While on a vacation at Waikoloa Beach north of Kona on the big island of Hawaii, I experienced the contrast of the rich and the working poor. After be settled into a room in a posh resort, my elder law attorney husband said he wanted to visit one of his clients in on the other side of the island in Hilo. In my mind I had imagined that anyone who lived in Hawaii must be rich and I expected to drive up to a house on the side of a cliff with a fabulous ocean view. It was a surprise to find the client and his family living in a hand made house in the jungle much like Swiss Family Robinson. It was there I learned of the life style of those who worked in the resorts on the other side of the island. The big island of Hawaii has a dry side and a rainy side… a rich side and a poor side. All of the resorts are on the dry side of the island to assure good weather to the main land visitors. The wet side of the island is where all of the people live who work in the resorts because there is no affordable housing near the resorts. The wife of the client described her lifestyle for 16years working in a resort…leaving Hilo in the dark to drive or take the bus the two hours across the island in a traffic jam working all day and driving home in the dark for two hours in another traffic jam. Much of her salary went to pay the $3-4/gallon price tag for the gasoline. This mother of two young children would leave for work before her children were awake and get home after they were asleep. If there was an evening event like a banquet the dining room staff would not have time to drive home and would sleep in their cars in the parking lot to be there in time to serve breakfast. Finally she got a job in a Macadamia nut factory near Hilo so she could see her children.
Driving back to the beach resort from Hilo in a traffic jam I couldn’t help up think of the lyrics from a 1960’s Joni Mitchell song Big Yellow Taxi, “So they paved paradise to put up a parking lot.” When I think of Hawaii now, I do not think of palm trees and beaches. I think of traffic jams and children who do not see their parents. There is something really wrong about paving paradise to build roads between the rich and the poor side of the island and about all of that asphalt in paradise. Resort developers should be required to provide affordable housing nearby for the employees who work there…for this I believe.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.