Sometime they are known by name. All of the time, the face and the purchase are familiar. Another clue is their manner - how friendly and how willing they are to talk. The polite ones save the talk story if they are at the head of a line.
These are the regulars, the mostly males who are in the store at about the same time each day. The regulars who have one sort of addiction or another appear in the dark hours.
The sleeping sun has yet to wake. A graybeard rolls up. His older late-model pickup truck glistens in the halogen lights. It's a well-cared-for machine. It takes muscle and sweat to win the battle with country dust, mud, irrigation water spots and salt air.
The graybeard is a regular. At the counter, he grins at the clerk and asks for a pack of cigarettes.
"'Date of birth, please.' Minit Stop cash registers need a date before the bar code can be scanned. Otherwise, the clerk has to type in the bar code number."
The date springs to mouth easily. Daily repetition tends to sharpen certain memories. For example, PIN numbers stored in either mind or muscle. The mind stores the figures. Hand and finger muscles will automatically march across the keypad.
The clerk is young. She considers the date. "How old does that make you?"
An eight-decade answer. He expects her to say "You don't look it" or something similar. The graybeard recoils in surprise. "What's most important to you?"
Hmmm. After a pause, he reels off a series of activities, ending with a person's name. The question deserved a more considered answer. Maybe she's a student facing some sort of essay assignment. Could be philosophy or literature or . . . whatever.
The early-morning regulars straggle in, their nerves jumping from the lack of nicotine, caffeine or alcohol. They ran out sometime during the night. Of course, they could have gone to a 24-hour supermarket or one of those mini-marts behind the pumps of a all-night gasoline station. Yes, "gasoline," a volatile liquid fuel that produces "gas," a generic term for stuff floating around in the air. OK, put the high horse out to pasture, Mr. Wordsmith.
A few decades back, Maui's legal drug addicts had to be organized. Stores closed before dinner and opened for breakfast. Filling stations dispensed only gasoline, oil and service. Got enough cigarettes, coffee, beer? No place to get 'em. The last night places with cigarette machines were carefully charted. Upcountry stores took their time getting in step with the all-night da kine imported from the Mainland. Today, er, tonight, there are any number of choices. See above.
The irregulars might be looking for a Coke, something salty, something sweet, an impulse buy in this place today and that place tomorrow. Impulses are strong early in the day when there is a full selection of fresh pastries delivered by a guy who starts work at Home Maid Bakery at 3 a.m - donuts, cinnamon rolls, apple fritters, glazed crescent rolls, bread pudding, chunks of corn bread, twists, etc. Anytime of the day there are bags of chips, stacks of cookies and bins of candy bars.
A Mustang convertible pulls into a stall. The man and woman were obvious tourists. He approached two local guys talking story. "Are there any coffee shops around here?" Places to sit and talk? Nah, places that serve a legal stimulant.
Coffee is no problem. Maybe credit Starbucks - there's even one Upcounty - but nearly all of the available brew is palatable. Like coffee-flavored drinks? Head over to the cappuccino machine and load up on stuff that should be reserved for pancake syrup. The last truly bad coffee was served in Pukalani by the late, lamented Bullocks. Paul made the stuff out of instant. Down country, Toda's in the old Kahului Shopping Center served a good cup early but allowed the pots to cook. Not so tasty later in the day. Morihara Store serves cowboy coffee to those who like to get their teeth into an eye-opener.
The addicts among the regulars could stock up. Buying a pack at a time enforces a kind of limiting control. Not much, but a little.
Pack crumpled. Can or bottle emptied.
A run into the night can wait. But soon: The road is empty. The sky is littered with stars. Once a month, mahina piha turns the landscape into a wonderland. It's nice being out. The store is an island of light. Inside, there's what you want, and maybe need. Maui is all grown up.
* Ron Youngblood is a retired editor and staff writer for The Maui News. His email address is email@example.com.