Twenty-five years, a quarter century. That's how long this column has been running in The Maui News. Below is "Maui Nei" No. 1, published Sept. 10, 1987 - writing warts and all.
"One of the most striking things about Maui back in the early 1970s - ancient history to some and yesterday to others - was teeth.
"You saw a lot of them back when the island's resident population was less than 40,000, which is about the number of tourists on the island any given day today. You'd have thought you were living in a Colgate ad.
"People smiled a lot, flashing their pearlies for no reason at all at friends and strangers alike. It was a contagious habit, even for someone whose face tends to about as mobile as Pali highway traffic during rush hour.
"After a year or so of being smiled at and trying to reply in kind (I had to practice in front of a mirror to do it so anyone could see it), I took a trip back to Indiana. Walking around various shopping centers, I noticed smiling was a rare thing. And, you better have bail money ready if you tried it on a stranger. Maybe all those sour pusses were suffering from an affliction.
"Back on Maui, a quick trip to the Maui Mall reassured me viral grim visage had yet to reach our shores. (In the days before satellite television and direct flights, Maui was always about five years behind what was happening on the Mainland, except in prices. Maui was more of a leader then.)
"Walking through the center of the center, I saw teeth aplenty, hanging right out there where anyone could see them.
"Tourists were smiling because they had left workaday life behind and found themselves in a paradise where people actually took time to be pleasant. Visitors knew instinctively they didn't need the junkyard dog attitude the Mainland seemed to require.
"Local folks smiled because life was good and getting better. Oh sure, it was kind of a drag to drive to a second job in Kaanapali but at least there was enough money coming in to cover the mortgage and the payments on the four-wheel drive and it looked as if Sonny Boy might be able to find a job when he got out of school. It wasn't dangerous to be friendly.
"The other day, I was walking through Pukalani Terrace Shopping Center and was stopped almost dead in my tracks by a great smile. A tourist was sitting on one of the benches, just watching shoppers passing by and smiling up a storm. I tried to smile back but I doubt if she saw anything, my smile muscles felt as if they had atrophied.
"There was a definite sense of loss as I remember the before days - before hordes of tourists, before the job got as pressured as it would have been on the Mainland, before the bills got astronomic, before I stopped smiling out of the sheer joy of living in such a beautiful place with such beautiful people.
"For the next couple of days, I tried forcing smiles. It doesn't work. An outside-in smile looks as if you are trying to work a con or are suffering from the aftereffects of too much chili and rice. The trick is feeling good so the smile will be an honest, inside-out communication. Either that, or become a consummate actor.
"A couple of years ago, the visitor industry got all concerned about Aloha Spirit, so much so it bankrolled a program for grade schools. The idea was to teach kids how much good the tourists, oops, visitors, do for the island (and they do, they do). Knowing how important the industry is to everyone's economic well-being would eventually percolate up to the work force where it would be manifests in plentiful smiling, the most visible form of Aloha.
"It's probably a good idea but I can't shake the notion it would be more effective to work on making this place as much fun to live in as it is to visit. Right now, unless you are lucky enough to have picked rich ancestors, or at least ones with enough foresight to buy land, you have a choice - money or time.
"Work hard enough to buy all the stuff you think you need - food, shelter, transportation, stuff like that - and you won't have time to enjoy it. Get a job that allows you enough time to get a tan and I guarantee you will need one. Living on the beach can be rough on your epidermis.
"As for Aloha in the visitor industry, education won't hurt but more direct benefits to the resident population would be more effective. It's either that, or the visitor industry should find itself one heck of a good drama coach and teach everyone to be Oscar-winning actors."
Not much has changed.
* Ron Youngblood is a former staff writer for The Maui News. His email address is email@example.com.