Gathering Place
Ken Durbin

Traffic, auto break-ins,
litter ... This is paradise?

Dear Oahu, I am a U.S. Navy service member. I have been stationed all over the world for the past 20-plus years. When I was offered the chance to live here in paradise, I took a look around and asked others who had been stationed here before what they thought of Hawaii. I accepted the orders anyway.

I heard that you have a poor education system. I heard that paradise had a pollution problem. I heard that crime and drug use were out of proportion to the population and income levels for such a small state. I heard that traffic was crazy -- a "nightmare," was the word used to describe it. Despite all of this, I put aside the warnings as just the typical mantra of sailors' gripes and decided to see for myself.

I've lived here for a little more than a year now. I quit getting up at 0500 to drive the 1.3 hours and 15 miles required on the H-1 to get to work. Instead, I thought I'd be part of the solution and ride my bike from Kapolei to Camp Smith at least four days a week. Although I've lost 10 pounds, saved hundreds of dollars in fuel costs and given the good people of Hawaii at least one less car on an outrageously congested highway, I am sure the ride will kill me. There is no bike path on Farrington Highway between Kapolei and the Kunia exit. It is just a matter of time before the heavy farm trucks take me out.

When I ride home through Aiea and then onto the bike path that runs behind Hawaiian Electric, Leeward College and the wetlands, I am astonished at the garbage left at the roadside. Today I saw a mattress and box springs balanced on a shopping cart. I half-heartedly laughed under my breath that I would be able to use that as a landmark for weeks if I were giving someone directions: "Take a left at the bed on wheels." And I don't know if anyone else knows, but there is a small car submerged and barely visible from one of the bridges on the bike path. I think it is a white VW bug with a sun roof. But I am not sure. I wonder if anyone is in it. Probably not, huh?

We hosted guests recently. As we showed then the sights we passed a mattress in Waikiki that was there on three different occasions, undisturbed. Every time we passed it, I cringed and blushed in my embarrassment for the people of Oahu.

My truck has been broken into three times since I've started riding my bicycle to work. I guess it is an easy target sitting in front of my home. The first time, the thieves stole a gym bag full of soiled, smelly gym gear but not before smashing a $290 window. This time they took an empty bag with a cigarette lighter in it. I don't smoke. The lighter was standard equipment and I had removed it to plug in my cell phone charger. It is useless without an automobile attached to it. But hey, you take it. Light up. When you are pau, just toss it along the road. I know you will.

I just went to the Ford dealer to pick up my truck after the repairs. While I waited to pay the $478 dollars for a cigarette lighter and door lock, a family of four was towed in. They had just been robbed at the beach. Their car had to be towed because the keys were stolen along with their belongings. The mother was still wearing her beach towel around her waist. The father was trying to get to a phone to cancel credit cards and bank accounts. The kids were surprisingly calm while faced with such a crisis. I wanted to ask them how and where it had happened. But I already knew. It happened on Oahu.

This brings us to the education system. My wife, a school teacher and a damn good one at that, is amazed at what she has found since taking a job here. I am not. For me, Hawaii's education system is par for the course. How else do you explain a population that cannot drive or correctly discard their garbage, and steal anything worth stealing? When I leave here, I am afraid I will join those who warned me, to warn others. But know this: I discounted their warnings. Nothing could ever be that bad. What I've learned here I learned by observing, not by accepting the perceptions of others. I'm just a guy who doesn't see the "Hawaiian way" as being all that special, yeah?

Ken Durbin lives in Kapolei.

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