Pit Bull Paradise
Everyone’s Hawaiian vacation story goes something like this: “We stayed on Maui for ten days at a resort, and it was delightful! The beach was gorgeous, our condo had an ocean view and we spent almost all our time relaxing.” Am I right? Do you have one of these stories? I’ll try not to envy you too much, because in January, I had the anti-Maui experience. The Ewa Experience. I’m gonna say I did it because I needed more material for this blog.
Welcome to the Neighborhood
We’re traveling South on Fort Weaver Road, driving to the rental we’ll call home for nearly two weeks. “Those houses over there look pretty nice,” says Dad’s wife, Kathe. “But that’s not where we’re staying.”
‘Those homes’ are part of a new community that advertises ‘3 & 4 bedroom homes from the $500,000’s.’ We pass manicured lawns, high wooden fences, landscaping and a new shopping complex with a Safeway grocery store. The Safeway is a tribute to American supermarket architecture, with its soft lighting, wide aisles and earth tones. Naturally, it houses the coffee culture paragon called Starbucks.
What we see next makes me want to curl my body around a tall decaf Americano with a shot of steamed soy milk and never let go.
As we approach the ocean side of Ewa, developers have ceased to care. Somewhere around Kuhina Street, tidy capitulates to trash. Plastic bags shush and skitter across sidewalks; graffiti (the cockroach of communities worldwide, because roaches and spray paint live globally) becomes even more prevalent. The heir apparent to the Hawaiian throne – the Chihuahua – has been supplanted with an increasing number of strong-jawed breeds such as pit bulls, German shepards and Rottweilers. Every second house sports a sign announcing, “Guard dog on duty.” On duty? These are all working dogs? All poised to attack? I can hardly wait to slide into my Adidases and run the ‘hood.
We pass a mustard-colored series of buildings encircled by chain link fence. In the middle sits a play structure. Public housing. The projects. We turn right on Ewa Beach Road. This must be where we see the ocean.
A two-story cinder block apartment complex rests on the corner. “That’s where I saw the pack of Chihuahuas last night,” says Dad (he and Kathe had arrived the night before).
Small homes crowd onto stamp-sized yards on the beach road. We can’t see the beach. We do see evidence of shade tree mechanics. Cars awaiting repair line the side of the street and sit in yards. Some are missing front ends. Others are missing paint, or perhaps an engine. I study variations on the dangerous dog sign: “BEWARE of DOG;” “BEWARE DOGS ON DUTY;” and “WARNING BEWARE DOG ON DUTY!!!” The three exclamation points really get me. I think it’s code for “Rip! Your! Flesh!”
I can’t WAIT to run through Ewa Beach.
We arrive at our rental house, a one level, three-bedroom, two bath cottage on stilts (“Maybe it was a trailer,” says Dad). The painted wooden sign hanging on the house’s front says, “Hale I Ke Kai” which the owner says means “Home Near the Sea” in Hawaiian. I tell Dad it really means, “Buyer Beware.” The place itself is wood paneled, with bamboo furniture and beach design gel clings on the large bathroom mirror. It’s tidy and stocked with fluffy white towels, hair dryers, dishwashing soap, spices and condiments past guests have left. The backyard has a barbeque grill, a table and small, enclosed yard with orange and mango trees. The American-sized (i.e., giant) washer and dryer live outside in back – they’re slipcovered with navy and blue flowered vinyl bonnets.
Maybe we can hang in the backyard and ignore the rest of the neighborhood.
No, we can’t.
POP-POP….POP-POP-POP-POP!!! It’s well past New Year’s, and some yay-hoo is shooting firecrackers? Really? That sets off the landlord’s Chihuahua (the landlord, Cheryl, lives next door). And – is that a rooster? Don’t most cities ban roosters? Not here. They roam Oahu, and apparently, someone in our ‘hood keeps one as a pet. Either that, or the same damn cock crows at three, four, five and six a.m. each morning from the same location.
We stay at our new home the first night, exhausted from travel – the kids and I have flown from New Zealand, with airport layovers in Fiji and Samoa; Dad and Kathe have flown from Ohio, stopping in Detroit, Houston and Los Angeles before hitting Honolulu.
Truth in Advertising
One day, as I’m listing across the beach to take pictures (it’s hard to walk upright along the shoreline because sand slants sharply to the water), I approach one of the BEWARE DOGS ON DUTY signs to get a better shot (my zoom lens is crap). Maybe they’re just bluffing. Maybe it’s a Chihuahua. Maybe – RUH, RUH, RUH – RUHHHHH! Just then, two strong-jawed dogs, possibly pit bull mixes, rush the chain link fence. Truth in advertising.
We’re serenaded during dinner by Cheryl’s daughter. “She has a band. I hope it’s okay if they practice,” says Cheryl. We tell her sure, as long as they don’t play past nine o’clock. The daughter belts out Alicia Keys’ song, “If I Ain’t Got You:”
“Some people want it all, but I don’t want nothing at all…” Again and again. And again…
At first, she’s only slightly off-key. A few bars later, I imagine Simon Cowell flaunting his manbreasts in white v-neck t-shirt, saying, “My dear. That is just bad karaoke. Get some training…” Finley does a mock wolf howl: “Aah-OO!” he says. “FINLEY,” says Dad. “If you can hear them, they can hear you.”
Aah-OO! The drummer’s not half-bad.
|One of our neighbors|
Making a Run for it
The next morning, awakened by the rooster, the Chihuahua or both, I decide a run will make me feel better. I fasten my GPS watch, planning a six mile jaunt. A man rides past me in a green golf cart with hand-written cardboard sign saying, “I collect used batteries and bicycles.” A Rastafarian-looking man wearing dreads and white turban walks along the side of the street. I round the corner, where a single yard contains five vehicles: two pickup trucks (one of which is filled with auto parts), a small gray bondo buggy whose hood sits partway open, a brown Corolla, gray mini-van and shiny red BMW sedan. I later learn Rasta Guy lives there. It’s hard to tell which color his house on stilts used to be, since most of the paint is faded and peeled. Pieces of cardboard with the words, “City Mill” perch inside a window.
The neighbor’s house includes an outside junk display with a half-dozen bicycles and leftover Christmas lights. Remember, we’re in Hawaii. Palm trees, manicured resorts, quaint bungalows, Waikiki high-rises… Not for me. Because I’m a writer. And I need material.
I run along the main road, which, at this end of town, has neither sidewalk nor bike path. I run alongside a golf course to avoid setting off anyone’s well-advertised ‘DANGEROUS DOG!’ I run past the housing projects, where laundry hangs outside and trash sits piled in a corner. Just up the street is Ilima Intermediate school. That’s where I see a man who appears to have just rolled out of a dumpster (greasy hair, dirty sweatpants, streaked red t-shirt) doing something that at first looks like tending bushes. He holds a Chihuahua on a leash. He’s peeing. The man, not the dog, who’s waiting until his human finishes urinating in public. At a school. Which, thankfully, is not in session today.
|Canal next to Ewa Beach|
I look at my watch. I’ve only run 2.5 kilometers – about a mile and-a-half. I’ve had enough. From now on, I’ll park at the Safeway and run anywhere but here. I shudder, picturing large canine teeth puncturing my calf. I once faced a snarling Rottweiler during a run in Spokane in an unfamiliar neighborhood. Sean was bitten on the calf by a pit bull in our own ‘hood. Neither of us have had success with guard dogs and exercise.
|H-1 towards Waikiki - weekend traffic|
Never mind. We’re not here to hang at home. We’ll explore the island, heading first to Waikiki to climb Diamond Head. It’s only 26 miles away, yet the trip takes about an hour and 15 minutes that first day. H-1 is gridlock. It’s noon on Saturday – nowhere near anyone’s rush hour – and we’re sitting. Creepy-crawly-ing forward. Sightseeing on the H-1. Because there are five of us, we need just one car. For two weeks, I sit in the back seat of a Jeep Laredo, which is quite spacious, unless you’re with my two small fries, Fiona and Finley. To allay the constant chatter and frequent fighting, we play alphabet games: “Name fruits and vegetables that start with A through Z…” We do the same with countries and names.
Here’s the thing: We knew what we signed up for. My friend, Paul, who’s lived on Oahu for two years, told me Ewa was far from all the tourist sites; the beach was below average and we’d sit in traffic for hours. His wife, Jonna, worked in Ewa. She lived the commute each weekday. He was right, dammit. But Dad had already paid the deposit on the house, and really, how bad could it be?
And then roadwork starts. Right in front of our rental. Each morning at 8:30, we’d hear the “BEEP, BEEP, BEEP” of an asphalt truck. The scent of hot tar still reminds me of Hawaii.
Let us Out
I write the landlady a diplomatic e-mail asking if she’d consider letting us out of the last week of the rental. Forget it. She later stands in the living room, saying her “heart is hurt,” and “God bless us,” but her family relies on income from the rental and she just can’t do it. We’re stuck in Ewa, at $300 per night. I’m not sleeping well, and tired after traveling three weeks in New Zealand. The home we rent Down Under is also someone’s holiday home, and the owners required us to move out for six weeks. At last, I’ve grown weary of traveling. I’m tired of sitting on the H-1. I search online for other housing options. Everything’s booked or too pricey.
|Beachfront at Ewa|
We flee Ewa each day like tourist refugees, travelling to wide, walkable beaches (mostly) free of trash and guard dogs. We snorkel near Ko Olina, where just minutes earlier we saw spinner dolphins twirling and Humpback whales slapping their tales, depositing oily body prints atop the water. We watch performers in native dress from Pacific Island nations (including Aotearoa) at the Polynesian Cultural Center; snap pictures of pigs’ heads under glass in Chinatown and meet Paul and Jonna at Alan Wong’s excellent restaurant to sample Hawaiian gastronomy and endure good-natured ribbing about our off-the-beaten-path accommodation.
No Place Like Home
While I can’t brag about a Hawaiian beach bungalow at a swanky five-star resort, our trip fulfilled other purposes: it gave my kids bonus time with grandparents, and it renewed my appreciation for living in New Zealand, where traffic is light, beaches are clean, and dogs walk happily alongside their humans.