A Townie goes to Kailua
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I also stopped by to see Dr. Daniel Braun, who runs a walk-in medical clinic. It’s a small place, sandwiched between an art gallery and a plate-lunch place. He’s probably the closest thing to a small-town doctor practicing on Oahu.
“Every doctor I talked to told me this clinic was a huge mistake,” says Braun. “For one thing, no one would come to a general practititioner in a pony tail.” Braun’s blond pony tail is pretty tidy, but his tendency to come to work in an aloha shirt does interfere with what he calls “the standard doctor presentation.”
He trained at Cornell, and is sure his schoolmates would consider him a failure for not becoming a highly paid specialist. “My dad was a kidney transplant specialist and my grandfather was a country doc. I took a look at both lives, and this was the one I wanted.”
To Braun, Kailua is like the country towns of Ohio where he grew up. “I wanted to be outdoors, and Kailua to me is about nature. You can hike places that are still wild. Jump in that great wild animal, the ocean.” He breaks up his 12-hour days by biking, running or swimming in the afternoon.
Kailua has been great for him, he says, and not just because he now has all the patients he can handle. “People here are confident, clear, motivated. They’re proactive. They say, We’re Kailua, and we are going to make Kailua the way we want it. Sometimes, it’s too much that way, you get a powder keg of opinions, but I like it better than apathy.”
“I learned from that attitude,” says Braun. “I try to do things to make Kailua better.” First, he instituted a half-price visit, $45, for the uninsured—“high enough so people don’t abuse it, but cheap enough if they need it.”
Second, he’s trying to stem the tide of juvenile diabetes. “Our kids are eating terribly.” He’s setting up a service where parents can buy their kids healthy lunches to take to school. “It was too hard to deal with the DOE bureaucracy, so I decided we’d do it ourselves, as a business. Not for the money, just to make kids eat a little better.”
Breakfast, Kailua. Mitch D’Olier loves the banana pancakes with macadamia butter syrup at Boots & Kimo’s. Boots & Kimo’s seats about two dozen people. D’Olier and I are lucky to find space at the tiny counter, which we share with a gentleman reading the paper through a monocle.
If anyone at Boots & Kimo’s knows D’Olier is CEO of Kaneohe Ranch, they’re not making much of the fact. Kaneohe Ranch is essentially the business arm of the family business and charitable trust set up by Harold K.L. Castle, the visionary who turned ranchlands into Oahu’s first second city. Kaneohe Ranch is still landlord for most of Kailua’s business district, including Boots & Kimo’s.
Over pancakes and Portuguese sausage, D’Olier talks about what makes Kailua Kailua. “Kailua has residents who are proud of the place. It has talented community leadership that’s not afraid to speak out. That means a lot of divergent opinions.”
Some of those divergent opinions saw the new commercial space, including a new three-story parking structure erected by the ranch, as a sign of the apocalypse, the end of Kailua as anyone knew it. “We did get some of that,” acknowleges D’Olier, “but there was also consensus among the merchants that more parking was critical. Now it’s up, the opposition seems to have died down.”
The parking structure also hosts a Thursday Night Farmers Market, modeled on the runaway success of the one at Kapiolani Community College, which has proved to be a popular gathering place for Kailua residents and a place to grab a quick dinner. The night I was at the market, a Kailua matron confided in me that she’d actually meant to go to Longs next door, but the food smelled so good, she couldn’t resist.
D’Olier says his job is to listen. The community has said it wants housing, especially for multigenerational families, more pedestrian walkways and more contact with the environment. D’Olier put together an environmental advisory board that focuses on more than the beach. “People get the beach, but I am not sure they all get that we are surrounded by wetlands and waterways that we need to take care of.”
Kailua is a place that’s ambivalent about change. “There are some areas that need improvement, some deteriorating structures,” says D’Olier, “but no one wants Kailua totally transformed.” He stops and thinks, spears a last bite of Portuguese sausage. “Know what I like about Kailua? There’s a there there. We’re not going to lose that, its essential character.”
I saw that character at lunch.
Rich Pinto is a financial planner and president of Kailua’s Chamber of Commerce. A Kamehameha grad, Pinto spent some years on the Mainland and feels lucky to have found a job in the town where he grew up. We’d had dinner at Buzz’s with our wives early in the week, hit it off and spent some time palling around.
I didn’t intend to eat. But as we were talking, suddenly his wife, Lisa, a triathlete, and the youngest of his six children, 3-year-old Kekoa, descended on his office, with bags of fast food. “He’s lucky,” she said. “Usually we bring him peanut butter and jelly.”
While we talked about Kailua—how they felt safe there, how Lisa had great places to work out, how Rich could teach the kids about the ocean—Kekoa bounced around, finally pulling out a blanket and curling up on the couch for a nap.
“I ought to leave him here,” said Lisa. “Poor Rich, he tries to be so businesslike at the office. The next thing he knows the kids and I are here.”
“That’s Kailua,” said Rich. “It’s about having your family so close. You’ll be trying to have a meeting, and the kids will be banging on the door, going DAAAdy.”
My last night in Kailua was passed in my beach lane hideway. I woke up relaxed, until I realized it was time to cart my stuff back down the spiral stairs.
Downstairs I ran into my host and hostess, Gene and Toni. Toni said I was no trouble. “You never needed anything.”
“Maybe another week,” I said.
Gene helped me tote my stuff out to my car. “Too bad you have to leave. This is some place, isn’t it. You can relax here.”
“Unfortunately, I need to get back to work.”
He made a little gesture that included the houses, the beach lane, the trees, the beach and the bright blue sky. “With any luck,” he said, “some of this, all this, got inside you. You’ve got a little internal Kailua now. I think it should help you get through the week.”