it was was so pleasant, that because I was over-confident, I didn't ask for a refresher course. In my defense, because it's so basic...none was offered.
I was getting into ocean when I noticed Barbie (later I found out that her name was Hannah) was knee-deep in the water, holding the raft. Just before I got in the water, a smile came across my face as I
Snorkeling is the ultimate relaxation. Just breathe normal, gently kick your feet and brush the water with swimming strokes to steer. Side-by-side with Sue, my first two minutes were full of visual ecstasy, (from the fish). I don't know why but I lost the coordination on biting down on the mouthpiece. My lungs filled with water so I popped up to the surface.
I was too deep to stand so I tread water until I understood the problem. I tried again but the same thing happened immediately. My spastic ridiculousness happened about five times. By the last time, I had become arm weary. I was frantic to reach the rocks...to rest.
Sue wanted to know if I was okay. That's when my over-confidence about not using the proper breathing technique collided with carelessness. To prove to Sue that I was fine, I gave it another try. But rather than going closer to the shore, I put myself in deeper water.
I thought I had the procedure down pat but a minute later, I was again taking-in giant gulps of water. That's when I had a Jonny drowning in Barbados flashback, I recalled the man on the plane needing an emergency landing in Los Angeles and the poor fellow who might have died after falling from the cliff, on the "Road to Hana."
When I decided that the snorkeling fun factor couldn't out weigh the risk, my previous carelessness and over-confidence morphed into stupidity. I swam to the farthest end of Black Rock where the once high stones, are at water level. Setting myself atop the rocks was an incredibly moronic place for this whale to beach himself.
Temporarily, I was safe as I sat up. I was so far out, I didn't see anyone and because everyone was focused on the people jumping off Black Rock, (closer to the beach) no one noticed me.
Jesus H. Christ, suddenly a crashing wave knocked me over. I understood the power of the sea...so pardon the pun, I really thought I met my Waterloo. I tried to stand, to get on higher ground. I was knocked down. It occurred to me that if my ankle got caught in one of the nooks and crannies during a fall, the force could crush my head against the rocks.
I was further immobilized by the fins. In a panic, I managed to stand on the precariously uneven stone and rushed to get one off. I was knocked down again. I dropped the one fin and my snorkel mask. The tide picked them up, they were floating away. I was reminded of the movie, "CASTAWAY," when Tom Hanks' character saw his imaginary friend Wilson (the volleyball) drift away in the current.
|WHAT AN IDIOT, OUT OF A FALSE SENSE OF RESPONSIBILITY TO RETURN ALL THE RENTED EQUIPMENT, I IMPULSIVELY LUNGED BELLY FIRST, BACK TOWARD THE OPEN SEA. I TOOK ONE SWIPE AND RECOVERED BOTH ITEMS.|
My arms were exhausted. A great chest pain signaled my water-logged lungs. With one flipper still on and encumbered from holding the other and the mask, I maneuvered onto higher rocks. At the crest of Black Rock, I saw the divers getting ready for their turn to jump in the water.
I was halfway up when Hannah saw me awkwardly inching up. She offered help. My pride got in my way, I turned her down. In the next five minutes, I had navigated a mere three feet higher. I asked a random kid, "Is there a path up there to walk along the rock, back to shore?" He looked down at me and said, "No, you gotta come up a little higher, jump down and swim."
I made it to that lowest ledge when Hannah was coming back up from her jump. She said, "You're as white as a sheet. If you jump down, I'll help you back to shore." I agreed. She jumped in. I threw down both flippers and my face mask. She gathered them up and told me when it was safe to jump.
My arms were like rubber and my chest was pounding, After a few seconds of swimming, I confessed that I couldn't do it. That's when my life saving mermaid grabbed the inflatable raft that she wedged into the rocks. Together, we doggie paddled to safety.
Sue was on the shoreline. She was had no idea where I had been. She was on the verge of calling the National Guard. I called out to Hannah and told Sue, "She saved my life." Hannah smiled and swam back out to Ken. I was glad that my first impression of Hannah being a drama queen or a stuck-up princess was wrong.
* I stayed in the room. Sue took one last dip and was knocked over by a wave. She fell on her arm and a month later, it's still giving her trouble.
Luckily, my bad day at Black Rock was only a close call.
|BUT THE MORE I THINK ABOUT IT, THE LOCAL KID HAD NO TROUBLE SCALING THAT WALL AND WALKING TO THE END. MAYBE IT'S ALL FOR THE BEST, BUT I WON'T MAKE A GRATUITOUS WET-DREAM JOKE, AT THE EXPENSE OF MY SAVIOR.|
Sue packed our bags that night for our noon flight. In the morning we loaded up with Subway sandwiches so we wouldn't starve on our return. On the way back to the Sheridan, we received a wonderful, beautiful farewell from the aloha state.
|ON THE WAY BACK TO OUR ROOM, WE SAW THIS AMAZING RAINBOW. WE HAD SEEN LESS SPECTACULAR ONES, SHOOTING STARTS, COOL CRESCENT MOONS AND EVEN SOME MONGOOSES. BUT THIS PERFECTLY TIMED SYMBOL OF WONDERMENT CAPPED OFF THE GREATEST VACATION OF OUR LIVES.|
All that was left was to go back to room and head to Maui Airport.
|BUT FIRST WE HAD TO COMMISERATE.|
While waiting for the shuttle, there was still time for one last selfie.
|WHEN WE'RE TALKING NEAR DEATH EXPERIENCES, I COULDN'T LEAVE YOU WITH A FROWNY-FACED PICTURE.|
One more thing to remember, don't let anyone tell you...that you get the same vibe in the Caribbean without the expense and distance as you do in Hawaii. Trust me, it's worth it!