A Townie goes to Kailua

(page 2 of 4)

photo: heather titus

There’s one advantage of falling asleep like a toddler. Like a toddler, you tend to be up before first light.

Soon enough I was walking on the beach, the sky lightening over the Mokulua Islands, the houses starting to brighten up as I went by. The beach was nearly deserted, a few solitary runners leaving deep footprints in the sand and, in one beachfront yard, a couple in hooded sweatshirts, sitting on lawn chairs, sipping from mugs of coffee.

There’s nothing like Kailua’s 2-1/2-mile-long crescent of white sand in town, no beach quite so relaxed. By the time I strolled the mile or so to the beach park, I began to entertain fantasies of moving here permanently.

It was light by then and half the town seemed up, bicycling, kayaking or simply walking, kids in the stroller, dogs on the leash. In the park, I asked a jogger if there was a place to get coffee. “Back down the path, turn left,” he said.

I ended up at Kalapawai Market, the little green and white store that’s sat near the entrance to Lanikai since the 1930s. Once a general store, it’s been transformed into a neighborhood institution.

Kalapawai in the morning is like Cheers, minus the alcohol: Everyone knows everyone else’s name. As I stood in a six-deep line to buy coffee, I knew the person in front of me—Sheryl Seaman, vice chairman of the downtown architectural firm, Group 70 International.

We almost didn’t recognize each other. She was in sweatpants and a T-shirt. I was still in the clothes I had slept in, unshaven, tousled. My studio hideaway had only a half bath. The shower was downstairs, outdoors, in a bamboo enclosure. In the chill of early dawn, I decided showering could wait.

Fortunately, nobody dresses in Kailua. Nobody seems embarrassed about it the way they might be in town.

Seaman, who lived right around the corner, was more surprised to see me than I to see her. As I explained about moving to Kailua for a week, she said, “We need to go outside. The great thing about Kailua is that everyone knows everyone else. Some people outside are holding my dog for me.”

Her friends handed Seaman back the leash. As we chatted, Seaman would from time to time be almost yanked off her feet as Jasper, her full-size black poodle, lunged futilely at the neighborhood birds.

A dark blue Lexus 330 zoomed into the parking lot. Its driver, a diminutive woman in a black business suit, marched across the porch in high heels. Getting coffee faster than I thought possible, she hoisted herself with one hand back into her SUV. Bound for town.

“How’s the commute?” I asked Seaman. Tough, she said, if you have to get kids to school or make an 8 a.m. meeting. “Leave at 10 minutes before or after 8. Not 8 sharp, everybody leaves then.”

She departs to put on her town clothes and town attitude. “Say nice things about Kailua,” she says in parting. “But not too nice things,” she adds. “Tell them the commute is a grind.”

It’s not, at least not to someone used to the East Honolulu corridor. I, too, eventually found my way to the office, experiencing the Pali Tunnel Effect in reverse. As I came down through Nuuanu Valley, it warmed up. Through a gap, I suddenly glimpsed the highrises of downtown glittering in the sun. My heart leapt up.

That would be the last time. By the end of the work day, I was dying to get back to Kailua.


Everyone told me, “You’re not going to understand Kailua unless you get active, get outside.”

One morning I found myself kayaking a mile against the wind to the Mokulua Islands or, as everyone in Kailua seems to call them, the Mokes. Leading our little expedition was Scott Burch of Twogood Kayaks. Burch, who’s 42 and looks 28, is whippet thin, deeply tanned and insists he has the best job in the world.

For me, the best part was not being on the water, which was a lot like work. The fun started when we got to the island and walked around the edge to Shark’s Cove. Burch has gone back to school at the University of Hawaii, pursuing simultaneous degrees in anthropology and geography. “Just studying rocks is boring,” he said, “but rocks when they’re moving are seriously cool.”

Drawing diagrams on the sand, he began to outline the natural history of the region, from the volcanic structures that gave rise to the Mokes to the threats posed by non-indigenous plants and insects to the shearwaters that nest there.

Back on the water, I was doing a lot of flailing about, paddling in every direction but straight, and consequently wearing myself out. “You’re not having fun,” said Burch, tying a rope from his kayak to the front of mine, which, while embarrassing, considerably increased my progress toward shore. Soon, I was paddling on my own again, up the canal to the Kailua boat ramp, thinking I’d been in the office too long.