Tag Archives: Spam musubi

Young Man Went West #42: Just One More State

As we made our way from the snack stand to the fake river’s edge to watch the “Rainbow of Paradise” canoe pageant, a thought crept into my head: “I’ve done this before.”

This exactly? No. I had never been to the Polynesian Cultural Center before. I had never filled up on a meal of chili rice and mac nut ice cream. I had never squeezed in among tourists to watch a river parade.

But I have done “this.” I’ve explored the most touristy attraction of a region with equal parts admiration and cynicism and my good friend Ian by my side. Sure, our summer roadtrip had ended eight months prior, but apparently he and I had one more state to explore: Hawaii.

Ian came to stay with me during the second week of May. He had been talking about visiting since I moved here almost three years ago, but it wasn’t until news of my impending move reached him did he make plans to come. That, and his savings account had to recuperate after our cross-country adventure. I was excited to have him come. Ian and I went to the same middle school, high school and college. We have a lot of the same friends, interests, and opinions. We spent three months together in a Honda Civic. It was weird to think that something as familiar to me as Hawaii was something he hadn’t truly experienced before. I couldn’t wait to fix that.

I had played tour guide to a number of friends before Ian, so I knew what I was doing. Jenn and I picked him up from the airport ready with a couple containers of poke. In the span of six days, he also tried traditional Hawaiian food, shave ice, Spam musubi from 7-Eleven, Storto’s sandwiches, Kahuku shrimp, and a Zip Pac from Zippy’s. We did the requisite trips up to North Shore, around Waikiki, and into Chinatown. And even though I couldn’t go because of work, he got to visit Pearl Harbor, too. I’ve not only eaten, seen, and done all of these things countless times before, but I’ve also made a point of introducing them all to my friends.

But this time, it was different.

I realized that these mini trips and food experiences were as much for my sake as they were for his; he was exploring these places for the first time, and I was exploring them for possibly the last. At least, the last time as a resident. A transplant local. Universities say you need to be living in state for a year before you can claim residency; on my one-year mark I got a tattoo in honor of my first “kama’ainiversary.” Since then, I’ve transitioned from wide-eyed newcomer to indifferent local. I don’t go to the beach anymore. I no longer walk around Waikiki for the hell of it. I barely leave my neighborhood except to go to work. I decided to use Ian’s visit as motivation to rediscover my island.

On Ian’s first full day here, I swallowed my pride and participated in a full day at the Polynesian Cultural Center. For the past three years, I’ve been told to avoid this tourist trap, but before our day at PCC  was even half over, I was legitimately enjoying the entire experience! Unlike Germaine’s Luau and Paradise Cove, PCC isn’t just a luau–which by today’s terms means a low-quality Hawaiian food buffet with a cheesy dancing and an even cheesier host–it’s a theme park as well as a stage show with high production value. I mean, it does have that aforementioned type of luau, but it’s sandwiched between two much better experiences.

Even though the layout of the 42-acre collection of “villages” looks as fake as Disneyland, it’s more of a living museum than a theme park. There are demonstrations at each of the six main villages every half hour. Each village represents a different major Polynesian culture (Samoa, Aotearoa a.k.a. New Zealand, Fiji, Tahiti, Tonga, and Hawai’i), and each is run by natives from those places who are dressed in traditional garb, demonstrate dances and instruments, and drop some first-hand knowledge of their respective cultures. I learned a lot from the demonstrations, and not just about the characteristics of those six cultures, but also about the distinctions between them. This came in handy for the evening show, which was an awe-inspiring spectacle that told a legendary tale while exploring the six major cultures through song and dance.  Ian and I were equally impressed with our time at the PCC, especially since this was supposed to be our ironically touristy day in Hawaii.

While Ian’s first full day at the PCC was an experience most locals don’t partake in, his last full day was something we almost all do: spend a day on the North Shore. It was his first legitimate Hawaiian beach day. We jumped off the rock at Waimea, got shave ice in Haleiwa, and ate shrimp in Kahuku. To top it off, we spent that Friday night barhopping in Chinatown and Waikiki with Jenn and her friends. It was typical and it was perfect at the same time. I’d never seen Ian lament over leaving a place as he did the next morning. He did just enough of everything in six days to realize that six days wasn’t enough. While I think nearly three years was plenty of time for me, I can expect that my last day here, much like Ian’s, will still be filled with a similar sweet sorrow.

The week Ian came to explore one last state with me was not only a good epilogue to our summer road trip, but also a good ending to my time in Hawaii.

My hat: the past. My shirt: the future.


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Young Man Went West #29-B: Winter Trip Facebook Statuses, Unabridged (Pt. 2)

Day 3-4: Flew into LA with Lawrence Burkart and hung around PV. Next day, romped around a rainy Disneyland with Amanda Bates in tow. Ended the night at the Long Beach Bubba Gump’s.

My college roommate Lawrence had spent the few days prior showing his girlfriend, Polina, and buddy, Connor, around the Bay Area, as they were all visiting from Northwestern for winter break.  Polina–born in Russia, raised in Texas, and living in Chicago–had been to California before, but it was Connor’s–born and raised in Kansas, living in Chicago–first time.  Our original plan was to meet up and road trip it down Southern California, but that fell through because neither of us had a car.  Minor details.  So instead, we booked a cheap flight to LA.  I met up with Lawrence and his Chicago crowd at Oakland Airport.

Lawrence’s high school/college buddy, Aaron, picked us up from LAX and drove us to their hoighty-toighty town of Palos Verdes.  We’re talking big houses on a hill, clear views of the ocean, and wild peacocks–the fancy man’s pigeon–roaming the streets.  After some Chinese food and board games, we turned in relatively early so we could be up in time to reach Disneyland when the gates opened.

We woke up bright and early. . . minus the bright part.  Giant grey clouds threatened the coming of rain.  We crossed our fingers for an empty threat.

Disneyland itself is pretty exciting, but what I was looking forward to the most was meeting up with my good friend Amanda.  I had worked with her at Bubba Gump’s, but she left last summer for San Diego, which means she was relatively close and willing to drive up to spend a day in the park with us.  She arrived at the gates not too long after we did.  It was great to see her again after half a year.  Her smile was just as bright, but she lost a little bit of her Hawaiian tan.  I let her know right away.

Amanda amid the drizzle at Big Thunder Mountain Railroad

Our party now numbering six, we entered the Magic Kingdom, grey clouds still looming overhead.  Our first stops were Space Mountain, Astro Blaster, and the Matterhorn.  The lines were insignificant, so we shot from one to the next in no time, and still dry.  However, as we were drifting to the end of the Pirates of the Caribbean ride, we noticed that those in line donned wet jackets and ponchos.  The clouds had made good on their threat.

We scurried to Big Thunder Mountain Railroad in a drizzle, and then to the Indiana Jones ride in a light rain.  By the time we got out, Amanda and I had decided it was time to give in and buy some ponchos.  They cost us six bucks a piece and a weird conversation with a fedora-wearing shop worker in Adventureland.

The rain only got harder as the day went on.  Luckily, most of the rides were indoor.  I think we hit up Space Mountain again and then the Haunted Mansion before hopping over to California Adventure park.  Our first order of business: food.  Of course, with the whole park trying to stay dry and outside seating out of commission, finding a place to sit was an adventure itself.  The majority of our group stood in line for the food while Polina and I scouted out potential tables.  She took one side of the restaurant, I took the other.

We stalked around from table to table, judging each party’s estimated time of departure, eyeballing those whose plates sat empty while they lounged a bit longer.  We lurked in the corners, ready to swoop in like vultures.  I had entered into an alliance with another man who was occupying a four-top while waiting for the adjacent six-top I had my eye on.  He told me he had claimed the larger table already, but would make sure I got the smaller one once they shifted over.  A small table was better than no table, so I happily accepted.  Ultimately, it was an unnecessary deal, as Polina had acquired a six-top on the other side of the restaurant.  I thanked the man, gave my table to some nearby vultures, and joined Polina in holding down fort.  Somehow, our burgers tasted better under envious gazes of table-less patrons.

We braved the rainstorm through a few tours of the Hollywood Tower of Terror, Soarin’ Over California, and even the outdoor rollercoaster California Screamin’.  Raindrops at that speed feel like hail pelting your face.  However, by about five o’clock, the rain was a straight-up downpour and we collectively decided we couldn’t hold out for the fake snow and fireworks that occur near closing.  I’m not even sure if it happened that night.  We left drenched but not down-spirited.  Disneyland is still Disneyland and we had a great time.  Well, I can’t speak for Connor, who was looking forward to some California sunshine between the snows of Chicago and Kansas.

Connor: "This is not the California weather you promised me, Lawrence!" (from Connor's album, but I took the picture, so I'm gonna use it!)

Sweetly and sorrowfully, I parted ways with Amanda and the rest of us headed back to Palos Verdes.  We put on some clean clothes, had some filling and discounted meals at the Long Beach Bubba Gump’s, and ended the night with more board games.

Connor, Polina, Lawrence, and Aaron on the early shuttle out of the park.

Day 5-6: Explored a rainy Venice Beach w/Lawrence Burkart & co., then had awesome coffee talk w/Ian Villanueva & Sarah Prochaska in downtown LA’s Farmer’s Market. Ended the night making spam musubi w/Leslie O’Neill. Hit up Santa Monica Pier w/Lawrence & co. the following day before flying back to the Bay.

The rain in LA continued on through the next few days.  Luckily, it was only a slight drizzle when Lawrence, Polina, Connor, and I walked around Venice Beach.  It was my first time in Venice Beach, I’d realized, but it definitely felt familiar.  Lawrence described it as Berkeley on the beach.  It sure as hell smelled like Telegraph Ave.  The walkway was nearly empty, only a handful hobos and junkies riding about on stolen bikes.  I loved the place immediately.  We got a bite to eat at a (covered) sidewalk cafe and left.

While the rest of the crew headed into the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), I met up with Ian and another great college buddy named Sarah whom I haven’t seen since graduation.  Sarah and I had a lot of catching up to do, but it was okay because she talks faster than anyone I know.  She was able to relate the past year and a half–in detail–in a few hours.  The three of us chatted over coffee and then wine (I know!  So grown up!) at the LA Farmers Market, which, by the way, is the cleanest and most organized farmers market I’ve ever seen.  I don’t think it counts.  Later, we walked around a really posh, outdoor mall called The Grove.  I didn’t realize how much I missed Sarah until that night.  She’s a good friend with great dating tips.  I’d love for her to come out here and wingwoman for me.  And by the way, there’s no lack of love for Ian, too.  It’s just I see that dude all the time.

I said my goodbyes to one good friend and Ian dropped me off at the house of another: Leslie.  We made Spam musubi, one of her favorite discoveries from visiting me in Hawaii, and then she fell asleep watching an episode of The Wire (which I still want back, Leslie!).  See, Leslie has one of those grown-up jobs and has to wake up early all the time, like five times a week!  But not me, I stayed up and watched Jaws by myself.  It was my first time (shocking!).  A little dated, but still a good flick.


Funny little sidenote:  My flight back to the Bay Area was the next day, December 22nd.  I had booked it for 9:30 PM, but for some reason, had it in my head that it was at 9:30 AM.  I had plans to fly into Oakland, BART it to Berkeley and meet up with my friend Olivia, then head to Livermore in the late afternoon so my family and I could go Christmas tree shopping.  Fortunately, I checked my flight details a few days prior and caught the mistake.  Unfortunately, I had to cancel the aforementioned plans.  So instead. . .

The next morning, Leslie dropped me off at a mall in Beverly Hills before heading off to work.  I did some last minute Christmas shopping and then Lawrence and friends picked me up on their way to Santa Monica.  The sunlight peaked out from behind the rainclouds as we walked around Third Street Promenade, a long outdoor pedestrian mall with interesting shops, nice restaurants, and the most helpful tour guide I’d ever met.  It did rain a bit, but fortunately only while we were eating.  It dried up again as we strolled along the Santa Monica Pier (they also have a Bubba’s.  Yes, I went inside).  I’m glad Connor got to see a little sun before heading to his snowy Kansas home.  We both had flights that night.

The So Cal leg of my trip had come to a close.  I met a lot of old friends, and made a couple new ones.  Disneyland was a minor letdown, but I discovered parts of LA I actually liked.  A lot of good memories were stuffed into a few short days, with many more to come upon my return to the Bay.

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