Transportation Shithole Assheads

As many of you know, I recently went on a trip to Hawaii.

But this post isn’t about Hawaii, per se.

This post is about to most wonderful part of any travel adventure: the Transportation Safety Administration.

This was the first “long haul” flight I’ve been on in a while, what with a three-year old and all. But I’ve had plenty of short and long trips throughout my life, both before and after 9/11, both with and without a small human in tow. I know the TSA and its procedures well enough. And they’re utter bullshit.

This time through the anal-probe carousel that is Security Clearance, the agent was nice enough to give my daughter a sticker. I have suspicions as to why this time, her eight or tenth time flying, she was gifted a sticker, but at this juncture, I’ll just mention the form of the sticker:

Hawaii TSA

How fitting. Of course she’s a junior TSA agent. Isn’t every toddler? She rifles through bags that don’t belong to her, not bothering to put back or refold any displaced items. She makes arbitrary, continuously-changing rules with little basis in reality or logic. The consequences for breaking said rules, however, are dire. She is also prone to some inappropriate tantrums and is entirely unaware of personal space.

One time I was flying on Christmas and the TSA unwrapped one of the presents in my checked luggage. It was a cookbook. They placed the torn-open wrapping paper inside the front cover of the book. Hopefully you sleep better at night knowing that pancake recipes aren’t falling into the hands of terrorists.

My biggest problem with the TSA is the lack of consistency from one airport to the next. In Sacramento, I have to remove my laptop and my kindle from my carry-on bag and put each in its own bin. In San Diego, laptops come out, but tablets stay in. On a recent trip out of Orange County, all of them could stay in the bag. Same airport, different time? No.

I take back my earlier comment. My three-year old is way more consistent. Her make-believe ice cream stand seems to have squid ice cream every time I ask for it.

I thought the whole point of federalizing airport security was for consistency. If what is allowed or not allowed is based on the whims of the high-school dropout hoping to see ladies’ boobs at the MRI machine, then we might as well return the process to local control.

On a recent trip out of Sacramento, I was asked if I had any food in my carry-on. Food? I know about liquids, but when did food become an issue? The agent said food was allowed, but they would have to take it out of my bag and open it or cut into it in order to make sure it’s legitimate food. My aunt in Southern California has an avocado tree and I was planning on returning with many avocados. If the jackasses cut into each one, that would greatly reduce the amount of time they would be of use to me.

Fortunately, the return trip was out of Ontario, so no mention was made of food. Also, this did not come up the next time I flew out of Sacramento. So terrorists, if there’s some new food-based plan of attack, don’t try to get it on a plane in Sacramento. They might or might not be onto you, depending on who’s working. The other 5,000 airports seem to have missed that memo, though.

Part of it might be personal. You see, I have an Irish last name and a relatively common first name. Which means there’s an IRA terrorist with the same name as me. Hooray!

For most of the 2000s, this meant I was often “randomly selected” for additional screening. Often at the gate. Nothing’s worse than being pulled out of the “first come, first seated” Southwest line and watching all of the window seats passing me down the tunnel.

It happened often enough that I started to wonder if it wasn’t all that “random.” Not that the government would lie to us or anything. But maybe I was being singled out because I was a twenty-something male, traveling alone, usually without any checked luggage. Or maybe it was because I had ordered a copy of “Triumph of the Will,” the Nazi propaganda film, for use in my classroom.

But it was really just fun and games until airlines started using those kiosks and online check-in. You see, Mister IRA-name can’t use either of those methods. Mister IRA-name needs to physically hand his ID to a real-life human being. How many of THOSE do you see at the airline desks these days?

Thankfully, a Southwest Agent (not a TSA agent, mind you) finally told me one time that it wasn’t my Nazi film or my demographics, but my name that was tagged. The Irish terrorist is thirty years older than me, so just seeing my birthdate was enough. I started booking with my middle name and have never had a problem since. Which is nice, because these days, if you can’t check in 23 hours, 50 minutes early, you’re going to being sitting in a middle seat.

With my curiosity piqued, I googled my name and learned more about the OTHER guy. He killed a cop in Belfast while escaping from jail. Yikes. Except it also appears that his whereabouts are fully known. You know, the whole Good Friday Agreement and “What’s a little car bomb amongst friends?” He still lives in Belfast. Meaning it probably ain’t him boarding a flight to Burbank.

But whatever, TSA, good job protecting us from British separatists. Wait, did the IRA want to leave or stay in Britain? I don’t remember. I’m American, and we try to ignore white terrorists. But the 3/8 Irish in me says, “Go Catholics! (or Protestants) Get rid of those rat-bastard Protestants! (Or Catholics) Semper fi, motherfuckers!”

Semper fi is gaelic, right?

All of this talk of “random screenings” and excessive scrutiny brings me back to my recent trip to Hawaii. We got the magical TSA Pre-Check designation. I had assumed I was ineligible, but it turns out that, as long as I’m not the first name on the reservation, it’s all good. “Right this way, Mrs. Smith and your husband, Mr. Bin Laden.”

The reason I could pre-check on this flight was because my in-laws, who booked the reservation, have paid for the privilege of pre-check. And if you’re willing to give money to the government, then you are clearly one of the “good guys.”

So I was prepared for an expedited security process with the TSA Pre-Check. But I figured it would be faster because there were fewer people in front of us. And that was part of it. But wait, there’s more! If you order in the next fifteen minutes, you get…

I was allowed to leave my laptop in my bag. No questions about food. No standing spread-eagle and holding my breath while the perv behind the screen checks out my junk. And, are you sitting down for this last one? I was able to keep my shoes on.

What the fuck? Aren’t shoes non-negotiable? Isn’t the shoe the single most-used weapon in the entire history of hijacking?

No? It was only one attempt made by one dude one time? And it failed? Hmm. Does the TSA know that?

Regardless, how the hell does the purchasing of a security clearance mean I don’t have explosives in my shoe? Wouldn’t someone with the resources to turn a shoe into a bomb also have the resources to pay for pre-check? And, to repeat, we only had to go through the metal detector, not the MRI, and I don’t think C-4 triggers a metal detector.

And maybe my in-laws had to go through some additional screening to get a pre-check validation. But I sure as hell did not. And I don’t even think you have to be a citizen in good standing, because my brother-in-law is British and I’m pretty sure he gets pre-check.

And I know, there is really nothing more American than”money = good.” It is a practice going back over a century, when first- and second-class passengers were able to go through quick look-overs on the ship, while the steerage (human cattle) class had to endure hours of lines and inspections and possible quarantine at Ellis Island.

Not at Angel Island, mind you. Those immigrants were not white, so they ALL had to go through the lines and inspections and quarantine. Wasn’t it Chester A. Arthur that wondered aloud why we have to let in immigrants from a bunch of shithole countries? No? Was it a more recent president?

I hate to go all populist, Occupy loser here, but seriously, what is it about poor people’s shoes and laptops that make them more likely to be used as weapons?

It’s either that, or the TSA would still be able to detect weapons with laptops in bags and shoes on feet. But if that’s the case, why do the riff-raff still have to do the whole rigmarole?

It has to be a marketing ploy. I assume fewer people would buy the pre-check if they still had to do the shoes and the computer thing. And of course, the only thing the government cares more about than curtailing our liberties protecting us is money. So if a terrorist hijacks a plane but there’s a new park in Tulsa, everyone’s cool with that trade-off, right?

All I know is that, if the government treated everyone the way they treat the rich, we’d all be making it through security in a matter of minutes. But would we feel safe if we went through security too fast? Because the TSA’s job is only to make us feel safer, not actually protect us.

If I have to take off my shoes, then cure up the Louis Armstrong, because it’s a wonderful world.

Unless I paid a lot for those shoes. Those shoes stay on. Membership has its privileges, and everybody’s happy.

Including my daughter. She got a fucking sticker!

We never got that kind of kickback in steerage class.

Hawaii, Part V

This should be the final installment in my Hawaiian vacation travelogue. Travel-blog-logue? Hell’s yeah. You can go back to the beginning or not. Today will be a little mish-mash of my final days on the Big Island, as well as some of the minor bits that have fallen through the cracks in the previous days.

Backyard: Okay, what the hell is this?

Hawaii Confined1

This was right next to the putt-putt golf course in our back yard. I assume it houses some underground equipment for the nearby pool or faux-river or, hell, the fitness center that has more dust than Betty Ford’s muffin. You find equipment stored underground like that all the time. But as I got closer, the wording struck me as odd.

I expected something along the lines of “Authorized Personnel Only.” Maybe even a nudge-nudge “No Admittance,” although we all know that every place admits somebody, of else there wouldn’t be a door. I would’ve even been fine with a “Danger” or a “High Voltage” warning. What I was unprepared for was this:

Hawaii Confined2

Confined Space? What the fuck does that even mean? Whatever’s underneath these doors is the same size as the cover, right? Is this like a reverse-Tardis, where it’s smaller on the inside. If that Doctor Who reference wasn’t obtuse enough, my first instinct was to write “A Pylon from Land of the Lost” – this rabbit hole can get a bit scary when I’m writing more than once per week.

What dumbass made the inside smaller than the door? Is it maybe concave? An upside-down pyramid? Ooo! Ooo! Like a Pylon!

But why does this particular warning exist at all? There was no keyhole anywhere on it, nor any conspicuous levers nearby, so whoever has access to it should already know the dimensions, correct? I doubt some random guest stumbled upon a secret panel in the nearby health spa, ran over to the exact metal panel it opened, then said, “Whoa! It’s confined! Better go back to my rum punch.”

Plus, wouldn’t even this random blue-hair SEE that the space beneath the door was confined once they had magically opened the door? Making the warning, again, pointless.

Unless… Doesn’t confine also mean to trap or imprison?

Uh oh. Didn’t they film “Jurassic Park” here?

More Signs: Here’s a slightly more entertaining sign:

Hawaii Dive

I know it doesn’t look like much. Just a standard “No Diving” sign next to a standard pool. A shadow-dude in a diving position with a red circle and slash.

Except for the little artistic embellishments. The accoutrements  that add a little sense of flair. Flair in the “Office Space” sense.

I love Dude’s head crashing into the bottom of the pool. Sure, it’s always implied that that’s why you don’t dive, but rarely is it drawn in such detail. You don’t see a picture of a syphilitic penis on a pack of penicillin, after all. But here, you see Dude clearly in a lot of pain, what with the lightning bolts at his neck and the, I don’t know, is that an explosion or a blood splotch where his head is hitting the cement?

Not to criticize a guy who’s clearly in a lot of pain, but the form on his dive was pretty weak. What the hell are your arms doing, Dude? Was that really a dive or were you trying a new, upside-down doggie paddle? Not blaming the victim here, but had you dove like a normal human being, you’d probably only be suffering from a couple of broken wrists, instead of the bad case of electricity neck and mild scalping you’ve got going on.

The other thing I liked about this graphic was that this was one of the few versions that was outside the pool. Most were inside the pool, right next to the depth marker, which seems a bit too late. A wonderful, upside-down vision of what you will look like a split second from now as you whizz past into the four-foot depths.

Coconut: I’m a big coconut fan. Wife is not. She was hoping to get it out of my system while in Hawaii. She failed.

Stateside, it’s not always easy to get coconut-flavored concoctions, although it’s becoming easier, especially in Summer. But in Hawaii, it is everywhere and in everything.

Grocery store, first day, wife says” “Look, honey, coconut cookies.” Got ’em. And are those coconut chips? Okay, if I must.

Second day, Costco. Coconut Clusters. Mother-in-law says she usually goes through a bag of those by herself if she’s in Hawaii for a week. Well then, I guess it’s two bags this week. (Editor’s note: We only made it through one bag, which means the other one’s going home with Daddy!)

Day Three Breakfast: Pancakes with coconut syrup. And to think I was about to go for the kalua poak benedict. Good thing wife pointed me in the other direction, because that coconut syrup was divine. When I wake up in a cold sweat two weeks from now, trying desperately to hang on to memories of once not being stuck in a classroom with hormonal teenagers every day, that syrup will be what is coming out of my pores.

Day Four. Coconut brittle with macadamia nuts.

Final Day: Coconut Mai Tai.

And have you heard of this libation called a pina colada? If only they had coconut-covered macadamia nuts, I’d be in- whoa-hoa, what’s that I see at the airport?

The only coconut-flavored product I didn’t partake in was coconut. Because those are a pain in the ass to husk.

So sorry, Wifey. While my coconut obsession was temporarily abated, it was not cured.

Coffee: Last day in Hawaii, let’s check the culinary checklist. Macadamia Nuts: check. Coconut: check. Coffee: Oops, not yet.

So while in-laws were getting their last round of golf in, nuclear family drove up into the hills to check out a plantation. Plantation? That seems racist. Can’t call it a vineyard, but farm seems so… yokelly. Whatever. Two of the plantations seemed to get the best reviews. One required reservations and weren’t open until 10:00. The other did not and was open at 9:30. Considering in-laws’ tee time was at 7:15, we opted for the earliest/least planning required.

Not sure how the 10:00 AM one could’ve been any better. This place was awesome. Thirty-two hundred feet elevation in the “cloud forest,” which totally sounds like a Star Wars location, complete with a nature trail attached to get the little one’s wiggles out after she had to sit through the “boring coffee talk.” Of course, during the walk, she had to listen to me sing “Nature Trail to Hell (in 3D),” and might have preferred boring coffee talk by the end.

Everyone we met there was nice. When we first got there, they said the first tour would start at 10:00 and ushered us into the gift shop for some free samples “in the meantime.” Okay, don’t mind if I do. At one point, a lady from the shipping department came and refilled her travel mug from one of the carafes.

“At least you never have to worry about running out of coffee around here,” I told her.

“We never run out, but it seems like I have to brew the next batch a lot,” she responded.

No pour-overs in the break room, here.

Did I mention they had four iced teas for tasting, as well?

The tour itself was very informative. I’ve been doing winery tours since I was 21, and have done beer tours at everything from brew-your-own to all of the big three. But this was my first coffee plant. They showed us ripe, unripe, and overripe cherries (the coffee beans are inside cherries). The tour guide squeezed a ripe cherry to get the bean out, put it in water, showed us the next step called “removing the silver lining.”

We went inside the plant, which was scarcely larger than a garage, with machines that could do all of the processes he just showed us in a more continuous process. Then another machine could sort by size, and they had a newfangled computer doohickey that could even sort the beans by color(there’s a sweet spot in the color range).

Then he asked if we wanted to see the roaster room. Of course we did. He said no one’s ever said no. Even people that don’t like coffee still like the smell of it, right? They had three roasters that they called papa bear, mama bear, and baby bear. The last one was mainly for a couple pounds at a time. They sold a different tour experience where, with guidance, you could pick your own cherries, sort your own beans, and roast your own coffee to take home. Sounded great till I saw it was over two hundred bucks. Nah, I’ll take the free tour, thanks. I’ll buy the good shit you’ve got in the gift shop. The last thing I want to do is pay five times as much for whatever crappy swill I would make.

All in all, I’m glad we fit this into our final day.

And now I can go out-snooty all the hipsters I see at Philz and Blue Bottle.

Hawaiian Language: I owe French an apology.

Sort of. For the apostrophes. Hawaiian has way more apostrophes than French. But French, you’re still on notice for having a whole bunch on non-pronounced letters in your words.

Hors d’ouevres. I rest my case.

Hawaiian has no unpronounced letters. It’s about as phonetic of a language as you’re going to find. If the word is spelled out as ha’la’poluki’i, then it’s pronounced like it looks. I assume this is because Latin letters were added to a spoken language after the fact.

The Hawaiian language seems primitive. I don’t mean primitive as in uncultured. I mean “in the early stages of development.” Italian is a primitive language, in that it was the earliest language to evolve from Latin. Thus it has fewer letters than French or Spanish or English.

Hawaiian has, like, three letters. Okay, maybe a few more, but not many. As far as I can tell, the only consonants in Hawaiian are H, K, L, M, N, P, and W. And let’s be honest, H and W are bullshit letters. They could be replaced by all of those apostrophes.

So only five hard sounds are found anywhere in the language. It’s got to be hard to come up with deep concepts using only five hard sounds. Since they can’t come up with new combinations of sounds, they just add more of the same combinations to make longer words. Almost every word is a combination of smaller words. Aloha is a combination of “alo” (presence) and “ha” (breath of life). I assume mahalo (thank you) must combine two other words with “breath of life.”

But eventually, there have to be words that don’t include a breath of life, right? Or else every word does, making it pointless.

I’ve become a bit of an amateur linguist of late. What I mean by “amateur linguist” is that I listen to a podcast. Isn’t that the modern equivalent of junior college?

The podcast, Lexicon Valley, talks about how sounds are produced and how languages progress. “Mama” is the first word most babies produce because first they are just yelling “ahh,” then they close their lips and make an M sound. Hence: “Ahhh,maaaa,maaa.” The second place most babies find to stop the vowels is where the teeth will pop out. Hence “Dada” or “Tata” are variations of their second word/sound.

Except not in Hawaiian. Hawaiian has no equivalent of the T or D sound. The main sound they make with their tongue on the top of their mouth in N and, ironically, L. Think about how many languages have trouble with the letter L. Particularly a number of Asian languages, which one would think are the closest neighbors of a Polynesian language. And yet Hawaiian, with only five hard sounds, mastered L.

But at some point, the ability to communicate must be inhibited with this limited combination of sounds, right? If I have to wait till the end of the word to know what you’re saying, that would seem difficult. Wait, are you saying palalulu or palalula? And is there no mumbling in Hawaiian?

At the airport on the way out, I saw a Hawaiian word search magazine. At first I thought that must be really easy. There can’t be too many words. I mean, if three of the words you have to find are Hono, Lulu, and Honolulu, you only have to find it once, right?

But on second thought, holy crap, wouldn’t that be difficult? How do you start a word search? You find all the words with the obscure letters, right? Hey, these two letters have an x. Look for an x. And drizzle has two z’s next to each other. Should only be one place like that in the whole puzzle, right? (And the predictable bastards probably put them diagonal from each other, trying to be tricky, but that also means they’re toward the center.

What are you going to look for first in a Hawaiian word search? There are only ten letters, and I’m not sure if any of them appear more or less than any of the others. And yeah, look at the front cover of that bad boy:

Hawaii Word Search

You know what’s worse? No apostrophes.

Hawaii, Part IV

Thanks for coming back for Part IV. To catch you up, I’m visiting Hawaii for the first time in over thirty years. I’m with my three-year old daughter, my wife, and her parents. The in-laws have been coming to Hawaii regularly since the 1970s. My wife went with them often into her twenties, but she’s been gone a good decade, too. I’m reporting back on the oddities of Hawaii, the “joys” of traveling with a toddler, and the… um… yeah… of traveling with in-laws.

The trip to Hilo: We didn’t have anything planned for Day Four, so we opted to head over to the other side of the island.

We loaded up toddler’s tablet with a new episode of “Vampirina,” just like our forebears did in the covered-wagon days, and drove up north. She had barely tolerated the hour-long trip to Costco, and all the beautiful “nature-y” things the rest of us enjoy looking at are lost on her. So Disney Junior, it is.

Before crossing the northern slope Mauna Something-or-Other, we hit a macadamia nut store. I was hoping for something like wine tasting in Napa, with the driveway winding through groves of macadamia… uh, vines? trees? bushes?  Couldn’t tell you how macadamia nuts grow, cause the store was not, in fact, in a grove of macadamias.

The brochure said we could see how the nuts were flavored and canned. By the letter of the law, that was accurate. If my dumbass thought that meant I’d see them harvesting and cracking open nuts, that’s on me. Instead, we saw one guy cutting open plastic bags of macadamia nuts and putting them into a spinner with some flavor salt. We then saw a machine put nuts into a can, put the lid on, and label it. Where those nuts originally came from was anyone’s guess.

But what it lacked in agriculture, it made up for in free tastings. Holy crap! There were a good ten different flavors of macadamia nuts there, and each one had a bowl of free samples. They also had samples of macadamia brittle and coconut brittle and kona coffee brittle. And popcorn, for some reason. I didn’t question, I just sampled.

Oh, and we grabbed some macadamia nut ice cream on the way out. No free samples of that.

After we crossed the island, we stopped off at Akaka Falls. They were lovely. Wife remembered the hike being abysmal when she was a teenager, but it was fine for these forty-something legs. Only a few thousand steps, according to my Fitbit. And if you made a circle, you could see two different falls, although the closest we could get to Kahuna Falls was still far off and seeing it from the side.

Then there was this:

Hawaii Akaka

Not too shabby.

The Falls were now visible from the parking lot. In-laws remembered that not being the case. We asked the dude working the parking ticket meter if they had moved something. He said there had been a storm that had destroyed some of the largest trees that were obstructing the view.

“From destruction comes beauty,” he shrugged.

Evidently he’s never seen an earthquake in the Nevada desert.

Lunch: Lunch has become something of a trial since we got here. If lunch on Day One hit a hundred percent, then the ensuing days have progressively dropped to seventy-five percent, then fifty percent on Day Three. What was in store for Day Four? If you’ve studied your math, you would know there’s only one slice of pie left.

Nobody knew Hilo well, so I did what humans have been doing for thousands of years when in strange lands. I checked Yelp. Marco Polo did the same. Look it up.

“This place called Puka Puka sounds interesting, if you can get over the fact that it’s named after a double-vomit.”

“What’s it got there?”

I follow the link to the website, recite some of the items. They are met with general ambivalence.

“Here’s something called the Lunch Spot. Oh wait, it closes at 1:00.”

I call out another one. Wife looks it up. We’ve already passed it.

Mother-in-law, who is driving, pulls into a parking lot for us to decide. Hey look, it’s a standard suburban shopping center, complete with a Burger King, KFC, and a Panda Express. There’s a Jamba Juice and a Subway across the street.

And you know, nothing says authentic Hawaiian like orange chicken. So that’s where we went for lunch.

At least I went for their special “Eight Treasure Chicken.” They didn’t have that the last time I went to Panda in California, so I’ll pretend it’s a Hawaiian specialty (and ignore the fact that I’ve seen billboards for it back home).

As an added bonus, the code to get into their bathroom at the Panda Express (because the mall area in Hilo, Hawaii is ground zero for vagrancy) was 1918. The Condo we’re staying in on the West Side is #1111, so I’m getting a cool “Armistice Day” vibe going on here. 11/11/1918 – Let’s hear it for World War I! Huzzah Trench Warfare!

Nevertheless, at the rate we’re going, I’m expecting McDonald’s for lunch tomorrow.

Hilo: The town itself looked nice, from what I could tell driving through it at breakneck speed en route to a unique lunchery. Kinda stuck in the 1950s. I expected Kona to be like that on Day One, but Kona (or at least the part of Kona I saw) was mostly urban sprawl. I would’ve liked to spent some time walking up and down the streets of Hilo, maybe frolic on the greens at the University there.

But, because we have a Toddler Dictator, we headed straight for the zoo. The zoo was free to enter, which made me nervous. A friend of mine went to the North Platte (Nebraska) Zoo once, and he joked that the animals on display were the ones that happened to be in that location when the cages went up. A donkey, a cow, a horse. I figured the Hilo Zoo would be something similar, since there are already quite a few exotic animals in Hawaii and, you know, it was free.

The final verdict? Well, they had a tiger. Allegedly, they had two, but I only saw one. The tiger enclosure was huge and it was too fucking hot for me to walk over to the other side of it. The one tiger we saw was trying to sleep in the shade.

Other than the tiger, it was a lot of birds, but they did have some lemurs that were very conversant. I had never heard lemurs babbling quite like these. The ones I’ve seen are usually squawking. Turns out they were just whining for lunch, because the zookeepers were coming up right after we walked down to see the monkeys. Then it was an iguana and an alligator. Basically, it was a lot of tropical animals, because Hawaii is hot and humid. Can’t imagine polar bears being all too happy here.

Allegedly the polar bears at the San Diego Zoo are quite happy. They change their diet to a low-fat variety (more to fit in to SoCal than anything else), and when given the choice between frigid water and temperate water, the slimmed-down polars actually prefer the temperate. Then again, San Diego is a dry heat, and Hawaii is most assuredly not.

The zoo was laid back, which was nice. They had a lot of benches that were painted to resemble the animals nearby. Very ornate. I only took a picture of the tiger bench because it looked like they were about to get “frisky:”

Hawaii Bench

There was a park near the entrance, and once my daughter saw that, it was all she wanted to do. We held her off for a while, but eventually we had to give in. We weren’t the only ones. At any given animal exhibit, we might’ve seen two other patrons. At the playground, there were twenty.

Saddle Road: For our route back from Hilo to the Kona side, we had a couple of options. We could have gone back the way we came, only now we were ten miles south and a wee bit inland, so that route appeared to take an extra half hour. Or, according to Google maps, we could go straight across.

“The Saddle Road?” my in-laws asked. “Are you sure?”

Hell, no. I’m just telling you what the magical Google god said. It’s listed as Highway 200. I don’t know what the fuck a Saddle Road is.

So I did what any self-respecting 21st Centuryer does. I googled Saddle Road.

Google sent me to a Wikipedia entry, where you know you can trust everything. Hey, did you know Wikipedia gets its name from a Hawaiian word, wiki, which means “made-up shit”? Or maybe not. I looked it up on Wikipedia, so who knows?

Anyway, the Saddle Road, which runs in a valley, which I assume looks like a saddle, between two volcanoes, used to be off-limits to rental cars. Hence my in-laws’ aversion to it. But now it’s a-ok, according to legal expert Wikipedia. As we drove it, I thought, why the hell would this have ever been a no-go for rental cars? Then I saw “Old Saddle Road” running off to the northeast, and yeah, that shit was one-laned and windy as fuck. I bet it had potholes, too.

The Saddle Road has a pretty major elevation gain, too. I think it goes up past 6,000 feet. And in Hawaii, that elevation means you’re in the clouds. At a certain point, visibility dropped, and we were in a very picturesque fog/rain combination, where the condensation almost seemed to float around the car and the pockmarked black lava landscape like an otherworldly phenomenon. Of course, it’s “picturesque” in the metaphorical sense, cause it was way too dark in those rainclouds to actually take a picture.

Yeah, add that in with a one-lane, windy road, and maybe it wasn’t such a bad idea when Avis disallowed this route.

Hawaii, Part III

Part III of my Hawaii trip. You can read Part I and Part II if you want. But you aren’t missing much context by starting at the midpoint.

Pools: We hung around the resort a lot more on Day Three. In-laws golfed in the morning, giving wife, baby, and me a chance to go out to breakfast. Wife and I enjoy eating out for breakfast. In-laws are mostly opposed to it. They think there isn’t much you can get out that you can’t make yourself. They’ve clearly never seen me try to poach an egg.

There are three pools at our timeshare/resort/codominium complex. I think I’ve referred to it by all three of those names thus far, and I don’t see myself settling on just one going forward. So assume I’m talking about the same place.

Because we have a three-year old, we’ve come to name the pools through an intricate nomenclature system. There’s the slide pool. It has a water slide. Did I mention that there isn’t a lot of deep context here? There’s the deep pool, because it’s the only one in the entire complex that is deeper than 4 1/2 feet. Ergo it is the one that requires child to be in floaties, cause if I can’t touch, I can’t grab her when her very-novice swimming skills fail her. Child calls the deep pool “the square pool,” because she just doesn’t have the wisdom and nuance to know “deep.”

Then there’s the warm pool, and holy crap, I’m being generous. How often, when it’s 80 degrees with 80 percent humidity, do you get OUT of the pool to cool off? It’s the pool closest to our condo, so on the first day, we tested it out for a bit before hitting the store. That day, the weather was a bit rainy and windy, so the fact that the pool was lukewarm was appreciated. The following day, the outside temperature was twenty degrees warmer and I figured the pool would be the same temperature it had been before, meaning ten degrees cooler than the outside.

Nope. Even the blue-hairs said the pool was “really warm.” My wife said it was “like a bathtub,” but that is a disservice to bathing. If bathtubs felt like that, I would have medieval body odor. This was more like a… I want to say sauna, but it’s a little more… I got it! A broth!

Maybe we’ll head back to the deep pool tomorrow. Put the wings on the toddler and throw four months of swimming lessons out the window.

Golf: It’s a resort in Hawaii, so obviously there’s a golf course. Two, in fact. But what I’m more impressed with is the golf course right in our back yard.

Not a full golf course, of course. Not even a driving range. But a putt-putt golf course. Not putt-putt as in miniature golf. There are no windmills or “Hole-in-One” tunnels. But putt-putt as in a place where you can putt. I think the locals call it a… um… green?

Actually, the locals here would probably call a putting green a ha’la’a’ua’ma’lai or something similarly unpronounceable, but more on that later.

What we have in our backyard are three legitimate putting greens.

Hawaii Golf

Kinda cool. Yesterday, two random dudes were playing a skins match against each other. They each played two balls at a time. They tied on the first hole, but the second one has a pretty wicked slope on the right-hand side. One of the guys didn’t read it properly until his second ball and three-putted his first. After that hole, they called out the score, saying how many holes and strokes he was behind.

But the score they called out didn’t match the two holes I had just witnessed, meaning it was an ongoing competition. I assumed that meant there were other holes throughout the complex. Maybe there were a total of eighteen holes spread out between all of the backyards. I walked around a few other people’s backyards, but couldn’t find anything.On the map of the complex, there is a symbol of a golfer, denoting putting greens, behind our unit. As far as I can tell, that symbol isn’t anywhere else on the map.

Seems odd to put three putting greens tucked into a few backyards, and nowhere else in the entire complex. I know they need room for three pools, plus barbecues and tennis courts and a fitness center that looks like it was last used in the Carter Administration, but I think there’s room for at least one other putting green.

Which brings me back to the competition between these two golfers. If the competition wasn’t snaking through the compound, it must be an ongoing competition wherein they play the same three holes over and over, every day. And if that’s the case, how did dude not know about the wicked slope on the right-hand side? Shit, my toddler figured that out after just watching them once.

March Madness: Quick update: as predicted, I got my ass handed to me on Day Two. No, I didn’t bet on Virginia, but I did go from 6-0 on Thursday to 1-4 on Friday. Unfortunately, the one I got right was part of a parlay, so really it was an 0-fer day.

The good news was that I adjusted my betting based on what I knew was coming. I dropped each of my parlays down to $5. No way I would have had the fortitude to do that if I was in Reno. I would’ve been chasing the dragon all day long. If I double my bet each time, I only have to hit once to break even…

All-in-all, I sent my friend to Reno with $35, and he will be returning with $72. Not bad.

Allegedly.

Lunch. What’s the opposite of that whole “Fool me once” aphorism? When I am right the first time, then wrongly assume I’ll be right in the future?

On Day One, we had a wonderful lunch at the Kona Brewing Company. Day Two was a lackluster golf course clubhouse, to go. On Day Three, after the in-laws came off the golf course, we needed to grab lunch. I figured, for the second day in a row, that we would go to the food court we had grabbed dinner at on Day Zero (the night we arrived). For the second day in a row, I was overruled. Turns out I’m the only one that really wants to try that burrito place.

Instead, we all decided to go to a place called an Ale House on the map of the complex. Kona Brewery was so good, the Ale House must be solid, right?

Yeah, not so much.

This place was a glorified bar. I mean, props to them for having a kids menu complete with crayons. But to call it a “grill and bar,” one has to put air-quotes around the first two words.

Father-in-law thinks this used to be the golf clubhouse, but as the resort expanded, they moved the first hole to a more centralized location. Of course, nobody was thrilled with the current golf clubhouse the day before. Could a long-abandoned golf clubhouse-turned-dive-bar break the mold?

Should’ve been clued in by the fact that it was noon and we were the only patrons. Second strike was a full page of the menu taken up with many wonderful-sounding pizzas, marked with the caveat “only available after 2 PM.”

I asked if this was accurate, and the server said that, yes, their pizza guy doesn’t come in until two o’clock. Sound business decision, if you ask me. And I assume this newfangled “pizza” creation is something that only one person on the whole flippin’ island can figure out how to make.

I got the buffalo chicken sandwich, which listed as having buttermilk ranch and bleu cheese dressing. I assumed, as at most wing establishments, I’d get to choose between the two. Nope. They don’t have bona fide bleu cheese dressing, so the sprinkle bleu cheese crumbles on top of a ranch dressing that quite clearly just came out of a pouch.

Wife settled for tacos. She was equally unimpressed.

But hey, at least they were offering $5 Smithwicks & Guiness for St. Patrick’s Day. Wait, is $5 a good price for Smithwicks and Guinness?

Luau: For our evening meal and entertainment, we went to the luau we had been roped into by the timeshare concierge.

The last time I was in Hawaii, I was in fourth grade and Ronald Reagan was still president. So the amount of time that has passed, and the fact that nine-year-old me might not be the most accurate recorder of events, means my recollection of what happens at a luau might not be all that accurate. I mean, can you imagine, but I didn’t even THINK about blogging my experience back in 1984!

I seem to remember we had to drive or take a shuttle way out to a remote field. People came from hotels all over the region. We did the limbo. They lined everyone up for a kissing line (yeah, “come get groped” wouldn’t fly in 2018). I remember it being a very immersive experience.

This time, it was in a courtyard at the hotel attached to the timeshare complex. Rows and rows of tables were set up for food. There was no room for a limbo. It was clear early on that we were going to be sitting and watching, not participating in, a show.

But there were free mai tais! I don’t remember those when I was nine.

The food was excellent, though. I ate way too much. I assumed there’d just be pork at the end of the salad buffet, so I filled up on salad. Big mistake. There were four different meats plus rice and mashed potatoes and I had no room on my plate. Or my stomach, but that wouldn’t become apparent for another thirty minutes. Good thing they weren’t expecting me to do the limbo or anything, cause all my fat ass could do after that meal was sit and watch the dude with the six-pack abs doing his dance.

And maybe have another free mai tai.

Am I the only one who feels like kalua pork should have a Kahlua flavor?

The show after dinner was great, though. All of the kids were invited up to the front. I tried really hard to not be a helicopter parent, and my daughter tried really hard to not be an only child. I couldn’t actually see her curly hair at the end of our table, but I watched the spot in between to make sure she wasn’t wandering off in a different direction. When they were told to go back to their parents, everyone was relieved to find she hadn’t been abducted by the knife-wielding maniac that is always lingering around helicopter parents and only childs.

The show had the standard polynesian dances and costume changes. I particularly liked when they dressed up in jeans and checkered cowboy shirts to commemorate the 1908 national rodeo championship, which was won by Hawaiians. Very odd to see people looking like Chris Penn in “Footloose” performing typical Hawaiian dance moves.

The scantily-clad ladies with grass skirts and coconut bras were impressive, too, but let me go full homo by returning my attention to six-pack dude. I mean, there were other guys, too, but a few of them had somewhat pudgy dad bods. Polynesians aren’t known for the svelte look.

Three of the guys, with Sir Six Pack taking front and center, finished the show with a fire dance. Holy shit. They started with torches lit at one end, then used their mouth to transfer the fire to the other end of the stick. I hope it was a trick, a button hidden somewhere on the torch, but there definitely seemed to be fire in their mouths when it was done. Brought to you by Zantac.

When the fire batons were lit, they started spinning them in circles, twirling them in the air, throwing them back and forth to each other. The normal stuff you’d see with a baton gymnast, except these particular batons were flaming on both ends. Sir Six Pack ended the show by lighting two batons on fire and twirling and tossing them both. At times, it looked like he was carrying a fire bicycle across his body, a fire wheel hanging from each shoulder. Then he moved the wheels to front and back. Child was sitting on my lap by this point, and I almost had to push her out of the way to get a better view for her safety.

When it was finished, even I was sweating. Although that could’ve been the eighty percent humidity.

Or the three free mai tais.

Hawaii, Part II

Part II of my Hawaii trip. You can read Part I here.

Oh, and quicker turnaround means there’s probably more typos, less brilliance. Assume everything wonderful is legit, anything not hilariously entertaining must be a result of a harsh self-inflicted deadline.

Alcohol:  This vacation hasn’t been nearly as teetotaling as I had feared.

Fortunately, Kona Brewing Company has a wonderful lunch menu that I was able to sneak past the scrutinous eye of the non-drinkers. Seriously, everything looked wonderful. Roasted garlic, by itself, is enough to get my juices flowing, but when you combine it with a Gorgonzola cheese dip, and my breath’ll be smelling goooood for the next fortnight. And that was just the appetizer. For my regular course, I opted for a porterhouse dip (which had peppers and onions, so it was half-Philly, half-French dip). I then took bites of everybody else’s food. Even my daughter’s mac & cheese. I would go back there ten times if I could.

But of course, the reason I suggested this particular lunch spot on our foray into Kona was for that vital second word in its title: Brewing. I knew there would be a brewery in Kona, because a few of their beers, notably Longboard Lager, are quite prevalent in California. Some of their lesser varieties, like Fire Rock Pale Ale and their coconut porter, are easy enough to come by, too. They merged their distribution with Red Hook and Widmer a decade or so ago, increasing all of their geographical footprints. And of course, the beers with the most name recognition must be the best,right? Like Budweiser.

Anyway, I started with a sampler. Gotta keep my options open. One of the reasons you go to a brewery is to try some of their less-known flavors. And if my in-laws don’t realize that four 5-oz beers actually add up to more than a pint, who am I to mention it? And of course, after I do the sampler, I need to buy a pint of one of them, right? It’s an unwritten rule, like at wine tasting. If I don’t, isn’t that tantamount to stealing? The fact that the sampler cost as much as the pint is irrelevant. It’s about principle!

I actually used the sampler to try one of the flavors I’ve seen for sale in California, but never been curious enough to buy a 6-pack of: the coconut porter. I like coconut (more on that in a future part), but don’t really care for porters. Or stouts, for that matter. I’ve tried a few of the newfandangled flavored dark beers, like chocolate porters and coffee porters and oatmeal stouts. They always end up tasting much more like the porter or stout than they taste like chocolate or coffee or oatmeal.

The Koko Brown at Kona? Wow. Coconut. Like, seriously coconut. Almost, and I shudder to say this, too much coconut. Think of how hoppy an 80 IBU India Pale Ale is, and the Koko Brown is that coconutty. When I get back to California, I won’t be opposed to buying a 6-pack of this particular flavored porter. It might take me six months to go through the six-pack, but at least now I know I won’t be dumping five of them down the drain. But I doubt I’ll ever drink two of them back-to-back. It’s intense. If I want a beer, I’ll grab a beer. I’ll grab this one when I want a coconut.

The best part of our trip to Kona Brewery was the growler shop. Mother-in-law decided she wanted to take a growler home to one of the cousins that does work around her house and likes being paid in beer or beer-related paraphernalia. She thinks a growler with the Kona Brewing Company logo on the side would be a perfect gift for him.

“If we get one, do you think you could drink all of the beer in it before we have to board the plane?”

Yeah. Yeah, I think I can accomplish that. I’ll have to buckle down. But what is family for, if not for sacrifice?

March Madness: Did you know there’s a little basketball tournament going on right now? The college bouncy-bouncy types (Or “Dribblers” as Laura Ingraham, who surprisingly is NOT the same person as Dr. Laura, would put it) are engaged in their postseason.

I’m a bit of a degenerate gambler. Probably more on that at a later date, not in this “Hawaii” strain. Maybe next March. Yeah Wombat, that’s how you get them coming back for more – tell them they have to read through a year of your drivel before any sort of payoff.

Wait, does that mean we have to read through another about one of your crappy inside-joke-laden camping trips before learning of your gambling habits?

Yep! WordPress stats, baby!

Normally, I would not be in Hawaii this week. I would be in Reno betting on the games. I usually go there with a group of friends. But every four or five years, my wife makes me opt out of the debauchery that is 48 hours of solid drinking and basketball games to make a proper Spring Break with her. A decade ago, we went to Italy. Five years ago, it was a Caribbean cruise. Look for my next live-blogging, tropical experience in 2023!

Unfortunately, the NCAA didn’t adjust their schedule for me. So March Madness went on, and most of my friends are in Reno right now. I am not. We exchanged these pictures yesterday morning:

Ninety percent of the people would prefer to be in the picture on the left. It definitely has its merits. But man, I’d be lying if I didn’t say there’s some lonely pangs in my heart at that neon-bedazzled bastion of destitution on the right.

At least I was able to give a little cash to my buddy before he left. Or at least, I would have if transporting money across state lines for gambling purposes was legal. So of course, none of these things actually happened, and all of these wagers were made for “entertainment purposes” only.

But let’s just play pretendsies and claim that I went 4-0 on two two-team parlays on day one of March Madness. Had I got my last two bets texted across four thousand miles in time, I would’ve gone 6-0 and been up over a hundred… um… “points.”

Throughout my history of betting March Madnesses, I usually do well one day and poorly the other. Never 6-0 well, but had I been in the actual sportsbook today, that 6-0 would’ve turned into a 9-3. It’s amazing what happens when you don’t imbibe in free drinks at the sports book all day. Then again, had I been present, I would have gotten that Michigan-Buffalo two-teamer in.

Based on my history, if I was a smart man, whether in Reno or in Hawaii right now, I’d take the $50 I’m up and not do a damned thing with it on Day Two.

So anyway, what was I saying? Because I would be a fool not to bet on a sure thing like Virginia over UMBC.

(Okay, set this to post 12 hours from now and just assume nothing I just said looks foolish by then.)

In-Law Shenanigans: Every family has certain dynamics that are hard for outsiders to maneuver. In my wife’s family, there always seems to be decisions made without discussion, because they are all comfortable with each other. I feel like we’re discussing one thing, and then a mutual decision is reached by all others present that did not even to be on the table at all.

It’s a universal phenomenon. My wife says the same thing when decisions are being made in my family.

A couple of things yesterday seemed a bit odd from my outsider perspective. The day before, we were at the beach when a group of people showed up to board the whale-watching catamaran, which gave us the idea to book it. On Day Two, we had to go back to that same beach to board that same boat. Instead of going back to the same parking lot as before, wWe drove around for ten minutes looking for a spot to park.

When I finally piped up with “Aren’t we going the same place as yesterday?” I was informed that father-in-law is certain there is a closer parking lot. First spot we checked was gated, second was along the side of the road next to lava rocks that looked none-too accessible. Two u-turns and a few turnouts later, and we found the elusive parking lot that was down at the other end of the beach. The walk was to the beach was about the same.

After whale watching, we stayed on the beach. Mother-in-law walked back to the car for her swimsuit and toddler’s beach toys, at which time she decided to… drive over to the first parking lot.

After the beach, we decided to get lunch on the way home. Daughter fell asleep as soon as she hit the car, which limited the options of where we could go to lunch. Of course, we had plenty to eat at the condominium, what with our grocery store and Costco and Target runs we made on Day One, but wife’s family seems to have a “lunch out, dinner home” policy, whether it fits the logistics of the day or not. So we decided to get some take-out home with us.

I assumed we were going back to the food court that we had gone to the night before. There were six or seven options there, so we could all get something different from the night before. But instead, we went to the golf course clubhouse. With child sleeping in the back of the minivan, I was sent inside to see if they even do takeout and, if so, to take a picture of the menu. They do, and I did. We sat in the car, passing my phone around to look at the menu, complete with father-in-law reading each item, including all of the individual ingredients, to mother-in-law, all while the car is running to keep the air conditioning going.

I’m getting ready to go back inside with everyone’s order, when mother-in-law puts the car in gear and drives home. I was very confused, but wife and her family don’t bat an eye. We get back to the condominium, call in the order, then mother-in-law drives back to pick it up. An hour after I was salivating over the burrito that I had passed on at the food court the night before, I sat down to eat some lackluster golf-course fish n’ chips. No malt vinegar. Guess I should’ve added that to the phone order.

You can follow the continuing adventure here.

Hawaii, Part I

I’m trying something a little different this week. I’m vacationing in Hawaii with the in-laws. Baby’s first flight of longer than an hour, and let me tell ya, the difference between a short jaunt and an extended haul is rather pronounced with a three-year old. I started jotting down my thoughts after the first day or two, thinking there’d be a blog post at the end.

But I fear that final post might be 10,000 words and ain’t nobody wantin’ to read that shit. Plus, I’d have to go back and change verb tense, and ain’t nobody wantin’ to write that shit.

So instead, I’m… live blogging? Not really. I won’t be posting in real time or anything. But maybe I’ll post more in installments as the trip goes on. Then I’ll get a whole bunch of new fans that enjoy my posting on a regular basis and then frustrate them when I go back to once every week and a half. I live for nothing more than to frustrate my fans, yo!

Part II is here.

So here’s the first few days in Hawaii:

Cost:. Wow. Sticker shock. Maybe culture shock. Things are a wee bit expensive here. I expected certain things to be more expensive. Beef, for instance. I haven’t seen a lot of native cows walking around the lava fields, so I imagine T-Bones might be at a premium. Maybe milk, too, although I haven’t seen the price of milk yet.

However, we had lunch during our layover in Honolulu airport. And I know, airport prices are airport prices, but the Fish n’ Chips cost $24. Most of the other things on the menu were reasonable (in airport terms). The aforementioned beef (in hamburger form) was $16. Nachos were $14, or $18 with chicken or pork. Fish n’ chips cost a Hamilton more than that.

Um, we’re on an island, right?

Must be the potatoes.

Concierge: I know it’s the job of a concierge to be a sheister. Add to that the fact that we’re at a timeshare. If a 1970s used-car salesman and a 1920s bootlegger had a bastard child, that child… would probably be a little skeeved out by a timeshare concierge. Seriously, this lady couldn’t give a straight answer to anything. As soon as we sat down, she immediately started doing the carnival barker/faith healer scam, gauging her answer based on our reactions.

After she had given my daughter a “very special” keyring.

We asked her which coffee plantation had the best tour. I don’t know, she muses, what are you looking for in a coffee tour? Um, coffee? Maybe a description of how it is made? With, I don’t know, some coffee or t-shirts or shit for sale? Oh, well then you definitely want to try this one. It has all of that. Oh, you mean that’s the one that’s giving you kickbacks and if I had said I wanted a coffee enema you would’ve sent me to the same place? Gosh, thanks. So helpful.

My wife made the mistake of asking which luau is the best. Wouldn’t you know it happens to be the EXACT same one that you can get for a discount if you sit through the timeshare presentation? No seriously, your kid is going to love this particular luau because it has all of the fun luau-y things and none of the bad luau-y things.

But there’s a problem. Wife and I are already signed up for the timeshare spiel in New York this June (I know, I know. It stems from a free Brazilian rodizio steakhouse in Vegas last summer), and we can’t double up in a calendar year. (Although, as it turns out, the luau would’ve only been twenty bucks off whereas the Vegas rodizio was free. Woo-hoo. This particular round of timeshare roulette goes to the Wombat.

But hold on, concierge says. Because you two are so nice and your daughter looks like a wonderful sacrifice to the timeshare gods, um, sweet girl, I think I can finagle a way to float you that discount that I’m authorized to give to any breathing organismand, whoa-hoa, aren’t you in luck?

And, oh hey, I just thought of this, how would you like an upgrade at the luau? And by upgrade, I mean you actually have a place to sit. Otherwise it is be standing room only, did I forget to mention that? So if you want to upgrade where you can actually sit and have food, after the discount I gave to you and only to you, the total comes out to, let me see what the calculator says, oh well, what do you know, it’s the same price it would have been before the discount. 

But you have to book it now, before you’ve had a chance to sit or put down your bags or adjust to the time zone or think or, I don’t know, yelp any other companies.

Sold!

Can I interest you in a volcano tour?

First day festivities: What would you want to do first after you landed in Hawaii? Okay, besides collecting your bag and rental car. Hell, I’ll even let you check into your hotel room, depending on the time of day. I mean that first, “Ahhh…. Hawaii” moment after you’ve settled in.

Was Costco top on your list? It was on ours. But unfortunately, we couldn’t get there until our second day. Because the timeshare was north and Costco was south. And we had a bunch of suitcases piled up in front of those of us in the back seat. Because the trunk was reserved for golf clubs. More on that later.

So after we checked in and unloaded the suitcases (but not the golf clubs), we felt it might be difficult to get a proper Costco run in before they closed. Father-in-law was very grumpy, but he was assuaged by the compromise of a grocer store. We spent the next hour or two purchasing groceries. After which it was very late, at least for our body clocks still three hours ahead, so we went to a food court to get dinner.

Again, we made a point to hit the grocery store on the first evening in Hawaii, then got take-out for dinner.

On day two, we didn’t just hit the Costco, we hit the Target AND the Costco, back-to-back. PARTY TIME!!!

Don’t get me wrong. We’re going to be here a week. Prices are exorbitant in town in this state. At a timeshare resort where a luau costs triple-digits without even having seat, being able to provide our own meals for ourselves is important. Just let me get a goddamned mai tai first.

Speaking of mai tais…

Alcohol: If you’re like me, your answer to the “what’s the first thing you do?” query involved something with a pineapple slice and a little toothpick-umbrella. Not the group I’m with.

Neither of my wife’s parents drink alcohol. They also don’t particularly care for alcohol being consumed around them. So that pretty much knocks out the top five things on my “What I’d Like to do in Hawaii” list.

They also don’t drink coffee. There goes my top ten.

In their defense, I don’t really golf, so I won’t be showing up for their top five, either. The difference is they don’t have to wait for a subtle nod of allowance before golfing, like I do with a beer. And if they want do a second round of golf shortly after the first, I promise I will not make any snide comments about what a bad role model they are setting for my daughter.

At least they’re interested in doing the coffee tours, from a curiosity standpoint. And I’m pretty sure they aren’t opposed to coffee on moral grounds. They do drink soda and iced tea, so caffeine isn’t the road to hell like the good stuff is.

That’s it for the first day-and-a-half. More to report later.

The Definitive Hair Band

When I first started teaching, I thought about going back to school to get a master’s degree.

I had a great idea for a master’s thesis in history: Finding the definitive hair band.

Sorry, that’s not very master’s thesis-y. How about: Analysis of the Hair Band Phenomenon and its Causes and Effects on the Society and Economics of the 1980s.

Fancy, huh?

I would stand out on my classroom porch during passing periods and try to come up with a working history of hair bands with the teacher next door. Sometimes our students would drop a name or two, because it was 2003 and teenagers still had some peripheral awareness of hair bands (Not a true understanding, of course, but at least a working knowledge).

Eventually I decided that a master’s degree wasn’t worthwhile. It would cost $5,000, and my particular school district would only pay me an extra $1,000 a year for it. Take out taxes and I’m looking at a decade before I make the money back, much less the lost hours of my twenties and thirties.

Unfortunately, that meant all of my “research” on hair bands had gone to waste. I could’ve maybe turned it into a book, but that would require writing it. And maybe needing some real research. Hello, Wikipedia!

But before I could get off my ass in order to sit my ass down and write it, the other teacher and I came to a huge disagreement about whether one particular group counted as a hair band. Like a true hair band, we decided we could not possibly go forward with this project, regardless of the fact that it would have brought us untold millions of dollars and screaming fans.

Stephen Hawking has groupies, right?

So the definitive history of hair bands was never written. Until now. Here’s my completely unresearched and unverified search for the definitive hair band (seriously, I haven’t checked the dates of these releases or how they charted or sold or anything) :

History:

Motley Crue (not sure how to put in umlauts, please bear with me) was a pretty straight-forward rock band with limited success. Some good songs, especially on their second album with a remake of The Beatles’ “Helter Skelter,” and what should have become an anthem, “Shout at the Devil.” But only moderate success. Vince Neal was scratching his head wondering why they hadn’t broken through yet, when he turned on MTV. All the VJ’s were gushing about a couple of Twisted Sister songs. The members of Motley Crue thought, “That music is kinda lame. Why is it so successful?”

Of course, we all know what the secret to Twisted Sister’s success: the makeup, the tongue-in-cheek songs.

The hair.

So Motley Crue decided to glam out, and their next album was a huge success. The hair band was born.

Okay, I might’ve fudged some of those details, but I think most would agree that “Theater of Pain” was the beginning of the era. It held a number of the motifs that would come to define the genre. There was a guitarred-up remake of an old song, in this case “Smokin’ in the Boys Room.” Late examples of these remakes would be Poison hitting the big time with “Your Mama Don’t Dance” and… oops, the other notable remakes come from the-band-that-shan’t-be-named.

Motley Crue’s next single was the first of what would end up becoming synonymous with hair bands: the power ballad. “Home Sweet Home” is about as awesome of a power ballad as you can get. I know most people will put “Every Rose has its Thorn” or <Redacted until later discussion> up there, but there’s something especially awesome about “Home Sweet Home.” It still stands up thirty years later, and it’s especially impressive when you consider that they were flying blind on that particular gamble. Sure, “Sister Christian” might be a little more kickin’, but by the time Night Ranger was recording it, they were following a tried-and-true formula.

And yes, Kiss fans, I know your band recorded “Beth” a decade earlier, but that’s just a ballad, like “Desperado” or “Yesterday.” Your band didn’t invent the power ballad. Now go cry through your make-up.

Different Types of Hair Bands

To find the definitive hair band, we must first define a hair band. The obvious definitions include (obviously) hair, make-up, and “playing in the general vicinity of the late 1980s?” Hair bands usually had four or five members. I don’t know why. Not all hair bands had to have a remake of an old song, but I think to be counted as a hair band, you needed to have rock songs (usually with sexual undertones that seemed edgy for the time but are downright Disney Channel by today’s standards) and power ballads, in more or less equal number. As the fad progressed, we started to get some hybrid songs that started as ballads, then became rockers.

I can’t say for certain if all of the band members played instruments, but I get the general sense that most of them had a “front man” whose only job was to sing and maybe move their crotch. And keep the peroxide shipments coming in, naturally.

Two bands stick out as extensions of the hair band era. The first is Bon Jovi, which unequivocally began as a hair band. Their first three hits included two rock anthems, “You Give Love a Bad Name,” and “Livin’ on a Prayer,” followed up by ballady “Wanted Dead or Alive” with a B-Side of “Never Say Goodbye.” Their next album was even more hair band. “Bad Medicine” fulfilled the rock quota, “I’ll Be There For You” was the power ballad, and “Lay Your Hands on Me” took that middle road which became increasingly prevalent in the waning years of the 1980s.

But Bon Jovi managed to survive past the hair band era. At first, it didn’t look like they would. When they released their “Greatest Hits” album in 1994, they might as well have been calling it a career. But then they took a little time off, Jon Bon Jovi bought some sports teams, and they adjusted their style of music to fit the new millennium. This might be because Jon Bon Jovi plays (and I believe, writes) his own music, unlike most of the front men, so he could adjust to the changing times. Perhaps the only reason they were a hair band was because that’s what the music industry required at the time. Hell, if Bon Jovi comes on when I’m shuffling my iTunes in my classroom, my students classify it as “Country Music.” The horror!

From the “Hair Band that became something else” to the “Hair Band From a Different Time,” I present the Goo Goo Dolls. Think about it. Their three biggest hits from “A Boy Named Goo” completed the same trifecta as “New Jersey” had: Rocker (“Long Way Down”), Ballad (“Name”), and middle ground (Naked”). If Johnny Rzeznik isn’t the second coming of Vince Neil, I don’t know who is. A

By the way, one of these pictures is Jon Bon Jovi, the other is Johnny Rzeznik. If one of them walked up to you, would you know who it was? I’d probably have to ask them about the Arena Football League and see which one has a comeback.

Image result for jon bon joviImage result for johnny rzeznik guitar

Hey, as an aside, did Def Leppard grow into a Hair Band a la Motley Crue, or did they always just have nine arms and suck? Discuss amongst yourselves.

The Anomaly

Here’s where my co-creator and I encountered our obstacle, a creative difference that rivaled Lennon and McCartney. A disagreement that shook us both to our very cores, calling into doubt the groundwork we had done and the very definition of a hair band. And really, if decent society cannot come together to define who is and who is not a hair band, then can the world survive?

I don’t think it’s hyperbolic to quote Thomas Jefferson in this instance. “A decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.”

Or, to misquote a more recent president. I don’t see red states or blue states. I see people who realize that Guns n Roses is a hair band and people who don’t are wrong.

My friend does not feel that GnR was a hair band. He sees them as much more Metallica than Poison. He claims that “Appetite for Destruction” was a solid, hardcore rock album worthy of Black Sabbath, and that “Use Your Illusion” was a classic double-album that would fit perfectly alongside “The White Album” or “Quadrophenia.”

(Hey, that’s a “Quadrophenia” reference two posts in a row. You’re welcome, Pete Townshend.)

You know all the bullshit that Axl Rose was throwing out about “Estranged,” “Don’t Cry,” and “November Rain” being a trilogy? Yeah, my buddy buys that. Only don’t call it a Power Ballad Trilogy.’ Those were just standard, um, unempowered ballads.

Oh, and that other song I redacted in the “Home Sweet Home” discussion earlier?  I was talking about “Sweet Child o’ Mine.” My friend claims that the o’ in the title makes it an Irish jig.

Okay, not really. He claims “Sweet Child o’ Mine” is not a power ballad because it has no piano.

On second thought, that argument makes about as much sense as calling it an Irish gig.

Quick, here’s a picture of Axl Rose and Bret Michaels. Which one is which?

Image result for bret michaelsRelated image

The Definitive Hair Band

Fortunately, we had determined the definitive hair band before the debate over whether “Live and Let Die” is a remake of a classic rock song. The definitive rock band was easy to determine once we had determined the parameters.

And, to give you a hint, it’s a band that hasn’t been mentioned yet.

Most people jump to Poison. They are certainly the most prominent hair band, but they’ve come to define so much more. Reality shows, diabetes, aging rock stars. If you mention the band Poison to someone, a lot of different things come to mind. Plus, while they had plenty of songs, including some sexual innuendo in “Talk Dirty To Me,” their power ballad trumps their entire career. So while “Every Rose has Its Thorn” might be the definitive song of the hair band era, Poison is not the definitive band.

It couldn’t be a band that existed outside of the hair band era (see: Crue, Motley; Jovi, Bon). It had to be a band with both rockers and power ballads, preferably in equal number. In fact, if the band could only have two hits, one of each style, that would be ideal.

Substantial attention was given to Whitesnake. Tawny Kitaen on the hood of a car was enough to put them into second place. The problem with Whitesnake is that their two songs are effectively both power ballads. Sure, “Here I Go Again” speeds up as the song goes along, a la “Stairway to Heaven,” but it still doesn’t quite qualify as a straight-up rocker. “Sister Christian” speeds up, too, but we all know that’s a power ballad, right?

Wait, did I just put “Here I Go Again” and “Stairway to Heaven” in the same sentence? Yep. You’re welcome, Pete Townshend.

So Whitesnake is damned close, but not quite there. The definitive hair band, though, shares the first letter, W.

Winger.

Just kidding. Sorry. Couldn’t help myself.

The definitive hair band is, in fact, Warrant.

“Who is Warrant?” you might ask. Unless you were between the ages of ten and thirty in 1988, you might not have heard of them. As it should be. Because if you weren’t between those ages in that year, you don’t really understand hair bands.

Warrant only had two hits. Their first one, “Heaven,” was a power ballad, complete with oddly homoerotic concert footage in the video. Nobody ever found that stuff odd at the time, but it was in a lot of videos. It’s not gay if the four shirtless dudes spooning each other on the stage are wearing spandex, right?

But the song that really helped this band define a movement was their second song, “Cherry Pie.” If there was a checklist for a hair band rocker, this would tick all the boxes. Sexual innuendo? Check. Video with scantily-clad blonde? Yep. Sprayed with a hose? Absolutely. With a slice of cherry pie emulating her pubic region? Naturally.

It should come as no surprise that “Cherry Pie” was released in late 1990 and Nirvana’s “Nevermind” came out in 1991. Once a pinnacle has been reached, it’s time to move on to the next mountain. Disco hit right after “Hotel California,” too.

So there you have it. Thank you for listening to my dissertation.

Where do I pick up my PhD?