Wednesday, December 16, 2009

From the Book: Volcano Daze

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Volcano Daze
Several days later, we got a shift in winds away from our typical
trade wind direction of northeast. An approaching front from
up Kauai way had stalled there and allowed a southerly flow to
develop. Not bad in itself except for one problem. S
One hundred and thirty miles away the world's most active
volcano was pumping out lava and sulfuric acid fumes like it had
something to prove. I guess it actually did. Prove that it could build
another 47,000 foot tall mountain. Its previous accomplishment,
Mauna Kea, was like a Hawaiian iceberg, most of it was hidden beneath
the sea. As some 2000 metric tons of sulfuric acid fumes were being
produced daily and mixed with those southerly winds, we soon
experienced one of the things Los Angeles got to enjoy regularly, smog.
Except we called it Vog, since it came from a Volcano.
Many people dreaded it, even tried to get away by flying to
Kauai, 200 miles to the north. Most of us just had to deal with it, and
the quirks it elicited from those susceptible. Some people got coughs,
others red eyes, and many just got grumpy. Real grumpy. It was
funny how most folks couldn't recognize the external forces at work on
them. Full moons could make some a little wild. Rainy days could
make others depressed. A Coco Loco Moco would paint a few lucky
ones iridescent with happiness. Vog put people in a daze.
Today, from the tree house I couldn't even see southeast to
Hana, or the summit of the mountain or west to Molokai. It looked like
a thick one, and from experience, I knew the bar would have to open
early. Grumpy people were coming, and it was my job to resolve that
little problem for them. We were good at that, and relished the
challenge. So, if I was going to get any chores done, I had to get to it
right away.
I grabbed my wallet, hat and polarized sunglasses. These
shades cut the voggy glare perfectly, allowing me to get a jump on
whatever strangeness was coming my way. As I was leaving our valley
and going out into town I was expecting some.
The truck was fully charged from yesterday's trades and so I
headed out, good for 300 or so miles before I had to recharge. I drove
easily up the gravel road, between the palms and arecas, between the
shade and the sunlight. The windows stayed down so I could hear what
I might from this wonderful buffer between Tiwaka's and the world. It
was a little over 2 miles to the first signs of civilization and that was a
simple two lane asphalt road.
There one could always find an abandoned car, or three, the
weeks garbage cans awaiting pickup and an old shoe or hat that had
blown out of a truck. Rows of old beat up mailboxes somehow defied
the laws of physics and kept their rusty hulks perched atop rotten
wooden posts indefinitely. The road, affectionately called Hana Highway
despite being one lane in many places, seemed to be the froth at the
top of all the little jungle roads leading to it. From here, you could
pretty much tell what was going on in the jungles on either side. One
place along the road was a favorite gathering place for the hippies as
they hitchhiked into the little windsurfing village for coffee, Internet and
little if any soap. They were always nice though, and I regularly picked
up those that didn't look all bobo. Obviously, there was an organic
work-for-rent farm close by.
A little further down the road was a bank of newer bombproof
mailboxes, with locks on them. Probably a nest of survivalists hidden
close by. Not much farther, posted on a tree above the road for all to
see was a Ron Paul billboard, announcing someone there's frustration
with modern politics.
As I drove down into yet another valley, big bridges were too
expensive here, I saw some hitchhikers ahead. I slowed a little to size
them up. If they were muddy, stoned or rowdy I let them wait for a
different ride. If they had a mangy dog or a bunch of friends sitting in
the bushes I passed as well.
These guys though looked OK. Both were my age, a guy and a
girl, both with dreadlocks and pale white skin. Jungle dwellers no
doubt, perched perhaps in a small tent near a waterfall, living their
version of paradise found. The girl was holding what I thought was a
package, but turned out, as I slowed, to be a baby.
Pulling over, and checking my mirror for flybys approaching, I
rolled down the window and said, "I'm going to Paia town."
The guy smiled widely and gave me the shaka sign. "Cool,
thanks." He hopped up front and the girl and baby climbed into the
back.
"Bless you for sharing with us," she said.
"Sure, no problem." I pulled back onto the road and easily
accelerated up the hill out of the valley. I looked into my rear view
mirror and saw her pulling the baby up to her breast. She caught my
eye and smiled.
"He always gets hungry in the car. Thank you again for picking
us up. We were waiting for quite a while."

Upon a little closer inspection I think I knew why. The guy was
pretty dirty. He wasn't muddy, but he had not been swimming in the
waterfall any time recently. I think I saw some grass stuck in his hair.
He was aching to talk, so I gave him the nonverbals that it was
OK to chat.
"Why is this truck so quiet?" he asked.
"It's electric, almost too quiet, I sneak up on people all the time."
The girl in the back said something like "Wow" and the guy "No
Way".
"We plug it into our wind turbines to charge it up, so we're
stoked it's completely green," I touted. I was so proud of that I
probably bordered on bragging.
"What are you guys up to, with that cute little baby?" I asked.
Any question always got them chatting. The jungle didn't provide a lot
of adult conversation.
The girl started to say something, but the guy interrupted her in
his haste. "We're off to see Yogi Sambatha speak. We have been
following his teachings for two years now."
"And, we might see some of our old friends from Oregon as
well," the girl added. "It's going to be a magical time, perhaps you
would join us?"
I looked back into the mirror. This girl was absolutely beautiful
despite some attempt to mask it. Her baby was making cooing sounds
and something inside of me really, really appreciated that.
"Thank you. I can't though, I have to get back to work after
running a few errands."

The guy was coughing a little, sounding like a smokers cough.
Few of these folks indulged in the obviously harmful things, so I asked
him about it.
"Sounds like the Vog is getting to you a little."
He coughed again and looked at me. "Vog?"
"Yeah, that haze you see in the air, from the volcano, on the Big
Island."
The girl leaned forward and asked, "Is it harmful much?"
I looked back in the mirror briefly, into big green eyes. "Well,
not for the few days we might have it. It can make some folks cough,
and rumor has it, others grumpy."
"Oh my god!" She touched the guy's shoulder. "Lifehouse,
perhaps that is what has you irritated."
Lifehouse, I thought. Interesting name.
He stifled one more cough, now that we were focused on it. His
eyes were looking puffy, like he had an allergy.
"Some people take antihistamine and it works well," I offered.
Lifehouse looked over at me. "We can't do any drugs. We are
living clean in God's wonder."
"That's cool," I didn't want to argue with that. "This stuff usually
clears out in a few days."
We drove on in silence, as they watched the scenic sea below
the stunning cliffs, and then the kite surfers of Ho'okipa scattering
across the waves like kids racing for a ball.

Finally approaching the town, I asked, "Where should I drop you
guys off at?" The light ahead was turning.
The girl leaned forward and touched my shoulder this time. We
were stopped in a massive traffic jam of eight cars at the stop light, so I
looked back in the mirror again. She smiled, and said, "The pharmacy
would be just fine, thank you."
I couldn't help but ask, because they didn't seem like trust fund
babies out for a lark in Hawaii. "How is everything, with the baby and
all?"
"The universe provides for us," the guy volunteered.
I nodded. That's a good gig if you can get it. Reaching into my
shirt pocket I pulled out the twenty dollar bill the old man had tipped me
a few nights ago. I handed it back to the girl.
"The universe gave this to me recently, so let me pass it on to
you, to the baby."
"That's so very cool," he said. He turned and looked at his
family.
She was tearing up a little. The baby let out a huge burp.
Pulling over in front of the pharmacy they got out, and thanking
me again, they shut the doors and I drove off to finish my shopping.
I thought that baby would have quite a story to tell, if he ever
had a good chance to do so. Perhaps the universe would take care of
that for him.
I drove another block and finally found a parking spot. This little
village, hamlet, town or whatever they called it had perfected the art of
looking busy all the time by providing as few parking spots as possible.

Therefore, the few spots were always taken and the illusion was that
things were hopping. One hidden dirt lot provided the locals with some
relief, but I had been blocked in there on more than one occasion so I
took the one remaining street spot immediately.
Keeping the windows lowered a bit to keep the truck cool, I
stepped out, locked the doors like a Honolulu guy would, and made my
way to the sidewalk. I had parked in front of The Curious Cafe, an open
air joint with a permanent party tent for a roof and a lot of bamboo
siding. The waitress inside was busy, every table was taken, and the
cook in the back was yelling at her. I had seen this girl before, around
town and such, or maybe the beach. The cook though looked like a
wild eyed mass murderer waiting for an opportunity.
"Come on! Come on!" he was yelling "Stop talking."
She looked back at him, embarrassed. Her customers were
trying to order, but the cook wouldn't let up.
"This food is getting cold, move your okole!" he screamed.
Wow, that was the Vog alright. This guy must have inhaled too
deeply. I thought I would throw a little distraction in the mix.
"Howzit Amy!" I almost yelled myself. "Need any help?"
She looked out to the sidewalk fearfully, and saw my goofy self
waving like a love-struck kid. She up-nodded her head slightly trying to
shoo me off.
I stepped in the door a little and looked over at the incredulous
insanity on the cook's face. I think I saw veins the size of banyan tree
roots. There may have been drool but the lighting was bad.
"Hey no hippies!" he yelled.

Well, that was a real bad idea. Several long hairs and
compatriots turned and said in chorus "What did you say?"
That caught him off guard. He looked back at me and sent
several virtual nuclear tipped daggers at me, which promptly bounced
off my self righteousness nicely.
"No hippies eh?" I said, playing to the crowd. "Well, you better
move to another island."
Several tables began to clear. All the Rastafarians, surfer types,
and some street wise tourists began moving out to the sidewalk. That
was the last straw. They could put up with obnoxiousness, but not
rudeness. Or they saw a fight coming.
Amy walked up to me and said softly, "I hope you have fast
feet."
The cook looked to be standing another foot higher, maybe two.
Could he really be getting bigger? Then I realized no, he was coming up
and over the counter.
"I'm gonna kill you, stinking hippy!" He held a large butcher knife
in his hand, knocking over bottles of Tabasco and ketchup as he
clamored in my direction. Froth was coming from his mouth, ears and
nose, or at least it looked like that.
Now, I'm not a stupid trouble maker. I know my limits and I
know when trouble has its place, and this was one of those places. I
stuck my tongue out at him, turned and made my way up the sidewalk.
Turning a little to see if he could keep up, I waited until he threw himself
out to the sidewalk, bounced off a rented Jeep, spotted me and
lowered his head like a bull.

The knife had me concerned a little but would work to my
advantage as I easily outdistanced the Vog victim. He was huffing and
puffing in the volcanic haze and the slight uphill climb. People behind
him were pointing. Amy, I noted, was holding her hand over her
mouth, as if to stifle a scream, or a thank you. Not sure which, I would
ask later.
"Your omelets suck!" I yelled back in encouragement. It
seemed to help motivate him.
Just ahead was my target, the local Law & Order outstation. I
knew Kimo and Jake would be there this time of morning, reading the
paper and waiting for something to happen. Something was right about
now.
I burst in the small door, marked P O L I C E and announced,
"New customer inbound! Man with a knife!"
Both of them stood up quickly, spilling coffee and the
newspapers. "What the...?" Kimo exclaimed.
Just then the mad man ran past the door, saw me inside and
ran back. He peered inside, butcher knife at the ready, until his eyes
focused on P O L I C E. At that point he quickly put the knife behind
him.
"Hey," Kimo said. "Isn't that the cook at Cafe Curious?"
"Oh yeah, I believe it is." I said as nonchalantly as possible.
Both officers moved toward the door, their hands on their
holsters until the cook turned and ran back the way he had come.

I held the door open for them as they rushed out and within a
moment had the crazed cook down on the sidewalk, knife in the gutter
and cuffs on. These guys were good.
As they brought him back toward the station, I waved and
crossed the street so as to give them more room to avoid me. The
cook didn't look at me at all, he was coughing and hacking. Vog.
The crowd in front of the emptied cafe was dispersing, probably
before the owner showed up and demanded payment. Amy was there
trying to clean up the breakage. She was crying a little.
"Amy, are you alright?" I asked.
She shook her head no, not wanting to let her voice confirm
what her tears already told me.
"Here," I bent down for the broom. "Let me help. I'm sorry it got
out of hand." I picked up a large part of a broken A-1 bottle, that a
crime against nature in itself. "Is he always that grumpy?"
She laughed a little. "No. Not really. Only lately, today."
I nodded. "Vog."
She looked at me in confusion.
"You know, the Vog, from the volcano. Makes some folks really
grumpy," I explained. I felt like a Vog salesmen or something.
She turned back to gather the last of the spilled napkins and
stood up. "Well, whatever it is, it ain't working for me."
"I hear that girl! And, that guy won't be cursing you in front of
customers anymore. The owner no doubt will get rid of him."

She laughed a little cynically this time. "Well, he is the owner."
She looked down at the floor again and burst into tears. "I just got this
stupid job, now what?"
I tried to comfort her the best I could. Considering I should have
parked in the dirt lot after all maybe I had something to offer.
"Look, the Vog's got you too girl. All this crying. This job
sucked! You know that."
A couple of tourists walked in but I waved them off.
"We're closed for another 15, please." They walked back out.
"Look Amy, have you ever been to Tiwaka's, out Haiku way?"
She stifled her sobs and wiping her tears with her hemp t-shirt
sleeves, she said, "No, I hear it's some kind of mythical place."
"Ha! Mythical in proportion only honey. Look, we could use
some part time help. Kitchen, singing, waitressing. Stop by when you
can." I was feeling mighty magnanimous lately.
She walked over behind the counter, thinking about it.
"Help me close the doors will ya? I'm outta here."
Ten minutes later we were standing outside the closed shutters
and I gave her directions to the bar. I made her promise to show it to
no one else. I think she liked the idea of something different. My
shopping wasn't getting done, so I kissed her cheek and made my way
in the other direction.
"Thank you," she said, eyes all red.
I thought about those red eyes, still a little teary. Vog. It was
cool with me that volcanoes had helped build our atmosphere from
nothing, many millions of years ago, but it was a bit irritating
nonetheless.
Several hundred miles to the northeast, an incredibly vast
volume of dense and heavy cool high altitude air began to fall towards
the ocean. Yes, right at that moment actually. By morning, our semipermanent
north Pacific high pressure area would settle in and the
beautiful trade winds would return to these fair islands, blowing the Vog
away.

Everyone would be happy again soon enough. I was feeling
better already.

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