John Heckathorn Reports...

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 Illustration by Jacqui Oakley

For many readers, John Heckathorn was best known as our dining writer, reviewing the newest restaurants, chronicling the rise of Hawaii Regional Cuisine, nearly every month for the past 27 years. But, from his first years as a freelancer, then as a staff writer, he also wrote on topics as diverse as sumo wrestling, the rebirth of the Hawaiian language, child abuse and more. As editor, from 1993 to 2005, he contributed Editor’s Pages that went beyond mere “welcome to the issue” notes, as well as other features and Calabash items.

When he passed away, I knew I wanted to publish a retrospective of his writing, one that represented his full range as a writer. Even if you’re a reader who never pays much attention to bylines, through this collection you’ll learn about the city itself and its history, of life in the Islands as it has changed over the past 27 years.

My thanks to Brian Nichol, the editor who brought Heckathorn on staff in 1985. That was 10 years before my time at the magazine and Nichol steered me to great pieces from those days. Says Nichol, “John built a body of magazine work that has seldom, if ever, been matched in the diverse world of Island publications. John could write an excellent, provocative article on virtually any subject, be it crime or politics, fashion or sports. His HONOLULU feature stories and feature-length Q&A interviews were always well-researched and well-written, with John’s clean prose and his surprising turns of phrase throughout. He was prolific as well.”

Here’s some of what Heckathorn wrote …


Heckathorn at the Honolulu Zoo, circa 1976.

On Moving to Hawaii and Encountering the Aloha Spirit

“Clueless in Paradise,” Foreword, September 1996

This month, I’m celebrating a personal milestone. Twenty years ago, I walked off a United 747 and set foot in Hawaii for the first time. I was wearing a blue blazer and gold-on-blue silk tie. Since I was being met by a fellow member of the Manoa faculty, I wanted to make a good impression. When I found him by baggage claim, he was wearing a hapi coat, shorts and rubber slippers.

[Heckathorn describes exploring Oahu by bus, certain that, like the bus systems he knew on the Mainland, the route would loop back to where he first got on. Instead, it ended somewhere in Nuuanu.]

When the driver noticed me in the back, I explained my theory about buses always going in loops. He clearly thought I was the stupidest human being he’d ever met. But, unbelievably, he started up the bus and drove me home. He charged me another 50 cents for the trip. I didn’t argue.

… So to the bus driver who didn’t leave me alone there in the dark 20 years ago: Tanks, eh.  It’s one of the reasons that, except for a few, infrequent vacations over the last two decades, I’ve never left.

 

On Working for a Night as a Waiter at Spats

“My Night at Spats,” Dining, April 1985

It would help if everyone would stop yelling at me. George, the dishwasher, doesn’t like the way I’m busing dishes. “Don’t put glasses there. Put ’em up on the rack. Scrape the plates.” Gonzo yells at me for leaving a stack of menus on the kitchen counter. Biondo is miffed because I took his rag to wipe down a table and put it back on Aldo’s cart. Benny, the bartender, scolds me for not calling drinks in the proper order. …

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