Friday, January 28, 2011

The NFL and the Pro Bowl

This weekend brings the glorified NFL All-Star AFC-NFC Pro Bowl to Honolulu. The superstars of the NFL, minus those who will play in this year's Super Bowl, compete in tropical splendor. The coaches and announcers show off their Aloha shirts. The Hawaii tourism advocates hope for gorgeous weather to entice the snow-bound residents of the mainland to come to Hawaii, spend money, and enjoy themselves.

The first Pro Bowl game was played on January 14, 1951 at Memorial Coliseum in Los Angeles and then rotated around the other stadiums in the league until 1980 when it was played in Honolulu. Before Hawaii, players offered excuses not to show up. But after Hawaii, a spot on the Pro Bowl team became desirable and very few players opted out. The Pro Bowl consistently generated more than 30 million dollars in direct visitor spending and more than 3 million dollars in state taxes. Of course, Hawaii pays the NFL to bring the game to Honolulu, but nevertheless, there is a large net dollar gain for the state and an even larger, although not measurable gain in PR.

We started going to Hawaii in 1990 and were in Honolulu every year at the time of the Pro Bowl, except last year (the game was not played in Hawaii) and this year (we're home). In 1990, we got in touch with the NFL and asked for press credentials for the Pro Bowl. We were treated like poor relatives who were imposing on their rich uncles. "Absolutely not. We only give credentials to those journalists who have the NFL team as their beat. Period."

But then, we wised up. We started emails from home long before the Pro Bowl date was announced and, eventually, we received a time and place to be photographed and get our "non game day" credentials. That was fine with us. We didn't want to go to the game, sit in the sun, get drenched by the daily rain shower, and fight the traffic back to our hotel. But, we did not want to interract with the cheerleaders. And, surprise, surprise, the NFL set us up with the people who produced the NFL half time show, the cheerleaders, and other press people. All of them treated us with kindness and intelligence.

We attended the yearly Pro Bowl press conferences, a nice Hawaiian lunch, served buffet style. Almost always, a cheerleader sat at our table. The most notable one was the graduate of Annapolis, Master's degree in Systems Analysis, a cheerleader with the San Francisco Forty-niners, who had earned a top gun at Pensacola, Florida. When she said that she flies the P-3 plane I whispered "you're a spy" and she smiled and nodded. She plays a fictional starring role in my novel "Pro Bowl Kapu." Almost all of the cheerleaders have professions, other than dancing - teachers, nurses, administrators, business owners, etc.

We're disappointed that the NFL decided to put the Pro Bowl a week ahead of the Super Bowl. The NFL brain trust must have had some reason for doing this and for keeping all the Super Bowl players out of this all star game. They never shared their reasons with us.

Monday, January 24, 2011

The dominatrix

We meet interesting people - on beaches, in stores, at the gym, and on airplanes.

On our way from Philly to Honolulu, changing planes, in Dallas, a very nervous looking woman and a very very quiet man boarded the plane and sat across the aisle from me. I felt very sorry for her. So, in an effort to calm her down and keep her from jumping out of her skin during this 6 hour f"light, I started to talk to her. Edgar says I talk to everybody. I do. I think that everybody and anybody has an interesting story to tell, when asked the right questions.

"Is this your first time flying?" I asked. "Oh no," she said. She pointed to the man nexxt to her and said that Al knows how to find trips on the internet. "Just this past year, we have taken 5 different trips. And over the past 5 years, we have averaged about 6 trips a year."

"What does Al do?" I asked. She evasively replied that he knows how to work the internet.

"I guess you really like to travel." She nodded. "How did you meet Al? Are you a couple?"

"He was a client."

"Oh, what do you do?"

She hesitated for no more than a couple of seconds and then said, "I am a professional dominatrix."

I had a follow up question, "How did you get into that line of work?" She was a completely nondescript person. Average height, not too thin, dark hair, and wearing a practical
travel dark outfit.

She then told me her life history. "I had just gotten divorced, at age 47 and I had lost 50 pounds when an attractive transvestite asked me if I would join her escort service. But, I'm 47 years old." The prospective employer told her that she had quite a few clients that would be perfect for her. "So, I went out a few times, and everything was fine. And then, I was suspicious of one of the callers and made him call me a half a dozen times before I agreed to go out with him. We had a lovely evening and went back to his apartment, and he asked me for a massage. Before I could say yes or not, the door burst open, and his buddies arrested me. Turns out, he was an undercover cop and I knew I should have trusted my instincts and never gone out with him. But, I gold the arresting officers that their boss did an outstanding job and they could learn a lot from him." She spent an unpleasant night in jail and was released the next morning because there was no evidence whatsoever against her. It later occurred to me that the judge who dismissed her case could have been one of her dates.

"I learned from that experience, and vowed I would never again work for anybody. Before my divorce I had been a school teacher. I taught kindergarten, junior high, high school English, and English as a Second Language. I also had some drama experience and coached the drama club had high school."

She told me that she lived in an exclusive condominium in Miami and was on the Board there. Her place is decorated to her taste and she used her thespian aspirations for costumes and props. "Do they know what you do?" I asked. "Oh no. I am very discreet. I have only 3 or 4 clients a week."

I asked if she has an alarm clock to sound the end of the ssions. "Oh no. Remember, I was a teacher. I devised 15 minute lesson plans for all my clients."

The 6 hour trip from Dallas to Honolulu passed in a twinkling of the eye. I never remember a faster trip. Before we deplaned, she asked me for recommendations for breakfast so we could meet the next morning. Without blinking an eye, I recommended restaurants on the other side of the island.

Although this experience happened several years ago, it is as clear in my mind as if it happened jsut yesterday.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Baywatch Hawaii

The politicians welcome TV shows and movies that want to film in and feature Hawaii. The shows spend a great deal of money - good for the economy and the people that they hire - and the shows focus attention on Hawaii - good publicity for the state that depends on tourism to a large degree for its survival. Baywatch began flirting with a spin-off called Baywatch Hawaii, and Governor Cayetano promised the producers a beautiful new life guard house on the North Shore, in Haleiwa. The house was built and the filming began.
We spoke to the PR person for Baywatch Hawaii, rented a red convertible, drove to Haleiwa, and thus began our introduction to the unglamorous side of television programming. Most of the time "on the set" is spent sitting or standing around and doing nothing while the camera is moved into position, the sand is raked, the make up is touched up, the hair is brushed, and the lines are rehearsed. And always, the water bottle man stands guard. He circles every hour and makes sure that the bottles are drained dry and replaced. "The sun is very very hot," he says. "You must drink and drink and drink." He is usually followed by the sun tan lotion man who sprays with sunblock. "The sun is very very hot," he says. "You must stay covered and covered and covered."
The paid extras sit around and read or play cards. As substitute teachers or self employed artists, they have plenty of time to stay in the sun and wait for the "background" call.
The caterers have the most difficult of all jobs. They have to provide three different hot choices and three different cold choices for all the people on the set - the actors, the extras, the union laborers, and the guests. In addition, they circle like hawks with bowls of cold fruit - to keep up your strength in the hot, hot sun.
When the actual filming took place, the same scene was shot five different times, from five different angles., all with the one and only camera. And each time, all the participants, including us, had to remember where we started, where we went, and where we finished. The director gave us the following instructions: "I shout background. All the extras walk clockwise. You'll walk counter." "What?" we asked. "You walk counter," he said and then demonstrated with an exaggerated Jerry Lewis drag your leg step.
Filming continued until one of the actors hurt her ankle while leaping a one foot wall on the last take. The on-scene medic rubbed some "tiger balm" on it as a temporary fix.
The teamsters played a major part in the production of the TV series. They had to transport all the lights, the camera, the tents, the boats, the food, the drinks, and the security barricades and personnel. The teamsters set up and took down all the necessary equipment. One of the young men who took his job very seriously wore many pins that identified him as "sheriff," "officer," and "security man." The teamsters took total responsibility for this mentally challenged young man. They phoned him every morning and told him where they would pick him up for the day's work. After the shoot, they took him back to the bus stop where he would take the Bus home. And every Friday, each one of the teamsters put five dollars in a hat to pay him for the week's work. He thought he was being paid by the TV show.
Everyone was taking a break from the work in the very hot sun; we walked over to Haleiwa Joe's. When we said that the cast of Baywatch Hawaii recommended the mud pie, the owner/manager made his way to our table. Turns out, he was a graduate of Philadelphia's Central High School - the same high school that Edgar graduated from. I have never yet run into anybody who graduated from Lower Merion. All the Lower Merion alums that I have met have been through phone calls to set up appointments for interviews.
The filming ended, and after a hard day's work, we drove back to Waikiki but not before we learned the working title of the episode. Back at home, we asked Channel 17 to let us know when the show was going to be shown. We watched it, along with a living room full of family and friends, and actually saw us in our small part as "realies." And we have the photos to prove it.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Indigo

One beautiful day, in Honolulu, we took a ride on The Bus to the end of the line in Manoa. We read of an easy hike through a rain forest to a waterfall and we fell for the description that ensnared the gullible tourists - us.
We took our time, strolling along the streets and looking at the beautiful houses and gardens. An airdale sniffed us. The owner, a very attractive woman, was at the end of the leash. She offered to help us find our way and warned us that it was wild pig hunting season and the bow and arrow shooters were loose in the forest. "But don't worry," she said. "If you stay on the trail you will be perfectly safe." We chatted some more. "When you're ready to return to Waikiki on the Bus, stop at my husband's restaurant, Indigo. The Bus stops right at his corner." We thanked her, reviewed the directions to the trail, and continued on our way.
Our first few steps into the rain forest revealed some possible trouble. To our left was a thick covering of bamboo trees; as close together as tall grass and as tall as a six story building. To our right was a cliff that descended many, many feet down to a stream. And piercing the silence of the forest were eerie bird calls. We should have listened to their "Go away" warnings.
We continued on the narrow climbing path that had been worn away by hikers. We carefully avoided the tree roots that would have made wonderful steps if they had been level and not slippery. But, it was a rain forest. We had to expect the moisture. A number of experienced hikers, with their walking sticks, passed us. Eventually, we picked up a sturdy branch from the ground and we looked experienced, even though the most hiking we had ever done was through the malls.
We slipped. First one of us, then the other. Fortunately, we didn't break any bones but we acceded to the warning, turned around and left. We calculated that we had walked less than a half a mile in the hour that we spent there.
To get to the bus stop required more hiking, but this was on paved ground and down hill. The Bus came, right on time and we sat and rested and rode back to Waikiki. Our discussion of should we go or should we not go to Indigo concluded that we were dirty and smelly from our rain forest hike and we would embarrass ourselves and the restaurant owner if we went in. When the Bus stopped on Nuuanu, the driver called out "Indigo" and, as if pushed by an unknown force, we got up and exited.
We crossed the street, and did not say a word. The owner, Glenn Chu, was waiting for us. "Are you the people that my wife saw?" he asked. "She phoned and said to expect you. I'm so glad you made it. Please, come in."
"Look at us," we said. "We can't come in and sully your beautiful place." A large gong, in the front of the restaurant, caught my attention. "Can I try it?" I asked. "Of course." I picked up the large clapper, reared back, and struck the gong with a mighty stroke that reverberated and reverberated and reverberated. "What a beautiful F sound that is," I said. After that, he really insisted.
Fortunately, it was about 2:00 in the afternoon - too late for lunch and too early for dinner. Just two or three of the tables had customers.
"You must be thirsty," he said. "You can't turn down a drink of water or iced tea," he pleaded.
We protested again. Apparently not enough. He sat us at a table, outside, in the back of his beautiful restaurant. Brought us each a glass of iced tea and then - a waiter came over. "Mr. Chu would like you to taste some of his pupu's." We declined. He insisted. Edgar gave in. I have my own peculiarities. Generally, I don't eat it if I don't make it. Edgar says that he is "like Mikey - he'll eat anything."
I did succumb to a bit of chocolate dessert - his famous Pele's volcano formed with dry ice that produced smoke, a chocolate mountain, and raspberry sauce lava. And all of this because a friendly airdale and his owner stopped to sniff us.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Hawaii Five-0

I admit it. I am an original "Hawaii Five-0" groupie. I like everything about the old series - the writing, the scenery, the music, the acting, and the atmosphere. Everything. Skepticism raised its ugly head when the new Hawaii Five-0 premiered. I overcame my doubts and I am a fan of the new series too. But, my allegiance is to the original.
And we have personal connections to the old series. James MacArthur, he played Danny Williams (Danno), came to Reading to star at Hawaii Five-0 night at the Reading Phillies baseball game. What a charming man! He spent as much time as we wanted, answering questions about his experiences on the TV show, about his parents (Helen Hayes and Charles MacArthur), about his surfing experiences at Tavarua in Fiji, and about his attending school in Stotesbury near New Hope, PA. He helped to judge the hula contest that the baseball team sponsored and had a good laugh at the Pennsylvania interpretation of the hula. A perpetual motion 4-year-old little girl won a trip to Hawaii and a week's stay at one of the hotels.
James MacArthur invited us to be his guests at the Diamond Head Theater in Honolulu to see "The Twentieth Century," a play that he directed and that was written by his father. What a treat!
Jerome Coopersmith, one of our favorite writers for "Hawaii Five-0" attended Penn with Edgar. In perhaps our favorite episode, the one that starred Helen Hayes, Coopersmith named a character "Miller, Edgar P." In other Coopersmith episodes, the Andy Griffith character referred to Bryn Mawr college, and Coopersmith had a Dr. Ventnor as the bad guy.
Several years ago, we met Zulu, the actor that played Kono, at the funeral for the beachboy, Turkey Love. Another charming, entertaining, and talkative person. "My given name is Gilbert, but don't tell anyone. I will keep hearing Gibby, Gibby, Gibby." Although thinner, he looked wonderful. "My doctor told me I had only six months to live." I paled. "When was that?" "A while ago." I asked him to share his secret, how he overcame the six month death sentence. "It's simple," he said. "I changed doctors."
Zulu had a career after the TV show as an entertainer in the many show rooms around Honolulu. Before his career as Kono, he said that he was a beach boy and discovered on the beach by the casting director.
The arch villain in "Hawaii Five-0" was named Wo Fat. The writers played a joke on the public. One of the oldest and original restaurants on Hotel Street was named Wo Fat. In fact, whenever we walk through Chinatown in Honolulu, even in 2011, we turn nostalgic for the old "Hawaii Five-0" and its characters that became real to us.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Hawaiian politicians and friendliness

We attended Governor Benjamin Cayetano's inauguration on the grounds of the Iolani Palace. We enjoyed the pomp, color, music, warm sun, and gentle breezes. After the ceremony, we ate lunch on the grass and were interviewed by CNN. The attention paid to us overwhelmed us. We arrived in Honolulu a mere 48 hours before the inauguration and, after reading the general invitation in the newspaper, decided to go.
During his 8 years as governor, we had the opportunity to interview him several times for the Main Line Life newspaper. His press aid notified us every time Governor Cayetano took part in an "open to the public and/or press" event during our times in Waikiki. Every time. The introduction of Miss Hawaii to the press overfilled the room and Governor Cayetano posed with us and Miss Hawaii with a copy of the Main Line Life in his hands. He knew the value of good public relations and the importance of tourism to the Hawaiian economy.
Governor Cayetano was succeeded by Linda Lingle. She too was in office for 8 years. We tried at least once in each of her 8 years to get an interview with her. Our requests were denied. Each time. Always politely. Usually with "the Governor is off island." We left our phone number, said that our time was flexible, and never heard again. And the Hawaiian economy, like that of all the other 49 states, is suffering. And it is suffering a lot. The statewide education system is pathetic. Those who are lucky enough to graduate from the various private schools in Hawaii attain success. The others? Who knows.
Mayor of Honolulu Jeremy Harris knew that tourism sparks the economy. He cleaned up some of the deteriorating aspects of Waikiki. He put in waterfalls, plants, flowers, platforms for hula dancers, palm trees in the median strip of Ala Moana Blvd., water fountains, and interesting sculptures. Mayor Harris, too, knew the value of publicity and made the time to see us and answer our questions for publication in the Main Line Life. He crossed the street to greet us whenever he saw us. Upgraded Waikiki saw an increase in tourism and prompted hotels and store owners to upgrade also.
Mayor Mufi Hahnemann who succeeded Mayor Harris, was overwhelmed by the job. At the first press conference that we attended we asked "how are you going to accomplish your plans without raising taxes?" His answer, "this session is only for press questions." No one in the press picked up our theme. Mayor Mufi had a lot of problems - a deteriorating water distribution system, a highway system that was rife with potholes, a sewage system that overflowed or leaked into the ocean, a traffic nightmare, and, unfortunately, an economy that went bad. The only time thats he spoke to us were at the press conferences for the Pro Bowl. "I like to attend the sports events. I get press coverage then," he said.
We have not been back to Hawaii (after 35 trips) since there is a new governor and a new mayor. Maybe next year.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

She was on the Oprah show

An attractive woman and her preteen daughter enjoyed the poolside sun at the Outrigger Reef on the Beach in Waikiki. The 12 year old had her head buried in "The Iliad" in French. I couldn't control my curiosity. "In French?" I asked.
Then followed a long story - it was winter break in school; they were from English-speaking Canada but all the students in her school had to learn French too; the rest of the family couldn't get away so the two of them were enjoying a few days in the sun before they returned to the cold and snow of Canada.
The woman owned a successful design and decorating studio in Canada. Shortly after a local magazine wrote how she transformed a run-down, shabby house into a photo-worthy show house, the Oprah show contacted her and asked her to please help with a house make-over. The show ran a contest and the winning people needed a new living room, bathrooms, and kitchen.
"I should have asked some questions," she said. "Instead, I just said yes, boarded the plane to Chicago that had been booked for me, checked into the hotel, and was whisked to the studio where the staff explained the assignment."
The Show had no budget for the renovations - not for decorating, not for furniture, not for appliances, not for kitchen cabinets, not for plumbing, not for electrical work, not for anything. Not even for me. "Just mention that they will be featured on the Oprah Show and all the publicity will cause customers to flood to their businesses."
Mostly, that's what happened. Those vendors who would not give their products or services for free were not used. Sometimes, "we had to use second-rate businesses."
She became agitated while she was telling us about this 4-day adventure. Her most difficult task was the kitchen. "But, I got lucky. One of the best kitchen designers had a completed kitchen , cabinets and appliances, and he agreed to supply me (and the show) and put his paying customer on hold."
After she told the story, she said that she had to agree never to speak about her experience, Oprah, or the show.
Spilling her displeasure must have been cathartic. She relaxed. Leaned back in her lounge chair, smiled, thanked us for listening, and went to sleep.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

I am not a Luddite

I have been happily using a computer since 1982 and was very excited when I upgraded to the brand new 286. I still have all my floppy discs - the large soft ones and then the smaller hard ones. I wrote all four of my Hawaii crime novels on my 286 computer and have many saved form letters - complaints and compliments - stored on the discs. But, I confess, I have trepidations about using the new fangled devices.


I am 71 years old. I grew up with radio, and then the black and white TV's with the tiny picture in the huge cabinet - with the accompanying warning "don't sit too close." Of course, if you didn't sit close, you couldn't see anything. And, always the warning, don't touch the screen. As the TV's grew and gained color, I could move further and further away from the screen, but still with the warning "don't touch the screen" that screamed out at me from the instruction books.


And now, the way to access data, send messages, change photos - all through touch screens - has me terrified. I know I will never be able to manipulate the devices in that way. I see the professionals move data around with their hands. I shudder. I see the professionals shrink the size of their pictures on their computers . I wonder why that works and I tremble. Why don't their screens get smeared with fingerprints?


Anyway, even though I have been called a modern technology groupie - a label that I even like, I cannot bring myself to touch a screen - be it computer, phone, or TV.

"From Here to Eternity"

We were sitting by the pool at the Outrigger Reef on the Beach in Waikiki and started talking to the couple behind us. Vacation relaxes people. Especially by the pool, in Hawaii. Following the usual where are you from? how long are you staying? have you been here before? questions and answers, we heard the following fascinating story.
He ran away from his home in Indiana when he was 15 years old and, with a buddy, rode the rails across the country. The railroads hired private security to chase the hobo's off the freight cars but, through guile and ingenuity and cultivating friendships with the other "bums" he and his pal wound up in California with no plans and no goals. Their only objective was to get away from home. This was during the great depression when food, jobs, money, and security were scarce.
They found a small shack, near the train tracks, in California and prepared to fend for themselves on the West Coast when a man quietly approached them. They feared that he was one of the railroad "bulls" but he won them over with an offer of hamburgers and milk shakes. They devoured their free meal and then the stranger told them that they could eat like that every day - "3 squares and a bed" - and all they had to do was join the military. America had not yet joined WWII and enlisting seemed like a good idea. But, their young ages required permission from a parent. So, the army wrote to his mother who answered willingly and rapidly "of course." Her happiness stemmed from her lack of ability to provide for him and relief that someone else would be taking care of him.
So, off he went to join the army. After basic training, he was sent to Hawaii and stationed at Pearl Harbor. He played football and boxed for his company. "I was a good football player but needed to gain weight to be a bigger threat and I boxed as a lightweight. My CO said that if I gained even a pound, I would be court martialed. I was a winner as a lightweight and brought medals to the commander."
He survived the attack on Pearl Harbor and did not want to talk about that too much but he said that what happened to him was documented by James Jones in "From Here to Eternity." Jones served right next to him when they dug and built the bunkers and pill boxes next to the light house at Makapuu. Commemorative plaques mark the labors of Jones and his comrades. "Jones based the character played by Montgomery Cliff in the movie on me. "
That movie won an Oscar for Frank Sinatra, popularized Aloha Shirts that the Ernest Borgnine character wore, and memorialized Sandy Beach as the location for "the kiss."

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

the air marshall

We meet very interesting people - on planes, by swimming pools, at the grocery store, on the street, at the gym. You name the place, there are interesting people there.
On one of our trips home from Honolulu, we changed planes in Dallas, TX. We fastened our seat belts in our bulkhead seats - window and middle - and the announcement "flight attendants, prepare for take off" was sounded and, a young, dishevelled looking young man came rushing onto the plane.
"Is this seat taken?" he asked me.
"No. There's no one sitting there. But you have a boarding pass with an assigned seat, don't you?"
He did not answer. Instead he said, "I have to sit here. I just have to sit here." And he sat down. Just in time. He had no sooner fastened his seat belt, than the plane started moving away from the gate.
My children accuse me of being everybody's mother. That's OK. I thought I ought to calm him, at least to the best of my ability.
"Why are you going to Philadelphia?" I asked. Thinking that, if I could distract him enough, he would catch his breath and we would have a quiet seat companion and a quiet flight.
"I'm not," he answered. "I'm going to Atlantic City."
"To gamble?"
"No, for training."
"To be a dealer?"
"I'm going to the FAA."
A light dawned. "Oh, are you an air marshall?"
"Yes."
"Are you armed?"
"Yes."
"Is that why you're squirming?"
"Yes. I usually carry my gun here," and he pointed to his side, "but I have to carry it in the small of my back when I'm flying. Do you want to see it?"
"No, thank you."
And then came the rest of the story. He was on drug patrol for a few years but since all the drug dealers knew him, he had to be transferred. He is fluent in Spanish and had Mexican ancestry.
"Are you any good?" we asked. "At shooting."
"Oh yes. I have to put two in the chest and one in the head in five seconds," he said.
We relaxed for the rest of the trip and wished him the best of luck.