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The way we were on Waikiki

I feel old.

Going back to a place you lived 23 years ago will do that to you.

Especially if it has changed a lot.

It makes you appreciate the things that haven’t changed that much more. Even if some of them are strange.

At the Hilton Hawaiian Village, the lobby of the apartment building where we lived still has the same furniture. This is weird, considering that it’s been updated to a Hilton Vacations resort and was filled with families, dragging their boogie boards and beach gear with them. This made me happy. It reminded me of when we were almost the only kids living there with a bunch of old people.. and Charo. They didn’t have any of the nice huge flower arrangements in there anymore, either.

Lobby of the former Lagoon Apartments, now the Lagoon Tower, Hilton Hawaiian Village.

Lobby of the former Lagoon Apartments, now the Lagoon Tower, Hilton Hawaiian Village.

Lagoon lawn, where we played baseball with the limited other kids in the apartment building.

Lagoon lawn, where we played baseball with the limited other kids in the apartment building.

Lagoon island, now with less foliage and a waterfall. They stlll don't let you get off the paddleboat.

Lagoon island, now with less foliage and a waterfall. They stlll don’t let you get off the paddleboat.

Exterior, Lagoon Tower.

Exterior, Lagoon Tower.

The ABC stores, still ubiquitous, were around every corner. The Lagoon Pantry wasn’t nearly as dusty and intriguing as it used to be – maybe tourists actually buy things there? Benihana looked dated and had bad Yelp reviews. No more restaurant in the bottom of Tapa Tower.. and the Golden Dragon in the Rainbow Tower was gone too. Tapa Tower karaoke? Nope. The penguins were still there, but I couldn’t find the flamingos. They’ve moved the luau away from the Super Pool, probably to accommodate more people. And they lock up the conference center, so bored kids can’t do cartwheels across the ballrooms. But there are still fireworks every Friday night, and a man who eats fire. Kaisers was breaking, people were surfing, the beach was packed.

I thought about all the great memories we had there and how lucky we were to have truly unique Hawaii experience. And I got to run for the first time from the HHV all the way down past Diamond Head, stopping to take pictures of the lighthouse. Everything seemed smaller and a little less amazing than I remembered it, and the Kalakaua strip was more like Vegas than Hawaii, with all the high end stores.

Fort DeRussy looked the same. A jogging path now circles the lagoon. The pizza parlor, Lappert’s Ice Cream, and Hilton Hawaiian Village barber Leon of Copenhagen – check, check, check. My 11-year-old self still wanted to argue about pineapples. Dole whips continue to be delicious, the perfect treat on a hot day. We went to Local Motion, but there were no bikinis nearly half as awesome as the hot pink one my mother once bought. Ala Moana is now ginormous, four levels, hard as heck to navigate. I recognized the koi pond where we used to take the escalator, and not much else.

Hanauma Bay was still full of gorgeous fish. Sunset, Banzai, Waimea, as beauteous and packed as ever. And my favorite beach – Makap’u – still wild, with crashing waves and hot hot sand. A random tidal wave siren sounded as we walked around, daring me to notice how much things had changed – but how many others remained the same.

Hilton Hawaiian Village memories

We lived in Penthouse 5 at the Hilton Hawaiian Village Apartments from June to December 1989. My father was assigned to the Honolulu office of General Telephone and Electric for a special project – as a civil engineer, he planned the undergrounding of phone lines for the state of Hawaii. As a lifelong surfer, he was thrilled to bring us to Hawaii for what could have been permanent residency. As kids who loved to boogie board and play at the beach, we were thrilled to be there.

Life at the Hilton Hawaiian Village Apartments was a trip. From our balcony we could see a free fireworks show every Friday night, as well as the elaborate preparations for the weekly luau, which included the fire eating performances of Siva Afi – at least, I thought that was his name. Googling it now I realize that is actually the name of the traditional Samoan fire knife dance he was performing. Whatever moniker he really went by, my little brother and I were quite impressed with his fire swallowing skills.

We took long walks down Waikiki, swam laps in the apartment pool every day, shopped at the Ala Moana Mall, and on the weekends would tour different parts of the island. I became obsessed with Dole Whips. I also was thoroughly convinced that pineapples grew underground, like potatoes, because despite passing row upon row of pineapple plants as we drove past the Dole fields coming back from the North Shore, I never saw a single pineapple above ground awaiting harvest.

Thanks to an expense account from my dad’s company, we ate out a lot. This six months of my life is probably why as an adult I’m a bit of a profligate foodie. My brother and I would “rate” each restaurant using a Sanrio sticker book we’d gotten at the Japanese grocery store in the Ala Moana Mall. That place had the best bakery – and amazing apple fritters – that I have ever had.

Little things about living at the Hilton stand out: being Charo’s neighbor, we’d see her in the elevator. She had a permanent show there at the time. There was an elderly man named George in our building who liked to ask my brother and I, every time he saw us, “Do you know why they called it Hawaii 5-0?” We’d always say no. He’d gleefully answer himself: “Because Hawaii was the 50th state!” One day we finally got to ride the paddle boats out into the lagoon in our front yard. We were dismayed to find you couldn’t de-board on the little island in the center. There were a few other kids in our building. We played baseball with them on the lawn next to the lagoon, they’d never played before.

It was a strange place to live, with the constant comings and goings of tourists and a permanent party right outside at the resort, and probably wouldn’t have been right for us long term. But for our temporary paradise vacation, it was an amazing spot to call home. Here we are standing in front of the lagoon – in our front yard!

Penthouse at the Hilton Hawaiian Village Apartments