I made a big mistake when I packed for my Hawaii trip; I let my expectations come along with me. When you visit somewhere, especially for the first time, I've learned you should avoid taking them along with you. They’re dangerous little things - and they’re delicate. They have a terrible habit of forming at the far reaches of the imagination like half-remembered dreams, and they can turn around and bite you with distaste when they come up against reality. For example, I never expected to find clog dancing in Waikiki; surf, hula, Mai Tai, waves, leis and more I had anticipated, but not clog dancing.
Entering an elevator in my hotel after a welcoming Mai Tai and coming face to face with a T-shirt that read ‘Ohio Clog Dancers are Hot’ emblazoned across a seniors’ ample bosom, this immediately put my expectations in a bad mood. Particularly when the aforementioned senior looked at me doubtfully and said in a sad and disappointed tone, ‘You’re not a clog dancer.’ I had to answer honestly, ‘No, I’m not. Not even a closet clogger, I’m afraid. And to be honest, I’m not even sure I know what clogging is.’ I was saved from what I am sure would have been a long and technical explanation by the elevator bell forcing a departure to my floor. Sometimes technology can be a lifesaver.
I had conjured Hawaii endlessly to mind and formed it to my liking in my imagination. I have visited the South Pacific many times and, by association, had built up an illusionary picture of what Hawaii would be like. I imagined an inverted mirror-image of the Pacific islands, slightly less sensual maybe, but with a currency and a language I could understand. I imagined sun-kissed beaches, gentle tropical breezes to cool my skin, palm trees caressed by the trade winds, and a parade of young and exotic Hawaiians eager to tend to my every need. Perhaps I went looking for this in the wrong places, but Waikiki beach was like arriving in Vegas - albeit without the casinos. It was an assault on the senses.
My arrival at the hotel should have been a warning. My waitress, rather than being a local beauty - dusky-skinned and exotic - transpired to be a sunburned, recent transplant from Chicago. That caused my expectations a little bit of a panic attack, but I wrote it off as an anomaly. A freak occurrence: out of place and out of time. The hotel décor screamed another warning - a sort of Elvis retro-kitsch - but again I could explain that away with logic while humming ‘Blue Hawaii.’ The Mai Tai certainly looked exotic when it arrived: more of parasol shaded fruit farm than a mere refreshment. I gazed across at the beach, the rolling waves, the palm trees and surfers, and my expectations sighed in relief. Somewhere at the back of my brain the little cynic that lives within all of us was screaming, ‘Look closer you idiot. Look at the people on the beach, don’t be fooled by the backdrop.’ I sighed. The cynic wouldn’t be quiet until I looked. I really wish I hadn’t. I saw the Gap T-shirts, the logo shorts, the blistering sunburn and the endless stream of polite, nodding Asian tourists loaded down with branded shopping bags and cameras that smacked of the Vegas strip. Waikiki-Vegas in the Islands. I tried to crush the cynic to make him silent, but he just kept on laughing. I thought an escape to the room might silence him, but that was when I met a pack of cloggers and I knew I had arrived in the wrong place.
The cloggers kept information close to their chests, especially with non-cloggers. I checked with the hotel staff though, and discovered their secret. The cloggers were in town for a conference, a national gathering of the clogs, if you like. Their trip would culminate with a mass clog in the Waikiki Aloha Parade, dressed in Uncle Sam outfits to prove their patriotic zeal. I never even knew clogging was a national pastime. The cloggers had traveled far for this assembling, from the mid-west mainly, but I draw no conclusions from that alone, for cloggers can be hiding anywhere. The clogger- packs crammed the elevators, crowded the pool, and monopolized the restaurants. Individual cloggers were no threat, they were usually middle-aged and a little on the hefty side. It was the sheer volume of cloggers that caused the panic. The cloggers knew their own and were unwelcoming of the uninitiated. I had nightmares about being trampled to death by those clog-hooved feet.
An early morning breakfast run was like an assault course. You had to dodge the rush of cloggers before they stripped the carefully arranged buffets of anything edible or not nailed down. The cloggers seemed to have an endless appetite for memorabilia; anything bearing a logo or a palm tree motif they stripped and secreted in their luggage. If they could have carried the hotel away brick by brick I'm sure they would have. So I eventually came up with an alternative plan to avoid the breakfast traffic jam. I espied a Starbucks locally and while I knew it was not true to my island expectations, it at least gave me chance of eating before 9 am. This was the cloggers witching-hour, when coaches arrived to transport them en masse to secret clogging ceremonies.
The next morning I rose early. I made sure the cloggers were in their usual feeding frenzy at the breakfast buffet, then surreptitiously slipped around the corner to the local Starbucks. I thought I was home free but, alas, the queue stretched out of the door with clogger-branded apparel clearly dominating the line. The T-shirts presented the necessary clues: ‘Cloggers do it with rhythm," "I clog and I’m proud of it," "Illinois belongs to the cloggers". The cloggers had everything covered. They left no hunting ground unoccupied. I gave up the mornings to the cloggers. No matter how early I rose, the cloggers were always there before me. The cloggers are decent, God-fearing folk, early-to-bed and early to rise. They owned the early morning.
After days of frustration, it occurred to me that night times would be free of cloggers. They would be in bed plotting the early morning raids and practicing whatever it is that cloggers do behind closed doors. I decided to stay up late. I reckoned that at night I would have the freedom to move about without restraint. I hoped for streets clear of the cloggers, star-filled skies, empty restaurants, and a beach void of the crowds where I could commune with nature in solitary bliss and appease my expectations.
I didn’t know about the teenagers then. They only came out late at night when the cloggers were safe in bed. Then the streets became theirs. They crammed the bars, clubs, and restaurants. Once again there was nowhere I could call my own and my expectations went into shock. After a sleepless night assaulted in the early evening by impromptu clog sessions, attacked until the early morning by the noises of the Waikiki strip, and set upon by the strident conversations of the teenagers, I found there was a quiet time: a time I could call my own in Waikiki. It was between three-thirty and four-thirty in the morning. This was the no man's land when the changing of the guard took place. The teenagers finally had to admit to weariness in the face of an imminent sunrise, and there was a brief respite before the cloggers emerged into daylight and their feeding frenzy. For that brief, peaceful hour, Waikiki was at rest. I had the place to myself. There was silence, serenity and the island seemed to fit with my expectations. The insurmountable problem was that this was the only time I could sleep. I finally had to admit defeat. The cloggers and the teenagers had me beat. I left Waikiki and moved to a quieter part of the island away from the madding crowd. And when I did, that’s when my expectations sighed in relief,. That was when I truly found the Hawaii I had been searching for.
Frustratingly close, just ten minutes away by car from Waikiki, lies a place free of cloggers, noisy teenagers, and their ilk. Sure, the real estate prices are higher and the room rates reflect that, but beyond Diamond Head is the land I had looked for. Lush tropical gardens, the sounds of birds in the trees, restaurants with available seating, and kind, attentive servers all await the escapee. Diamond Head seems to be the Berlin Wall between Waikiki beach life and the more gentle islands of my imagination. This is where the rich industrialists, rock stars, tax avoiders, and drug dealers hide - an Eden never found by the drag-footed cloggers. Here the beaches have space for you and life moves at a more relaxed pace.
There are things you have to sacrifice here. There are fewer waves and less restaurant options. But what is available is priceless. You can enjoy the privacy, savor the ocean, and squiggle your toes decadently in the sand without fear of unearthing somebody else’s discarded clogs. You can watch the sunset without having to squeeze in between necking teenagers, you can rise early to eat a lazy breakfast and watch the sunrise over the ocean without having to beat out the cloggers for the best vantage points. I discovered there are many places to which you can escape. You can hire a car and drive to the northern beaches where the locals sit and discuss the wave sets rather than the price of real estate on the mainland. You can arrive at a restaurant there and not have to fight with the cloggers for the next available table. You can meet the locals and talk about their beliefs and values. There the T-shirts talk of peace and surfing, not clogging. If you escape the Waikiki strip,there is a different world out there where the air is clear, the ocean idyllic, and the trade-winds cool your skin without the subtle fragrance of car exhaust.
You still have to be careful though. I found cloggers at Pearl Harbor, along with tourist hordes that fractured the ambiance. But hire a car, preferably a convertible, then drive further out with the soft breeze playing on your skin and the radio lulling you with local hula tunes and there is an island idyll out there. There are places you can find not far from the main routes that are probably always clogger free. I am sure there are many such places in the islands and they should remain secret and precious. We can sacrifice Waikiki to the cloggers if we can keep these places for ourselves. I plan to go back to the South Pacific soon. I have been away too long. But I will keep my expectations in check next time. You never know when the international clogger conference is planned and where they will be headed next. Personally, I hope Waikiki is their standing reservation.