The International Writers Magazine: Honolulu Stories
A Ride on the No. 2 Bus - Oahu
James C. Clar
The No. 2 bus traverses a portion of the island of Oahu that is as diverse as that route’s eclectic ridership. From Kapioalani Community College on the storied flank of Diamond Head through the quaint residential neighborhoods of Kapahulu and Kaimuki it wends its way into the tourist-clogged streets of Waikiki.
From there the bus travels through downtown Honolulu, a route that includes the Capitol and Financial Districts, Chinatown and, eventually, Kamehameha Shopping Center and, finally, School Street and the area around Bishop Museum in Kalihi.
On a normal weekday, those riding this route include tourists from as far away as Australia, New Zealand, India, Germany, Italy and, of course, Japan. In the mix are visitors from the Mainland who think they have been magically – some might say tragically – transported to some strange and exotic land. Along with workers from the myriad local hotels and associated service industries, this route serves more than its fair share of locals struggling to make ends meet and therefore heading for downtown social services. Street people engaged in the nearly constant and equally inexplicable migration from one island roosting place to another are well represented as well. As such, The Who might well have had the No. 2 in mind when they penned their famous anthem about the “Magic Bus.”
One rainy Monday afternoon this past December I decided to take advantage of the inclement weather and do some grocery shopping at the Foodland store in downtown Honolulu on Beretania Street. Along for the ride was Maile, the thirteen-year-old daughter of my recently deceased best friend. I thought the trip might help take her mind off “things” for at least a while. Besides, spending time with Maile – who was also my goddaughter – was one of the great joys of my life. I liked to think that she felt the same way.
We caught the No. 2 bus at a stop on Kuhio Avenue between Nohonani and Nahua Streets in the faded heart of Waikiki. As we boarded and while showing the driver our passes, I heard the sound of laughter and the first snatches of what I initially thought was a comic monologue.
Making our way to seats just behind the reserved/preferential spaces at the very front of the bus I discovered that the monologue was actually a dialogue between two street people who were in the process of entertaining – if entertaining is the right word – their fellow passengers. Those passengers included a fair number of shell-shocked tourists from the Mainland who, in all probability, had no real notion of the fact that Honolulu is actually a big city. Surf, sand, palm trees, coconuts and the glossy images in travel brochures notwithstanding, Honolulu struggles with the same problems faced by major urban centers everywhere.
As we settled in, Maile very quickly drew the attention of the Mutt and Jeff act. And why not? Thirteen going on thirty, she, who just yesterday was a little girl, had become seemingly overnight an attractive young woman. Damn, I thought with avuncular concern, this is going to be LONG ride. I was hoping against hope that the star performers would be disembarking at one of the next few stops. In retrospect, I needn’t have worried. Maile handled herself with aplomb. If anything, she actually seemed to enjoy the whistles and mildly suggestive banter. I was the one who felt uncomfortable!
Mutt and Jeff, for their part, looked like they had just been provided specifically for the occasion by central casting services. Both guys seemed to be about my age; in their mid-50’s. Mutt, we’ll call him that for the sake of clarity, had nicotine yellow hair tied back in a ponytail and very questionable dentition. He wore an Aloha shirt with the sleeves cut off. The shirt was too faded and too worn to discern exactly the original color or to detect with certainty the once undoubtedly gaudy pattern. His ensemble was completed by a Don Quijote grocery store bag crammed full of God-knows-what held almost reverentially on his lap.
Subject number two, Jeff, was bald. His face was weathered by the tides of time and life like old driftwood. At his feet, shod in two mismatched Converse All-Stars – one red and one black – sat a beat-up boarding bag with wheels. A ukulele (de rigueur) was strapped across the top near the retractable handle with a bungee cord. I’m ashamed to admit that I was less concerned about him ogling Maile than I was about him starting to strum away on the ukulele! Maile and I exchanged a knowing glance. Played well the ‘uke is a joy. Mishandled, bagpipes are preferable!
Rule number one on public transportation just about anywhere is to mind your own business. Rule number two is its corollary; avoid eye contact. Maile and I were doing our part. Jeff must not have read the rule book.
“Hey, sweetness,” he said to Maile, “what’s your name?”
“Her name is thirteen, Ace” I interjected with as much cold Clint Eastwood menace as a five foot ten haole weighing in at one-hundred and sixty pounds can muster. Not much!
Mutt and Jeff howled with laughter. “It’s OK, brah. We’re just having a little fun.” Jeff looked at me with what seemed like sincerity. “Your daughter’s, like, stunning. You should be proud.”
I looked quickly at Maile. The kid was still dealing with the sudden death of her dad. Now some idiot on a bus had unintentionally jabbed her in a wound that hadn’t yet had a chance to heal … if such a wound can ever be said to “heal.”
“He’s not my father.” Here we go I thought, how am I going to deal with this? “He’s my grandfather,” Maile finished off with a twinkle in her pretty eyes. I couldn’t decide whether to nudge her with my elbow for exaggerating my age or hug her! Kids, geez!
Mutt distractedly adjusted the hair in his ponytail. “In a minute my man here will tell you he went to High School with Barak Obama.” For the last six years everyone on Oahu has, seemingly, eaten with President Obama at one time or another or gone to school with him in their youth. Hawaii’s favorite son was ubiquitous.
“I did, man. Me and Barry go way back.” Jeff defended himself with vigor.
“Yeah, right. Show the kid your High School I.D. then. Stop shittin’ us.”
“Brah, you’re trippin’. You know I lost that I.D. in the hurricane we had last summer.”
Back in August, Oahu escaped the wrath of Tropical Storms Isele and Julio. The Big Island didn’t fare quite so well. How any of that was relevant to Jeff’s High School I.D., however, was something about which I wasn’t going to inquire.
“Damn straight, you lost it!” Mutt pointed at his friend. “What kind of fifty-year-old geek even has his High School I.D. anyhow? And what would it prove even if you did?”
“Hey, asshole,” Jeff replied with righteous indignation, “at least I went to High School!”
The two friends burst out laughing like this was an old and comfortable gag between them. Their language aside, I was beginning to like these two jokesters. I’m not sure the other riders shared my sentiment. Welcome to the slightly less than sunny side of paradise.
We hit Kalakaua Avenue and crossed McCully. It goes without saying that the traffic was ferocious.
Mutt and Jeff made it marginally easier to bear the delay.
“Listen, dude,” Mutt continued to harass his buddy. “You remember last summer? You told me you could get us tickets to see Earth, Wind and Fire at the Blaisdell. Man you said you were best friends with Philip Bailey. Shit, when you saw him walking in that time and yelled his name he had no friggin’ idea who you were!”
Jeff launched a spirited, if only slightly less scripted, protest. “I can’t help it if the brother has anesthesia!”
“You mean amnesia, moron!”
“Whatever. You tell everybody that you wrote the lyrics to that America song, ‘Tin Man’. What about that, huh?
Mutt looked aggrieved. “I never said I wrote the song you stupid moke. I said I am the Tin Man, like from the Wizard of Oz.”
Both guys were laughing so hard that they started to cough. Mutt, clearly the “brains” of the outfit turned and looked over his shoulder and out the window of the bus. We had just passed the Hawaii Convention Center.
“Hey, brah” he told Jeff. “Get your gear. This is our stop.” I knew without looking where they were headed. The block along Kalakaua Avenue between Kapiolani Boulevard and Makaloa Street had become of late a makeshift homeless encampment, a mini-shanty town almost.
“Make sure you have your immigration papers ready,” Mutt continued.
“Immigration papers? You must be on crack! What the hell do I need ‘immigration papers’ for?”
“You told me you were born in Kansas, right?”
“Not ‘Kansas’, asshole,” Jeff corrected Mutt. “Kahala. I was born in Kahala!”
Maile laughed out loud. Kahala, along Oahu’s southeastern shoreline, was the ritziest part of the island. The area was known as the “Gold Coast,” the Beverly Hills of the Pacific. The chances of Jeff having been born in Kahala – if anyone was ever actually born in Kahala – were slim to none.
Picking up their belongings, Mutt and Jeff stood and got ready to leave. Mutt, though, wasn’t quite finished. He had a parting shot for the Japanese visitors on board.
“Ka-har-lar? Cool! What part of Japan is that in? It’s near Nagasaki, right?”
The sound of their raucous laughter down-Dopplered as they exited and the No. 2 pulled away.
Maile looked at me archly. “At least he didn’t play that ukulele,” she said as if reading my mind. Old beyond her years, the kid was going to be alright!
© James C. Clar. February 2015
is a previous contributor to Hackwriters. His short fiction, book reviews and essays have appeared in print as well as on the Internet. He and his wife divide their time between upstate New York and Honolulu.
email : jcc55883 at aol.com
James C. Clar
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James C Clar
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