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Lost: A Hawaiian family vacation

Hillary IbarraIt’s bad when the first day you arrive in balmy Hawaii you wish you were home — back in sizzling 107 degrees Phoenix, Ariz.

You might think it’s because we’re land-lubbin’ desert dwellers that we soured on beautiful Oahu so quickly, but it had more to do with real estate. Apparently, when civilization is built near water on an island, real estate is so valuable that there’s no room to waste on such petty things as parking spaces, restrooms and straight roads.

After driving the winding, perilous streets of Waikiki to our high-rise, overpriced accommodations, we parked in the cramped seven-space parking lot beneath our hotel before checking in. The parking arrangement being rather odd, we asked about it.

“I’m sorry,” said the desk clerk in an unapologetic tone of voice. “But I can’t allow you to park there. Those spaces are reserved. Can I put you on our waiting list?”

Then he told us about a nice sister property where we could park our car for 25 bucks a day. Our other option was to cruise the main drags of Waikiki for 20 minutes every hour hoping to parallel park for free. Since parallel-parking basics have evaporated from Phoenicians’ brains in the scorching heat, it was the parking garage for us.

After this comeuppance we walked into our hotel room at which point I started clicking my heels together and chanting desperately, “There’s no place like home! There’s no place like home! There’s no place like home!”

We reserved a place with a kitchenette. To hoteliers this means broken-down rooms for families with at least three little monsters in tow. The kitchenettes are symbolic of our station in vacation life. We parents honestly intend to do some cost-effective home cookin,’ but the rusty 50-year-old range is for show.  The hotel staff knows all we really need is the mini fridge to cool our fast-food leftovers.

My husband’s friend asked how the food was in Hawaii. Ah, the food! One morning, frustrated in our effort to find a local place to eat and park the minivan, we pulled into a gas station to get our bearings. “Okay, everybody out!” I commanded. “This is where we’re eating breakfast.” It had parking spaces, after all.

And nothing says vacation like eating at that ubiquitous, All-American burger joint that lures children with cheap toys and parents with cheap tabs. If only we had something by which to remember all the exotic places in which we ate fast food for the sake of convenience and frugality! If we could but hold up a wilted bit of lettuce and say to our envious friends, “See how it’s shaped like a sea turtle? Got that near North Shore — beautiful view there!  This lovely French-fry sculpture of a lighthouse? Came from the one by Makapu’u Point. And just look at this hamburger bun artfully shaped like a pineapple! That was on the way to the Dole Plantation — we ate there twice!”

Due to the sodium content of those countless French fries, our 4-year-old became insatiably thirsty, crying for water as if the strange drizzle from the sky was not enough, and then needed to use the bathroom constantly. This posed a challenge in Waikiki. They have plenty of water, but bathrooms are elusive luxuries. You can’t even walk into a Starbucks — one of the most civilized establishments in the world — and expect to find a potty. No, you must carefully chart the few bathrooms in the city and then visit them obsessively for the hour or two in which you are in their radius. Fancy hotels and restaurants — meant for people who don’t need kitchenettes — are your best bet.

Despite all this mainlander angst, in the end this is what we’ll remember: the fabulous family reunion, beautiful beaches and a majestic ocean. Though we understood we were on an island, any glimpse of water as we drove around Oahu both charmed and astounded us.

“Look, I see the ocean!” I cried one afternoon for the fifth time, pointing giddily out my window.

At which exclamation my intelligent 11-year-old craned his neck and cried, completely without sarcasm, “Whoa! No way!”

The hotel was just a place to sleep. We adapted and walked to most of our destinations where, thank God, relatives were waiting to greet us. And we finally ate quality Hawaiian food at the rehearsal dinner and the wedding of my husband’s brother and sister-in-law. Free parking and restrooms were available.

— Hillary Ibarra

Hillary Ibarra has had several humor pieces published on Aiming Low and She has dreams of playing the banjo, living in Jane Austen’s childhood home and writing for more than spam artists and 50 loyal readers, but can’t seem to find them in the laundry. She is the mysterious blogger at No Pens, Pencils, Knives or Scissors. In her spare time she likes to threaten to sell her children to the zoo, and their little dog, too.

Reflections of Erma