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My Commute Crossing the Maui Isthmus

October 21, 2011 - Ray Tsuchiyama

During the last month I have been driving from my Kahului office back to our new place in North Kihei. The 10-mile trip takes barely 20 minutes; I am a careful driver, glancing at my Prius data panel to see if I could eke out as many miles as possible from a gallon of gas. In mid-October, as the evenings turn cooler, darkness also falls quickly and I switch on my highlights earlier each day. From Puunene Road South, I drive southwards on what becomes the Mokulele Highway (or Route 311/350), surrounded by wide expanses of green sugar cane. At one point I speed by the aptly-named “Cane Haul Road”.

As a daily commute, crossing the flat isthmus between the west and east mountainous sides of Maui is relatively short compared to my past commutes. Many years ago when I lived in Massachusetts I headed out each morning from North Cambridge on Rt. 2 to a small suburban town named Maynard, where I worked in a Civil War-era former woolen mill for a now-disappeared computer firm called Digital Equipment Corporation – a one-way journey of nearly 45 minutes.

In Tokyo, Japan I walked about a mile to my subway station, and then spend 12 minutes on a subway, transfer at another station and then ride for another 10 minutes to reach my office station. In all, I walked about three miles a day and was in good physical shape than my current car commutes. Compared to other Japanese commuters, I had a very short journey (many were sleeping standing up in the train car at 9 or 10 PM every night – if you missed the last train from a major terminus, like Shinjuku, it cost a fortune to catch a cab to the suburbs, so you hung out at a Dunkin' Donuts shop or a bar that opened at 1 AM – a bizarre notion unknown in early-rising/early-sleeping Kihei).

Years ago my late uncle told me that before World War II he used to walk with a rifle searching for game from Puunene to Kihei – the same distance of my daily car commute. He would sometimes walk slowly to carve out a path through tall grass. When he arrived at Kihei, he said he heard the waves on the beach, but the acres of kiawe bushes with sharp thorns – like angry guards – prevented him from walking on the beach. The whole scene in my mind reminded me of a challenging landscape in Sub-Sahara Africa, not easy-to-commute Maui.

My late uncle would have been surprised as in the mornings I pass by bicyclists in bright, tight body-suits and striped helmets. My uncle would not comprehend why anybody would even think about running for the objective of running and perspiring. Sometimes I see joggers listening to iPods. Once I even witnessed a fast-moving mother pushing a modified baby stroller, a surreal juxtaposition framed by a green sea of sugar cane. In a generation, the difficult journey to capture a bird or two through almost impenetrable undergrowth had given way to a comfortable commute just 20 minutes listening to ‘80’s rock on a smooth highway, plus ordinary -- and active -- people doing their morning exercise between the north and south beaches on the Maui isthmus.

 
 

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