Catherine Tooth Fox: Rabbit doing tricks for tips?  How to change Waikiki

Catherine Tooth Fox: Rabbit doing tricks for tips? How to change Waikiki

I pushed through a movable wall of sunburned shoulders on Kalakaua Street. People hand me leaflets for the firing range and why I need to reject the CCP. Parrots whoop. A girl holding a guitar raises her subwoofer to compete with a nearby break-dancing group. A man riding a motorbike heading towards the street balances on his rear wheel. I smell cannabis.

It is on Tuesday.

I’ve spent decades touring Waikiki, commuting school to see movies at Old Waikiki Theater 3 with balcony seating and a movie machine – now a California pizzeria – and surfing restrooms along this sunny coast.

Met my husband here, spent anniversaries and birthdays here, went to proms here, surfed with legends, picnic under fireworks, and watched meteor showers. My 5-year-old son caught his first wave at Baby Queens. Waikiki is a special place for me.

But now it looks different.

I spent a Tuesday afternoon, walking around the neighborhood, to see if my favorite restaurants and stores were still open. (Henry’s Place, Yes, Waikiki Yokocho no.) Lots of visitors expected – the state reported that 818,268 visitors came to Hawaii in April, 96.3% recovery from April 2019 And the highest recovery rate since the start of the coronavirus pandemic — but I wasn’t prepared for the crowded sidewalks, the noise, and the intensity.

Waikiki sunset
There is no doubt that Waikiki is full of charm, especially at sunset, if you look beyond Kalakaua Street. Catherine Tooth Fox / Civil Beat / 2022

By 6 p.m., Calacoa Street was crowded with street performers – break-dance groups, guitar-pumping singers, a hack-and-slash Elvis impersonator, a magician, a slew of cartoonists, and even a guy who claims his bunny can do some tricks to get tips.

People stood in long lines to get coffee and shaved snow. Cars packed with music were pounding as they roamed the street. A mixture of music was coming from every direction. Regular tramps bet their usual places.

It could have given me a panic attack.

I quickly stormed into Macy’s – my safe space – calmed by non-descript, inoffensive music and cool air conditioning. As I was wandering around the cosmetics counters, I realized something: The store was empty.

“Man, it’s crazy over there,” I said to one of the well-dressed saleswomen in the Clinique’s office.

She replied “Yes, a lot of people, but they don’t come here. They don’t buy anything. They just walk around.”

Waikiki Kalakaua Street
According to the sign, this rabbit is deceiving for tips. Catherine Tooth Fox / Civil Beat / 2022

So these visitors want to be there? And not here where calm, serenity and peace? Actually like chaos?

It seemed unbelievable.

The streets of Waikiki are not the kind of vacation experience I want. It was noisy, crowded and exhausting. I walked nearly two miles one way and was already thinking about jumping on my Biki and biking from there.

When I think of a vacation – and I’ve just returned from a quiet weekend on Kauai with my family – I want to relax and unwind. I want to smell the salty air – not the smoke of e-cigarettes – and rest on the beach where I can’t hear the conversation of seven separate groups of people sitting uncomfortably close to me.

It is clear that travelers want different things.

But the way our state markets islands seems to be at odds with what visitors arrive at, at least on Oahu, where the bulk of beginners stop.

I saw an amazing file Hawaii Tourism Authority video which promotes Hawaii with an important message: These islands are home to us, and coliana (a privilege, a responsibility) is to take care of everyone.

“There is no place like Hawaii, a home of unimaginable beauty that is not found anywhere else in the world.” The video shows the breathtaking cliffs of the Napali Coast on Kauai, a lush gorge through the Yao Valley on Maui and an empty golden beach somewhere in Hawaii.

The HTA message was definitely in place, crucial to our pandemic existence, and I fully support it. But what image of Hawaiian travelers are they hoping to find — and is that expectation fulfilled?

Waikiki breakdancers street performers Kalakaua Avenue
Street performers like this break-dancing band line Kalakawa Street every night. Catherine Tooth Fox / Civil Beat / 2022

I tried to imagine myself as a first-time visitor, guided by a Pinterest board of pins showing pristine beaches, uncrowded hiking trails, and sunset cocktails. Then I got to Waikiki – to the crowd, the noise, the screaming, the sirens, the rows. I may not leave my hotel room.

There’s still plenty of beauty in Waikiki—the uneven blues of the ocean, the long stretches of sandy beach, the perpetual sunshine—but it’s overtaken by things Hawaii doesn’t feel at all.

However, they come, walk along Calacoa, stop to watch dancers and musicians, sit down to pick up caricatures, and even flip a hare. (I still don’t know what this bunny is doing.)

We might be giving travelers what they want, after all.


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