Buffett takes the tiki torch at Ho's stage


POSTED: Sunday, March 01, 2009

“;This is Don Ho's old space,”; said Jimmy Buffett from the stage of his new restaurant at the Waikiki Beachcomber. “;We feel we've been passed along the tiki torch.”;

Buffett's engaging “;let's have a drink”; beach bum persona conceals a man who's masterminded a multimillion-dollar-a-year business conglomerate. But he does have Ho's ability to get an audience to relax and enjoy themselves - especially at this packed VIP restaurant opening, where the Land Shark beer (Buffett's brand with Anheuser-Busch) and the margaritas (with Buffett's licensed Margaritaville tequila) flowed freely.

Of course, Buffett's beach scene is Caribbean and not Hawaiian, but he made an effort, with Henry Kapono making a brief cameo and Jake Shimabukuro joining his Coral Reefer band for the whole set. “;He's been great to me,”; said Shimabukuro, “;increased my exposure far more than I could have done on my own.”;

I don't want you to think I spent the party pondering its cultural implications. For a while I was even wearing a “;shark's fin”; balloon hat, because an attractive young lady on stilts, named Ilikea, insisted on making me one.

Ran into Billy Sage V (yes, Billy Sage the comedy machine's son, who's so talented he ought to be on stage instead of working the floor at Jimmy Buffett's). “;I'm going to learn to make balloon hats and walk on stilts,”; he said. Why? I asked. “;On the floor you get paid $10 an hour, on stilts you get $25. It's a big step up.”;


They Shall Not Pass

I rolled into the Nuuanu Avenue Mardi Gras celebration Tuesday intent on drinking some caipirinhas, eating some of Don Murphy's alligator steaks.

But I ended up working security. The blocked-off street was packed, by far the most successful downtown Mardi Gras in its nine year history.

The Samba Axe dancers and Brazilian drummers paraded down the street. To clear a path, the promoters and a few security men linked hands and parted the crowds. I got drafted into the effort, ending up between a huge security guy in a red T-shirt and a tall blond dude who I found out later was event promoter Mark Tarone.

When we reached the stage at King Street, there was a narrow aisle between a float full of dancers and the stage. The crowd kept pushing into the narrow space. Tarone said, “;You. Stand here. Don't let anyone through.”; Apparently mistaking me for someone who had a clue about crowd control.

Although it diverted my attention from the samba ladies in abbreviated costumes dancing all around me, I did what he asked.

Given the press of humanity trying to squeeze into the small space, I quickly learned diplomacy. To fellows large enough to tear my head off, I explained that although they seemed like great guys, I still couldn't let them through. I did worry when I stopped attorney Richard Turbin and wife Rai, for fear they might sue me, but they left peacefully.

The only real trouble was a 30-ish woman - not one of the wild girls on the street, but a professional, maybe someone's marketing manager. She was adamant that I was an idiot and I should get out of her way. She went off to find a policeman to arrest me, apparently with no success.

On the stage was a costume contest. One contestant was Stephanie Kong, who was wearing a headdress and pretty much nothing else besides honey and gold glitter.

She won only third place. First place went to a gentleman named Nez Carsi in orange-feathered drag.

“;You did a good job, I was going crazy,”; Tarone told me, when the whole thing wound down at 10 p.m. “;Who are you?”;


Golden Grahams

Mona Wood's father, Arthur Ka'imi Wood, died recently at age 90. Leaving her thinking about graham crackers.

All through her childhood, recalls Wood, her father would bring home milk and graham crackers. “;He always wanted us to eat more and more, and he'd just stand there, looking at us with a big smile on his face.”;

Older, she finally asked him, what was with the graham crackers? Arthur had grown up poor in Kakaako, when the area was full of Hawaiians. He often had to split a sandwich with his brother for lunch.

Recalls Mona, “;He said the rich kids - and they probably weren't even rich, just middle class - not only had a whole lunch, they had graham crackers and milk for snack. It looked so good to him.”;

Arthur Wood never got rich or famous, but like a lot of people, he made sure his kids had what he never did. Mona still always keeps graham crackers in house.


Departure's Arrival

Chuck Boller, executive director of the Hawaii International Film Festival, is still bubbling about the Academy Awards. Not just because HIFF's official Oscar party at the Royal last weekend was the biggest and dressiest ever. Not just because Michael Emerson made a brief appearance so HIFF could have a star at the party. It's because a Japanese film, “;Departures,”; won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film.

The film's about an unemployed classical musician who takes a job preparing corpses (which, I have to admit, sounds like the worst 10-word story pitch ever). The Japanese distributor had no plans to release the film in the United States until Boller called up and begged to show the film at HIFF.

It had a single-night showing in Los Angeles to qualify it for an Academy nomination. “;That means if you lived in New York, or San Francisco, you never got a chance to see it,”; says Boller. “;But if you lived in Honolulu, you could, at our festival. The Japanese consul and the distributor both called me the next morning to say thanks.”;


John Heckathorn is editor of Hawaii Magazine and director of integratedmedia for the aio Group.