Monday, June 30, 2014

The Goat Ate My Shorts! ~and other tales from the Valley Isle

The guilty parties

                 Where the slogan is "Olu pua"  -- "Feeling peaceful with flowers"

I should have immediately remembered something when I bent over and heard the glasses snap in my front pocket.  That thing is that bad stuff comes in threes.  This was only the first and, it turned out, the least.

We took a mile walk to a Wawa -- we were staying in an airport hotel to be in Philadelphia airport on the following morning for our big birthday trip (for N., not me) to Maui, Hawaii -- but no reading glasses there.  So, we resigned ourselves to paying four times too much at the airport newsstand the next day (and so it proved to be, but they had exactly the same ones).  That evening in our room, it was time to get into the big suitcase, and it proved that was not going to happen, since the battered zipper was not budging.  Not only did we need things from it, can you imagine what the security people would have done with a suitcase that would not open for inspection?  Yep, sliced it up like a cantaloupe.

Thank heaven for the new iPad.  With the excellent wi-fi (thanks, Hampton Inn), we located a Kohl's nearby and used the GPS to wind our way through Chester's suburbs to eventually find a nice-sized purple suitcase.  I dispatched the old zipper with some scissors, we re-packed, and I fed the very old and now useless suitcase to the dumpster.  Up very early the next morning, we were locked, loaded and ready to go.

Not so fast:  Bad Thing #3 was up next.  N. found an e-mail that had appeared at 2 a.m. announcing that our flight was cancelled due to the crew's absence.  Now, we'd planned this itinerary carefully, in plenty of time to make good seat choices, with only one layover in Phoenix, and that three hours long to allow for the usual lateness.  Oh, no.  Now we'd have two very short layovers and terrible seats.  We remembered why we'd said we would never fly on US Air again.

Mrs. Rice went medieval on them and got our good seats back, but the short layovers had exactly the effect we had tried to avoid:  due to screwing around on the ground both in Phila and L.A., we missed our flight; the one that counted, to the green isle in the Pacific we'd dreamed about.

I won't even describe what a night in the L.A. airport is like, except that the music became insanely loud between midnight and 5 a.m. when no one was there to absorb it.  The bright lights all stayed on, of course, and the seats all had arms and were fixed, as we were, in a semi-upright position after trying out the hard floor.  Later that morning we found out they had given cots and blankets and a closed room to a number of those on our missed flight, just not us.  Nice.

So we'd gone through all Three Bad Things, and it could only get better from there.  It not only did, it got great. 

We landed in the breezy, partly open-air airport on the eastern side of Maui, the approach to which was beautiful, with all the shades of blue everyone loves in tropic waters.  Our arranged transport to the resort on the far southwestern corner was right there, and we enjoyed talking to the driver, a native Hawaiian, as pleasant and relaxed as you might imagine such a person to be.  We were eager to start learning about our new environment for the next ten days, and he was pleased to help us do so.

The resort was in the Makena area, below the ritzy Wailea, and it was just our style:  not too grand or new, but surrounded by lush nature and the crashing Pacific, quiet and at the end of the road.  The towering Haleakala volcano dominated the view from the front, and the greenery, palms and bright blue ocean was on the back side.  The western half of the island is pretty arid and looks a lot like southern California (in fact, the suburbs of Kihei we toured around in looked exactly like it), while the east is windy, wet and warmly humid.  Surrounded by golf courses, gated homes and a state park, though, the southwestern corner is irrigated and lush with flowering trees (the Plumeria was covered in fragrant white blossoms and the speading Monkeypod was on fire with red) and outside our balcony alone I counted 60 palms.

In Rome, a local once pointed out how different were the sides of the city; to the east of the Tiber, it was "about sex."  To the west, where the Vatican was, he said it was "about power."  And that was all you really needed to know.  Scrape off the American commercial veneer and cars and the overpopulation, and what Maui is about is living in the embrace of nature.  The native woods like koa -- those which are still there, as some important species like sandalwood were stripped away and sold -- are all rich and beautiful deep red and brown.  The sand can be palomino tan, black, and even, in very secluded southern coast coves, green or red.  The red-crested cardinals and mynah birds and darting lizards are fine companions -- Hawaii has no predators or snakes! Coming across the tiny Axis Deer (brought in from Asia as a gift to the King) in the evening is a treat.  I understand feral dogs, pigs and some really nasty centipedes are out in the country, more on the Big Island than Maui, but that was pretty far away.

Maluaka Beach fronted the hotel, but the three beaches of Makena State Park were just down the road, and we explored the black sand one, and both Big (it is -- huge expanse and even bigger waves, called "shore breaks") and Little, accessible over a lava ridge.  Little Beach is about the best tropical beach and view one could imagine.  There are some others on the wild south shore reserved for the more adventurous, accessed by raft, kayak or boat.  We could only go as far as our new rental Mustang covertible could, but that was more than enough.


Wish we had a view like this back home

Of course we had to do touristy things, with long breaks alternating between pool and ocean.  First we attended the last night, Sunday, of the Film Festival and saw "Cuban Fury," starring my fave Rashida Jones, outdoors at the Grand Wailea.  I tried a drink made with native P'ua Vodka, made from pineapples (they had two bars!) which I highly recommend, and it was a lovely evening.  No stars showed up (last night and all that; back to Hollywood, I guess), but those in the sky were bright and looked cool in the ocean breeze. The next day, we drove back toward the airport and the main commercial hub of Kahului, stopping in the bohemian town of Pa'ia where we made one of those serendipitous discoveries that happen every once in a while.  We had seen an episode of the cable TV show "Buying Hawaii" which featured a coconut wood home designed and built in Bali.  Wouldn't you know we were looking in storefronts and found the real estate office that was the dealership for that unusual product.  We should have stopped at the legendary Fish House, but it was too early.  From there we made a mighty effort to tackle the long drive down the twisty, narrow Road to Hana (as it's called, always in caps) but after dodging sudden rains, way too much traffic and the tension of coming head-on to trucks and minivans on half of the 56 one-lane bridges, we turned around at the Garden of Eden and headed back.  We did see the falls there and a valley looking out to the sea which was featured in the helicopter scene in "Jurassic Park," which was, I guess, worth the hair-raising trip.

Our next trip to the interior, or "upcountry," involved some irresistible baby goats who weren't quite educated on what goats should eat yet, and a visit to an astonishing distillery.

The "Jurassic Park" scene

To be continued tomorrow...


Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Yesterday's Gone

Looking at some construction projects over the past few years, I wonder about the persistence of obsolete technologies.  A hotel built alongside Interstate 81 was made of wood 2x4s, insulated with fiberglas batts, and sheathed with that oriented strand board stuff, topped with the usual shingle or rubber roof.  It's like all the far superior materials that have been developed were not known or available, I guess because we have no ships, trucks, internet or technical schools. 

Single roofs are particularly out of date, as well as being prone to ugliness due to limestone having been substituted for asbestos, which grows that black algae like crazy.  Metal roofs today aren't your grandparents rusty, uninsulated galvanized stuff anymore.  Not only will they last an incredibly long time, they will save you on homeowner's insurance and damaging leaks due to storms.  The best deal is the photovoltaic sheets you see being applied in the above picture, which will generate electricty with no bulky panels installed.  A few years ago the township built a big new government center, and I was disappointed, but not surprised, to see they bypassed this option (and the roofs are huge) for shingles.  Imagine what their electric bill would have been compared with what they will pay every month for the life of the building as it is.

The aforementioned 2x4s themselves are easy to use but poor and trouble-prone as framing members.  In places like Georgia and California where termites destroy millions of dollars worth of housing every year, you'd think steel construction would have gotten a good foothold a while ago.  A steel and concrete house will laugh off termites and storms, and as global warming encourages both to go wild, it would be wise to leave the rotting, weak 2x4 to history and move on.

And what's on the outside -- on the sides and back of big new houses, and most all of townhouses and the other more affordable ones, that would be vinyl.  People sick of faded, dented aluminum, dangerous old asbestos or continual-maintenance wood siding embraced vinyl like mad.  We have it all over.  I hate it.  The shady or north-facing areas grow green algae, and it has been permanently stained with spider pesticide (when we had an insane infestation around the garage lights) and my mistaken attempt to clean off splashed deck stain with lacquer thinner.  Plus, the more I think of being clad in plastic, the more I want to see it gone.  Today's far superior replacement is fiber-cement board, sold under the brand name of Hardie.  It will only creep into use, however, since it's more expensive and more difficult -- and very dusty -- to cut.  It's painted on site or predone, and not only lasts so much longer, looks better, but it won't curl up and die if your grill gets too close.  Admit it, you've done that at least once.  So, add vinyl siding to the list of technologies which have had their day but are so yesterday.

Fossil fuels have inarguably reached their peak of production (we've been in a plateau since about 2005) while the population, and thus demand, skyrocket upward.  Time for a new approach, don't ya think?  Electric automobiles are the metal roofs of the transportation sphere.  Tesla's 85KW model and its free supercharging stations not only look like the future, it really looks too easy.  We don't always need to make it hard though by refusing to adapt and change.  (Electric bikes, scooters, motorcycles and small commuter cars are already available and work just fine, for those who don't have $73,000 for the high-power Tesla).


Thursday, June 19, 2014

Harder Than It Has To Be

We have had our car for seven years and 95,000 miles.  After all that familiarity, there are a number of buttons with symbols or nonsense words on them that I still don't know what they do.  Fortunately, you do not have to wade through a menu list to turn the radio on; you can still push the big button.  But there are about four groups you can pre-set radio stations to -- why?  Like most people, I only have three stations pre-set on the first group, and only listen to one station very occasionally.  Who knows how many stations we can receive here, but they're all junk, and even my favorite one has too much jabber in recent years.  All electronics are massively over-featured.  I sold our bread-maker on Amazon after one use; it had a small, almost unreadable computerized menu to tell it what to do and it never did the simple thing I tried to instruct it to do (i.e., start).  I have happily junked VCRs by the dozen because they too had extensive menus, using words in obscure and arbitrary ways to, it seems, prevent you from doing the only two things you wanted to do with it: record or re-play.

I understand local or amateur signage won't be of the best quality, but why this:  recently, on boarding an airplane, I searched the usual place for the seat numbers, below the latch of the overhead bins, and found only faint smudges of tiny grey type, completely unreadable.  Meanwhile impatient people are doing unpleasant things to my backside with their enormous sharp-edged luggage.  Designers just don't understand that is the very first thing you need to determine upon boarding, and have only a half-second to do it.  Much of the population has below-perfect vision; some are height-challenged.  A label with dark letters in an clear font of a useful size would solve this problem and cost no more.  Why make a routine task impossible?

Appliances and clothing are now made to sell all over the world, so manufacturers have gone from short, clear words to symbols.  They are usually tiny and useless, since no one knows what most of them mean.  Speaking of tiny: we recently had to get a serial number off a large Sony product; it was on a sticker, with numbers the size of sand grains.  There was enough room on the back of the TV to inscribe Hamlet, and serial numbers should not be removable.

Does anyone know what all those cable TV remote buttons, which are shaped and color-coded in wildly random fashion, do?  Ours has fifty.  The ones you use all the time are not labelled, so you have to find them by experimentation.  It is fun to see what comes up on the screen, though.

We recently went to a specialty farm with high hopes of cute animal entertainment and could not find out how to sign up for, or where to be, for the tour.  There were at least 20 signs with long lists of prizes won by their products with all the dates and specifics, and some so dense with information it was not clear what the sign was about at all.  I was not the only wandering around trying to figure out how to get started.

And it is pretty amusing that in order to stop your computer, you have to click on START.  Talkin' to you, Microsoft.