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Trip 26 -- Oahu Walk

Day 7: Kailua to Waikiki
Wednesday, May 19, 2021

Yesterday: 48928 steps/37.63 km/23.38 mi/7h 7m
Total: 267968 steps/206.00 km/128.00 mi/38h 59m

My brain has power over my body, even when I'm asleep. I could have snoozed well past eight, even nine, but there I was, awake a little after six, my brain saying, "You have another long walk today, and you want to arrive early. Hustle!"

I dawdled. In previous long walks it's been my feet, or my toes, that didn't want to move. This time it was my quads. Every time I stood up yesterday I counted off, "One, two, three," and then hoisted myself into the air, imagining my grandmother doing the same with a particular Jewish grunt. I was reminded of Sunday's long walk and Monday's steep hike every time I tried to move. Once I got going, though, the pain subsided after a few moments.

I stepped into the bathroom in my house in Kailua, and there, next to the toilet, lying on its back, was a giant cockroach, like the water bugs that scurry around New York at this time of year. How had it gotten there, in that position? I hadn't noticed it the night before.

It wasn't moving, so I took some toilet paper and picked it up by its leg for disposal, mainly so the people in charge of the room wouldn't be embarrassed at seeing it. Just as I dropped it in the toilet, it started kicking its legs.

I glanced in the shower and there was another one, similarly supine. This one I left. And then I left.

It was a long route to the main highway, with the Lanikai Pillbox hike between me and the sea. This part of inland Route 72 was plagued with fast traffic and no sidewalk, though the shoulder was wide. There was still basic sustenance, however, in the form of Yummy Huli Huli Chicken, the grilled birds arrayed on the truck and their aroma wafting toward me across too many lanes of cars.

Farther along, Waimanalo was an appealing town, with the main highway, some side streets, single-story houses, a school bus in someone's driveway, a mail truck in someone's yard, and a little shopping strip featuring Dave's Ice Cream, the East Honolulu Clothing Company, and Ohana Karaoke. The green Kalapawai Cafe and the $8.99 specials at Kenekes -- including a 22-ounce Coke -- would have made for decent meals if I had been hungry at 9 a.m. If Kailua was like White Plains, Waimanalo was like a little one-stretch township in the middle of Pennsylvania.

And then suddenly I was at the sea, with a Mexican food truck -- which had passed me moments earlier -- across from a public park, and a semipermanent tent camp on the beach. For a while there was a sidewalk, and I approached Oahu's southeast corner at Makapu'u Point, where the lighthouse pokes out of the side of the rocky slope.

Then, of course, the sidewalk disappeared as I climbed up to the overlook near the Halona Blowhole. When the waves are strong -- and they were strong enough -- the water enters a cave and spouts out through its ceiling like a geyser about once a minute, a misty spray followed by a more voluminous eruption. Basking in the sun on the rocks to the side, scratching its belly, was a Hawaiian monk seal.

I followed the highway up and around. With the wind, the winding road, and its crowned surface, I was leaning continuously toward the sea, and I had the sensation that by the end of the walk my right leg would be longer than my left.

I descended to a shopping center across from Maunalua Bay Beach and paused at Leonard's Bakery Malasada Truck. I intended to pick up a couple of the doughnuts and be on my way, but there was a considerable line, which grew as the people in front placed an increasingly complicated order. One of them was reading numbers off a spreadsheet on her phone, trying to interpret them.

"Looks like we got here just in time!" said another, happily unaware that it was the complexity of their needs (four of these and two of those and six of the other, no, wait, let's make it six of the first one), plus supplementary requests ("Can you keep the custard one separate?"), that was causing the backup in the first place.

"Actually, you didn't," I said under my breath.

To keep things moving, I took all my accumulated change out of my pocket, so I could be ready for whatever mysterious tax they would tack on to my order. I picked up three malasadas -- one covered in li hing, a sweet-sour plum-flavored coating; one filled with custard; and one filled with coconut cream. They filled them on the spot, adding to the art but contributing to the time.

They came out piping hot, and I couldn't resist having the li hing as I walked across the bridge to lunch. It was sublimely light and flaky, like a fresh Parker House roll. Whatever time they needed to make it wonderful, it was worth the wait. And besides, I got rid of four pennies.

Lunch was at Tex 808, a barbecue place in a strip mall. I preferred the sides of baked beans and barbecued corn on the cob, drenched in all the butter of my artichoke the night before, to the smoked brisket. The meat was dry and perhaps overcooked, but adding the sweet passion-fruit sauce helped.

Tex 808 had cocktails that would have put me in a happy stagger for the rest of the afternoon. But I had not consumed Bang, or any other energy drink, that morning, and it was four pints of Coke, lightened by slushy ice, that would keep me on the fast track toward Waikiki.

This straight stretch of Route 72 had a glorious sidewalk until the road became Interstate H1, at which point I turned south -- or, I should say, makai. Except on road signs, Hawaiians don't use compass directions; instead they refer to mauka (toward the mountains) or makai (toward the water).

I was almost there, and then I saw before me a San Francisco-style street, almost as steep as the Lanikai Pillbox hike, the kind that looks like a roller-coaster incline that levels off at each intersection. Yes, after six hours of walking, I was going to have to climb that.

It was a quiet neighborhood with a leafy park, and near the top of the hill were the grounds of Kapiolani Community College. My ears popped at the peak. And on the other side, as I started the descent, the skyscrapers of Waikiki hove into view: tall, thin protrusions at odd angles to each other, backed by mountains, overlooking the sea -- perhaps the only place in the United States that resembles Hong Kong, at least from a distance.

From within, of course, the comparison is more to Miami: lovely sand enjoyed by thousands of lovely bodies, under the towers of ritzy hotels -- though competition means that my lodging here was both nicer and much cheaper than the Courtyard in Laie. Interspersed amidst the hotels were apartment buildings, large and small; shopping malls; ABC convenience stores; and a few off-the-main-road alleys with souvenir stalls, food trucks, and hidden eateries.

It was at one of those eateries, an izakaya called Pau Hana Base, where I dined. In the manner of a true izakaya it gave me the chance to try a few curious menu items: spicy pollack guts, crunchy "grilled squid eye socket," and dried ray fins, which started out smooth and savory, like cassava, and then turned sweet, like ginger candy, as I chewed. An especially refreshing component of the meal was a simple salad of salted fresh tomato, my attempt to bring balance to the week's heavy foods. And of course they served sake in the traditional wooden box.

The most fun part, however, was their version of takoyaki, bits of octopus in balls of dough. I'd read about it but didn't see it on the menu.

"Do you still do the Russian takoyaki?" I asked the server.

"Yes, we do," she said, and she smirked. "You want it by yourself?"

"Yes, please."

The table next to mine, a party of six, had ordered the same. It's more suited to a group, where one lucky -- or unlucky -- diner gets the special ball in the set of six. And the surprise was lost on me, because I managed to eat the five normal balls first; I even wondered whether they had gotten the order right.

But I bit down on the sixth, and there it was: a giant helping of wasabi. The effect was euphoric. Tempered by the dough, it didn't feel like dangerous spice, and I chewed normally, letting the tingle wash over my tongue and through my mouth and then down my body. It was more a massage from within than a hit. It put me in a trance, and I was still floating minutes later.

The restaurant didn't have a restroom of its own; I had to go upstairs to the other establishment in the building and use theirs (and sign in again for contact-tracing purposes). I did this while waiting for my first order of food.

There was a porch, where a few people sat with drinks, smoking cigarettes. Inside, there were other people drinking, some of them sitting on sofas, some on raised stools. A few of those stools were lined up against a long platform, behind which a man was walking back and forth, sometimes pausing to mix liquids from the bottles neatly displayed on the shelves behind him. Everyone was merrily enjoying a drink, but no one was eating anything.

"This place looks great!" I said to one of the people outside. "How late is it open?"

"About eleven-thirty," he said.

"Great, I'll come back after dinner."

This type of setting, I learned, is called a bar. I scoured the middle reaches of my memory and vaguely recalled that some time back, maybe 15 months or so, we used to have them in New York. Come to think of it, I'd enjoyed them in most places around the world. But I'd forgotten what they were like.

I went up after dinner and took the one unoccupied stool at the bar. To my right was a woman celebrating her birthday, and I bought her a beer. To my left was a man who seemed taken aback that I was sitting so close.

"Are you vaccinated?" he asked.

I didn't mind the question; it had slipped my mind that people might still be jumpy in close quarters.

"Yes, I am."

And we shared shots of Skrewball peanut-butter-flavored whiskey.

I'd asked Ivory and her friends whether the attitude toward jaywalking in Hawaii was more like California's or New York's, and they'd agreed it was pretty lenient. But a policeman did not like it when, walking back to my hotel, I crossed one of the main streets diagonally, hypotenuse-style.

He stopped his car. "Why did you cross that way?" he asked.

"Because there was no traffic," I said, resisting the urge to add hyperbole such as "between here and Waianae" or comment on the mathematics of hypotenuses. Walking parallel to the road and crossing at the intersection adds up to 41.4% to the trip's distance compared with walking the diagonal. If there's no traffic, why not walk the hypotenuse?

"Do you know what the fine is for doing what you did?"

"No, I don't."

"A hundred and thirty dollars."

"OK, I won't do it again."

I could say that for certain because I had no more turns to make and was on the same side of the street as my hotel.

I made one other brief stop, to help a woman with no phone who asked if I could call her friend upstairs to tell him she had arrived. To thank me she offered me a copious amount of fresh marijuana. But when it comes to small balls of pungent greenery, I'd much prefer wasabi.

Go on to day 8