Beginning this story reminds me of someone else I can blame our predicament on. The predicament where Katie and I quit perfectly good hotel jobs to risk it all in the real world.
It’s largely our friend Tim’s fault. He did this before us and made it look exciting. He was born with something I’d call “multiple disorder”. He was given everything in a multiple of two. He was born with twice the normal appetite, twice the normal size, twice the temper and an unfathomable ability to take care of people and give help whether it be friends, family or customers. Big Tim stands six and a half feet tall. He’s not the tall lean type either. He’s big and solid. His hands will swallow yours in a hand shake. He’s youthful and hyper-active. He’s a corn-fed Sooner. He stutters and gesticulates when he tells stories. He’s polite yet explosive. His saintly wife is half his size but with an equally endless ability to take care of people. A month does not go by without quests visiting and sharing their life, house, food and time.
Back in 90′ Tim was opening a Deli slash pub slash restaurant slash take-out convenience store called the Hanalei Gourmet. It was a year before we struck out on our own. I helped.
The day before we opened the Hanalei Gourmet Big Tim had to literally beg a refrigeration repairman to come rescue us. He lied and said it was an easy job, he promised cash he didn’t have and eventually late on a Sunday afternoon the repairman showed up to rescue us. Like many before him who have tried to create something solid and tangible from a vision Tim had faced one challenge after another up to that opening day. In this instance he’d run into a wall, a historically preserved wall. His entrepreneurial vision wasn’t jibing with the architectural reality of his location. His beautiful twelve-foot long, curved glass, display case was too wide and too long to fit into either the doors or windows of the Historic Hawaiian school-house he’d leased for his shop in the center of old Hanalei town. With a crimson face he grabbed a dented stainless steel coffeepot, slammed it against a banister and then threw it as far as he could into the taro farm next door. The pot was his whipping boy. Someone would retrieve it over and over and eventually it would be placed on a shelf as a symbol of creative anger management. A carpenter at his elbow quipped, “better the pot than the wife ay?”
The Deli case sat in the sunshine of the parking lot straddling two pallets. The Truck driver waited with his meter running because we might have need of his forklift. We stood next to the mammoth refrigerator thinking. The wall of the building had two doors and several window openings, none of which looked big enough for the case to fit through. Carpenters and tradesmen put down saws and putty knives, they stopped work at building tables and laying floor tiles to come outside and stand with us. They scratched they’re heads and reached into their tool belts for their steel measuring tapes. There was the zip of the metal tape winding back into the case, “It won’t fit” “you’re either going to have to take the window out or take the case apart, or both.”
Tim is fond of saying that the first time he considered moving to the North shore of Kauai he was talking on the phone with his boyhood friend Pat and Pat warned “Kauai’s awesome but remember, once you cross the Hanalei bridge it’s as if you’re entering a minimum security insane asylum.” That must have been in the days before we called them Mental Health Wards. I know it was in the days before the DEA started pulling out bails of homegrown Marijuana with chartered tour helicopters. As you leave Lihue and drive past Kilauea the further you out on the road you go the further behind you leave supermarkets, banks, airports and fast food. Princeville, the next town out from Kilauea is the last bastion of Mall life. A resort development with over priced stores and “native” looking facades. Nick named Haole’-wood by the Hawaiians I know. For the suburban mainlander Princeville is like the last Fort before entering the wilderness. After Princeville the road crosses a rusted world war two-era steel bridge straddling the Hanalei River. Cross it and then you may as well be in Fiji. Some people cross that bridge with their car-load of futons, beach chairs, surfboards and the odd toothbrush you and may not see them again for years.
As I prepared to attack a brand new deli case with a cordless drill I noticed a couple of sun burnt surfers sitting on the curb watching us. Sunburned to the point of crispy. Noses peeling, hair so tortured by the elements a stylist would just shave it off and start over. After a moment I recognized them from years ago. They were two fellow surfers from the Kilauea breaks who I thought had left the island and here they had only crossed the Hanalei bridge. A lift of the eyebrows and we were re-acquainted. They sat waiting for tomorrow’s first official Hanalei Gourmet Happy Hour. Mean while, Tim was on the phone pleading with someone for something. Every one except these town boys had time clocks running between 25 and 75 dollars per hour.
The conclusion to this particular problem was we’d have to deconstruct the case and get the refrigerator guy to rebuild it for us. Tim and I began taking off the doors of the thing while he employed the carpenters to build a ramp of framing lumber and carefully take out one of the ancient sash windows of the school-house so that we could get the hulk inside. Hours later, with the entire work crew and several crispy bystanders, hoping to earn beer credit, we lifted and slid the thousand pound behemoth through the schoolroom window into the barroom. Tim was grunting directions and holding up one end while the rest of us held the other. The carpenters tore down the interior kitchen wall they had just finished building and we slid it carefully into place on the brand new tiles of the kitchen floor. Wet glue oozed out from under the tiles as the hulk sank into place. A place that, god forbid, it would never have to move from again. The refrigerator guy showed up around sunset. He deftly put all the electrical and gas tubing and wires back together and then made it turn cold inside. We worshipped him for his magic and opened on time the following day. Having witnessed Tim create a restaurant from a wispy dream inside his extra-large skull gave me the confidence to commit my dream. I looked at him and said “I want to be just like that guy, only shorter”.