Rob Parsons

Wrath of El Gripe

Dealing with aches and distress inside and out

by Rob Parsons

April 16, 2009

It began innocently enough with a dull headache, the sort one who has spent far too long in front of the computer or television might suffer. But soon to follow was a body-ache as if the barometer had just plummeted two points, and a metallic taste in my mouth. Okay, whoever you are, you now have my attention.

Soon my stomach was as topsy-turvy as if I'd just stepped off the Tilt-a-Whirl. I searched my memory for anything I'd eaten earlier in the day from the tainted food group, whose best known members are the Tres Banditos: expired mayonnaise; fuzzy salsa; and bad sushi. Nothing of the sort came to mind.

Assessing my symptoms as I clutched my cramping belly, our Lithuanian house guest Vilma, just in from Costa Rica, proclaimed, "Oh, you have gree-pay." Don't even think of trying to say it out loud on your own unless you are very adept at rolling your 'r's.  

Before El Gripe had me fully in his clutches, we took Vilma to town to get treatment for a lingering ailment that followed her here from Central America. Word to the infirm: If you are planning a medical emergency, dress as if you are driving up to Haleakala Crater. Yes folks, the Maui Memorial emergency room waiting area is that cold.

I spotted a friend I hadn't seen in a few years and sat next to him. He said he was told they keep it chilled to minimize spreading germs. Hmmm. If I were a virus cruising the ER, I think I'd get my chilly little infectious self to a warm body as quickly as I could, so I'm not completely sure I buy their strategy. 

Soon, my buddy beckoned a uniformed police officer to come over. 

"Hey pal," he said to the cop, "do you think you could go to the back and get me a blanket, cuz I'm freezing my butt off here." The officer obliged, and my friend had soon wrapped himself like a burrito.

Memo to hospital administrators asking the state for more operating cash: You might want to invest in an energy audit, and soon, before the next rise in oil prices. Besides the excessive air conditioning, every light fixture in the waiting room was on, in spite of the fact that two of its walls are glass windows. Please don't get me started on the food vending machines, especially the one peddling Fat Boy ice cream sandwiches. Job security for the hospital folks, no doubt.

"a healthy body is a guest chamber for the soul; a sick body is a prison." -Francis Bacon, Sr.

Back home in Haiku after the long ER visit, I surfed the waves of aches and cramps, occasionally rising to glance at the computer for some news. I soon sensed that my own internal distress was mirroring some greater signs of discord in our community.

An e-mail marked "urgent" grabbed my attention. Sent by a DLNR 'Ahihi-Kina'u ranger, it read:  

SPREAD THE WORD!! Two days ago, a friend's two sons were mobbed and beaten by a dozen local boys in Makena. Her sons were fishing with a friend. The boys surrounded her 15-year-old son and beat him to a pulp. He knew 3 of the boys and they talked then suddenly began beating him. When his adult brother approached to see what was happening they beat him too. Both boys have extensive injuries. After the beating they stole everything from their truck. THIS HAS HAPPENED BEFORE AND APPARENTLY IS HAPPENING A LOT. Alaka'i mentioned it over the radio this morning. If you know of ANYONE who is fishing or swimming in Kihei down to the Makena area, PLEASE LET THEM KNOW ABOUT THIS!!  This gang of boys has the same tattoos below their ears. They are downright vicious and don't care about hurting their own.

I forwarded the message, which came from a credible source, to the mayor, police chief and councilmembers. Two council staffers took time to write back. Having heard nothing more in the papers or elsewhwere, one can only pray that justice will be served and Maui's south side beaches will once again be made safe through proper enforcement and community vigilance.

The Superferry Supreme Court decision seemed not to have put the issue to rest, but to have roiled up the choppy waters even more. Glancing at the Maui News letters page, I was surprised to see my name called out by a letter-writer: 

Thank you to Lucienne de Naie, Karen Chun, Irene Bowie, Isaac Hall, Rob Parsons, Lance Collins, Mark Sheehan and Kai Nishiki for putting 250 people of Hawaii's working-class families out of work... Kudos to Maui Tomorrow and the Sierra Club. It goes to show just how out of touch you people are with kama'aina like local farmers, canoe club paddlers, drag racers, motorcycle clubs, rodeo participants, organized sporting events, hula halau and U.H. athletes. They counted on the Superferry for their traveling needs. The kama'aina most affected by your actions are the physically disabled. You have stopped the ability to transport vehicles that are individually tailored for their comfort and needs. For many of these individuals, who looked forward to this mode of transportation, that ability has been eliminated by self-centered, narrow-minded motives. Thank you for making life even harder on us kama'aina. -Sol F. Haunapuka Jr., Haiku.

I pondered who was picked for the elite list to be blamed for Superferry's demise, and also those who didn't make the list. Besides omitting vital details about the ferry's departure—such as that it had been losing money steadily since operations began—the list of those who could benefit sounded too much like a company press release. I set out to look up Mr. Haunapuka in the phone book to see if he really existed.

Before even opening the directory, I had my answer. With hauna meaning "stink" and puka meaning "hole," no self-respecting Hawaiian would ever take such a surname. The writer was hiding behind a fictitious moniker. Ironic, too, that the entire list he or she named fits the traditional definition of kama'aina as long-time Hawaii residents, with two of them actually born and raised here.

Soon after, I was alerted to an uncharacteristic ad placed by Focus Maui Nui, published in three newspapers. Under their teal and olive logo, the phrase, "Many Voices, One Vision" stood above a photo of a man wearing maile and kukui lei. Underneath the five top Focus Maui Nui values, including No. 2, "Protect the Natural Environment," was Kahu Rennie Mau's quote: "Growing up in Hawaii we know that just because it's a law doesn't make it pono. We should honor our ocean-traveling heritage—Imua Superferry!"

Since when, I wondered, did one of Focus Maui Nui's values become promoting lawlessness? What possible edifying value could such an ad have in resolving the community rift over Superferry? Or maybe the botched planning and government collusion with the ferry service merely revealed the social divide, rather than creating it.

I rallied from the grips of the big, bad flu long enough to write to Maui Economic Development Board, which oversees the Focus Maui Nui vision process. The response I received said, in part:

The ad is not a reflection of any position of MEDB nor Focus Maui Nui on the Superferry. The ad is, as it has always been, a voice of an individual about his or her community. That being said, we can certainly understand now how this one can—and has been—misconstrued to be otherwise and will be more sensitive about sentiments that could be expressed in the piece.

A colleague told me his reply message was exactly the same as the one I received, so I never felt my inquiries about the criteria and process for approving such a bizarre message were adequately addressed.

Still in El Gripe's clutches, I cancelled meetings, pushed work obligations to the side. Convalescence, with the capable and loving help of my wife Heather, became my focus. Patiently, I faced the days with the resolve that this too shall pass.

Soon, good news arrived, in the form of a press release from Earthjustice. A preliminary decision had been reached on returning stream flows to Na Wai Eha, the four once-mighty waters of Kahalawai, or the West Maui Mountains. Upon final approval by the Commission for Water Resource Management, the long-awaited decision could restore as much as 34.5 million gallons per day to the Waihe'e River and Waikapu, 'Iao and Waiehu Streams. 

It is likely the decision will be contested by the Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Company's parent corporation, Alexander & Baldwin and by Wailuku Water Company, nee Wailuku Sugar, then Wailuku Agribusiness. But A&B might be more intent on trying to retain hold of a portion of the stream water for domestic use, as it has proposed building a 9 million gallon per day water treatment facility on land it owns near Waiale, and splitting the output with the county.

That, too, will likely require legal wrangling and public debate before the waters calm.

Finally, special thanks to Heather for sticking by me through sickness and everything else. Happy anniversary, darling!