Afterthoughts: Hop in the Back

Hawai‘i looks better from the bed of a truck.


Photo: Michael Keany


Did you see those pics recently of Jay Z and Beyoncé on the Big Island? Whew.


I’m not normally much interested in celebrity paparazzi photos. Hawai‘i residents have gotten used to seeing telephoto shots of big-name celebs relaxing in Hawai‘i. Usually they’re at a resort, poolside, doing the usual tourist thing. Ho hum.


Jay and Bey, though? The most famous couple in the world was hitching a ride in the back of a white Ford truck. In the photos, Beyoncé’s hair is whipping around in the wind and Jay’s throwing a shaka like it’s no big deal. It was so great.


What was it about their open-air adventure that got me so jazzed? I think it’s because riding in the back of a truck is one of those quintessentially local experiences, and somehow it hasn’t yet been co-opted by all the johnny-come-latelys. It still feels fresh. 


Maybe that’s a weird thing to say. I really try my best not to be some kind of local gatekeeper. But doesn’t it seem sometimes that there’s a checklist of activities for recent transplants to the Islands who want the fast track to local? Learning how to surf, declaring love for Spam musubi, shoehorning “brah” and “da kine” into every conversation. It’s kind of Hawai‘i 101 stuff. The simple act of hopping into the back of a pickup truck, by contrast, feels like insider knowledge.


It’s certainly packed with a lot of nostalgia for a lot of people who grew up in Hawai‘i, particularly in the more country neighborhoods. Remember how your hair would get so impossibly tangled, or how your face would sometimes even go numb and tingly from the buffeting wind? Remember how crucial it was to master the trick of vaulting out nonchalantly at the end of a trip, rather than carefully climbing down? Riding in the back made you feel adventurous, cavalier, cool. And of course there were all the amazing sights and smells and sounds, unmuffled by any kind of glass or metal. There’s a reason dogs love sticking their heads out of the window: The outdoors are awesome, especially when you’re flying through them at speed.


I have to admit it’s been years since riding in the back of a truck was a regular thing for me. Part of that is circumstance—I barely know anyone in Honolulu who owns a truck I could catch a ride in, and, if I did, they’d probably let me ride up front.


And then there’s that whole inconvenient sense of mortality that I’ve gained as an adult. When I was a kid, there didn’t seem to be a huge difference between the inside and the outside of our family’s vehicles. Everything was rugged and hard-edged, lap belts and stick shifts and rust. Today, enveloped by the pillowy safety of a modern automobile, air bags all around, the recklessness of sitting in an open box traveling 60 miles an hour on the highway becomes more obvious. The pavement just looks so much harder these days.


But sometimes ... sometimes you just have to go for it. Last year, my mom picked me up at the Kahului Airport in her tiny Nissan pickup truck. There wasn’t enough room to fit me, my girlfriend and my mom’s dog in the cab, so we hopped in the back.


It was my girlfriend’s first time on Maui. And while I hadn’t planned it, having her first encounter with my hometown from the back of a truck felt perfect. This is the real Maui, I told her. And, looking around, alongside her, I, too, saw the place with new eyes.


So maybe it’s not crazy that Jay Z and Beyoncé, a couple with a combined net worth of more than $1 billion, would be Island cruising in the back of a Ford. Sometimes it’s the best way to
experience Hawai‘i.




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Honolulu Magazine March 2019
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