As nightmarish as this pandemic is, it also has managed to wipe away, at least temporarily, some intractable problems that Hawaii has been struggling with for years, like the plot of some old “Twilight Zone” episode when the community gets too cavalier about taking care of their town or looking out for one another and then some outside force shows up to teach folks a hard lesson.
It’s a stretch to say a viral outbreak is some sort of lesson, because it is what it is without some overarching meaning or intent, and those who layer ideas of divine retribution onto a thing like this aren’t very rational or kind.
But it is uncanny how just a couple of months ago, Hawaii was groaning at the burden of 10 million tourists a year and the negative impacts of all those people crowding onto small islands. And then, poof! Now they’re all gone, like the worst example of “be careful what you wish for.”
The dreadful traffic problems that steadily became the new normal of Hawaii life are gone, too, now that most people are staying home and only going out for food and essentials. And what a shock to realize that sea of rental cars that washed up in the Aloha Stadium parking lot is normally all out on our roads, clogging up Haleiwa, parking crazy in Lanikai, abruptly changing lanes on the H-1 trying to get to Waikiki.
All those illegal vacation rentals have become empty houses and empty rooms, their stubborn landlords probably wishing they were leasing to a local family who could scrape together a monthly rent from savings and stimulus checks and Mom, who is an essential worker.
In the recent past, too many people were coming home from work to find their house had been burglarized while they were away, but everybody is home to watch over their stuff now.
The beaches are suddenly empty, some probably for the first time in 100 years. The hiking trails aren’t being trampled. There’s no tour-helicopter noise buzzing overhead and no little motorized danger-carts weaving crazily in and out of traffic along Kalanianaole.
A shelter for homeless people who test positive for COVID-19 has been created so quickly, almost like magic — something that had seemed impossible up until now. It took a threat this terrible to get 60 medical beds set aside for homeless.
And then, there is this. For all the Hawaii residents weary to the bone working multiple jobs, running all over the place to support our ambitions for our kids, chasing the dream of more and better, there is this forced time of rest. Everyone who wished for things to slow down a bit got what they wished for and more.
Families are outside in their yards playing catch. Rusty basketball hoops nailed above garages are finally being put to good use. It’s hard to take and it’s for a terrible reason, but this is also a time to reflect on what is important and what needs to change going forward.