Sunday, August 27, 2023

Two Weeks After The Lahaina Fire - A Day On Maui


Met old friend for coffee in Kihei, near son Peter's gym in the Azeka Mall. Her husband died last month, age 59. He was a realtor who sold us our first condo here on Maui. (For the sake of confidentiality, I'm going to leave out names, not that there's anything super-secret, just being a little discreet.) After we bought the condo he became our friend, especially Ann's. He told us that he looked on us as his preferred parents, since his home life back in Europe had always been a mess. He lived here in Maui for about 25 years, I guess. We saw less of him when Ann got sick, and then COVID, but then after Ann died I had coffee with him at that same coffee house. Then on July 27 he was riding his bike with two friends down from Haleakala and there was a line up of cars coming up in the opposite lane and and a jeep tried to pass then all. His two friends riding ahead of him bailed out but he was third in line and probably didn't see him coming, so he was killed. It was pretty horrible.

His wife, 64, is putting pieces back together. We had our coffee and talked. Having dead spouses gives us something in common. We do what people who have lost spouses do, I guess – we reviewed our lives chronologically, the mistakes of our first marriages, the second ones a lot better, both better choices and more informed and patient efforts. She said, eventually as we talked, as though realizing it for the first time, the only time tears appeared, He was the love of my life. Not saying, and now he's gone. Maybe she also felt that at least she had had that, and has that. She said that the last three months might have been the happiest time of his life. He thought that he had done well enough, that he had enough, that he didn't need to do better or have more.

At our last coffee, he had told me about his new responsibilities as husband and father of two young adult girls. He seemed surprised a little at his new responsibilities, as husband and father, and surprised at how well he was meeting them. He was modest about it, just kind of confided in me. Now, his wife – I so hesitate to say his widow, but that's what she is, so abruptly, and although they never officially married, that's what they were to each other, spouses – confirmed that in spades. He had reached out to the younger daughter, whom she as the mother couldn't reach, and he found her responsive. He had told me that he worked so hard on her that it was hard for him to do his real estate work. Now that he is gone from their lives, the daughter tells her mother that if she want to drink, she doesn't, because she remembers him, and is being faithful to his memory – he wouldn't want her to. The mother and two daughters agree, it was the wrong father who died; if the original one had, they would have said, well, no surprise. And implied, no great loss. How unexpected how everything turned out, the new good father and the wrong death.

When she had gotten divorced, in her 50's with two teenagers, she had thought, well, the odds of finding someone else were slim, but she and he knew each other within the real estate industry and they gravitated to each other. He had been careless – no insurance, little savings, no will, no retirement. She fixed that. He grew up. She even had him go to the doctor – he had a check up in May, all OK. That will help in the lawsuit, lots of years left. They had been together ten years. Just ten years. How do you know it's the best ten years of your life when you are living it?

She is directing her anger at the bureaucracy that delayed telling her that he was dead even though everyone else seemed to know, but the police had cautioned them not to tell her, to let them do it, but they were slow, so slow that she got a condolence call before they actually told her at about 4:30. The accident had been at about 11:15 or 11:30. Write it off as inefficiency, everyone was trying to do their best. But still.

She will have to sell their house. She's close with her step-father, who has been kind of lost himself, but she buoys him up. He's out here in Maui now; maybe they'll find a house for the two of them. She thinks that that's it for her and men – no more now. But I think – you never know. She has friends – I told her I have some friends, too, some guys, but she said that's nice, but men aren't like women when it comes to friends, and of course she's right. I told her it really took me nearly a year and a half to feel recovered, even though I didn't realize I wasn't all there until I actually felt better. I don't think there's anything you have to do, except keep in good shape and busy; then one day all of a sudden you start feeling better, body and soul both. You have to settle with yourself that it's not disloyal to feel OK. “Time heals” must be right. There's a lot going on as time is healing, of course, but I've chosen not to pay too much attention, just let it happen. I trust my unconscious, it doesn't need my help.

She has beautiful blue eyes; she knows she's good looking. I told her to get in touch if she every wants to do something together. Not romance, but it's good to have friends. She said let me know when you're in town. Neither of us wants anything more than friends, although I did tell her I miss being in love (sometimes, anyway.) Maybe it's strange for a man to say that, but I've spent a lot of time with women – I was a pediatrician, after all – and I like girls and women, so I feel at home with them and I can say stuff like that.

Then we hugged tight and left the coffee shop and in the parking lot an older lady with gray hair and a lively voice was driving by and stopped and asked me the way to Foodland. I'm the kind of person that people stop and ask, I guess. Older but not doddering, respectable, in gym shorts and looking sharp, for a change. I directed her and she said, answering the unasked question of what a lady like that was doing asking for directions to Foodland, I'm from Lahaina.  She nodded toward the back seat and there was a large canvas with a painting of the Capitol Building in DC.  She said to me, "Biden's here today.  Maybe if I meet him he can take this and sell it and I can get some money.  It's what I grabbed.  I probably should have grabbed the Hawaii paintings."  I think I said something like, well, who knew, or something like that.  I wanted to do something appropriate to help a refugee, grab her and hug her, to be very dramatic, or say what can I do, but she probably wondered what she was doing talking to a perfect stranger like that, and drove off with what I think was a wistful smile.

It was a nice day.  I dropped by the always nice Kihei DMV office (strange for a DMV office, but true, intimate, friendly, efficient) to reregister the car but there was a note taped to the glass door that the office was closed because of lack of personnel.  No dates given, but I think it was just put up there today.  I always liked this little office, and I wonder if it will reopen.

I drove home, ate a little, saw Peter who then went to work, and took a nap.

Life is a pretty strange experience, all in all.

Budd Shenkin

Sunday, August 13, 2023

Lahaina A Total Tragedy, Don't Let South Maui Be Collateral Damage


Dear Governor Green,

Greetings Governor, my name is Peter Shenkin and I am a 39 year old Kihei resident, an attorney, and business owner on Maui in the town of Kihei. I am the owner of Maui Powerhouse Gym in Kihei, with 41 employees and 3,000 local resident full-time members.

Sir, I am writing to your office this evening because I am concerned by the unintended consequences of omissions to your messaging during statements and appearances on social media and national television. I think you have done a wonderful job exhibiting leadership during the current crisis showing patience, kindness, and sensitivity. I hate to offer constructive strategic criticism at this time and would not do so if I believed that it could wait. Sir, with all due respect, I believe that you are erring strategically by not directly addressing future visitors to Maui and alleviating their confusion over travel to South Maui over the next quarter.

My recommendation, Governor Green, is that you please openly and clearly encourage visitors to the island to continue their trip to South Maui starting in September. Encourage the visitors to show their support for the island by visiting Maui and remaining in South and Central Maui during their stay. Your messaging would assist in mitigating cancelled reservations for the Fall and Winter by reminding people that South Maui is open for business and that traveling here is OK and encouraged, and also morally allowable.

My fear, sir, is that your current messaging is not setting a clearly acceptable timeline for when visitors may return to Maui without moral consternation. As you are well aware, the resident population of South Maui is entirely dependent on tourism revenue for their livelihoods. You and I are both also acutely aware that the incoming wave of cancellations will devastate the local economy. Measures should be taken to minimize those damages and their effects. The most conspicuous means of mitigation would, I believe, be direct and vocal messaging on national media through your office and the Mayor's office. For political cover you could cite Mayor Bissen who has acknowledged several times that "Maui is open for business, you can go to South Maui, do not go to West Maui." For even more cover, you should nudge Mayor Bissen to start protecting his South Maui electorate and their jobs on National TV.

The zeitgeist on the mainland is currently: "if you visit Maui you are a terrible person," "DO NOT VISIT MAUI IN 2023", and other similar slogans. These populist messages intend to be protective of the victims and the island residents, which is admirable, but they could potentially be deeply harmful to small businesses in Kihei, like mine. If these messages are successful, I sincerely fear a return to doing business similar to June - September 2020 when there was zero visitor revenue at all that will last into early 2024. Doing business in that type of environment would be tremendously challenging for a successful business like mine but could be existentially difficult for the food trucks, restaurants, snorkel tours, surf schools, and other small businesses that are not as sophisticated or well-girded. I truly fear for their existence if this shutdown lasts for too long, sir.  

You may not be aware sir that commercial rent in Kihei is comparable to midtown Manhattan prices. Kihei businesses cannot afford a fourth quarter with a thirty to forty percent reduction in revenue without a bailout. It would be a shame to see this happen when the preventative measures cost nothing to taxpayers and easily accomplished through words alone.

Governor Green, we are all hurting very deeply right now. We need you to protect the future of South Maui by being mindful and protective of our fragile local economy going forward and ensuring its viability.

Reach out anytime. Thank you for your time. 

Sincerely Yours, 

Peter Shenkin, Esq.