RW140 - Super Aloha

This week, Dan and John talk about:

  • John being in Hawaii (Hawaii)
  • Relaxing on Hawaii (Hawaii)
  • Wild chicken in Hawaii (Hawaii)
  • All-inclusive beach resorts (Hawaii)
  • Acknowledging people on the streets, tourist culture (Hawaii)
  • John’s uncle Jack and Ted Stevens (Family}

Bonus-content for Patreon supporters:

  • John’s family also being in Hawaii (Hawaii)
  • Overcoming the panic when snorkeling, feeling panic even on land (Depression)
  • Dan’s relationship with the ocean (Dan Benjamin)
  • Dealing with stage fright (Factoids)
  • Making the Internet a public utility ([[Technology]]])
  • Are we de-professionalizing art? (Music)

The show title refers to John trying to improve his Aloha while he is on a long vacation in Hawaii.

Draft version
The segments below are drafts that will be incorporated into the rest of the Wiki as time permits.

John being in Hawaii (RW140)

John is on the beautiful island of Maui, right at the crossroads where Kihei fades into Wailea. He comes here every year, and his uncle Jack comes here every year for several months because he is an Alaskan who can manage to come to Hawaii for the winter. Uncle Jack will be 93 years old in a couple of weeks and John comes here to hang out and listen to stories of his dad from the good old days.

John also brings his little girl so she gets to know her uncle who is the last of that generation who is still alive in John’s family. He was always an athlete, both he and John’s dad were real athletic guys, but at 93 years old life beats you up. After recording this show John is going to try to get in touch with his uncle's doctor who didn’t answer their phone and they are going to go on a doctor-finding-mission.

John’s Hawaiian pronunciations have always been really bad, but he has friends who are great at it and who can read a sign and make it sound beautiful and fluid. John has a hard enough time pronouncing words already and there are a lot of glottal stops in Hawaiian that he can't manage to make it through, so he doesn’t even make an attempt to put any accent spin on it.

The smallest Hawaiian island Kahoolawe is an uninhabited island that was used as a Navy bombing range for 50 years. John can see it from where he is right across the bay. It is tantalizing, but you are not allowed to go on it because it is covered with unexploded bombs.

Dan knew where the Hawaiian Islands are, but he didn't know where they were in reference to the Bikini Atoll where they did the hydrogen bomb testing, but it looks like a very long way from there. Distances in the Pacific Ocean are considerable, which is one of the appeals of it. It takes five hours to get from Seattle to Hawaii and it always took about that long to get there from Anchorage.

Hawaii is a travel commitment even if you are coming from the closest place on the continental United States. For people in New York it is a 10 hour flight and they could be in Morocco and a lot of other places you could choose to go. You see a lot of people from the West, but it is more unusual to see vacationers from New York or from Texas for instance.

Relaxing on Hawaii (RW140)

The only city in the state of Hawaii would be Honolulu and even that is a small city (350.000 people). The rest of the towns are just towns. When John was a kid, a lot of the streets in the suburbs of Anchorage were still just made of dirt and there was a lot of undeveloped land, which was true in Maui as well: A lot of dirt streets and a lot of wide open country. Hawaii still had pineapples, sugar cane and coffee as their main crops and it felt agricultural. Now it is very much a vacation place.

They don’t grow sugar cane, pineapples or coffee anymore in any kind of major scale, but the region is mostly just oriented around relaxing. It is an island where the temperature doesn't vary that much over 12 months of the year. In the hottest month your daily average is going to be 82 (28 °C) and in the coldest month your daily average is going to be 79 (26 °C).

There is a massive class divide between the people who are here on vacation, the people whose property faces the beach, and the regular Hawaiian people who live and work on Maui. There is also that human flotsam that washes up on these far-flung places. Anchorage used to be like this, too. People who grew up in Pennsylvania and ended up living in Maui definitely were running from something at some point in their life. You can still do that, but now it is expensive and you can only run from stuff as long as you can afford an $8 loaf of bread. Everything has to come here over great distances of ocean.

Getting into the spirit of not being in a hurry and not really needing to do anything can be really profound, but the massive influx of money and tourism makes it harder to get super Aloha. There are so many more people who are all competing for a pretty small amount of space. John is working super hard to get his Aloha together! He has already been in Hawaii for twelve days and he will be here for 18 or 19 days, which is a long time to be in a kind of forced meditation and so he is trying to get chill.

It is a very different vibe from the Caribbean, and the irie vibe of the West Indies is not the same although they do listen to Reggae music on Hawaii now. At some point Reggae became the music of the beach globally. The rhythms of Reggae are very compatible with ocean waves and even in Goa they are probably playing reggae right now. They used to play House music in Goa and they may still, but there is surely plenty of reggae there.

John has been walking and Boogie-boarding and snorkeling which are all very healthy things. He has been snorkeling every day and any time when he was in a position where he could just wade out into the ocean and the ocean was warm enough that he could just float there and look out onto the horizon, something in him started to ask pretty simple questions, like ”What else is there?” and also ”What else is there?” John can feel pretty complete for short bursts, just floating and looking out at the ocean. It doesn't take long when you return to the world to get embroiled in your business again and in Seattle it is very difficult to disconnect that hard.

Wild chicken in Hawaii (RW140)

There is a rooster outside of John's window who is probably going to lay in a couple of pretty cool tracks (The rooster call can be heard clearly on the recording). A long time ago when John had his office Downtown there was a lot of seagull noise in some of his tracks because the seagulls would perch outside his office window and scream at each other.

There is an enormous population of wild feral inedible chickens and roosters who mate like crazy, but nobody wants them. They are not domesticated, but they are ancient birds like red jungle fowl. They were brought here by the Polynesians before chickens had become what they are now and they are more closely related to the ancient chickens of Thailand than to the dumb chickens that Tyson murders by the millions.

John would like to murder these chickens by the millions because they are an absolute pest. Hawaii doesn't have a lot of top-predators on land and for whatever reason the Mongoose do not kill the chickens. If John was a Mongoose he would weigh 50 pounds because he would eat chicken every day. They are not killing the rats either and John doesn’t get the ecology of introduced species and how they interact with each other here.

A lot of the fledgling chickens, the teenage chickens, are all black, but the Roosters are gorgeous, they are just phenomenal! The teenage chickens do not look like they belong in the same family as their mothers and fathers. There are a lot of things that make a lot of noise around here, but a big part of John getting Aloha is being fine with all that.

All-inclusive beach resorts (RW140)

Yesterday John went for a long walk through the resort area down in Wailea, a massive development that mostly wasn't there when he was a kid. It is one huge hotel resort complex after another, the Four Seasons, the Fairmont, every fancy hotel chain, not the Days Inn, but the big all-inclusive resort complexes like Andaz. They sit up on volcanic cliffs and each one has its own cove. The law in Hawaii says that while you can have a big mansion on a beach, all the beach front is public land and you can't fence off the beach. There is a public path that just bobs and weaves its way through the front yard of every one of these giant hotels.

Last night John walked about five miles (8 km) through these hotels and because they are all-inclusive the people that were there aren't going anywhere else. They land at the airport, a shuttle vehicle picks them up, brings them to their hotel, they check in, and then everything is there: Food, drinks, beach, pool, there are bands playing Hawaiian music, there are big cookouts on the beach. Each one of those hotels is set up to give you the feeling that you are in paradise.

John was walking along in the hour before and after sunset. Sunset is very important in Hawaii. When the sun dips below the horizon for the last time the tradition is to blow on a Conch Shell and everybody will be watching the sun as it finally dips below the surface.

A lot of tourism business in the tropics both in Hawaii and in the Caribbean is oriented around being drunk. ”How did you get ahold of a Conch shell?” - "I'm shitfaced!” The great thing about being on vacation for a lot of people is that you can already be drunk by 2:00pm and you feel like it is allowed because that is what vacation means to a large percentage of the people of the world. ”I'm on vacation, which means I can drink!"

One year Dan went to a huge resort in San Antonio for summer vacation. He is not a resort person but they went to it anyway. It is landlocked, but there are five pools with a lazy river going all around them and you get amazing high-end buffet-food like in a gourmet restaurant. Foodies loved this place! Every day they would go down to the pool at 08:30-09:00am when it would be deserted and by the time that they were done and it was lunchtime everybody would be showing up and be all about drinking. All ages were there and every single adult was drinking all day until they went back and collapsed. They weren't out there in the morning because they weren't too drunk and hungover.

What about their kids? Their kids aren't drinking and Dan’s kids wake up pretty early, even on the weekend! They might sleep until 07:00-07:30am, but what happens between when the kids wake up and when you are able to reduce your hangover enough to go and start over again? That is the massive appeal of these resorts being closed systems because you can kick your kid out the door and unless they fall into a hole there are tons of people around they are not going to drown in the pool. You can put your sunglasses on, come down and and fall back asleep in a beach chair.

John’s daughter would love these resorts because of the lazy river and the endless food. John feels a little bit bad almost that it isn’t his instinct to take her to places like that because from her perspective it has everything that she would ever need. Instead he takes her on vacations where her 93 year old great uncle is working on his memoirs and there are no other little kids and no lazy river. They have to go all the way across the street to get to the beach and she can't go across the street unless she is holding somebody's hand.

Acknowledging people on the streets, tourist culture (RW140)

John has pretty strong feelings about when he is walking in a place and someone is walking the other way and he nods at them, smiles at them or acknowledges them and they don't respond. He was raised to tip his hat to everybody that he passed and if it was morning to say ”Good morning!” and if it was afternoon to say ”Good afternoon!” When you are in places where that is the culture and people do that, it facilitates an easier day.

That kind of social lubricant makes it all the more genteel and makes life smoother. Places where people don't do that, either you tip your hat at them or you nod and smile and they look right through you like no one has ever spoken to them before, or places where people just don't look at each other are harder places for John to be.

One time John visited St. John in the Caribbean, a majority black country, and the vibe on the street is ”No eye contact with tourists or gringos!” It feels like a very unfriendly place compared to the islands next door on either side where they have a more developed tourist culture. John’s interaction with all those Caribbean islands is always constrained by the fact that he is arriving as a member of the Jonathan Coulton cruise or the MaxFun cruise and even though he tries to venture out and get away from the the center, he is still only there for a day and he can’t establish a real strong connection with what is going on in these places.

The Hawaiian people have super-strong feelings about white Americans, and even though white Americans and white Europeans have been there since Captain Cook it is a complicated and not 100% friendly relationship. In the 1970s when John was a kid it felt much more like half the people were Hawaiian and half the people were people escaping from a marijuana bust back on the mainland. Today it is just a huge undifferentiated mass of white Americans and the vibe is to not look at each other. It is so strong that it transcends whatever the normal human thing of whoever you are passing would be. They might nod at you in their own small town, but being on Maui as a white tourist? Somehow they don’t.

John probably passed 600 people and there were 25.000 people within 300 yards (275 m) of him and maybe 20 made any acknowledgement of him on his walk. The rest of felt like they were intentionally avoiding acknowledging or recognizing other people. They are in this paradisiacal resort environment, but every little small group of people, every family, every couple are really bubbled. They are there to do their vacation and whether they paid for it with points or whether this is what they saved up all year to do, they are in a bubble.

There are a lot of people and it would be very hard to warmly embrace each person you walked past, but if you walk down the street in New York City and you happen to make eye contact with people, you acknowledge them for the most part. John does at least! People there are very busy and also not friendly, but they don't just storm past you as a collective culture. A guy with a briefcase will storm past you, but the next person that you see will react to you a different way.

It was hard for John to fault the people in Hawaii because it really does feel intrinsic to their culture. John himself felt having to force himself to try to acknowledge people. Had he just given up on his project, he could have happily walked past all of these dingelings and not looked at them. You can watch a culture evolve in Maui that isn't Hawaiian culture, that isn't American culture, but is actually tourist culture. It doesn't matter who the actual people are because when they get there they will adopt this tourist culture that is being filled and refilled every day. Hawaii is being repopulated, but the culture is somehow eternal.

It makes John question if he would come here every year if his uncle was not here. They are not in a resort, but they are living in a little house with chickens all around and they can pretend that it is still 1976. John does remember watching the Jerry Lewis Telethon with his dad in here the day that Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis made up on national TV. There weren't as many fucking chickens around yet, but there were more Mongoose.

Would John keep coming here? All middle class people who go on vacation as a pursuit have to ask themselves if they are locked into some intrinsic set of rules that accompany them as a vacationer, whether they try to break out of those places or not? John tried his whole life to get away from the resort and get into town, but that is its own version of being a Western middle class tourist in a place.

There are always 5% of the people who want to get out of their resort and meet the real people down on the street and you can see those adventure tourists from a mile away. Then there are the people who never go to a resort and who go to Costa Rica to live like a local, but the locals don't think they are like them. They are also just a tourist! It is almost impossible to truly be a citizen of the world and there are many versions of that!

Are you a citizen of the world with money? In that case you are not a citizen of the world, but you are a person with money in the world. If you don't have money as a tourist, then everybody recognizes you as a pain in the ass. If you are trying to have an authentic experience at places and you are not able to pay the locals the money that they are trying to earn, then you just have that ugly, almost moocher quality.

”No no no, I don't want the big show, I don't want to pay the money for the experience, I'm just here to be like you guys!” and the locals just roll their eyes. Dude, that is a) not possible and b) we don't want to be your friend. We are trying to earn a living and you are obviously not from here, so we are hoping you are going to pay for the show, frankly. We don't want to take you around town for free because you think we are friends.

John is trying to figure out what he is looking for. Fully 70% of all vacation activities are oriented around icy drinks and the other 30% are activities like whale watch or nature hike or zip line or local museums, that type of thing. You can schedule one of those a day, sure! Go out to the waterfall! John loves going to the local museums in Cuba, they are wonderful and hilarious, but you can only get so much out of going to a local museum everywhere you go. If you have a kid you are obviously just dragging them by the hair through those things.

Traditionally John walked out the front door and just walk all day. Because that is also what he does at home, he is very comfortable walking through other people's lives. He is not trying to stop and get to know you, really, but he is just in motion. By virtue of being in motion John is trying to keep moving and get out of the way and he flatters himself that he is taking in some semblance of what would be happening here if he weren't here to view it. It is a little Heisenberg-ian. ”What is this place like when I am not here? Is it possible for me to see inside this box without changing the nature of the contents?” That is John’s game!

John is fortunate enough to be able to walk up the alley, go through the Barrio and never feel completely unsafe. He has had the opportunity to visit a lot of places and not feel shoehorned into a completely curated experience that is being put on by a tourist operation, meant to make people feel secure. He is also not sitting down in other people's world and imagining that he is not changing the world by virtue of being there.

This has always been wonderful and perfect for John. Even walking through that resort yesterday was not like walking through some small Hawaiian town where everyone is living an agricultural life and pretending that he doesn’t belong, but he was walking through a very expensive resort complex full of white Americans, trying not to disrupt their ecosystem, trying to perceive as much as he can, and trying to solve. There is always an equation he is trying to resolve.

John’s uncle Jack and Ted Stevens (RW140)

John and his uncle Jack do not have the same personality or anything close to it. John did not have the same personality as his dad either and his uncle and his dad were also very different. Uncle Jack is another person in the family who is never content. He does not look back on his life and feel contentment and he doesn't allow himself to feel proud of himself. Now he is gradually becoming conscious that he is at the end of his life.

Just like John’s dad, uncle Jack always behaved as though he would live forever. John’s dad died at 87 and even as he got closer to the end of his life he was still denying it. Uncle Jack has been working on this process for more than five years and he is arriving at a place where he acknowledging that he is coming close to the end. Working hard to write his memoirs is giving his life a sense of purpose, but in doing so he cannot resist trying to solve the questions ”Who was I? Did I do good? Why was I like I was?”

It sounds unsolvable and he will never get to the bottom of that. Dan is trying as well and he is having no luck. John hasn’t been reflecting very hard on it, but he has been avoiding gazing too deeply into the mirror that his uncle is holding up in front of him, struggling with these unresolvable and in a way irrelevant questions, because John is not very comfortable seeing himself in those same questions. Uncle Jack can’t resolve anything, he is never going to know what he did, what his purpose was, how great his impact was. Even if he could, it wouldn’t offer him any relief. Knowing how important or unimportant you were, what does that change?

Uncle Jack lived an incredible and unduplicatable life. He arrived in Alaska in 1950 after having been a national football star as Yale's star Tight-end. He graduated from Yale in the same class as William F. Buckley and George Herbert Walker Bush and whenever they are talking about some historical figure he will always pull somebody out and say that he knew him. When George Bush comes up in conversation, he will say ”You know, Barbara was such a nice lady! Even then she was a very gentle woman, but George was a snob!” That is also what John has gleaned from watching them on the public stage, but he didn't know them when they were 24.

Uncle Jack was in Alaska long before statehood and he was part of the generation of mid 20th century pioneers who ushered the state into existence and who populated it with institutions, banks, newspapers, universities, insurance companies, all those things. Before he and his generation arrived there, it was just thrown together. His peers started the first newspaper, the first bank, and the first insurance company. He and a partner started the second title insurance company in Alaska. John doesn’t think you could find the living person who started the second title insurance company in Chicago because that happened a long time ago.

It has always been interesting for John to be connected to that generation of Alaskans because you can see the beginning of Western civilization and the institutions of Capitalist America at their point of generation. There are a lot of great moments and a lot of great stories in uncle Jack's life. He was there for the very early days of oil exploration and he personally had lots of oil leases around the state, but none of them ever hit paydirt. For the middle part of his life there was this feeling that he was just one oil strike away from being a multimillionaire.

Uncle Jack was law partners with Ted Stevens who was appointed to the U.S. Senate while he and John’s uncle shared a law office and Ted became one of the longest serving U.S. senators. Ted, Uncle Jack, and their wives were intimately close with one another and uncle Jack is trying to figure out that relationship because he is very liberal and Ted Stevens was very conservative, yet they maintained this friendship for their whole adult lives. There were lots of things they agreed not to talk about, but when it came to what they were going to do this afternoon, the four of them were going to sit around and try on funny hats.

Uncle Jack records all these stories, which are all great and anybody would want to hear them, to find an answer to a question that he can't articulate, other than ”Why? What is this all? Did I do well?” That is also what drives John to ruin every day, it is somewhat intrinsic to him and it is in his sister, too. Lots of other people in his family don't have it and are proud of themselves, some of them too proud of themselves while there are others who really labor under this.

John used to yell at his dad and he yells at his uncle, because that is how they communicate in this family. ”You did great! Just write the story down! Get it down so that people know that it happened! That is what is interesting! Don't worry about who it helps or whether you did a good job. You can't know those things. It is impossible for you to evaluate those things, just do the work!”, but he doesn’t know how to do that and he will pass on to the other side unresolved.

There is no chance, just as there wasn't with John's dad, that uncle Jack will lay back in the final accounting and say ”I did well and I am ready to be released”, but as he lays dying he will say ”There is one more thing, one more question I need to ask about what the point of this was!” and then he will see a bright light and walk down a tunnel, still probably asking ”Where am I going? I have things to do!”

John doesn’t know what his takeaway should be, but that is part of the problem: It is not that he should take away anything. How can he take that perception, apply it to himself, and have more Aloha? How can he just float in the ocean, looking out at the horizon, feeling completeness even for a little while? How can he find that completeness in every day without resorting to Eastern mysticism and without adopting a foreign practice?The solution to this problem is often offered as some version of either an Eastern practice or an ancient practice, some intentional efforts to push out the mind, but it feels foreign to John to adopt a foreign custom.

John is stuck in a world where he is bound by his own custom which makes him perpetually unhappy or incomplete, but he is also unwilling or incapable of embracing another custom just because it is currently popular or was popular in the last 40 years or other people have trot a path and are looking back and saying ”Hey, I found this! Come this way!” - ”Never! I go out and walk on my own!” John is not a tourist of Buddhism, which is what you call a large group of people that are doing yoga.

John just knows that he wants these chickens to die! He won't feel sorry, although this very beautiful rooster went up on the lanai and is coming close to him. He is probably the one who is crowing in the middle of the night and John really doesn’t like him. Here comes his bride! They are beautiful gorgeous birds, who are dumber than stones.


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