Tag Archives: birthday

Young Man Went West #34: Marker by Marker

I was waiting to be picked up for my birthday weekend on the Big Island when my roommate called me into the living room. With a deep sigh, I got ready to hear another passive aggressive lecture about dirty dishes or having Jenn over. However, that wasn’t the case.

“I’m going to be having family stay over for about a week in mid-March,” my roommate began, “so I’m going to need your room.”

Before I could process that statement, she continued: “And then I’m just going to hold onto the room after that.”

I was too amused by her passive aggressive way of kicking me out to be angered, and I had sensed an uneasiness between us for too long to be shocked.

Before my summer roadtrip, my roommate worked days and I worked mostly nights, so our paths rarely crossed. It was common for a week to pass between mutual sightings, even though we slept under the same roof. We were never friends and she never tried to be, so it was a perfect living situation.

When I returned in September, three things happened to drastically change that situation. First, I discovered that her boyfriend had moved in. I got along with him well, so I didn’t mind at all. I even welcomed the addition. Second, she started school again, meaning she’d be home during the days to study. And lastly, I got a girlfriend. Since Jenn lives with her parents, my place naturally became our de facto hang out spot.

She never directly told me that Jenn was coming over too often, though I suspected that is how she felt. All she would say is, “When you have guests over, please be considerate of those who are home.” My feeling was, if she couldn’t tell me straightforward to stop bringing Jenn over, I wouldn’t. Besides, she invited her boyfriend to live with us without running it by me first, so she didn’t have a leg to stand on.

But now I don’t have a room to sleep in.

“I feel like we’ve outgrown our relationship as roommates and it’s time for me to take over the room again,” she continued.

I inwardly snickered at her diplomatic phrasing of the situation, then said, “You know I plan to move off the island in September, right?”


“Okay. Whatever.” And with that, I walked back into what is, at the moment, my room and waited until Jenn and her dad picked me up for the airport shortly afterward.

In line at the security checkpoint in Honolulu International, I told Jenn what had happened. She felt horrible, like it was her fault that I was kicked out. I told her if either of us were to blame, it’d be me. She wouldn’t have come over if I didn’t let her. I also told her not to worry, because I didn’t. I had a birthday to celebrate and an island to explore. This housing situation was going to stay on O’ahu.

I must say, I did a pretty good job of pushing the news to the back of my mind. I barely thought about it. In fact, I didn’t have time to think about it with so many new experiences to be had!

I wasn’t thinking about it when Jenn and I discovered that our cabbie Ian–who drove us from the airport to Downtown Kailua-Kona–had quite an amusing London accent. We asked him questions to keep him talking. Our run-of-the-mill small talk eventually evolved into Ian giving us advice on how to best get to the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, what to see, and–most importantly–what to eat along the way. We took extensive notes.

I wasn’t thinking about it during my lovely birthday seafood buffet dinner. Jenn had booked our meal at the King Kamehameha Hotel for the night we arrived. I knew a seafood buffet was not cheap, so I made sure to eat enough crab legs to get Jenn’s money’s worth. My pile of deconstructed shells was mighty epic.

I wasn’t thinking about it when the friendly staff from our hostel, Pineapple Park, agreed to pick us up from Kailua-Kona and drive us south to the hostel in Captain Cook. Bobo, the man behind the wheel, told us the story of his drunken Christmas adventure while the rest of the staffers talked loudly in the bed of the truck. When we finally arrived at Pineapple Park, we were warmly welcomed by Annie, the sweet old Korean lady that owns the place. Without asking us to check in, or even show ID, she ushered us into our private room and let us get ready for bed. I felt more like a friend staying in her house than a guest staying in a hostel.

I wasn’t thinking about it when we found out after breakfast the next morning (at Fish Hopper, one of Ian’s suggestions) that our car rental place wasn’t actually in Kailua-Kona, where Annie graciously agreed to drop us off, but rather back at the airport. Good thing we kept Ian’s business card. When I called for a ride back to the airport, he remembered us and our fare was a wee bit cheaper than the first. Hertz had no problem with us arriving an hour and a half late for our car rental reservation, and so ten minutes after Ian dropped us off, I was the one behind a wheel, taking the 19 towards Hilo.

I will admit that the thought of having to find temporary housing did creep into my head during the drive, but it was a two-and-a-half hour drive, so any thought bouncing around in one’s head is bound to float to the top. However, it suddenly disappeared right before Hilo when we came upon Tex Malasadas, another one of Ian’s recommendations. These malasadas were big and tasty and left a better impression on my palate than did Leonard’s. Our English cabbie was two for two.

We arrived at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park in the early afternoon with the goal to stick around until sundown to see the lava glow. With hours to kill, we checked out the big yet brief Thurston Lava Tube, then set off down the Chain of Craters road, a 40-minute drive that takes you through a desolate landscape forever changed and changing by the major lava flows from Mauna Loa. We got out of the car often to see how different ways we can take pictures of the black, seemingly post-apocalyptic wasteland. That number, by the way, is too many.

The Chain of Craters led us all the way down to the coast, which we hit by late afternoon. By evening, we made it back up and to the start of a hiking trail that leads to a cinder cone from which you can spy on that rumored glowing lava. All the guides warned us to bring a flashlight per person if we were to hike at night. I had my bike light with me. I figured it’d be enough.

It took us a while to actually find the head of the trail since there was no clear-cut path across the black lava rock. Instead, there was a row of reflectors, each approximately twenty feet apart, marking the trail. Along the way we passed by several groups of hikers heading in the other direction. I should have taken that as a sign, but I was determined to see the lava at night. After all, we had pretty much rescheduled our entire trip to make sure we were in the park by this time of day for that specific reason.

The further we trudged along, the darker it got and the harder it became to see each subsequent marker. Clouds blocked the moonlight from illuminating the land, and the blackness of the lava rock swallowed any residual light. By the time we had reached the base of the cinder cone, there were no more reflective markers. It became evident that we were definitely alone in the middle of a vast, black landscape. The lure of the glowing lava was overshadowed by my lack of confidence of getting us back safely, so I decided to turn us around before attempting to ascend the cinder cone. Besides, my camera battery had just died, so I couldn’t even take a photo of the lava had we seen it.

It turned out that while my bike light shines brightly down a city street at night, it barely makes a presence in true darkness. It hardly produced enough light for the markers to reflect back at us. Nearly blind and arm-in-arm, Jenn and I stumbled from one marker to the next. Sometimes we’d see two or three markers at a time; sometimes we’d have to pause at the last seen marker and look around until we spotted the next. We stepped quickly and lightly, tripping over rocks and bushes the whole time. I laughed with each misstep in an attempt to make light of the situation, though we both knew I had put us in a position where a safety wasn’t a guarantee. We were still a good thirty minutes from the parking lot and my phone was just about dead.

Though I didn’t know if we’d make it back to the car, I was sure we would. I was sure everything was going to turn out alright, because in my experience, that’s what happens when you just stay calm and keep moving forward. I moved to Hawaii without a job or a residence, but I kept moving forward and found both of those markers. I quit my job at Whole Foods before I got my job at Bubba Gump’s, yet I reached that marker safely. I was getting kicked out of my place with a month-and-a-half to find a new one, yet something in me told me that I’d be alright and I needn’t worry; I’d find that next marker.

After almost an hour of searching in the dark, we reached the parking lot. Though I still couldn’t see our car, I hit the unlock button on the key ring and the interior lights shone out in the distance like a beacon of hope. Jenn’s sense of relief was almost visceral. I was relieved, too, but I never worried that we wouldn’t reach it. Like I said, if I keep calm and move forward, I’ll make it out safely. . . one marker at a time.


Imagine this landscape at night. . .



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Young Man Went West #29-A: Winter Trip Facebook Statuses, Unabridged (Pt. 1)

Day 1: HNL to OAK. Arrive @ 9:45 PST. Meet family at hotel in Concord and prepare for my grandma’s 100th birthday celebration tomorrow.

Unlike most trips I take to and from California, I flew into Oakland with company, my cousin Brad.  Managed to get the seat next to him, across the aisle.  It was a typical, uneventful flight, but that’s a good thing when it comes to air travel considering the alternative: screaming, crashing, flames, and death.  Instead, this one consisted of Sky Mall, sporadic naps, and most of Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World (my laptop died before the last scene).  We arrived at Oakland Airport in the brisk, breezy night.  My body covered  with warm layers and a big smile, I was happy to be back in the Bay.

Day 2: Went straight from the airport to BART to a bar (and later a diner) with the cousins. Went to bed late, woke up early. Now, putting together a slideshow for my grandma’s 100th birthday celebration tonight.

Since all of our family was at a Hilton in the nearby city of Concord, Brad and I took a free shuttle from the airport to an Oakland BART station, and then took BART into Concord.  I would have liked to say that our older siblings were there shortly afterward to pick us up, but somehow they got lost along the way, which is surprising since they’ve each lived in or near Concord at some point in their lives.  It’s alright, they came bearing Taco Bell.

Instead of heading to the  hotel where I could have dropped off my unnecessarily large, half-filled suitcase (only one I had), we drove straight to a downtown bar where a dozen of our cousins were already drinking.  I’m not complaining; being a young traveler and a family-oriented man, this was a fantastic welcome!  Although, it was weird seeing so many old, white people in a bar (you know, everybody but my family), but that’s what happens when you live in Hawaii for fifteen months.  We capped the night at a 24-hour diner, overwhelming the other diners in sheer number and volume.  Never put a drunk Filipino family in a public place with a jukebox.

I made it to the hotel in the wee hours of the night.  My loving parents woke up just long enough to hug me hello before falling back asleep.

We woke up relatively early the next morning to start on preparations for that evening’s festivities.  My main job was to put together a slideshow of my grandmother to play while people shuffled into the ballroom.  Projects in hand, we all congregated in a top floor suite and buckled down to business for the next few hours.  It almost felt like a busy campaign office before an election, except instead of fliers and buttons we had too much food and dozens of relatives to hug hello.  Though we were all working hard for that one special someone: birthday girl Fausta Reyes Ramil.

Fausta Ramil a.k.a. Grandma a.k.a. Lola

Day 3: Crazy night with the family. 6 hours of celebration, including a 3-hour talent show and then dancefloor badness. After party included 50 tacos from Jack in the Box at 3 AM. Now, it’s time to fly to LA.

All the aunties, uncles, and cousins were dressed to the nines and down in the ballroom around 5 pm.  Surrounding the stage and dancefloor were twenty-two linen-covered tables, a DJ, and a bustling catering crew.  After some frantic family photos (with what seemed a less-than-enthusiastic photographer) we spread out to greet, organize, and mingle with the other guests: friends and family from grandma’s past and present.  In all, attendance was around two hundred people.

This is just the family. . . which made up for about half the guest list.

Of course, my family just can’t say a few words, move to dinner, and mingle all night.  Oh no, we had a well-scheduled, fourteen-act talent show filled with song, dance, skits, and my uncle’s version of “This Is Your Life!”  I think the guests not as familiar with my family were pleasantly surprised by Polynesian and Filipino dances, the multiple duets, and the big show numbers.  Either that, or they were too scared to move.

Dinner was served during the performances, and after all was digested and the last act took a bow, the party started.  Everybody–young and old, family or friend, born into the craziness or witnessing it for the first time–took to the dancefloor and busted many a groove.  During all three hours of this, my grandmother refused to go to bed.  At one hundred years young, she stayed up ’til midnight to watch her legacy celebrate in her honor.

When the DJ announced the last song of the night, my sister–cousin number fourteen and that evening’s event coordinator–came up with one of her best ideas.  After the song ended she had everybody make a huge circle on the dancefloor.  My Auntie Gloria wheeled grandma to the center and the DJ started playing one last song: Bette Midler’s “Wind Beneath My Wings,” a family favorite.  Auntie Gloria spun grandma around slowly as we all sang to her.  There was not a dry eye in that circle.

The old ones went to bed, while the young ones (and the old ones who still think they’re young) retreated to the common room for some debauchery and poker.  After a while we got hungry, and since nobody was delivering pizza, my cousin’s husband Scott and I made a late night run to Jack in the Box for fifty (“Yes, five-zero”) tacos.  We held up the drive-thru line long enough for some woman to get out of her car and yell at us and/or the graveshift workers.  Scott and I thought we were returning to at least ten hungry men, but instead found a room of about four or five, with another passed out on the floor.  We that remained did as much damage as we could to the greasy bags, but barely made it through twenty or so tacos.  My limit, I found out, was four (not because I was full, but because my body couldn’t handle that much questionable meat).

The next day, after a hearty breakfast and many hugs goodbye, I went back to Oakland Airport for the So Cal leg of my trip.


Dancing to one of our family favorites: "Come On, Eileen."

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