Note: This is a story of wildly improbable events. A series of many unlikely and good things happening one after the other. I don’t mean for it to come across like boasting. My attitude is more like astonishment. It’s the only time I can recall ever being this “lucky.”
And there is a point to it, which is simply this: the value of friendship.
Every once in awhile you get lucky. If you’re really lucky, you get on a roll. Good things start snowballing. It’s like the stars are aligned, your karmic ship comes in. God says, “You deserve a break today. And I don’t mean McDonalds.”
This is the story of my most memorable Thanksgiving. Or at least the most memorable one I can remember.
In 1980 United Airlines had a contest. They passed out little scratch-off game cards to their airborne passengers. If you got 3 airplanes in a row – up or down – you won a free trip. Any class, anywhere they flew. That simple.
I didn’t fly much in those days – couldn’t afford it - but the law says “no purchase required.” You could mail in a request for a game card, one per day. Optimist that I am, I decided to mail in a request every day for 30 days, which was the limit. Forgetful as I am, I only remembered to do this for two days.
Incredibly, one of the two turned out to be a winner. A free trip! I decided Hawaii was about as far as I wanted to go – and of course first class was a no-brainer. Late November seemed about right. Probably because it would be getting cold in Kansas City, and Hawaii could smack some sun on my Fluorescent Celtic Skin.
Meanwhile, shortly after winning my trip, I met a gal who was a United flight attendant.*
* Another lucky break. In 1980 the Kansas City Royals went to their first World Series. (That’s not the lucky part. They were good.) A friend of mine had two tickets for the first game, and was planning to take his wife, a flight attendant on United. But at the last minute she got a surprise visit from a colleague, and decided that good manners dictate she stay home and entertain her fellow flyer. So I got to take her place, getting great seats (free!) for the first-ever World Series game in Kansas City.
After the game, we went back to my friend’s house, where I met his wife’s friend. (We’ll call her VaVaVoom.) She and I hit it off. I told her about my free trip to Hawaii, and she let me know she was going there at the same time. Naturally, we decided to meet in Honolulu and travel together.
1980 was before airline deregulation, so airfares were higher and the airlines didn’t have to cram people in like sardines. This meant that the upstairs compartment of the 747 was used for what it was originally intended: a first class lounge. Meaning, I had a cushy first class seat on the main level, with all the usual perks, and I was also free to wander upstairs and stretch out on a sofa or play games with other passengers. Which I did. I played backgammon with some guy and won $20.
They also had a contest in first class. They gave you the air speed, the wind speed, the distance from LA to Honolulu, and some other numbers, and you had to calculate the exact minute we would be halfway. The winner got a bottle of champagne. I won it on both flights, coming and going.
When I got to Honolulu, VaVaVoom was there to meet me, along with another friendly female flight attendant. We’ll call her VaVaMama. Also very cute. The benefit of traveling with a flight attendant – at least back then – was they got great discounts on hotels. They had booked a deluxe room for the three of us in an oceanfront hotel on Waikiki for – get this – $20 a night. That’s total, not apiece.
We had a great time for a few days, then VaVaMama left to go back to work somewhere in the friendly skies. VaVaVoom and I decided we wanted to see the island of Kauai. Naturally she had another great deal there, a condo on the beach for what I believe is known as “a pittance.”
This is where it starts getting good.
On Kauai we wanted to hike the spectacular Waimea Canyon. There’s a state park up there with rental cabins, but they’re always booked up a year ahead of time. And since this was the day before Thanksgiving, the chances for getting a cabin were slim and none. But the way things were going, it was worth a phone call.
By now you know what’s coming. The guy who answered the phone said they had just had a cancellation for that night, and if we drove up there now we could have it. We got there in mid-afternoon, checked into our cozy cabin, hiked a bit a bit of the amazing canyon, saw a gorgeous sunset, and had dinner in the park lodge restaurant.
The next morning we went back to the lodge for breakfast. As it happened, I was wearing one of my favorite t-shirts. A green shirt with white lettering. It read:
If God had wanted
Texans to ski,
He would have
made bullshit white
As soon as I got inside the restaurant, a guy got up from his table, came over to me, and said, “I have to have that t-shirt. I’ll trade you my two best Hawaii t-shirts for it.”
Well, today I would trade that t-shirt in a second. I mean, I wouldn’t even wear it in the first place. But back then I thought it was pretty funny, and I told him no way. But we sat and ate with him and his wife, and had a great conversation.
It turned out they had a country band, the only one in Kauai. This was right after the Urban Cowboy craze, and country music was starting to go mainstream. So they had a lot of good gigs around the island. They were former hippies from San Francisco, having lived there during the Summer of Love, and had a bunch of crazy stories.
VaVaVoom and I left to hike for the day. We gawked at more beautiful rock formations than I’d seen in maybe ever. Then, after the hike, we bumped into our t-shirt friend again. He told us they were having Thanksgiving dinner in their cabin, with all their musician friends. There would be way more than enough food, and please come join them.
Needless to say (but I’ll say it anyway), we were on that like monkeys on a mango.
Their friends were terrific folks, and after dinner we all sang songs for several hours. They knew all the songs I knew, and sang fabulous harmonies. Tons of fun.
Around midnight it was time to leave. We had the condo to go to, but our friends offered us their Hawaiian house down below the mountain, which was much closer. Before we left, they told us that that the bathroom at their house was outside in the back yard.
Thinking this meant an outhouse, I was delighted to discover a beautiful outdoor shower and bathtub in a secluded tropical garden. (More good luck: the toilet was actually inside the house.)
At about two in the morning, I took a warm shower. As the water washed over me, I stood in the salty breeze, looked up at the stars in the black sky, and thanked whichever one was bringing me so much good juju.
The rest of the week was filled with our new friends taking us boogie-boarding, hiking the Napali Coast, and other wonderful stuff. At night we’d go to wherever they were playing, and they’d let me sit in with them.
One night at a bar listening to my friends’ band, I met a record producer from LA. I think his name was Reggie Fisher. He told me he was producing a first album for a new artist named T-Bone Burnett. You may or may not be aware that T-Bone’s artist career has never really gone supernova, but he has become one of the most respected album producers and film music consultants out there.
Anyway, Reggie invited me to send him some of my songs, and later on I did. But he was about 10 years too early. None of my songs was any good then. Still, it was an amazing thing to have happen.
Finally VaVaVoom had to get back to work, so we flew back to Honolulu. She continued to the mainland, but somehow I suddenly remembered I had a family friend in Honolulu. I called and was invited to spend a week with her and her husband. They showed me all the cool, remote places on Oahu. They introduced me to a lot of local food, and gave me my first authentic taste of Hawaiian music.
It was all great fun except for the part where I almost drowned trying to body surf in big waves on the north coast. From the beach it looked a lot easier.
By far the best thing to come out of the whole lucky adventure was this renewed friendship with my old family friend Jane, and her husband Ev. How many couples do you know that are both cartographers? They were intelligent, full of fun, with an intimate, quirky knowledge of Hawaii that made it ever more fascinating. Their only house rule was that as a single guest, I had to cook dinner every third night. And they were good cooks. What I’m saying is I was forced to grow.
Over the years I’ve stayed with Jane and Ev every time I’ve performed in Hawaii. We’ve had a lot of great meals, conversations, explorations, many good laughs and funny memories. They’ve added so much to my life.
On Wednesday this week, my friend Jane passed away from liver disease. She was much, much too young. I’ll miss her a lot. Jane had a big, generous personality. I’ve never been to Hawaii without visiting her and Ev. I can’t imagine it.
But I’m so thankful she was in my life. I hope she felt the same way.
This week I suggest we take time to appreciate those who have enriched our lives immeasurably. Especially if they’re no longer with us.
© 2015 Greg Tamblyn
* I gave that t-shirt to my Kauai musician friend.
** No idea what happened to VaVaVoom. Didn’t keep in touch.
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