Dry desert heat is a constant for workers at McCarran International Airport. The stair car delicately approaches the Bombardier CRJ700 out of Los Angeles. An irritable young traveler stumbles on the tarmac after rushing down the stairs in an attempt to create a breeze to shake off the jet lag. The inside of the terminal is not much of an improvement other than the faux-fresh casino air that must have been imported from another part of town to welcome visitors to the largest amusement park in the world. Once the young traveler is beyond the slot machines adjacent to the “Welcome to Las Vegas” sign, he hurries on down to the shuttle and waits for the sliding doors to open. Standing there in the dismal morning, he wonders how much of it was true dissatisfaction or if it was simply exhaustion due to a red eye across the eastern Pacific from Hawai’i. The Kona International Airport is the most unlikely place for any traveler to find their inner anger and bitterness, yet just a week earlier, the young traveler remembered the wild housewife scene.
They must have been on the same flight, but who could remember or care after landing, he thought to himself as he stared at this middle aged woman who was yelling expletives at her husband while a teenager with iPod headphones on attempted to look indifferent. “He just told us to walk over here,” she yapped. “Now, he’s picking people up over there!” The shuttle driver from a car rental agency had apparently suggested the family move from one pick-up area down fifty or so yards to another one for reasons beyond over-thinking. This was way too much for her to handle. “I’m calling them. This is ridiculous!” The young traveler distracted by the disgruntled family failed to notice the mountain rising above the clouds a couple miles inland. The Big Island, as it is called because of confusion that it’s name is actually Hawai’i, is much more rural than the other islands of Hawai’i, has large active volcanoes, and a green beauty to rival many similar places in the world. After getting away from the negative energy some people subconsciously bring wherever they go, the young traveler drove his rental car to Kaloko-Honokohau National Historical Park to visit with his friend.
The dirt road off Queen Kaahumanu Highway is riddled with potholes and volcanic rock. Approaching the gravel parking lot, the young traveler finally gets a view of a beach and the light blue water of the Pacific Ocean. A dozen or so vehicles lined a no mortar wall that stretched from one end of the lot to the other, which was about the size of a basketball court. His friend, a park ranger, stood behind a pickup truck next to a local Hawai’ian woman and her black retriever. “You’re walking into some drama,” the friend said to the young traveler. Curious and confused, the traveler waited to hear more. “Yea, I took the day off,” said the Hawai’ian. His friend and the woman discussed domestic issues of having to give an eviction notice to another Hawai’ian who was now threatening to bring her brothers and cousins over for a show of force. “She says I’m not Hawai’ian enough,” said the woman in a saddened tone. “I don’t want to provoke anything, but when you threaten me, well, that’s when I’ve got to stand my ground.” The intensity was unexpected, but thrilled the young traveler who kept looking around to the ocean and then back to the mountain through the canopy of coconut trees that lined the opposite side of the parking lot.
The shuttle doors opened up and knocked out the flashback. People filed in without notice of each other and the tram took off from one part of the Las Vegas airport to the passenger and luggage pickup area an unknown distance away. It was probably the exhaustion, the young traveler thought as he watched the blur of concrete and steel before the tram came to a stop. Every place has the same sort of conflict. The only difference is how people choose to deal with them with density playing a significant role. Vegas, Spanish for meadows or fertile plains, used to have a naturally supported ecosystem before its wild history attracted gamblers, gangsters, and the Hoover dam’s illusion of sustainability. Hawai’i is not much different in that a once sustainable island was modernized to the point of living paycheck to paycheck. The entire state runs on diesel generators and even though the Big Island used to be home to one of the largest cattle ranches in the world, milk now runs eight dollars a gallon.
Vegas on the other hand is cheap. Everything is inexpensive, especially the collapsed housing market. These neighborhoods are walled off to prevent dust from settling under the doors and window frames, but it gives the appearance of feudal capitalism while the lights of the casinos blot out any stars in the sky. Dismal looking individuals, mostly Mexican immigrants, flick little cards as you pass them on the boiling sidewalks. The young traveler is amused by the prostitution advertising on the cards, but comes back to reality after seeing them litter the streets and into the sewers that little children walk over. In retaliation for the decadence and aqua-ignorance, he sneaks into Caesar’s Palace’s large swimming pool. Complete with white Romanesque pillars and a waterfall covered bar, the entire area screams end of days. Visitors are out of shape wage slaves who found some time in their preoccupied lives to stay in the middle of the desert. It’s near impossible not to be overcome by the indoor canals of the Venetian, the magnificent fountains of the Bellagio, the Eiffel tower, New York skyline, and dozens of other faux-decors.
Shuffling back to Hawai’i, the young traveler remembers what made it superior. Forget the beaches and spectacular weather. Forget the taste of fresh Pacific cuisine. Many of the beaches are imported sand from China and the fish is, well fish. The people, oh the people. Even visitors to Hawai’i can be bitter, but locals know how to stay Aloha, which means many things beyond hello. Compassion, the breathe of life, love, all these things and more build the foundation of Hawai’ian philosophy. Many natives still believe in the non-ownership of land. “We belong to the world. The world does not belong to us.” Many new faces come in year after year in attempt to build new resorts that skirt the law and bring in new species of plant because they look pretty, but inadvertently spread flora disease. For all the problems, the people stay positive and upbeat ready to enjoy each day despite the vog, a new volcanic fog that has descended upon the Big Island from a volcanic explosion a few years back. Better to get it all out, preferably in moderation, than let it build to the point of eruption. Still, nobody, no machine, nothing can predict what the planet will do next. In the long run, living in the moment with perspective is superior to gambling for a richer future. As Ten Bears often said in Dances with Wolves, let’s talk a little more about this and enjoy the fire we share.