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Sunday, May 5, 2013

Mo betta luau

Mo betta luau

When Anna and I went to Maui on our honeymoon in 1996 we had a continuous good time. That was the only way I could describe it, one good experience after another.  Our hotel, the Aston Kaanapali Shores, was incredible! Everyone was especially friendly and nice and went out of their way to make us feel welcome, even the janitors and groundskeepers.

Our room was on the 7th floor and from it you could see the gardens, one of the swimming pools, and the Ocean beyond. We had wonderful cool breezes every night and the sound of the waves to lull you to sleep. The hotel restaurant was our choice of places to eat, most of the time.  Maui has excellent dining available; the hotel restaurant was just that much better.

We did the usual tourist things; went shopping in Lahaina every day, went out on a diving boat, went on picture taking expeditions of our own design, and even drove the Road to Hana. We tried to see Volcano National Park, on the Big Island, but that is another story, for another time.

One of the many things that were considered almost "mandatory" when you go to Hawaii is going to a Luau. We wanted to go to one while we were on Maui and asked around for opinions about which was the best one to see. Everyone said, “Go see the luau at the Ritz-Carlton." The man selling Hawaiian crafts in the lobby said, "It's de bes one brudda!" Who could argue with that?

Everyone who comes to Hawaii with money in their pockets (and isn't rude to the locals) is called “cuz” or cousin by the native Hawaiians. If you buy something from a local, then you have graduated to "brudda or sista." You have become close family by helping them support theirs. Tipping well works the same way, and we did both. I think we were related to most of Maui by the time that we left.

The Maui Ritz-Carlton puts on a luau every night and is famous throughout the islands for putting on a good show, with good food to go along with it. It sounded like the ideal one for us and we planned our schedule around it and called the phone number to purchase the tickets.

Culture shock (or cash flow shock) may be the way to describe how our down-home Fallon sensibilities reacted to the price they wanted. They wanted $110.00 each! I told the woman on the phone that I didn’t want a room; I just wanted to watch one show.

In the end I paid the price they wanted; they didn't really care if we did or not, they sell out every show. I told myself, “Break out the plastic and just do it.” We were only doing this special trip once and it was more important to enjoy the time than worry about every penny spent.

When we went to pick up the tickets (and locate where the show was, and where to park, etc.) we found out that we weren't very far from our hotel at all. That was good; a short drive to and from the venue with us having to navigate in the dark was appreciated. New adventures were fun; being lost, not so much.

We turned off of the main road at the Ritz-Carlton sign and on to their "driveway," which we drove on for about a mile before we even got to the hotel itself. What a magnificent place! You could smell the money.

We parked the car and walked up to the entrance, where they had a host of valets and doormen, all eagerly looking for something to do. Since we had already parked, the only thing left to do was to open the door for us, which two of them did at the same time. I think that they wanted us to go in… and leave our money there when we left.

Inside of the main entrance room, was an atrium and display hall with a ceiling that was five stories high. There were walkways ringing the room from the second floor up. I assume that you could get a room facing the atrium at a better price than the ones facing the Ocean, but I didn't check. The art displays were of unbelievable quality and extensive in number.

We gawked our way through (like the tourists we were) to the front desk and asked about picking up our tickets. In our turn we were redirected to another office around the corner by a very beautiful, but harried looking woman. She had people coming at her from all sides and telephones ringing off the hook. I was sure glad that I wasn't working that desk -- it was a madhouse!

The ticket office was just around the corner and was quite busy too. As a matter of fact they were already sold out for that night's show. The lady at the counter was trying to explain to an obnoxious and obviously wealthy older woman that “No More Tickets” means, No More Tickets!

We stood by quietly and waited for it to be our turn, and tried not to butt in, or laugh, at the scene going on in front of us. That was really hard. I wanted to say, "Hey stupid, what part of NO don't you understand?" But I didn't, and Anna wouldn't anyway (she's too nice.)

The woman behind the counter was just about to reach critical mass and finally told the older woman to please step aside. She smiled and asked me what I needed, whereupon I gave our names and confirmation number. A quick glance at her list and she said, "Yes, Mr. & Mrs. Wright, I have them right here" and handed me our two tickets for the show.

That set the old biddy off all over again as she started yelling that the woman had lied to her about not having any tickets left. We smiled and shook our heads in sympathy with the ticket counter lady with the utmost patience. I thanked her and we beat a hasty retreat before the old gal in her diamonds, furs, and way too much perfume launched an attack on us for buying “her” tickets. 

The big question then became, “What to wear to the luau?” A Hawaiian flowered shirt, shorts, and dress flip-flops seemed appropriate to me. Anna wasn't sure what she wanted to wear and that brought us to the only logical choice; go shopping!

Away we went to the Lahaina shopping district and wandered the streets looking for something that would jump out at Anna and beg to be worn by her to a luau (but, not just any luau; to a Ritz-Carlton luau.)  The search was on for something that shouted, “Pick Meeee!”

We went into a very cluttered and closely packed little store on the main street and worked our way towards the back, looking at everything. As we turned, twisted, and side-stepped our way all the way to the back wall we spotted something. There it was-- a maroon Hawaiian flower print dress, exactly the same color and pattern as a shirt that I had with us; that was the one!

The problem was, there was only that one. And in a size that would fit an anorexic ten year old midget, and nobody else. Disappointment rained down upon our heads. As we were about to give up and drag our tails back out into the street a large (OK, huge) Hawaiian woman stepped out from behind a curtain that hid a backroom from view. She looked me up and down and said, "Waas amatta brudda, your woman no like dis dress?"

I had been on the island long enough that her manner of speech made perfect sense to me. In fact if I were there any longer, I would start talking just like her. I told the nice lady that, yes, my wife did like the dress, but it was too small and there was no other one like it on the rack.

She said, "Wait one mo minute brudda, an I find you one." With that she pulled the curtain aside and in the back room there were more racks along one wall. The woman looked at Anna and pulled a dress off of the rack and handed it to her. It was a perfect fit. The problem was solved; we had luau clothes!

We had taken so much time shopping that we had just enough time to shower and get dressed before it was time to leave for the Ritz. We pulled out from our hotel driveway and had a momentary bit of panic as the traffic on that main road was horrendous! Fortunately it was going the opposite direction from us and we made good time to the hotel. That time we took pity on the bored employees and used the valet parking.

It was still a little while until the scheduled start time so we wandered around a bit looking at the swans in the pond, and the stream that went right through the buildings. The architectural design features were fabulous; the place had an incredible palate of both color and texture. 

I thought, “It could be fun to stay here some time.” So, I walked over to the desk and asked the neatly dressed, but seriously grumpy looking man behind it, if I might see the room rates. He looked me up and down and with a sneer on his lips said, "Sir, the rooms start at $400.00 per night and we are booked up until April."

He got a little tight-jawed when I started laughing and said, "Yeah, right!" back at him; and then walked off, still laughing. The guy wasn't kidding, I checked through my hotel later and the old buzzard was correct on the price and the bookings. No wonder he looked like that when I laughed in his face. It was too rich for my blood. A week in that joint would cost you $2800.00 plus taxes and fees; by then you wouldn't be able to afford to eat!

To eat; that was where we were heading when I got sidetracked. We followed the crowd out a door near the ticket office into a beautiful patio and courtyard setting. It was a great spot, but the crowd was still on the move. We kept on through the courtyard and onto a walkway along the beach just shore-side of the palm trees. The tour was pretty, but what about the food?

We came to a halt, in line with everyone else, at a "checkpoint," where photographers were snapping away. You didn't have to buy the pictures, but you did have to let them take the photos before you could get through to the food and show area. What the Hell, we looked Mah-vel-ous in our matching outfits and we had puka shell necklaces being draped around our necks. So we did our photo-duty and we did buy the pictures after the show and I'm glad that we did.

While we were standing in line waiting for our turn in front of the camera, the wind came up from off of the ocean and being raised along the Florida coast, it felt and smelled like rain coming to me. When I said as much out loud to Anna, one of the "panic control squad" in native garb quickly stepped up and said, "Oh no, it's not going to rain. But if it does, it won't last long."

He then swiftly moved to the next crisis location where I could hear him saying, "No Sir, we will never run out of Mai-Tai's. There will be plenty when you get there." Then off he went again down the line, calming the tourist's nerves. They didn’t want anyone to take their money and run away before spending it all; after that, no problem.

We entered yet another courtyard, this one had long rows of tables set at a 90 degree angle to the stage where the show was to be performed. It looked like it could seat about 100 people in each of these long rows and there were at least ten rows. A little quick math showed that there was an enormous amount of money being made from each of these shows; what a racket!

The conch was sounded, (a shell from the ocean, about the size of a football, when blown into just right sounds like a deep toned horn), and the narration began. The monologue told about the customs of the celebration we know as the luau, and what everything meant. By that time the wind was blowing a little bit harder. They guys in their native garb had a devil of a time lighting the torches around the area and they too, kept looking towards the ocean.

The pig was pulled up out of the pit and ceremoniously carried through the tables to the back, where Chefs were waiting to carve him up. They serve the roasted pork along with regular old salad and cafeteria looking food. I was glad that they did have some purple sweet potatoes native to Hawaii and some poi for the adventurous souls.

The "panic squad" guy didn't lie about the Mai-Tai’s; they were being handed out like flyers in a grocery store parking lot. Many of the folks around us had one in each hand and would still ask for another one when a waitress came by with a tray full. The customers were sucking it up, trying to get their money's worth I guess. I believe that they would all die of alcohol poisoning long before they could ever get to the “break even” point of that venture. Quite a few were giving it that old "tourist" try!

We got some food and sat back down and without realizing it had fallen into a Hawaiian Tourist stereo-type trap. The gentleman who was the Master of Ceremonies, and professed to be a chief in one of the tribes of the South Pacific, was chuckling into the microphone as he looked at the crowd.

He said, "OK, all of you lovely people out there who are wearing matching clothing, pay attention now. How many of you are celebrating your anniversaries tonight, raise your hands" and many did so. Then he said, "And how many of you are here on your honeymoon?" and a few of us raised our hands.

He looks around the crowd and spotted one very young looking couple giggling near the stage. The MC came right out to the front of the stage and says to them, "How long have you been married?" and holds the microphone down to them. The girl said, "We just got married this afternoon" and giggled some more.

The MC looks around the crowd again and says to the groom, "I just got one more question... What the Hell are you doing here?" The crowd roared with laughter and the young groom looked like he wanted to crawl under the table. The new bride just sat there like she didn’t understand the question, which caused more laughter. Most of the people were in the fifty to seventy age range which put us on the younger end of the group (for once.)

The show was just getting underway as the last row of people sat down with their plates of food and we were about half way done with ours when it started to sprinkle. The MC said, "Don't worry, it won't last long. These things always blow over in a couple of minutes.”

As we looked around I noticed the performers were moving costumes and equipment under cover. They weren’t taking any chances with their gear. The show continued along with no delays as we all sat there in the sprinkles that were gradually getting harder. I told Anna that we were going to get really wet.

Five minutes went by, then ten and fifteen, the storm not only hadn't blown over, it was raining harder with each passing minute; we were soaked. The customers were all sitting there with water running out of their plates and onto the table as it overflowed. I think that the final straw was when the performers changed out of their costumes and into their jeans.

The management of the Ritz-Carlton finally made an executive decision and told everybody to move inside and that the show would continue in the main ballroom. People were carrying their plates and glasses with them. That cracked me up as the dishes were filled with water. It was probably because they weren't willing to give up something that they had paid for. People are funny that way.

We finally got seated at a table and we were so far away from the stage that the people all looked small, and I could hardly hear any of what they were saying. It was very different than what we had been watching at the outdoor setting. One of the performers explained to us after the show that the physical set up of the Ballroom stage and backstage were so much smaller and different that they had to modify what they did in the show to accommodate the changes.

The air conditioning in the Ballroom was running at a "wind tunnel" setting. We were all soaking wet and chilled to start with from sitting in the rain that "wouldn't last long," so we were freezing. And I knew that if I was freezing, Anna was turning blue.

Mercifully, the show ended just as we were about to get up and leave. When I stood up and looked around I could see that a lot of the audience had already gone. Some of the older people had walked off when the first rain drops started falling; they would be the warm & dry ones.

We were directed out an exit that led us to the picture salesmen, how surprising (not.) The herding maneuver was OK with us because we wanted our pictures anyway. Some of the crowd didn’t feel that way and were vocal about it, making a big fuss.

There were a lot of tables set up with a sales person at each one. It was surprising how easily we found the correct table and they pulled our picture right out of the pile as if by magic. We paid for it and moved on so quickly it was amazing. You would think that they had done this before… like, every single day of the year. The luau operators were efficient at getting every last dollar available.

We walked through the halls of that glorious testament to being filthy rich and able to buy anything that you wanted. You couldn’t help but marvel at the Ming Dynasty vases and priceless jade Emperor's Dragons, and countless other pieces that any museum would love to have. Money was their god and their altar was glorious, I will give them that much.

The sky was finally clear and as we looked out into the night we decided to just pick up our keys and walk over to our rental car. There was no sense in waiting for the valets who were scattered all over the place. Those guys were rounding up cars for people who were waiting inside, not realizing that it had quit raining and was beautiful outside, now that the show was over.

We have great memories of our honeymoon on Maui. Thinking about that luau, in the rain that wouldn't last long, never fails to make us laugh. A lot of people (who didn’t read the fine print) cried the blues wanting their money back because of the rain. To us it was funny and fun, and that's the way I prefer to remember it. 

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