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Honolulu Lite

by Charles Memminger

Monday, January 22, 2001

Savor Lanai while
there’s still time

EVERYONE knew that when zillionaire David Murdock decided to put a couple of ritzy hotels on Lanai, the island would be changed forever. He basically owns that little square on the Monopoly board and if he wanted to stick a couple of hotel pieces on it, he would.

Now comes news that the state wants to extend the Lanai Airport runway to allow larger commercial jets to land there. And that has people wondering if Murdock has plans to plop a couple of other game pieces on his property. There will be the usual wailing that the culture of Lanai is being trampled. But the fact is Lanai has changed and will never again be the quaint pineapple plantation island it used to be.

Before they built the Lodge at Koele and the Manele Bay Hotel, I went to Lanai to do some stories for this paper. I stayed at the only hotel there at the time, the 10-room, wood-frame Hotel Lanai. There was no air conditioning or televisions, which seemed to suit everyone just fine.

The lanai bar was a gathering place for island residents in the late afternoons. One day I had just returned from a mission around the island, during which a local fisherman had given me two enormous lobsters. I gave the lobsters to the hotel kitchen chef and he cooked them up and served them to all the patrons in the bar as pupu.

There was only one golf course on the island at the time, a nine-hole plantation course that kindly could be called rustic. The greens were so rustic that little yellow flowers grew on them. But you couldn't beat the price: it was free. I golfed with the entire Lanai Golf Association, about 13 people, including the Lanai High School Golf Team, a 16-year-old kid whose name escapes me.

THEY had a unique way of playing golf: everyone teed off together. So you had 13 people playing one hole at a time. The only rule was that if no one was in front of you, you hit your ball. It was a grand time, balls zinging all over the place and everyone in great spirits.

Miraculously, only one person got nailed with a golf ball. We played 13 holes because, I was told, "nine was not enough but 18 took too long." Then we all retired to the open-air club house and drank beer the rest of the day.

The thing that struck me most about Lanai at that time was the silence. It was hard to get used to the absence of background noise. The only sound was a mysterious occasional hum in the air, which I finally tracked down. It was made by the wind, whistling through the tops of the enormous Norfolk Island Pines outside my open hotel window.

One night, my wife and I took a bottle of champagne and a couple of Styrofoam cups and drove our rental car out into the middle of a pineapple field. It was completely dark, the kind of dark you can't experience on Oahu, where there's always some artificial light around.

We sat on the hood of the car, leaning back on the windshield, drinking our champagne and looking at the stars. We heard a rustle in the darkness. There was something out there. What was it? A wild pig? A demented dear preparing to attack us? Muggers?

Being city slickers, our imaginations raced. We considered fleeing back to the hotel. Then we realized it was only the sound of champagne bubbles, crackling in our Styrofoam glasses.

Let's hope that when the big jets aren't taking off and landing, visitors still will be able to experience that kind of peace and quiet on little Lanai.

Charles Memminger, winner of
National Society of Newspaper Columnists
awards in 1994 and 1992, writes "Honolulu Lite"
Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
Write to him at the Honolulu Star-Bulletin,
P.O. Box 3080, Honolulu, 96802
or send E-mail to

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