The Death of Small Kailua Town

lanikai pillboxes

Feathered clouds painted the blue sky as the tradewinds finally flowed through the coconut trees. The sun hid behind the Koʻolau mountain range beaming its rays on west Oahu. My wife and I sat outside our house on the white bench my dad made out of extra two-by-fours.

We like to relax and spend time together during our weekends. There was an event taking place a mile away at the Kailua Whole Foods.  We had nothing else planned, which is unusual because my wife likes to have a plan, so we decided we’d take an afternoon stroll.

As we walked down Kainalu Dr. I reminisced to my wife on how I would walk home from school and get into little scuffles on the side of the road.  An uncle or aunty would stop their car on the road to yell at us, “Cut it out!” which only led to us fleeing the scene.

Then as we turned the corner onto Ku’ulei Rd, I shared stories of my friends and I riding our bikes through the streets on Fridays after our half days at school and go to Andy’s Drive-Inn for hamburger steak.  Those were good times. Simpler times. I find myself doing this often, reminiscing.

Today, when you reach Ku’ulei Rd, you can be welcomed with traffic and herds of rental scooters dodging tourists on rental bikes. I never knew there could ever be traffic in Kailua, but there is now.

As my wife and I made our way past 7-Eleven and towards the closed down 76 gas station, we passed by crowds of people.  I knew they weren’t from Kailua or maybe they just moved in to town. People who are born and raised in Kailua can pick each other out from a crowd.  It’s like this innate connection we get at birth.

When we made it to Whole Foods, I was amazed at the crowd there.  It was a cool event filled with music, food, and arts and crafts vendors. It was nice to see a community come together. But, while I stood there and looked around my wife knew I didn’t feel at ease, plus I’m not a big fan of crowds overall.

While we waited in line to grab a little bag of kettle-corn (because, who can resist freshly made kettle corn?) I over heard a group of people talking.

“I just moved here from Washington”

“Cool, we’re from Texas.”

“Oh nice, our friends we came with are from Texas.”

I began to get the feeling of me being the visitor from out of town.

After we grabbed our kettle corn, we continued to make our walk around the tents.  We came across a small tent that was selling handcrafted shell jewelry.  There was an older Hawaiian woman, a kupuna, sitting behind the table just staring off into the parking lot as a younger woman, probably her daughter stood, talking to customers.  While my wife looked through the earrings and bracelets, I looked at the kupuna and she looked straight back at me with her dark brown eyes with crow’s feet wrinkles.

I smiled and nodded. She smiled back and turned back to staring out as if she was looking out at the ocean sunrise.

But within that small interaction there was an understanding.  The feeling of lost and reminiscences of the past were all over her face and she saw it on mine as well.   We moved on and I could feel the kupuna watching me while we walked away. I was another extra that played a small role in her movie that she was directing.

After we made our rounds and picked up a drink for our walk back home, we took a seat outside of Whole Foods on the small wall near the back entrance.

“What are you thinking?” my wife asked, she knew I was still bothered and she’d been watching my eyes wander.

“It’s gone…” I replied.

We believe that it’s all about perspective when it comes to our emotions.  For happiness, it’s important to find what we are grateful for instead of focusing on what we do not have.

But there I sat on a wall feeling distant, small, and in search of what was.  I watched the cars roar by, bikes crowd the street, people from all over the country and island share drinks and laughter, music play, and tourists come from every corner.  It was definitely a positive environment. But to me, it was too much and I knew it was just the beginning.

People say that Kailua is becoming this new hip place filled with small boutiques, restaurants, cafes, markets, and needs more to grow the ‘economy’.  It’s a cool town for fashion trends, style, and beach goers to visit.  Tourists are told Kailua is a quiet beach town and a perfect way to experience local life away from Waikiki and Honolulu. So bus loads flock over to experience this oasis of small town Hawaii which is becoming more like Ala Moana.

Society believes that in order to improve a place, it needs more things.  More people, more cars, more damn trees to beautify the streets, more businesses, more buildings, and more attractions.  But it’s good for new businesses others would say. Increased economy doesn’t mean you have to build more, it means you have to contribute more. Investors are buying homes to turn them into vacation rentals, people are having to rent parts of their house to vacationers to help pay their mortgage and increasing property taxes, and family’s who spent their whole lives  through the generations have to sell their houses because they can no longer afford it.

My question is, when is it enough?

So there I sat on the wall, accepting the fact that Kailua was no more.  It was unreal and sad to see the constant changes over the years I lived away from Hawaii.  Each visit showing the downfall of a small town. I can only imagine what my parents see, being born and raised in Kailua, as they drive through their hometown.

I looked over to my wife and asked, “You ready?” She nodded and we got up from our seat and made our way back home while I continued to reminisce of the Kailua that once was.

Closing Thoughts

With every end, there is a new beginning.  Mind you, I have no ill feelings towards the new development and people coming into Kailua.  Places change as time evolves.

Though I can’t hide the fact that the small beach town that was known for its quiet and country-like feel is now crowded, filled with noise, and more changes are to come.  I still love my Kailua, because once a Kailua Boy is always a Kailua Boy.

But as times change in Hawaii, we all, including the tourists and people moving to Hawaii, need to take a step back and slow things down or else the small things that makes us fall in love with this paradise we call home will soon be gone.

Aloha and A hui hou.

Follow the Minimalist Kanaka