This January marks 17 years since I first moved back to Hawaii after being away on the mainland.

In my time here, I’ve softened a bit, calmed down a little more, and come to learn that Oahu grows on you – but it also makes you acquiesce to a lower standard of quality as being “good” for you.

The start of a new year seems like the ideal time to contemplate some of the adaptations I’ve made over the years, along with some other observations:

Hawaiian Time

The day that I first returned to Hawaii in 2003, I was invited to attend an evening birthday party for one of my de Gracia-side cousins at The Willows restaurant, and was told the party would start at 6, but not to worry, because “it’s on Hawaiian time.”

“What’s Hawaiian time?” I asked the person who’d invited me.

The clock in the Hawaii Senate literally keeps track of Hawaii time. PF Bentley/Civil Beat

“Hawaiian time means you know the time you’re supposed to be there, but you show up whenever you show up, because that’s OK too,” they explained.

I was mortified. At 23, all my life up to that point I’d been taught that punctuality was a sign of respect and that to buffer against any unusual circumstances arising, one should always arrive 15 minutes early to ensure being on time.

For years, nothing irritated me more than showing up so much as a minute late to an event, because it made me feel irresponsible, disrespectful, and worst of all, a promise-breaker.

Now, at age 40, I freely embrace the concept of “Hawaiian time” because I recognize now that this is not a vice but an act of social accommodation for people being late at no fault of their own due to bad traffic, bottlenecks in roads caused by construction or accidents, or freak incidents like a zipper lane jamming or bridge getting damaged.

Learning to adapt to traffic here was hard. When I was going to college at University of Texas San Antonio, I lived 20 miles from the campus, and it took me 22 minutes to get there, rain, hail or sunshine. Here in Hawaii, I live 22 miles from my job in downtown Honolulu, and it can take between 40 minutes to as much as an hour and a half on a bad day to get there.

There have been weeks where, despite my best efforts, on multiple consecutive days I have routinely shown up as much as an hour late to appointments because something ridiculous is happening on H-1.

I have learned not to hate myself for being late in Hawaii, but now shamelessly tell all those waiting for me, “Thank you for your patience.” After all, I’m on Hawaiian time.

This social accommodation, as gracious as it may be, should not be a license for poor roads and increasingly bad traffic here. We must find more ways and options – not just rail – to reduce traffic and get people moving faster.

Graffiti As Art And Trash As Public Decorations

Ridiculous as it may sound, there was a time that seeing graffiti, vandalized public property and trash strewn around was a new thing for me. I hate to admit it, but for most of my early life I went to private school, and all the prior communities I lived in, either on the mainland or in Guam, were fanatically well-manicured and clean with no graffiti or trash.

An abandoned and vandalized car greeted motorists along the Hana Highway. Courtesy: Maui County

Here in Honolulu, graffiti is everywhere you can imagine it and more, and trash is just as prolific. When I first moved to Oahu, the island was relatively clean and well-maintained, but in recent years, this place has seen more and more graffiti, defacement, and littering all around the island.

I realize to some extent now that graffiti is a means of “expression” for some urban artists, and that things like rotting, abandoned hulks of shopping carts or vehicles on the side of the road here in Honolulu are almost comparable to abandoned World War II vehicles in Palau, Truk Lagoon or Guam.

We really should make an effort, though, to return Hawaii to the days when public spaces were clean, when youths respected private and public property, and when we all took pride in the environment.

One-Party Rule As A Necessary Evil

The more observant people in local politics will take note of the fact that I have been active in the Republican, Democrat and Libertarian parties in Hawaii. I find myself at 40 years old being politically agnostic and disaffected from it all, having seen that ConCons always fail, Republicans always lose, and locals rarely show up to vote (though now that we have all-mail voting, we should expect better participation).

At first, I was annoyed by the fact that Democrats hold a supermajority in Hawaii, but I now have come to realize that we get precisely the government we vote for and that elections count the people who show up, not the people who complain. In that sense, if Democrats are the only ones showing up to vote, then Democrats truly deserve the government they get.

Still, entering into 2020, I think that Hawaii needs to create a credible third party movementsupport a jungle primary or get better quality Republican candidates that are equipped to credibly compete against Democrats. In that regard, until those things exist, one-party rule in Hawaii is perhaps a necessary evil.

We have work to do in this new year and new decade, and while I and others have all learned to handle and cope well with the changes in our standard of living, we shouldn’t accept mediocrity as the permanent destination of our state of Hawaii.

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About the Author

  • Danny de Gracia

    Danny de Gracia is a resident of Waipahu, a political scientist and an ordained minister.

    Danny holds a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and minor in Public Administration from UT San Antonio, 2001; a Master of Arts in  Political Science (concentration International Organizations) and minor in Humanities from Texas State University, 2002.

    He received his Doctor of Theology from Andersonville Theological Seminary in 2013 and Doctor of Ministry in 2014.

    Danny received his Ordination from United Fellowship of Christ Ministries International, (Non-Denominational Christian), in 2002.