Rather than expound ad nauseum about my new scenery, let me give you a blurb I wrote for the manual…
When most people think of Hawaii in general, and the island of Oahu in particular, they picture crowds. The high-rise forests of downtown Honolulu, the throngs of baking sunbathers laid out on the beaches of Waikiki like cordwood. There is another side to the island, however—figuratively, and literally.
Let’s leave behind the crowds of shoppers and surfers and take to the H1 freeway. Around Pearl City, we branch right onto the H2, and head up the valley between the hump of the Waia’nae mountains on the left, and the distant Koolaus on the right. At the last vestiges of city, we turn onto Farrington Highway, and strike out for the sparsely populated North Shore.
Out here, it’s mostly cane fields and stands of scrub Koa. The few houses you encounter might be low-slung palaces with wrought iron gates, but just as likely, they’re a patchwork of trailers with homespun additions, topped with sheets of jagged corrugated tin. The skinny poi dogs sit on their haunches and watch you roll by, their eyes drooping at half-mast.
The earth here is a deep red that spills onto the edge of the road and clings to the tires of the rusted pickup trucks. You pass a stand of papaya trees swaying, and the blackened hulk of yet another burned out car melting into the roadside landscape. This is local Hawaii, a slow and easy mélange of lush green, salty air, and tropical decay.
Up ahead on the left is Dillingham airfield. It’s definitely no big-city airport. The few buildings are made of sturdy concrete block to withstand the corrosive sea air. The asphalt is a maze of cracks, bristling with stiff, stubborn grass. The disused WWII taxiways have faded away, with only their ghostly outlines still visible.
Swinging into the parking lot, you notice the signage belying what brings tourists to this far-flung stretch of beach. They’re day-glow yellow, in English and Japanese, announcing glider rides and skydiving outfits. If this is a weekend, look out! That rippling flag-in-the-wind sound just might be hordes of feet about to drop on you from above as another flock of parachutists drift back to earth.
Check out the rows of sagging old planes resting on the ramp. There aren’t too many glamorous hangar queens here, mostly old workhorses waiting to be hitched to gliders or taken aloft for yet another spin around the nearby mountains. They’re none too proud, but you won’t find a sturdier group of battle-tested old birds anywhere.
If you’re from a big city, you might feel a little uncomfortable the first time someone just walks up to you and starts talking. Hawaiians love to “talk story,” and they’ll happily shoot the breeze with you for hours, watching the planes buzzing around overhead. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself falling into their relaxed cadence, and smiling more than you’re used to. You’re on island time now.
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