14. Hilo, Hawaii
In the small town of Hilo, with few rental properties, we felt “lucky” to get an apartment at the Low Apartments across the street behind the Hilo Hotel close to downtown. The second floor walkup apartment had a large bedroom with an easy chair and bed, and a large unfurnished kitchen. We bought a card table, and borrowed four folding chairs from school. This was the first of the series of amazing housing situations we experienced in Hawaii.
We met the manager of the Hilo Hawaiian Hotel, who invited us to come to swim in the hotel pool. As we swam, we were entertained by the poolside lounge piano player, Randy Hongo, who turned out to be one of my students at the college, and who the Lord wanted us to meet for a reconnection six years in the future. Randy surprised us by leaving a bouquet of orchids on our doorstep as a gesture of Aloha. Randy’s family owned an orchid farm. Welcome to Hawaii!
Al Yonan introduced us to Norm Westly, who sold us insurance for the 1957 Chevy we bought. Again, providential to meet Norm, who we would connect with again for a life-changing episode six years later.
Hilo was a quiet small town along Hilo Bay protected by a seawall. In 1960, only five years before our arrival, the downtown was destroyed by a massive tsunami caused by an earthquake off Chile. In the restoration, much of the waterfront was designated as parks or memorials.
Seemed like everybody wore colorful aloha shirts. Public transportation was provided by private sampan buses – jitneys made of a pickup truck with benches and a roof over the bed. Kids surfed just outside of town beyond the harbor entrance through the seawall. There were two movie theaters, the Mamo, showing foreign (Japanese) and art movies, and The Palace, where Betty and I went for current American movies.
I wanted to absorb as much local culture as I could so we bought aloha shirts, and I bought an inexpensive ukulele at the store for $40 – later found out it was a special Kamaka Uke that is the best of the best and now worth hundreds of dollars as a collector’s item! I tried writing some Hawaiian style songs to sing with my ukulele.