Walking Old-A

Several hours without transportation. My vehicle is in the transmission shop for a checkout, have been having some rough shifts. Stranded for the morning without wheels in the old industrial area I had no intention of sitting in the shop’s waiting area for a few hours.

Old Airport Beach Park Kona
Looking down the old runway at the Old Kona Airport Recreation Area
Just up the coast from the old industrial area is a large beach park. Called Old-A’s or Old Airport, it is the site of the original landing strip just north of town. Abandoned when the jet age rendered this airstrip far too small. The area was used for a while as a drag-strip, the old airport was eventually converted to a park. The old terminal building was renovated into a multi-use pavilion. The old runway is still there, now an enormous parking lot that fronts the rocky shoreline along one side and a community garden on the other.

I was surprised at the extent of the volunteer gardens mauka of the old runway. I knew they were there, but had never really gone over to look. Many acres are now tended by community members rather than the county public works department. Each person or group tending a specific plot. Irrigation water provided by the county running through a large network of PVC pipes. Much of the garden is a rich collection of bromeliads, flowering tropical trees and bushes.

The area is encircled by a nice paved path, a full mile needed to complete a circuit. The path passes through and around the gardens making the walk quite nice. Even with the heat of mid-day starting there were quite a few walkers and joggers using the path. I particularly like the cacti and succulent gardens at the south end.

Flowers along the path in the Old Kona Airport community garden
Flowers along the path in the Old Kona Airport community garden
Along the path I met and spent more than a few minutes talking with the cat lady. While interesting, Mary was certainly not the dotty cat lady of urban myth, but rather a volunteer who tends to the many feral cats that live in the park area. We talked as a pair of park cats dined on her plates. She gave me a sketch of her and her assistant’s activities.

She gives mt a thumbnail bio of each of the cats in view, she has clearly been doing this for years. I noted that the cats in view had clipped ears, the mark that indicated that they had visited a vet and been fixed. Mary commented that the park population was down, likely a result of the spay and neuter effort.

Also waiting to dine was a mongoose, hoping for a leftover kibble or two. The little critter stood in full view a few feet past the cats, one of numerous mongoose I saw in the park. So many I was quite surprised as they are usually more scarce or at least better at hiding.

Reaching the end of the park I continued north along the shoreline for about a mile. The land was posted kapu, no trespassing, but state law insures beach access, just stay within the seashore as defined by the high wash of the winter waves, look for the tumbled coral. I jump from rock to rock across the black lava kept bare by the waves between the surf and the treeline.

The surf was up, and I enjoyed views of crashing waves and several drain pools, spots where seashore caves lead to openings where the water alternately surges up and drops out of sight. Plovers and other seabirds worked the tide pools, black lava crabs scuttled out of sight. This section of coast is popular with the dive boats operating out of Honokohau Harbor, at least half a dozen boats were moored offshore. Watching the divers I am reminded I have not been diving much lately, need to change that.

A trio of young guys were hanging out at the skate park as I passed back through the park. They liked my hat, and hit me up for a buck. They were out of luck, I had no cash left in my wallet, but they gave me another point of view on the park and its regulars.

There is no love lost between the homeless that camp in the area and the park users. Mary, the cat lady had said much the same thing. Three random conversations of which two bring up the subject of homelessness without my mentioning it. This large park has several encampments, and I was treated to several tales of trouble from the skaters. Tales of drug use and mental illness creating an unpleasant situation. Just after I finish this post an article pops up in the local newspaper website about this issue of drug use at Old A’s.

And the homeless were there, I passed through an encampment along the access road by the county maintenance facility. Half a dozen large tarped structures of varying quality. On the island the exorbitant cost of housing and low service job wages has been an ongoing issue. There is also an element of hardcore homeless that find life on the island more livable than elsewhere due to the lack of cold weather.

As I passed I surveyed the folks lounging about the tents, I did not care to engage as I had the other park users. I draw looks walking by, we catch eyes, a friendly nod is not returned. There was a feeling of antagonism in the air, of defensiveness, or what locals would call stink-eye. This was such a contrast to my other encounters of the day, where easy conversations had been the rule. There had been no problem talking to cat minders or skaters, here would be none of that.

Old Airport beach
The small beach to the north end of the Old Kona Airport park
It may be oversimplification, but I have always placed the homeless in two categories. There are those who struggle to get by in a world with little pity, attempting to live by the rules but having no options beyond minimum wage jobs that just do not pay enough for even some form of meager housing. I saw no sign of this group in those I passed this day. As it was the middle of the day I suspect that any working folks were off doing just that, working.

Truly low cost housing should be a priority in this resort town, there are jobs aplenty if not the best paying work. There has never been the political will to address this problem properly. While community efforts have been insufficient at least there is an effort, there are some options.

I know it was overly judgmental of me, but I suspect most of those I saw were of the second category, those who choose to live outside normal conventions or are unable to do so. The folks I noted were a pretty rough group, the mark of having long lived outside of society visible in their faces. The clement weather of this island and local attitudes towards more alternative lifestyles make this sort of life, if not accepted, at least more possible than elsewhere. Shelters or low cost housing does not solve the issue for those unable or unwilling to function within society. For that I have no real answer. Can there be a place or role for such people in our communities? Should we attempt to make such a place?

As I leave the park and enter the old industrial area these thoughts swirl about in my head. Here among the furniture stores and auto repair shops I note signs of the same issue… High chain link fences topped with barbed wire surround utility yards, security cameras are everywhere. I think of those camp residents and the midday Kona heat beating down. Just across the street from the transmission shop is a sports bar where I sit in the air conditioning and eat my $16 hamburger and fries.

Better news on the vehicle… Turns out there was a small fluid leak on one of the cooler lines, now fixed, the low fluid level was the cause of my issues. Everything else on the transmission looks good. Back on the road I head for home, thankful again that I have one.

Author: Andrew

An electrical engineer, amateur astronomer, and diver, living and working on the island of Hawaiʻi.

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