This year two days before Christmas, I reported to work at the Denver International Airport and found the expected long lines, and hustling crowds. As I came up the escalator into the gate area, I saw something I didn’t expect. My older sister Brande was standing at the top of the escalator with a big grin on her face.
Every Christmas Brande and I (along with our numerous other siblings) would cram into the family station wagon and go over the river and through the woods to Granny and Grampy’s house for Christmas Dinner. When I say cram, I mean squeeze in so close you can barely breathe. You never heard the proverbial – “She’s touching me!” – because someone was always touching you. They were practically sitting in your lap!
Of course, this was long before the invention of portable electronic games, mobile TV, or portable DVD players. So, we had to invent games to keep us busy. One of our favorite games was counting cows (sounds like so much fun doesn’t it?).
To play the game you divide into teams based on which side of the car you were squeezed into. Then you started counting the cows that passed on your side of the vehicle. If you passed a church, you added two more. If you passed a school, you multiplied by two. But if you passed a graveyard, and your opponents from the other side of the vehicle actually saw it, you had to bury your cows and start from scratch all over again.
It doesn’t sound like much of a game, but when you are jammed into a station wagon like sardines, anything to take your mind off of the fact that your brother just passed gas, is a fun game.
As I got to the top of the escalator, I gave Brande a great big hug. As it turned out, she was going to Nashville and I was going to be her Captain. We visited until the aircraft arrived at the gate, and then I got to work preparing for the flight. Once my preparations were complete, I hurried up the jet way and boarded my sister first, thanks to the accommodating operations agent.
I put her in the First Officer’s seat, and we took a picture together. We sat there in the cockpit of the Boeing 737 and caught up on the latest family news. We discussed kids, grandkids, and the health issues of the day until it was time to board the rest of the passengers.
After everyone boarded, I made my usual announcements about the flying time and the weather, but I made sure that everyone knew that my big sister was on board. I didn’t embarrass her though. She knows too many things about me, and she has pictures.
The flight from Denver to Nashville lasted only a few minutes longer than our usual Christmas drive to Granny and Grampy’s house. We cruised in comfort at a smooth 35,000 feet and averaged over 500 hundred miles an hour because of a nice tailwind. Ironically enough, our flight path into Nashville took us almost over the top of Granny’s house.
I put a little extra effort into the landing to impress my sister, and we taxied to the gate. Since I had a little time before my next flight, I walked her to security. We embraced again, shared our affection, and said our farewells.
As she walked away, I was bummed that we flew too high to count cows during the flight. It was just as well. I passed a graveyard on my side as we approached the runway and she would have won.
Merry Christmas Brande!
The minivan’s check-engine light stared me in the face when I started it. It nagged at me and reminded me of all the things I needed to get done and all the reasons I shouldn’t be going to Hawaii for the week. I ignored it. It was probably just a bad sensor, and I wasn’t going to let it keep me from the spontaneous jaunt. With a couple of bags in the back of the van, we backed out of the garage and headed for Phoenix Sky Harbor in the dark December morning.
I saw familiar faces at the airport, and almost got off at terminal four where I go to work, but I didn’t. We went on to the Hawaiian ticket counter where I saw my buddy Veron, a New Zealander of Maori decent with a cool accent and a ponytail. He teased us as always, and told us the flight looked pretty good for space-available travel. We made it through security without a full-body scan or a groping, and onto the flight. We even got to sit together. As the Phoenix skyline disappeared in the soft morning light, I quit thinking of the check-engine light.
We landed in a beautiful Hawaiian sun, got the rental car, and headed for the North Shore – Sunset Beach in particular. David & Peggy, my wife’s cousins, live across from Sunset Beach and rent out part of their house to visiting surfers. They were kind enough to let us stay in one of the unused bedrooms, as long as we didn’t mind using the “surfer’s” shower and bathroom that was housed out back in the bathhouse and storage shed. It was rustic, but clean, and added to the whole north-shore-I’m-here-to-surf-not-be-pampered ambience.
We tossed our bags in the room, and I went for a run while Britt chilled. Then we headed for BYU Hawaii to see my son Cody. We had only driven a quarter mile when the car made an unexpected stop at Ted’s Bakery. Ted’s is a local dive that makes the best chocolate haupia pie, pineapple cheese pie, and Hawaiian plate lunches found in all of Oahu. It’s popular, so you might have to wait in line, or find that your favorite treat is sold out, but it is SO worth the wait. I recommend the pineapple cheese pie.
We made our way to campus and found Cody hard at work in the computer lab, reading a book. It was good to see him, and our spontaneous trip made him smile. When he finished work we took Cody and two of his friends to dinner. Each night of our trip we took him and one or two of his friends to dinner. In spite of their pre-purchased full-meal plan at the “caf” (their slang for cafeteria), they were always hungry. One night we went to the L&L, a local style food joint, just off the BYU campus. It is decorated with yellow stained paint, dripping air conditioning units, and faded oriental paintings. The food was typical L&L, but after Britt went to the bathroom, she swore she would have the place shut down for serious health-code violations. Nobody got sick, but we didn’t go back.
Each morning I ran along the Sunset Beach trail, and Britt ran/walked Chester, David and Peggy’s white labrador. The trail offers a unique running experience. It follows the shoreline just out of traffic with vistas of the Pacific tides and white beaches interspersed with squatty houses nestled among the trees. Local beach bums, school children, and vacationers frequent the trail. A canopy of tropical trees and bushes offer some protection from the spitting rain, the beating sun, and the noise of the passing traffic. Running is good for your heart. Running the trail along Sunset Beach is good for your heart, head, and soul.
A surfing competition was on hiatus at Sunset Beach for our first two days there, due to lack of surf. I watched the surfers on the beach. They stood genuflecting to their god. They gazed out at the incoming tides, staring at the undulating motion of the water hoping that some of the sea spray would rise up and sprinkle them like holy water, but their god did not offer up any tokens of faith that day. The surf was flat.
We snorkeled the calm ocean for shells in the gentle North-Shore surf without conflicting with the surfers. Shells are like relics of a lost civilization that remain to testify of the previous existence of a living creature. Britt found several small shells in the curling tide close to shore. I found a couple languishing in the small coral indentations further off shore. Both of mine had hermit crabs in them, so we threw them back. I found an old marine battery and dragged it out of the water for proper disposal.
The next afternoon the surf gods smiled and the competition began again in earnest. We headed over to snorkel Shark’s Cove (named for its shape, not the presence of sharks). The water was a bit rough, and we proceeded with caution out into to the cove. I was worried about the less experienced snorkelers getting injured on the rocks, but in the end, I was the only one that lost any blood (good thing there weren’t sharks). The churning sea reduced the visibility, but we still saw abundant marine life, and enjoyed the swim.
Our last day on the North Shore, we took Cody to Haleiwa, surf capital of the world. It is a quaint old town with art galleries, shops, and more shaved-ice stores per capita than anywhere else in the world. We ducked in to a couple of art galleries (after feeding Cody three McChicken sandwiches) and admired the art. We wanted to buy the stuff we admired, but our vacation budget didn’t allow for that.
We also checked out one of the surf clothing shops. They had a small shrine to Eddie Aikau, a big-wave surfer that was killed on the open ocean on his surfboard. The phrase “Eddie would go,” has come to symbolize the indomitable spirit of big-wave surfing and the inherent risk associated with flinging yourself into the jaws of the ocean’s fury. Based on the merchandising of Eddie’s tragic and courageous deed, if he had known how much money his name would bring in… he might NOT have gone.
We said our aloha oe to Cody, and made our way across the island to Waikiki for our last night. A light rain had passed over us off and on throughout the drive across the island, and it also invaded downtown Honolulu. We checked into the Aston Waikiki Beach Hotel and ventured out to Duke’s for dinner. Dinner at Duke’s is always good. We ended it with the Hula pie, and waddled out.
We stopped at another gallery and Britt was enthralled with the art of Brigette D’Anniable, whose art is a mix of throwback old-style posters and sexy figurines of wahines. Somehow we had more money than before, and my wife began discussing an actual purchase. I objected politely, out of personal reasons (I couldn’t afford it), and slinked to the front of store to wait for her to finish. Fortunately, she only made plans to purchase and didn’t pull out the credit card. I have a feeling that she will put art in the budget for the next trip.
The next day, we woke to a beautiful Hawaii morning complete with a rainbow. We ate breakfast in our room and watched the Waikiki scene from our balcony. On our way to the airport, we stopped at Leonard’s Bakery and bought malasadas for the flight crew (and a few for ourselves). We maneuvered our way through security and onto the eastbound Hawaiian 767.
When we landed in the dark, Phoenix seemed much as we left it. When I started the minivan for the drive home, the check engine light was still on.