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Lunch at Costco’s and a Kind Stranger

May 11, 2013 - Ray Tsuchiyama

Until a few weeks ago I hadn’t realized why so many people crowd into Costco’s outside fast-food take-out place – it’s cheap. Same reason why people buy the Mainland milk or California onions or Central American bananas – it’s cheaper (although my spouse C. wants to drink milk from local Maui cows, and we remain Maui economic boosters*).

So I found myself at lunch there, among a diverse crowd: a retired couple just arriving from Tacoma and stocking up on a week’s groceries for their Kihei condo, local construction workers in bright neon-glow long-sleeve T-shirts, mothers with children in strollers, and closely-cropped young men in white shirts and ties and missionary badges on their shirt-pockets.

I chose a combo pizza-slice and drink. A young man thrust the pizza at me, and I withdrew my debit card – then the young man shook his head and said that only cash was accepted.

My face and demeanor must have looked agonizing, since a woman across from me immediately said: “Here, let me give you money. You can pay me back.”

Embarrassed, I could not look at this kind stranger’s face. How did she know that this man (myself) in a Reyn’s Aloha shirt and khaki-slacks would ever return her $4? Why would she trust me, a person whom she had never met in her entire life? And how would I track her down – after she gives me her phone and address, a few days later I would drive to her house and give her $4? What if she lived in the far side of Haiku, and it takes more than a gallon of gas just to get to her house from Kihei and back again? (Yes, transportation costs figure into any analysis.)

I left the line, strode inside Costco, withdrew $20 from an ATM machine (I rarely carry more than $20 in cash), returned for a pizza slice and drink, sat down and had lunch, albeit 10 minutes later than I had planned.

I thought again of the incident – and wondered about the kindness of strangers, since I was a stranger, a total stranger to this person, but I was at a Costco line in Kahului on the island of Maui, and most likely I appeared like a person with family members or former family members on Maui, and that I would not do anything to dishonor or shame my late grandparents or parents or uncles or aunts or other family members – living or deceased – and would most likely return the $4 to the individual, and all this rationalization probably occurred in one short second in the mind of the kind combo-pizza/drink-buying customer.

*Nation-states have long experimented with “beggar thy neighbor” economic tactics – that is, create obstacles like high tariffs or quotas or challenging import guidelines (restrictions) for products shipped from other countries. As an expression of “sustainability” Maui, an island in the middle of nowhere, could make its own laundry detergent and mandate that no other laundry detergent is sold on Maui, but there will be a thriving black market in other laundry detergent brands – the power of brands is overwhelming throughout the world now.

And the concept of sustainability (this word is more 2000s, not of the 1960s) and manufacturing “local” products to save energy, transportation costs is nothing new. See: Maui News Blog: Back to the Future: One Idea from the 1960s


Maui News Blog: Necessity as Mother of Invention

There was a time in Hawai’i when imported items were much more costly than locally-made products, then with efficient transportation (and low cost of fuel, relatively speaking), made imported products (like from China) so much cheaper. More than 50 years ago each region/area of Maui had a soft-drink manufacturer, its own tofu factories, and almost all food was locally grown on Maui, including a wide range of Asian-type vegetables, like bok choy, daikon, watercress, plus potatoes, onions, carrots, and much more, and back then, a Mauian would have looked incredulous that Mainland milk could be bought in stores and was actually cheaper than Maui milk, this idea was absolutely beyond comprehension, absurd -- and why would anybody want to do that?


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