It's after midnight on a country road. Walking along the narrow strip of downhill asphalt, there's a sense of discovery. Here and there is the glow of house lights, TVs and computer screens. Even in the country, it seems someone is always awake.
Kihei is a fragile string of lights marking where land meets sea. On the right, Wailuku and Kahului are marked by a shoal of lights anchored on one end by Wailuku Heights and on the other by the airport.
The air is crisp. The silence is disturbed only by a single set of footfalls.
The sky is clear, littered with stars. A child's mind once imagined night as a velvet cover. Stars were pinholes letting in a light that never disappeared from the sky. Some ancients thought the stars formed line drawings of gods and beasts.
Sailors who knew how to read them used the stars as a map - Europeans to learn where they were and Polynesians to arrive at islands far beyond the horizon. Coast-hugging Europeans "discovered" lands and peoples. In the broad Pacific, islands beckoned Polynesians down roads of ocean currents and wind patterns.
In a night when Mahina is absent, the island is a mass of unknown. A middle-of-the-night amble sets the mind free to go beyond today to yesterday and tomorrow.
A current television political ad declares tourism as the engine driving the state's economy. Really? Yes, tourists bring cash that translates into paychecks. That cash is also corporate revenue. It can be argued that money spent in resorts and retail chain stores only pauses on the island - an eddy in a stream of revenue flowing to far-off bank accounts.
Try this idea on for size. The main business in the islands is real estate. Tourists are just potential customers.
Even before Europeans and Americans arrived, real estate was the prize for ambitious rulers. Battles were fought and blood shed so one ali'i nui or another had more land, not to own in the Western sense but to control. It was control of land that was the locus of the overthrow of the kingdom and later annexation.
Making money from sugar, pineapple and cattle required real estate. Making the United States a military and political force in the Pacific required real estate. Matson developed the Royal Hawaiian Hotel to promote the use of its ships by tourists and turn a swamp into prime real estate. The hotels at Kaanapali and Wailea were developed by Pioneer Mill and Alexander & Baldwin to bring in tourists who would fall in love with Maui and buy real estate.
The spinoff from real estate sales is development. The spinoff from development is a construction industry. Every developer today includes the number of expected local paychecks for construction and maintenance.
Walking along in the dark, looking down on the seven-mile string of lights marking Kihei prompts a memory. During the 1970s building boom, there were thousands of construction workers collecting paychecks.
I met one of those construction workers while, ironically enough, building sets for a Maui Community Theater production at the old Territorial Building. He was a mason.
"There was enough work to keep Maui's construction workers busy for a decade or more," he said, "but the developers were in a hurry to get the jobs done so I and other guys were brought in to do the work."
Developers using borrowed money accelerated schedules to keep their interest payments as low as possible. That meant bringing construction crews in from the outside.
Local Realtors did well, buying a condo unit at pre-construction prices, selling it for a small profit that was put into buying two units and selling those units with the profit going into buying more units, etc.
The only time you can make money off real estate is when you sell. During the house-flipping, overheated turn of the century, more than one islander sold his house or property for ridiculously high sums. If the timing was right, he could buy more property on the island. If the timing was wrong, the seller might find himself priced out of the market and forced to buy in someplace like Oregon, Montana or Nevada.
It's time to turn around and head back to home. Move to the other side of the road in order to face nonexistent traffic. Ponder the evolution of Maui. Good planning? Bad or no planning? Stars glitter. Off in the darkness, an axis deer barks. It's a lonesome sound.
The exercise makes it easy to fall asleep.
* Ron Youngblood is a former staff writer for The Maui News. His email address is email@example.com.