Under the Sun
Bits of Hawaii's character lost in transformation
WHEN I read that a Liliha saimin shop was soon to tack up a "gone-out-of-business" sign, I thought, "Oh, no."
Then the gloom over yet another old-style eatery's folding was lifted when a few days later the story was corrected; it seems the report of the demise of Jane's Fountain was premature.
I'm not sure how Jane's came to be the place where a group of friends from college would meet for all-too-infrequent reunions, but it was. Through hot bowls of plump won ton and noodles -- with just a scattering of minced char siu -- we'd slurp up and catch up. The ambiance of laminate-covered tables and scarred plastic water cups was familiar and comforting.
It's disturbing to see places that marked stages of your life disappear, and as years pass, the list gets longer.
Some of them were modest food stands, like Tanoue's, where pre-teen girls munched on barbecue sticks and cone sushi after Saturday sewing classes that were supposed to prepare them for domesticity even as they secretly dreamed of writing books, running businesses or escaping to the art scene of New York City.
Others were bigger enterprises, like Columbia Inn that dropped from the "top o' the boulevard" on Kapiolani to an obscure mall in Kaimuki. The old restaurant, conveniently located next to the news building, had been the watering hole for journalists, flacks, movers, shakers, politicians and celebrities for decades. The cast of characters on any pau hana Friday was one Hollywood could not have gathered, and the place churned with talk and laughter ignited by drink and food.
Though mall installed, Coffee Manoa was another favorite. Subdued, kind of bookish and a touch new-agey, it drew faithful patrons who savored the congenial atmosphere, flavorful brews and baked goods its charming proprietor put on her counters.
I miss these places, not so much for the fare as for their individual complexions. But it seems that what most people want these days is predictability. The skinny vente latte, no foam, and chicken nuggets with sauce do not vary from Vermont to Oregon.
Familiarity breeds contentment, but what's familiar to me is giving way to sameness, and there's a difference. Each of the absent places had evolved organically, building on a primary nature, unlike today's prescribed business models, which are designed to imitate character, retrofitted through hard-wired market studies to be identical.
No doubt people of previous generations have gone through the same thing, watching as small-kine local businesses surrendered to the postwar imports of chain stores, as progress relentlessly connected separate neighborhoods into a rugged metropolis, filling all the spaces in between.
They have their stories about sneaking rejected coconut candies from the factory down the block, of swimming in irrigation ditches and riding the slow trains to Waimanalo. So do I, and whether you call it rose-colored nostalgia or creeping old-fut-ism, my recollections seem more meaningful connected to places that were authentic. I can't imagine there will be much longing if one of the Taco Bell or Jamba Juice outlets that score the islands closes its doors someday.
As for Jane's, it may be time for another gathering, even if there's hardly any char siu now days.
has been on the staff of the Star-Bulletin since 1976. She can be reached at email@example.com