I did something last week that I haven't done since I was 12; something that only a small minority of today's kids do regularly: walk to school.
The occasion was National Walk to School Day, organized locally by the County of Maui's Department of Public Works (DPW) and co-sponsored by the Nutrition and Physical Activity Coalition Maui and the Maui YMCA's Pioneering Healthier Communities. Mayor Alan Arakawa led a group of 25 Wailuku Elementary School students and a handful of parents, along with Council Member Don Couch and representatives of the sponsoring organizations. You probably didn't see us, because we followed a safe route mapped out by the DPW Traffic Engineering Section, avoiding major highways and busy street crossings.
We gathered at the corner of Kehalani Parkway and Komo Ohia Street, mauka of Honoapiilani Highway. Just before we stepped off at 7:15, a perfectly full rainbow appeared just above us in the West Maui Mountains, an auspicious start to our morning stroll. The kids treated it as a fun adventure, chattering and chuckling all along the three-quarter mile route. So did the grown-ups, but not as boisterously. I wasn't the only one who hadn't had her coffee yet.
By the time we reached the school, though, coffee was no longer on my mind. The fruit juice provided by the sponsors tasted better than any cuppa Joe would have at that moment. Because at that moment, I was a kid again, warmed up for a day of discovery and delight.
From kindergarten through the 6th grade, walking to school was not an option for me, because I lived in Wailuku and attended Makawao School. I did, however, walk to after-school Japanese language classes at Makawao Hongwanji. Those half-hour jaunts provided some of the best moments of my elementary school years. Most days, the time passed quickly as my friend Lee Ann and I walked and talked our way up Baldwin and down Makawao avenues. Sometimes I had to walk alone, but I enjoyed those solitary journeys as well.
With no one to talk to, I often turned my attention to the sights along my path and found all sorts of intrigue in the mundane. I fantasized tiny trolls peeking out from the crevices of rockwalls and sidewalk cracks, an enchanted toad in a rotting tree stump, a community of menehune hidden in overgrown pastureland. I imagined the domestic conversations of the birds I spotted in their nests and the earthworms and sow bugs I stopped to play with.
Of course, every walk to Japanese school, with or without company, included a stop at Iwaishi Store for 6-cent chocolate Cokes and penny candy.
By the time I transferred to the 7th grade at Lihikai School, just a couple of blocks from our Kahului home, walking to (or from) school lost its appeal. My new friends and I preferred to be dropped off by our parents. Or, better yet, an older sibling on his way to high school, especially if any of us had a crush on said sibling. Besides, there were no candy stores or soda fountains in the neighborhood.
My son also preferred riding to school, as I think most kids do nowadays. And I believe that many parents are more comfortable with dropping off their children than having them walk through traffic and other outdoor hazards. In the 1960s, only 20 percent of schoolchildren arrived by car. Today the statistics are reversed.
The Walk to School folks are hoping to change that with their Walking Bus concept. On Walk to School days, students meet at the designated Walking Bus stop and follow the established safe route, accompanied by parents and volunteers, picking up other bus walkers along the way. The Wailuku El bus is the first of several planned for Central Maui schools.
If you'd like to get your child on the bus or get involved yourself, please call or email Kurt Watanabe at the county's Traffic Engineering Section (270-7745 or Eng.Traffic@co.maui.hi.us). He's one of the folks who've worked for months on this wellness initiative and his son Kip is an enthusiastic bus walker. Kurt is a bright and personable young man, and I would say that even if he didn't happen to be family.
Last week's Walk to School was such a pleasant morning eye-opener, it almost made me wish I had a school-age child again. Then I came to my senses and realized that I don't need a child or a school to start my day with a healthy stroll. All I have to do is drag my butt out of bed an hour earlier than usual.
I'll do that. As soon as I find a route that includes a stop for chocolate Cokes.
* Kathy Collins is a performance artist, broadcaster and freelance writer whose "Sharing Mana'o" column appears every Wednesday. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.