Profile: Horton’s Hits

Remembering a HONOLULU Magazine alum.

Last month, we learned that Tom Horton had died in the Bay Area, where he and his wife, Karen, owned a restaurant, Stinson Beach Grill. Long time subscribers may remember that Horton was one of HONOLULU Magazine’s most distinctive voices in the late ’70s to 1987, as it evolved into a modern city magazine. In addition to feature articles, he wrote the magazine’s back-page column, Afterthoughts, reacting to the ever-changing town with what can only be described as curmudgeonly love. His most recent piece for us, “The Way We Ate,” appeared in our 2002-2003 Restaurant Guide. In his honor, here are some of our favorite Horton observations.

February 1978
Horton reflects on biorhythms.

The Hula Bowl was terrific and I anticipate that the Hawaiian Open will be even better. None of this surprises me because Hawai‘i’s biorhythm is at its best in January-February-March. Biorhythm charts are becoming a very trendy thing, but I don’t need one. I can look at the calendar and know if my biorhythm reads favorable or portends distress, depression or even disaster. If it’s September or October, it will not be good. Weather, too hot and muggy; politics, too loud; good news, too rare.

June 1980
Horton defends the mai tai, a Hawai‘i invention, which, oddly enough, is shunned by locals.

Here, I’m afraid, is the basic evil that has been done to the mighty mai tai: It has been sold down the river by hucksters out for the fast tourist buck. They have taken a good drink, a drink that is perfectly suited to its calling, and gussied it up until it looks like a Carmen Miranda hat. The result is that sophisticates, resident or otherwise, have relegated the mai tai to that dreadful trash heap of untouchables classified as “touristy.” There is no good reason why the mai tai in Hawai‘i should be put down as a tourist drink, but there it is. Nothing like that happens to Guinness or Irish whiskey when tourists drink the drink of that land. …

There’s a lesson here. The mai tai was once an honest drink, a proud drink. It was beautiful. And they sold it out to tourism. Now only tourists drink mai tais. People who live in Hawai‘i drink white wine. Think about it.

January 1984
Horton declares an unnamed 19-year-old fellow his Man of the Year, after hearing that the man had been arrested for destroying, over six hours, a Waikiki ATM that had eaten his bank card.

What raises this man’s actions above the multitude of minor battles fought daily against machines is the time factor: six hours. Think about it. For six lonely hours in the dead of night, from midnight till dawn, there he stood, trying to uphold the honor of his species against a faceless breed that has taken over our lives. What determination! What stamina! What a pair of hands!

Who among us has never, at some point, desired to do the same? … There is another side to this struggle, possibly an undercurrent of pent up resentment. Too often we’re pushed around by machines with no chance to fight back. … Computers rat on us, telling banks and stores how we pay our bills, how we spend our money, what kind of magazines we read, whether or not we might be a potential customer for life insurance, gourmet cookware, or—the ultimate, insidious takeover—home computers. … That’s why I was so moved by the man who fought an automatic teller for six hours. Some people might think that’s stupid. I think it was a human response pushed to the extreme by a world taken over by machines.

June 1987
Horton laments the difficulties of writing about the real Hawai‘i.

Contrary to what you might think, it’s not easy to write about Hawai‘i for travel-related magazines. Eastern editors are the most difficult because they have the highest standards. They don’t want stories about the usual things that bring 5 million tourists to Hawai‘i every year, such as the good weather and beaches and fancy resorts and golf and water sports and girls in bikinis and other beautiful scenery. They want to read about the Real Hawai‘i.

Occasionally, I forget myself and send them a story about traffic congestion, condominium blight, high prices, the humidity of October, the wind and rains of March, the crowded beaches, the tacky shops. I get a call from the editor: “Good stuff, but it’s not exactly what I had in mind. It doesn’t really say Hawai‘i to me.” He suggests a few changes. I go to my Secret Hawai‘i file and do a quick rewrite. Three months later there’s a fabulous spread, with color photographs: “The Real Hawai‘i—Fishing for Trout and Picking Plums in K-oke‘e.” (I’ve written that one, in one version or another, a dozen times and I’ve yet to meet an actual person who’s caught a fish or picked a plum in K-oke‘e, though I know they do exist.)