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Hawaii, February 3, 2008

Waikiki: Vegas of the Pacific

What happens in Waikiki,stays in Waikiki

Looking good in the mix
get the party started
Waikiki is sexy at night
wanna shop now
But trashed in daylight
What happens when you cross the mystique of a tropical island with the skill of American marketing, and toss in Elvis and America's only royal family, mixing it all up for at least a hundred years, adding in waves of Japanese tourists for the last twenty years?

Vegas of the Pacific. That is my impression of Honolulu, a place like Las Vegas - full of hype and glossy history that feels tired and cliché by the light of day.

Yes, you can play Rambo, shooting live ammunition with pistols and rifles at an indoor gun range. Japanese women are rumored to see free love on weekends of passion. And there are enough bars filled with hope and booze to make things happen. But does anything? Really?

Maybe it does, maybe there are risqué moments of illicit passion, but only for those either from Tokyo or Topeka, where this city in the vastness of the Pacific is far enough from your hometown that you can get a little crazy.

But for the world-weary traveler, Waikiki Beach was played out long ago. It could've been a contender back in the 1960's, when there was more of a beach and it wasn't shipped in from California in a vain attempt to stop natural erosion. Or even more so in the 1940's, when it was a booming military depot, or earlier when it was very exotic.

Now, with its plastic feel and Bud Light crowd, Waikiki was a freak show I tried to avoid. I took Amy to long drives outside the tourist zones. To Ono Hawaiian Foods for tasty lomi lomi and Kalua pig, or over the hills to Kailua on the windward side of Oahu.

There, I introduced Amy to snorkeling, thrusting her boldly into the cold, clear ocean to hyperventilate as she swam around a windswept cove. Later, we went to Hanauma Bay, where the water was just as cold, but the sights more colorful. She saw a good selection of tropical fish flashing brilliant colors - amongst the tourist throngs I tried not to drown.

Sadly, with the numbers of ignorant visitors to Hawaii, I was surprised there were even fish left at Hanauma Bay. Its once teeming reefs were long ago destroyed, leaving algae to coat the rocks for a handful of fish to feed on. I try not to think of how drastic the change, and how intense the destruction, of this once pristine bay or I might break down and cry. Or go back and bitch-slap every insolent tourist.

It was good for them, and me, that Amy and I soon left Honolulu for the North Shore of Oahu.

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