Most of the time, I don’t write about the locations I love the most. I may write about cities, islands, countries, or towns – but I rarely give away the places I plan on going to again and again. Today, I’m going to tell you about one of my favorite places though – because frankly, the word is already out and I don’t plan on going back anytime soon.
Makawao on the island of Maui in the state of Hawaii is one of those places. Everyone who goes to Maui goes to Lahaina, drives the Road to Hana, or visits the hippie town of Pa’ia – but Makawao has stayed off the beaten path. You can go to the little cafe in the morning and not have to wait in line behind a bunch of other tourists or visitors – just the locals. The general store is a great place to grab some local produce or craft beers. The tiny Mexican restaurant has amazing food and great margaritas. You’ll find mostly locals hanging out there. The little Middle Eastern food truck is spectacular.
No, I’m not giving you the names of those places. You’ll find them. Just go to Makawao. Find an AirBnB nearby. Hang out and enjoy the farmers market and the cool upcountry vibe. It’s one of those places that hasn’t been spoiled yet – but in talking with the locals – it sounds like development and more gentrification are coming – so don’t take to long to see it for what it is today.
Makawao sits on the slope of Haleakala, the 10,000 foot dormant volcano that dominates Maui’s view. It is a town known for cowboys, farmers, and a laid back vibe. If you add the elevation to the population – you’ll come close to another 10,000. There’s a big rodeo every year in Makawao and you will find some amazing little galleries tucked away there too. The Makawao Rodeo happens July 4th – 7th. That’s when the parade happens too – but anytime is a good time to be in Makawao.
Raleigh, North Carolina was the first place in my life that I ever chose to live. Everywhere before had been chosen by my parents or chosen by the Marine Corps. When I ended my active duty in 1994, I looked around the USA for where I wanted to live. It was scary. I thought about moving back to California, but frankly, my experience with Redding, Big Bear Lake, and the bases in San Diego had soured me on my home state. I look back and realize that’s a bit of a shame as 1994 was a great time be in California.
Instead, I looked to the only real city I had ever spent considerable time in. My brother and his wife had moved to Raleigh while I was still on active duty. I loved taking leave and visiting with them. At this point in my life, Raleigh seems like a small city or a big town – but at that point – it was amazing! There were bagel shops and Middle Eastern markets! There were bars and coffee shops and business districts. There were hotels that were more than two stories high and there were universities…and there were girls. Oh, goodness yes, there were so many girls. One of the worst things about being stationed in Jacksonville, North Carolina was that there were 50,000 male Marines all prowling around for the same 3,000 girls. I’m not even close to six foot but most of those guys were – and during my entire time stationed at New River Air Station, I only went on a dozen dates – and only three or four followups. So, Raleigh? It looked like heaven to me. There were educated people, entrepreneurs, a variety of religions and religious experiences – it was nothing short of awesome.
I moved in with my brother and his wife while I waited for one of my good buddies from the USMC to complete his enlistment. I got a job at the tallest hotel in Raleigh working on the top floor at the bar where all the State Senators and Representatives hung out when the legislature was in session. My brother and his wife had opened a furniture store and were renting a big Victorian house – the landlady was a real piece of work and one day when I got home from work my brother told me “Pack up, we’re moving.” We moved into the warehouse they had rented for their furniture. For the next month or so there was only a thin sheet of plywood between where I slept and the tire warehouse next door.
Finally, my buddy got out and we rented a townhouse. He got a job in the same restaurant and we lived it up! I enrolled at North Carolina State, I joined the Rugby club, bought an old motorcycle, and life was really good. My brother and his wife bought a house and my friend Mike and I went to raves, clubbed, met girl after girl after girl, worked in the ‘Top of the Tower’ and brought home good money as bartenders. It was a golden year…and then a girl came along. I met her, she sat at my bar and I fell into her eyes – she said she would wait for me to finish work and we would go out. Mike came in, he was already off work – he suggested they go somewhere else and meet me later – and that was it. They were a thing and I was resentful as hell.
When they broke up, I didn’t waste any time, I swooped in and scooped her up. She was still sleeping in the same house but in a different room and honestly, no friendship can survive that shit. Mike moved out and the whole thing became sort of ugly – she and I started planning a move to the West Coast – somewhere. We poured over maps and books and guides – we narrowed it down to three places: Boulder, Colorado or Las Cruces, New Mexico or Bellingham, Washington. I was sort of like “Fuck it, I lost my best friend but I have this awesome girl I’m in love with” except – part of the reason she wanted to move to Boulder, it turned out, was because she was involved with another guy who had moved there and as things got more complicated with us, she pined for him. Suddenly, I was completely fucking lost.
I started spending more than I was earning, maxxed out my credit cards, bought the huge 4×4 truck of my dreams, and packed everything I owned (including my dog, Scooby Doo) and moved out of my apartment, dropped out of school, sold my motorcycle and set off for Bellingham, Washington.
Raleigh, North Carolina
Raleigh is the capital of the state of North Carolina. It has about half a million people in it and is the home of North Carolina State University and the Research Triangle Park (which also includes nearby Durham and Chapel Hill – the combined area has about 2 million people). Raleigh is an amazing place. There are a lot of very smart people living there and as such there are great book stores, art galleries, shows, exhibitions, museums and other interesting things to see and do. Raleigh is a beautiful city with a rich history and a vibrant cultural heritage.
I didn’t go straight from Myrtle Creek, Oregon to Redding, California. Instead, I went back to Big Bear Lake where I lived with my father for a little less than two years – he wasn’t a suitable parent for anyone – let alone a kid who had suffered through the hell that I’d been through in Oregon – so it didn’t really work out. He was still living and loving his rock star lifestyle. He was in bands, had girlfriends, bought a boat, had a nice house on the lake, bought a corvette, disappeared for days at a time (and once came back from Vegas with a new wife – which lasted a couple of weeks). He didn’t have the attention span nor the patience to be the father I needed and as a result I was allowed to fall into company that led me astray. By the time he noticed that I was running around with criminal youth, it was too late for him to do anything about it – we fought and I ran away from home several times. I bounced around from place to place – eventually moving in with one of the girlfriends he’d dumped along the way. She was sweet and while she had her own problems, she was the first adult I’d known in years who acted like a parent.
Eventually, my mom escaped from her monstrous husband and came back to Big Bear. She quickly found a new younger husband. He was a solid and good guy who had no idea what he was getting into – but he stuck with it and somehow made it all work. My sister lived with our grandmother at this point and my brother had gone his own way. After a year of marriage, I moved in with my mom and her new husband. At about this point, they decided to move to Redding, California. All the way on the other end of the state.
There are many people who love Redding. I’m not one of them. It was hot, the town was filled with tweekers, and I was an angry 16, 17, and 18 year old when I lived there. I graduated from Shasta High School and on the advice of my step-father joined the Marines and got out of Redding as quickly as I could. I’d gotten in some trouble with alcohol at the homecoming game. My overworked public defender suggested that the judge would go easier if I was enlisted in the military. I took her advice and joined the branch my step-father had been in. It was a stupid thing to do – I should have enrolled in Stanford and moved to the Bay Area – I was smart enough, but not smart enough, if you get my drift.
Looking back, a lot of my anger came from other places and the truth is – Redding was pretty good to me. I was dating cheerleaders and had some great quality friends, if anything, my issues were that I chose to spend time with other people who were serious losers – I was surrounded by drugs, guns, and violence. On weekends, we would all drive around downtown Redding to meet up, find parties, and find trouble. It was called ‘The Cruise’ and it was outlawed sometime later in the 1990s.
Redding was the first place I saw a person killed – I was at a party and a local gang called ‘The Winds’ showed up looking for a guy ( I didn’t know him – he was a drifter wandering through). They found him at the party and beat him to death with bottles (I presume he died because I can’t imagine anyone surviving that), they then put his body in a blanket and threw it in the back of a truck and drove off. I saw all of this while hiding in a slatted door closet with the girl who lived in the house. I never saw a news story about it – so maybe he didn’t die, but at the time, I was certain I had just witnessed a murder. We all had – there were at least ten people who saw it – but when the police showed up, none of us wanted to be the one to point their finger at the gang members – we’d just seen what would happen if we did.
I left Redding shortly after that and I never looked back though I have visited my mom from time to time over the past thirty years.
Redding is a city surrounded by the wonders of nature. Drive in almost any direction and you are sure to find something mind blowing. Mt. Shasta , Mt. Lassen, Shasta Lake, the Sacramento River, Whiskeytown Lake, the Trinity Alps, Burney Falls, Shasta Caverns and much more. Like many of the towns I lived in growing up, Redding sits on Interstate 5 (I-5). It has a population of about 90,000 and was originally called Poverty Flats. Redding has a rich mining and timber harvesting history and as such – fell into hard times in the 80s and 90s when those industries declined. It has never really recovered, though it has tried. There are a number of prisons that surround Redding and this contributes to the economy – also, many of the prisoners stay in the area when they are released of furloughed and sometimes their families move to Redding while they are incarcerated.
Temperatures in Redding often push the 120 degrees Fahrenheit mark and locals are smart to spend time in the Sacramento River or the area’s many lakes.
Makakilo means ‘observing eyes’ in the Hawaiian Language. This is a small community of about 15,000 people that is really a neighborhood of Kapolei. Sitting on the slopes of the hillsides moving away from the beach – there isn’t really anything to draw visitors here. Like nearly everywhere on Oahu, the really nice neighborhoods are generally military housing. To the West is the manufactured resort neighborhood of Ko Olina.
Ko Olina has a golf course, four beautiful man-made lagoons that would be private in a different state where beach access wasn’t guaranteed. There are four high end resorts on the property along with an unusually large number of wedding chapels and a sort of tourist village with shops and restaurants. The resorts include the Disney Aulani as well as the Four Seasons.
Ko Olina is largely focused on timeshares and short term condominium rentals though there are a small number of full time residents. Ko Olina is made up of about 642 acres comprised of the four resorts, the golf course, and six ‘villages’ of mostly condos. The population is listed as about 1800 people but I doubt that many of these are full time residents – though if you go to the lagoons early in the morning – there is a group of mostly white senior citizens who gather to play ukulele and sing together on some days.
As you can see from the photo below – taken from the Ko Olina information site – Ko Olina is working very hard to create a fantasy version of Hawaii – and with the Paradise Cove Luau, the Disney Aulani Resort, the four lagoons, and the creation (in progress now) of an Atlantis Hotel (the one in Dubai) – it is succeeding. If you want to see the Hawaii of your imagination and you can afford it – Ko Olina is the place to go – but make sure you close your eyes while you are driving there from the airport because all around Ko Olina you will see the real modern Hawaii complete with traffic, homelessness, people struggling to survive economically, and since Ko Olina is on the dry side of Oahu – a lot of brown…because all that water used to make Ko Olina green has to be brought there.
Visitors to Oahu tend to have heard of The North Shore, Waikiki, Honolulu and maybe Kailua – but those are just three places out of hundreds. You have to hit the road to find the most interesting places.
The North End of the Windward Side of the Island of Oahu is an interesting place! What makes it interesting? What about a bizarre collision of Mormonism, Sumo Wrestling, shrimp, and giant lizards? Interesting enough for you? Because you will find it all there.
Let’s start with the giant lizard – Hawaiian legend has it that the rocky point in Laie (Laie Point) yused to be patrolled and guarded by a giant monster lizard name Laniloa. A warrior named Kana came and killed the lizard, slicing it into five pieces – these pieces can still be seen today as the islands off the point – including the skull of Laniloa with his eye socket staring at you!
Laie is a Mormon town. The Mormons trusted a man named Walter Murray Gibson to come buy them an island homeland in Hawaii after the U.S. occupied Utah. Gibson bought the island of Lanai for them but decided to keep it for himself. He gave up Mormonism, took to drinking with King Kalakaua, and became the Hawaiian Kingdom’s Prime Minister. When the Mormon’s arrived – he refused to give them Lanai and instead the king sold them Laie where they built a temple, a university, and the Polynesian Cultural Center. You’ll also find the Hukilau Cafe, though it’s not the one from the movie 50 First Dates.
Just south of Laie is Hau’ula. There’s not much in the town, but it is well known as the home of one of Hawaii’s most famous sumo wrestling schools and many of the sumo greats trained or came from Hau’ula.
I’ve been told that Konishiki came from Hau’ula. I actually met him at the backyard sumo school there about twenty years ago. I wasn’t wrestling, just checking it out.
North of Laie you find Kuhuku with the shrimp ponds, the remains of the old sugar mill, and the many food trucks that have moved there. Locally, however, Kuhuku is most famous for the high school football team, the ‘Red Raiders’. This tiny school’s team has produced more NFL players than any school in Hawaii and has ranked second in the U.S. for most active NFL players from a single school.