Lava Junkie

How ’bout that Hawaiian volcano?!

I think it’s safe to say I’m obsessed with the Kilauea eruption. I have spent more time than I care to admit devouring news stories and scrolling through Instagram photos and video of the lava. Hashtag Leilani Estates is an easy way to kill an hour.


Anybody who knows me shouldn’t be too terribly surprised by this revelation. I have long been fascinated with natural disasters. Not that I hope for them, of course; but when they do occur, I find it impossible to look away. If this were a jukebox, I’d have Mother Nature’s Greatest Hits on heavy rotation.

Not long ago, I wrote about my experience living in Hawaii. How I mostly hated it, except for the Big Island. I have fond memories of  black sand beaches and jungles and, best of all, hiking the Devastation Trail and Halema’uma’u Crater in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. I might have pocketed a few lava rocks, too; it’s a good thing I’m not (too) superstitious as Hawaiian legend claims that doing so angers the Goddess Pele, and she will retaliate by cursing the thief with misfortune. In fact, many a tourist has sent back a pilfered rock after encountering bad luck upon their return to the mainland. If this all sounds like a wacky sitcom plot, it was; remember that episode of The Brady Bunch where Bobby found an ancient tiki in Hawaii and bad luck started to befall the family? That bad juju was based on the legend of Pele. tiki

Fortunately, I never encountered any bad luck myself. Unless you count barely missing out on seeing an eruption firsthand. In 1983 we were vacationing on the Big Island; the day after we returned to Oahu, Kilauea erupted. My dad was always bummed about this, so I guess my fascination is hereditary.

That wasn’t my only close call with nature’s fury. I’m sort of like the Forrest Gump of natural disasters, having secured a front row seat to many an event. As evidence, I submit the following:

  1. Run like the wind, Toto! During my final summer in Dayton, Ohio, my brother and I spent a week at summer camp. One night, long after lights out, we were awakened by a counselor and ushered from our bunks. We were then marched across a field, through a howling wind, as turbulent clouds raced by overhead. Our destination? A concrete bunker beneath the swimming pool. It turns out a tornado warning had been issued, and funnel clouds were spotted in the vicinity. Luckily, none touched down. I vividly recall huddling nervously in the dead of night, surrounded by bags of chlorine stacked in haphazard piles. Pretty scary night for an 11 year-old!
  2. I spy the eye – no lie! In November 1982, Hurricane Iwa raced across the Pacific and took aim at Hawaii – the first hurricane to strike the islands in 23 years. Guess who had a front row seat to the whole thing? We stayed inside our house on base as winds gusted up to 120 mph and rain pelted Oahu. The worst of the storm occurred in the evening and overnight. I don’t remember ever feeling scared; I was simply in awe. The next morning we emerged to bright sunshine and a lot of damage, mainly downed trees. It was the first and only time living there that school was cancelled due to weather.
  3. Happy birthday – I got you snow! April 27, 1984, was my 15th birthday. Typically I associate my bday with pleasant spring weather, but in South Dakota (ha!) one can never assume. That year, I spent my birthday indoors as heavy snow fell and gusty winds blew. I don’t remember how much snow we ended up with by the time the storm wound down, but it’s safe to say “a lot.” This wasn’t the only blizzard I’ve experienced in my life, but because of the date, it’s the one that stands out the most in my mind.
  4. A whole lotta shakin’ goin’ on! October 17, 1989, was just a normal Tuesday – until the ground started shaking with a vengeance. I was living in the Bay Area, just digging into a plate of spaghetti with my girlfriend at the time, when everything started rocking and rolling. I’d lived in CA for three years by that point and had experienced quite a few quakes, but nothing of that magnitude. And when the TV stations switched from the World Series game to images of citywide devastation – the worst being a collapsed freeway – we knew it was serious. The next week was a surreal blur. My college classes were cancelled and aftershocks kept coming. A few months later I traveled to the epicenter and somewhere, there is a photo of me standing in a fissure in the ground that comes up to my thigh.

Tornadoes, hurricanes, blizzards, and earthquakes – oh, my. I’m just thankful to have thus far avoided tsunamis, avalanches, wildfires and alien abduction.

Well, the last one is a maybe. But that’s a story for another day.

Countdown: 42 Days


Aloha? Oy!

Things are starting to feel real now that our countdown has reached double digits. Further proof: we scheduled an appointment with a moving company for a quote. The estimator can’t make it out until mid-April, but we are in no hurry. Hopefully by then we will have gotten rid of some stuff anyway. Hey, anybody need a couch or coffee table? I’ll make you a good deal!

Speaking of moving, as in hey, that’s something I did a lot of growing up, I had a request from Bijoux, a longtime reader, to write about my experience living in Hawaii. I think that’s a great idea, as I’ve talked about my time in South Dakota and Ohio while growing up, but have never really mentioned Hawaii in anything more than passing.

I guess the reason I haven’t talked about Hawaii is, quite frankly, I am not a fan of the 50th state. Hawaii may be paradise to some, a place where people aspire to vacation, but I’m okay with never setting foot there again. I’m sure a big part of the reason is that I spent nine years of my life on the island of Oahu. Considering I’m moving to a place that experiences cold and snowy winters, and am excited about that, this shouldn’t come as a shock to anybody. Since we were in Hawaii for three separate tours of duty, I’ll break this down into sections for each assignment.

Tour #1: 1967-1970

I remember nothing about these years, since I wasn’t alive for most of them. But I was there, and I’ve got proof:


Woo-ee-ooh, dad looks just like Buddy Holly! And I’ll be damned if mom doesn’t have a Mary Tyler Moore vibe. Rivers Cuomo would be proud.

What I know, because I’ve been told, is that my parents lived in a small apartment in downtown Honolulu before securing housing on Hickam AFB. One day I decided to take a tumble down the stairs thanks to a faulty gate that may or may not have been latched correctly. At some point Neil Armstrong took one small step for man, and then we moved to Trenton, New Jersey. End of chapter one.

Tour #2: 1973-1977

My earliest childhood memory is sharing a cup of Campbell’s cream of mushroom soup with my grandfather, out of his Thermos I think, shortly before we went back to Hawaii. This time around, we lived on the bottom floor of a two-story house in Aiea; the owners were a friendly Filipino family named the Macadangdang’s, who resided on the second floor. Mrs. Macadangdang took a real shining to me and my brother Scott; this was a recurring theme throughout our second tour, when Japanese tourists frequently asked us to pose for pictures. I guess the sight of two little Caucasian boys with blond hair who dressed alike was a rarity. I often joke that we’re B-list celebrities in Japan, gracing the pages of many a random photo album.

Mrs. Macadangdang would often serve us peanut butter and jelly sandwiches in the little courtyard out back. One time the family dug a hole in the ground and roasted a whole pig, luau-style. We all welcomed 1974 with a New Year’s party upstairs. There was a giant slide at an amusement park in Aiea Heights we used to visit. I’m sometimes amazed by the snippets of memory I still recall.

Eventually we moved onto Hickam AFB again, into base housing. Ours was the single story end unit on the right; the green Dodge Dart in the carport was my dad’s.


I started kindergarten in 1974, and walked to Nimitz Elementary, a few blocks away, all the way through second grade. It was a different era, and we were safely confined to an Air Force Base.

My close friends, Andy and Julie, lived a few houses down. I am friends with them to this day on Facebook, which is sort of amazing. The life of a military brat means never being able to forge lasting friendships because inevitably your existence in any one place is temporary. They are the exceptions to the rule.

My dad has never been one to sit around idly, even now, and so we spent most of our weekends exploring the island. This meant frequent trips to the the beach in Waikiki,  snorkeling at Hanauma Bay, hiking in bamboo forests, going to the zoo. Things I was really into: M.A.S.H., Godzilla, the Dodgers, The Six Million Dollar Man, and a Japanese superhero named Kikaider. My parents loved bad (or groovy, depending on how you look at it) ’70s fashion and decor.


In 1977, it was time to leave the island behind again. My dad was assigned to Wright-Patterson AFB in Fairborn, Ohio. I thought I’d left Hawaii behind forever.

I was wrong.

Tour #3: 1980-1983

I’ve long spoken of my fondness for Ohio, so when I learned we were once again going to Hawaii, I wasn’t real happy. I preferred actual seasons to the constant heat and humidity of the tropics, but had no say in the matter, of course.

We ended up in a corner house on the same street we’d lived on during that first tour of duty. Sixth grade was okay; Hickam Elementary was located on base, so I got along fine with all the other Air Force kids. And then junior high rolled around, and it all went to hell.

First off, I had to take a bus into Honolulu. Aliamanu Intermediate (now Aliamanu Middle School) was a mixture of cultures, and let me be brutally honest here: the local Hawaiian kids despised us haoles. I was teased, tormented, and bullied, because of the color of my skin. It was a sort of reverse racism I had never known existed, and turned my middle school years into a sort of hell.

Add in adolescence and boredom, and you’ve got a volatile mix. I’d never gotten into much trouble before, but that changed during our third tour. I am not proud of my shenanigans, but they are tame by today’s standards, at least. I became withdrawn and sullen, and my parents were worried. I don’t think they ever fully grasped just how bad it was for me or the extent of my unhappiness. Those years just weren’t pleasant ones and will forever cloud my view of “paradise.”

When my dad announced, in the summer of 1983, that we were moving to Ellsworth AFB in Rapid City, South Dakota, I was elated. As bad as middle school had been, I dreaded the idea of attending high school in Hawaii and am thankful I never had to do so. My life was infinitely better in South Dakota. Is it any wonder I’m so eager to go back?

Positives about Hawaii? Hmm. I will always remember with fondness the fresh starfruit and bananas we’d buy from villagers in less-traveled sections of the island, not to mention the passionfruit my mom would collect during jungle hikes and turn into fresh-baked cookies once we got home. Boogie-boarding at Bellows Beach was fun. Matsumoto Shave Ice on the North Shore is awesome. The food there is fantastic, whether it’s huli-huli chicken we’d pick up from locals barbecuing in parking lots, or Chinese food in the mall. Most of all, I liked getting away from Oahu and visiting the other islands. Maui is cool, and the Big Island was always a blast.

So there you have it. A snapshot of my Hawaii experience in 1,300 words. People always tell me how lucky I am to have lived there, and it’s kind of cool to tell people that I was born in Honolulu, but I’ve had my fill of the place. You might be surprised to learn that I did actually go back, some nine years later, for my honeymoon. The trip was a gift from my parents, who actually went with us, so how could I refuse? I will say, being there as a tourist was much better. It helped that I knew I’d be going home again in five days.

Countdown: 94 Days