Waikiki Transportation

There are numerous transportation options on Waikiki. Walking is the preferred mode and the one we have chosen most often - there’s also bike, Segway, scooter, motorcycle, cab, bus (double decker, trolley motif and the ultra-fashionable whale-tail) or rental vehicles of many configurations. While researching the options prior to arrival on the island, we had weighed the virtues of the typical brand-name rental agencies versus the more budget-oriented ones and opted to patronize a local business which offered the most competitive price on a minivan. Not only was the price hundreds of dollars cheaper per week than the major names but they did not require any deposit and they offered to pick up the primary driver at their residence at whatever time you so desired. Economy + service = total score!

At the time of scheduling the vehicular arrangements, the proprietor indicated they had a van available the day after our arrival in Waikiki. Perfect! We wouldn’t need to traverse the island immediately and so the deal was struck. I felt pretty good about finding a bargain and dealing with folks who operated on a verbal handshake. There was community in the air and the availability of our preferred vehicle fortuitous. In my glee, I neglected to ask about the particulars of the vehicle in question. Things like... does it have seat belts, does it have air conditioning, does it have bald tires? The list goes on and I didn’t even consider it until we were actually in Hawaii.

True to their word, on the morning the van was to be ready, the rental outfit called an hour prior to their agreed-upon time of availability. The lady on the other end of the phone indicated she was going to pick me up. Unprepared for this promptness, I requested a rendezvous time forty-five minutes in the future and she gladly agreed and said she would meet me out front in a silver van. She asked what I would be wearing. Such personal attention to detail left me feeling the blind-date jitters and me not even knowing this woman’s name I paused. Two seconds of silence turned to eternity and then I thought, be yourself, Joe...just be Joe. And that’s what I did. I hadn’t yet planned an outfit for the day but knew I could pull it together. I dug deep and went for the standard cotton repertoire that has donned my shoulders for the past 25 years and stated with firm confidence that I would be wearing a white t-shirt and added the shorts would be in my favorite color - plaid.

Attire is everything in Hawaii. Each member of society walking the streets has a distinctive dress code. There is the Unqualified Tourist - he (typically male) struts around paradise in oblivion, long pants and lace-up, leather shoes. He may augment this look with a newly purchased, fresh-off-the-loom shirt with unmistakable Hawaiian print but it is of no consolation. He might as well be wearing a neon sign that screams “Nebraska Native.” Then there is the Poser Tourist that makes a vague attempt to assimilate. He wears shorts and some non-descript shirt but ruins the fashion by wearing black socks hiked up to the knee with lace-up shoes of indeterminate material. Then there are women with crisp, Hawaiian-print dresses holding an armful of pamphlets and they are to be avoided as they will be trying to sell you on a luau or some other touristy travesty. Then there are the local and mainland transplanted surfer girls that wear the tiniest...wait, I got distracted. There is enough fashion craziness that it can wait for another story.

Bingo! Just as the nameless rental woman promised, at precisely nine-thirty in the morning, I exited onto the avenue and it wasn’t ten seconds later that Miss No Name pulled up to the curb and greeted me in a not-so-handsome Dodge Caravan. She did not lie - the van was exactly as described - silver - likely the most admirable feature. She was a friendly woman from the mainland and talked easily throughout the ten-minute ride to the rental location. The windows were down and the island music channel was leaking out of the radio providing a casual soundtrack to our short travel. The rental business is run as an adjunct to a gas station. I was introduced by Miss No Name to the local woman that keeps the wheels turning and in keeping with tradition I neglected to commit to memory her name as well. We went through the typical paperwork and I was then whisked back to the parking lot where Miss No Name and I walked around the van to inspect and document the numerous dents, dings and exterior failings of what was to be my choice Hawaiian ride. As we were circumnavigating the vehicle she said, “the best thing about it is that no one will think it’s a rental.” I nearly collapsed on the asphalt in laughter except that her next and final statement drove fear into my heart and I considered throwing the keys at her and running for the ridiculous whale-tail bus passing by. She joyously said, “if you could check the oil every now again or if you want to swing by the shop here we’ll check the oil for you.”

With the grand send-off to “please check the vital fluids” and being a man of considerable experience in the arena of automotive mechanics, I knew this 1998 Caravan with 130,000 miles on the odometer was going to be full of character and would likely rival the nuance, flair and style of the well-worn 1985 Jetta that Fletcher had bequeathed to me when he left for the west coast (he affectionately called that car Thunder Belly as the defunct exhaust announced its presence a half-mile before reaching its destination). With the van in my possession for several days now I think Thunder Belly was probably a more trustworthy vehicle.

Having received my fair warning from Miss No Name I embraced the economy of the situation, buckled myself in to the stained, fabric interior and headed for the gas station exit. Moments passed while waiting to turn out onto Kalakaua Avenue when I heard a ding. It was the kind of ding you might hear when a fine automobile alerts you to an open door. Being as this was not a fine automobile, I focused my eyes on the dashboard and zeroed in on the red-light indicating low oil pressure. I was forewarned but not believing they would have sent this vehicle out on a tour without having checked the oil, I pressed on the accelerator slightly to rev the engine and the oil light went off. No sweat, just keep the RPM’s above 800 and the light will stay off, the engine will get the oil pressure it needs and I’ll get through. Likely there have been dozens of patrons before me that have not heeded the pressure warning and have idled at endless lights letting the internal parts grind away without proper lubrication. Who was I to interrupt this ritual? Rev up and drive on - with this many miles and obvious abuse, the vehicle was a keeper, a slave to the clueless and a mental menace to the mechanically inclined.

Upon successful return to the residence, I portrayed the vehicle as nothing special and reported that it would be adequate basic transportation. It wasn’t until the next day that we took the family out for a drive around Diamond Head. The boys were excited to see the rented vehicle and far less excited to get in it. They noticed immediately that it lacked the standard conveniences of nearly every modern mini-van (automatic sliding doors). They had to learn how to open sliding doors old school style and after several days of exposure they really don’t have the knack for it.

We piled the kids in the van and backed out of our assigned space number 13 in the parking garage - far away from the perils of forks fleeing the lanai (see “Hazards of Hawaii” story published elsewhere). We had scarcely moved when Wife noticed the “ticka, ticka, ticka” sound the engine made. It was clearly audible in the confines of a parking garage, less so on the open road and a constant reminder that the engine was one quart away from a total meltdown. With one toe on the fuel feed and one toe on the brakes, I’ve driven this poorly air conditioned excuse for transportation more than 100 miles across the island and hope it’ll last the 50 more anticipated miles we’ll need out of it. Now that I’m a little bit tan and I haven’t stepped out of it wearing black socks, loafers or lace-up shoes, scarcely anyone will think it a rental. They’ll just assume I’m a thrifty local.