Friday, March 11, 2011

Hawaii - Too Tired to Be Afraid

Ever been in a hotel where they come over a loudspeaker in the middle of the night and tell you there is an imminent tsunami? No? Yeah…neither had I.

My wife and I arrived in Honolulu on Wednesday night, too late to really see anything but the hotel lobby and the folds of a comfy down pillow. It was my first time in Hawaii, and being ridiculously afraid of flying (three flights from NJ = 7 Xanax…give or take a pill), I was determined to absorb and enjoy this opportunity as much as humanly possible.

On Thursday, we had nothing planned and spent a good portion of the day out in the water. It was serene and fun and my wife and son and I had a blast. It was a good start to the day.

It’s a bit surreal here on Waikiki beach. First, it’s packed with tourists…mainly from Japan at the moment. The hotel had two weddings yesterday, both Japanese. Second, not an ounce of space is spared. This beautiful old (110th anniversary week!) hotel is squashed between hotel upon hotel. The view from our room looks out onto a crazy hectic built-up city. There’s a sense of energy, but it all seems so out of place. For, though the people have been extremely friendly, you get the sense that perhaps they long for a time when the almighty dollar didn’t rule their world.

We finished off our Thursday with a cocktail at the beach bar, listening to a Hawaiian guitar player who pulled off pretty fair renditions of Van Morrison and James Taylor. Toward the end of our evening, I looked down at my phone (things are pretty damn useful these days). I looked at the weather warning and said to my wife, “Oh, there’s a tsunami warning.” We honestly thought nothing of it. We figured that was a common thing here. It’s like getting a blizzard warning back in Jersey. Not a big deal. Yeah…I was wrong.

The speaker in the room came on around ten thirty. It was the sort of “alarm” that made you wonder if maybe it was just busted, but not quiet enough to sleep through. That was followed by a sharp announcement in what we can only assume was Japanese, followed by…nothing…for what seemed like five minutes. My wife later quipped that, “They could have been saying ‘Run for your lives…the wave is coming!’ and we would’ve been wondering where everyone was going!” The danger was not so imminent, but we were in one of the oldest hotels…made of wood and, literally, only a dozen paces from the water on a calm day. Not exactly where you want to be if a tsunami hits…even if we were on the 4th floor. We would have just hunkered down, but being as we had family travelling with us, who were in a newer hotel…on a higher floor…we decided to not take any chances. We packed our essentials and lugged my soundly sleeping five year old son (do you know how heavy a fifty pound kid weighs when they’re sleeping? About 300 lbs…or maybe I just need some more time at the gym) over to my mother-in-law’s hotel and crashed there.

We spent the rest of the night with the TV on, watching the local news and trying to sleep as best we could. My son slept like a rock. Kids are really great that way. He woke up the next morning with a slightly confused look, when he didn’t quite recognize his surroundings, but it mattered little once he realized mom and dad were there. It’s nice to think that we have that effect of calm in someone’s life. We never felt like we were in danger, but it’s certainly a bit distressing when entire sections of the city were evacuated and the information coming in from Japan was showing nothing but devastation.

The first changes occurred just after 3:30 in the morning. They had a live camera out on the water near Diamond Head (see pic). The water did that creepy receding trick that we all saw too much of when the Indian Ocean tsunami struck several years ago. That made me a little nervous, but I think I was so tired at that point, the only thing that would have gotten a strong reaction out of me would have been waves lapping at the hotel door. Still, if I got more than 4 hours sleep, it was a lot. Waikiki Beach was spared the brunt of any major tsunami waves. Other areas of Hawaii weren’t so fortunate, but loss of life was greatly influenced by the state’s early warning system. In the end, the only ones in danger were the homeless and those few idiots who chose to put themselves there…which there were a few. There were no reported deaths in Hawaii.

When the sun rose the next day, we looked out to see a flotilla of boats out in what little part of the ocean we could see from the hotel. The sun was bright and it was hard to imagine that there was such a threat of destruction just hours earlier. When we returned to the lobby of the hotel, there were not one, but two Japanese brides and bridegrooms getting their pictures taken. Life was moving on amongst the chaos. By the afternoon, you really wouldn’t have known it had been a rough night. I contacted friends and family and let them know we were fine and that, despite our luck just two days in, we still had every intention of continuing our trip over to the Big Island, where we’ll be staying just twenty-six miles from the volcanoes. I’m really hoping that my next blog doesn’t involve any descriptions of outdriving a lava flow or the loss of significant amounts of facial hair.

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