When people find out we were once stationed in Hawaii, I get the usual envious reaction: “Wow, lucky you. What a hardship!”
Well, I compare the experience with reading a romance novel: the fantasy and the reality are miles apart. In romance, the fantasy is that everyone is gorgeous and the sex is always good. Reality is morning breath or those days when you really just can’t stand each other.
When moving to Hawaii, well, first you’ve got to get there. It’s categorized by the military as an “arduous move,” and that ain’t no lie. Usually when movers come do your pack-out, it’s a matter of keeping an eye on whether they record the serial numbers of all your expensive electronics correctly on the inventory sheet, or – more importantly – making sure they don’t box up a garbage can with, um, garbage in it. (Which happened to us. I unpacked a box upon arrival only to be knocked over by the smell of a full trash can, including a dirty diaper or two, neatly wrapped in packing paper and labeled. True story.)
Also, when you move overseas, the packers have to take everything apart, and I mean everything: Bicycles, patio furniture, that POS computer desk that you put together out of a box and immediately threw away the instructions to. The movers do this so they can pack the shipping containers as tightly as possible, leaving not one inch of space. Packing the containers is an art form, like putting a puzzle together. Oh, the rails from a bed will fit here just right, but the headboard fits better in another container, so have fun figuring out which rails go with which headboard later!
(Also, it’s super awesome to find a random bag of nuts and bolts rattling around in a box with no idea what the hell they go to.)
Then there’s the issue of pets. It used to be that you had such a wonderful choice of what to do with your dog or cat when moving to Hawaii: Leave them behind for years or subject them to a 6-month quarantine upon arrival. The reasoning for the quarantine is sound: Hawaii has many indigenous species, and they want to keep it that way. They don’t have rabies on the Islands, and any plants or animals entering have to be regulated, I get that. But the thought of leaving our beloved pets, a dog and a cat, behind was unconscionable.
Luckily, the Department of Agriculture has developed a program called Direct Airport Release, which means if you jump through 950986355 hoops before you get to Hawaii, you can pick up your animals direct from the DoA kiosk at the airport. But wow, those hoops are killer! You have to time everything down to within 7 days of arrival, and when you have to start the process a full six months before, that makes things very difficult. Rabies testing, health certificates, DoA forms, fees, still more forms, even down to the way you label their airplane carrier…if you do even one little thing wrong, your pets could be denied release and subjected to quarantine hell.
But finally the big day arrived! Everything was packed and hauled away, the car was on a freighter, the pets were ready to go, and my kids and I boarded our flight to Honolulu. Well, we started to. The flight was randomly canceled, as they are, and we waited in line for 3 hours to rebook. My kids were hungry and bored, pets were howling down in baggage claim, and I was a wreck. Plus I was alone, my husband having flown to Guam earlier to meet his ship already at sea.
The next morning we tried again, and this time boarding was successful…minus the kids’ DVD players that were accidentally left behind at security. Yikes. Six hours on a plane with no entertainment. I’m lucky I survived.
We finally arrived in Honolulu, and went straight to a hotel for three weeks since that’s how long it would take our household goods and car to arrive. I’ve blocked out that dark time, two kids, two pets and me in a hotel room. With. No. Car. My husband was in and out, working 14 to 16 hour days. The Navy waterfront had recently been rocked with a Spice (synthetic marijuana) scandal, and my husband’s ship was hit the worst: at least 24 of his sailors were charged with using and/or distributing the stuff. He’d inherited a shit storm from his predecessor, and he just didn’t have time for us. (That’s a reality of military life – if the Navy wanted you to have a family, there would have been one in your seabag.)
One glorious day we received the keys to our new house, and it was very nice:
Household goods followed soon after, and hallelujah, the car.
For the first several weeks we played tourist: Beach, luaus, snorkeling, more beach. It was like a super long awesome vacation. We tried new and different foods, experienced things like diving with sharks, boat rides, kayaking…beach and still more beach!
Finally the novelty wore off, and reality set in. Hawaii is a very expensive place. A gallon of milk was $7, a 12-pack of soda $10. Gas was well over $5 a gallon. A lot of companies won’t ship to Hawaii, and if they do, the shipping costs are prohibitive and things take forever to arrive, sometimes weeks.
Honolulu traffic is the second worst in the nation, but it’s the worst I’ve ever personally experienced. When I finally got a job, it took over an hour to travel the 8 miles to work during morning rush hour. Parking anywhere is a nightmare. The crowds can be horrifying, and there’s really no “off-season” in Hawaii, just crowded and slightly less crowded.
And if you’ve ever heard about “island fever,” it really is a thing: It’s a feeling of disconnect from the mainland. Hawaii is the most remote island chain in the world, 2,300 miles from the nearest land mass. You can drive around Oahu in around 3 hours, start to finish. It starts to feel claustrophic. You. Can’t. Go. Anywhere. You long for something other than to be surrounded by ocean. The time difference means you’re 6 hours behind the East Coast, and I lost touch with a lot of people while living there.
It sounds like maybe I hated it there, but oh, Hawaii is absolutely beautiful, with a rich history and wonderful culture. I loved the friendly people, the spirit of Aloha, the diversity. The schools get a bad rap, but our little elementary school was wonderful. It was held in classrooms open to the fresh air, and the kids were allowed to kick off their shoes and go barefoot all day long. It was the first time both of my boys had ever had perfect attendance. It’s hard to believe, but they were never sick the whole time we lived there.
Best of all, every day after school, if we wanted, we got to do this:
The weather was sublime, 85 degrees year-round, no joke. Oh, every now and then it got into the 70s, maybe the high 60s, but that was rare. It rained, but not very often. In fact, sometimes I just wished for a cold, rainy day so that I didn’t feel so guilty about staying inside and reading! I don’t think my boys were ever in the house except to sleep. We were always outside, always doing something.
We eventually learned which beaches the locals went to, which restaurants had the best kama’aina (local) discounts. We took advantage of the military amenities and perks, and enjoyed as much as we could in the 14 months we were there. Just like anyplace else, just like romance versus reality, there are drawbacks to living there, but the good definitely outweighs the bad. I have to say that I miss it, and wish we could have lived there longer. I’ll be forever grateful to the Navy for giving us this experience that we will never forget!