Sunday, April 15, 2007

Adventures of a Kona Town Transplant

Two years ago, I spent a summer in the coconut tree studded town of Kailua-Kona on the Big Island of Hawaii. "Kona Town," as the locals call it, is one of two major towns (as major as it can be) on the largest island of the paradisiacal chain. The other town, Hilo, sits on the wetter side of the island connected by Saddle Road, a road that cuts the volcanic island in half. It is said that if you see an old lady on the side of this dark, windy road, you must pick her up, for she is Pele's sister and Pele is the Goddess of Fire. She controls the active volcano that is erupting in Hawaii's Southwest corner--and you don't want to make her angry.

Black fields of dry lava reach across Kona's undeveloped land and although the town is relatively drier than it's rainforest counterpart, clouds accumulate every afternoon and spill rain over the town. The air is heavy, and heavier right before the daily storm. But the storm is brief, and warm, and allows for relief from the humidity's weighty pressure.

No matter how fine the rainstorms are, when you are a waitress who caters to the only outdoor section that is unsheltered in a packed, tourist-filled restaurant, they tend to pose a problem. At first sight of water beading up on the tabletops, salt shakers are quickly rounded up. On most days, this wet stint happens before the rush, before the tables are sat and the food is a bullseye target.

One day, however, the restaurant was full. Fuller than usual. My section, unprotected by the retractable tarp that rolls out over three-quarters of the patio, had couples and singles and families at every table with hot dogs and coconut shrimp and mai tais with little purple flowers floating in them.

The rain came fast and drove in bullets, aiming directly for the french fries, the calimari, and in particuler, the fish sandwich. My customers made a run for it, snagging the last stools at the indoor bar, crouching under the tarp, balancing their plates on the rock wall. Whatever they could do to avoid watery ketchup. I headed into the storm, round tray in hand to gather what I could of the salt-and-pepper shakers, to save any salveagable food my customers hadn't been able to grab.

"Can I help you guys move inside?" I asked a middle-aged couple that had stayed put. They continued to dig into their now-soggy, and becoming soggier, nachos. The woman's glasses were spotty with raindrops and the man's aloha shirt was turning darker blue by the second.

"No, we're fine," The woman said, her glass of beer now watered-down.

"Are you sure?" I asked. The grassy, oceanfront lawn in front of the restaurant was abandoned, its lounging visitors had run for cover minutes before.

The man looked up at me and said, "This is our 35th anniversary. And this is how we want to remember it."

I stood there for a moment, mesmerized by this couple, so carefree and in-the-moment. It didn't matter how uncomfortable they might be in the hours to come, or even in that moment, all that mattered was that they wanted to create this memory and have a story to tell for the years to come.

"Alright," I said. And all I could do was hope that when I am their age, I would sit as completely serenely beneath as heavy and wet a rainstorm, just to feel so alive.

I set some dry napkins on their table, turned around and scanned the sheltered lava rock wall for my scrambling customers.

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