Friday, February 12, 2016

Back when Paia used to be Dangerous . . .

Just before Baldwin Avenue makes its ignoble end at the T-shaped intersection with Hana Highway, you can check out the latest building coming up in the middle of Paia town. It's right next to the old Mercantile building that now houses Milagros restaurant. (I remember when it used to be an ice cream parlor and video game arcade called Ice Creams and Dreams.)
The building looks like it's going to provide more commercial space in a town where space is a hot commodity. I have little doubt that the newest stores in Paia will cater to the new money and folks who walk its streets.
These days you can find everything you need in Paia to fit your fancy-free and bourgeois lifestyle: tofu and turmeric vitamins from Mana Foods, a tattoo from the Paia Tattoo Parlor, high-end swim trunks from Imrie and organic pizza from Flatbread and locally brewed beers at Cafe Mambo. One thing that's a little harder to find is open space.
That little patch of land next to Milagros used to be a green square right in the heart of Paia town. When I was in high school, the town was really different. There was no traffic jam going all the way to Spreckelsville. There was less stuff to buy in Paia, too.
But those bygone days were no paradise. It was a little rougher back then too. Teenagers hung around Paia Bay to pick fights and break into cars. At night the dirt lot behind Charley's would oftentimes turn into a makeshift boxing ring for drunken hooligans.
Then there were the hippies. Sure, they aren't anything new to the north shore. The first wave came in the 1960s shortly after statehood. They camped and congregated far away from towns like Wailuku and Lahaina and far from sleepy plantation towns like Paia. They lived out in the boonies of Huelo, Haiku and Peahi. Some preferred the scorpions and sands of Makena.
By the time the late 20th century rolled around, Maui for the most part made peace with her hippies. Gone were the days of police officers and local boys roughing up longhairs for no real reason. Sure, the crackdown on drum circles at Little Beach happens now and again, but with much less frequency as the bygone and wild days of the 1970s and '80s.
It seemed that as the first wave hippies got a little older and wiser, as they started to enroll their kids in public schools or at private institutions, they too settled into the fabric of our island community. They found a place on island right along the descendants of plantation workers and conservative, condo-living retirees on the south shore.
Then Jerry Garcia died.
The cornerstone of the jam band of all jam bands, the Grateful Dead, died of a heart attack eight days after his 53rd birthday in 1995. That summer, thousands gathered in San Francisco, his hometown. The park and the house where the Dead used to live on Haight Street was covered in flowers and memorabilia. A year later, band mates spread some of his ashes on the banks of the Ganges River in India following a lunar eclipse.
The hordes of the young, impressionable and unwashed, who normally follow the band all over the globe, had nowhere to go.
I'm still not sure how or why Paia, Maui, Hawaii became the beacon for the Deadheads. Nonetheless, the '90s saw an influx of young star children. They all started hanging out in the grassy spot off of Baldwin Avenue next to Milagros. I remember seeing these star children assembled in tightly packed drum circles, playing hacky sack or sometimes just begging for change.
A few Milagros workers remember that the lowest part of the grassy lot formed near their building. It would often turn into a puddle with mud and a deceptive layer of grass floating on top. The puddle was formidable and would easily become knee deep after a good rain. Those in the know would avoid that spot, but the unwary would often step in it and get their slippers stuck in the mud. Milagros employees quickly christened this corner of the makeshift park the "hippie trap."
Paia eventually weathered the newest wave of hippies. The crowd disbanded. Many moved on, and a few stayed behind like always. Rumblings from the dark, gravel part of the Charley's parking lot are a thing of the past.
The gravel lot has been replaced with the paved and odious paid parking lot, where several folks refuse to park out of principle. And the grassy lot? It's a thing of the past.
The hippie trap is being replaced with a tourist trap. And they'll make off with much more than a pair of grubby slippers.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Pro Bowl and the Spectacle of Violence

While most sports have their all-star game halfway through the season, it's different for football. We wait until all but two teams are left to play in the main event, the Super Bowl, and then have the honorary game played when the season is over for everyone else.
Yes, the Pro Bowl is upon us this weekend. It's going to be played at Aloha Stadium - a venue that has hosted it more than any other place since its inception in 1951 - this Sunday. And like Pro Bowls past, a weeklong extravaganza in Waikiki will attract tourists, reporters and onlookers ready to spend money in our state. We hosted the event for 30 straight seasons from 1980 to 2009. After a brief stint on the Mainland, it came back in 2011 and hasn't left.
Our state, like the rest of the country, loves football. But unlike Kansas City, where everyone on your block, at your school or job roots for the Chiefs, or in an entire region like New England that collectively worships Tom Brady, you never know who is a fan of which team. In the islands, you can pick just about whatever team you want. The fan diversity is played out in living rooms, backyards and sports bars across the state.
I remember when I was a little boy everyone was a San Francisco 49ers fan partly because of Hawaii's own Jesse Sapolu and later because of the engrossing combination of Joe Montana and Jerry Rice. Then there were the years where everyone suddenly became a Cowboys fan. Then the Steelers. And now it seems like we have an abundance of Seahawks fans.
Maybe that's why Hawaii is a nice place to host a game where you'll get 30 teams represented in a single game. The weather and beaches don't hurt either.
Much has changed about the Pro Bowl. The teams are no longer divided by conference. Hall-of-Famers Rice and Michael Irvin get to play real-life fantasy football and pick a team out of players who were selected by the fans.
There are new rules to it too. There will be no kickoff and a coin toss determines possession - each quarter. The game starts at the 25-yard line. The NFL even narrowed the uprights, making it harder to kick field goals and extra points. All of this, according to the NFL, is designed to make the game more exciting.
But all is not well in the world of football. This year the number of players who were selected is at an all-time low. Perhaps it's the all the strange and scary news about injuries and concussions. Perhaps it's because it's not a very good game. Or is it something else?
Let's go back to the 49ers. Steve Young was one of game's greatest players when I was a teenager. 'Niners fans hoped that he would lead the team back to the dominance it enjoyed in the 1980s. Then one day in September during the playoffs, Aeneas Williams of the Arizona Cardinals ran through the offensive line and tackled him to the ground.
Young didn't get up. The camera zoomed into his face. His eyes were closed and he looked almost peaceful like he was asleep. When he eventually got up and walked off the field, the crowd cheered. He never played football again. That was more than 16 years ago.
Players are faster, stronger and bigger. They're hitting harder and faster. This year, another 49er, linebacker Chris Borland, retired from the sport. He's 24 years old and his health and game are not declining. He gets paid millions. So why retire?
It was the risk of permanent brain injury. In the interviews that followed, Borland described the game he loves as "a spectacle of violence, for entertainment, and you're the actors in it. You're complicit in that." He's done. He won't even coach kids.
There is a growing body of research and evidence suggesting that repeated head trauma and concussions may cause debilitating and permanent brain injury. Former NFL players have sued the league and the litigation is tied up in federal courts across the country.
Even the NCAA has had to deal with similar lawsuits. One of the plaintiffs is former football player Adrian Arrington, who suffered a concussion so severe that he could not recognize his parents. Although the details remain unclear, it appears the NCAA is going to settle with the athletes. The terms will probably include a research fund devoted to studying whether head trauma causes brain disease.

And so while we watch our high school, college and professional footballers strap on helmets and pads, the body of research will continue to grow. So will the debate. But I doubt it will put a damper the festivities in Waikiki and Halawa this Sunday.