Off the Grid in Kailua
Jack Armstrong awakened. The first rays of dawn’s light were filtering through the blinds, giving the room that new brightness, washing away the night’s dreams.
He loved the moment. He’d lay there unmoving, only the eyes working, taking in the new day’s first minutes of light. The rest of his body was still. There was no rush. Besides, the bed felt so damn good. Why ruin it? He had plenty of time. He no longer bore allegiance to the clock that had ruled the past thirty years of his life. That was done now, over before he even saw it coming.
Maybe he’d get up, throw on some board shorts, t-shirt, and flip flops, and walk over the the Kalapawai Market. It was his favorite place to get breakfast. Maybe he’d shower and shave before he went. Or maybe he wouldn’t. It didn’t matter. And nobody cared anyway. Least of all him.
He had earned this, in more ways than one. The ability to do this had not come by sitting in the same traffic, punching the same clock, sitting at the same desk, and going through the same motions from nine to five, Monday through Friday, every week, for three decades. No.
Jack’s “job” — as it were — had played out in places like Somalia, Haiti, Kuwait, Iraq, Afghanistan, Serbia, and several former Soviet republics. Not garden spots. He had to admit he’d seen the best and the worst the world had to offer; untouched, pristine beaches … stagnant, rotting swamps … bright, sylvan forests … hellish, burning deserts … breezy coastal hamlets … freezing, swirling rivers … searing, boiling cauldrons. Republics, kingdoms, dictatorships, oligarchies, and military juntas, and everything in between, it seemed.
There were a few places on earth he hadn’t been. China. North Korea. Several countries in sub-Saharan Africa. Antarctica. Denmark. Vermont. A couple more outliers, none of which he held a burning desire to visit.
And now, he was under the radar in Kailua. It had happened by random chance. His new friends and the other people he came into contact with knew his name. But no one knew who he really was. Life is like that.
Think about it; you know a lot of people, but they don’t know who you really are. This is the way it was in Kailua. And that’s the way Jack liked it.
He carefully pulled off his side of the blankets, put them back in position for his wife, and eased out of bed so as to not wake her. It never worked, but he still made the effort.
“Are you going out,” she asked in that sweet, hushed voice of hers. This was code for, “Are you going surfing?”
Not today. “No sweetie. It’s flat today. I’m gonna walk down to the Kalapawai and grab a few things. Do you want anything?”
“Do you just want to meet me at the shop?”
“Sure, I can do that.”
“Will you bring me some coffee and one of those bacon and egg croissants?”
They’d been married twenty eight years. And they still adored one another. They were lucky, they knew. And they never took it for granted. They’d had their children relatively young when compared to the vast majority of their friends. And now, while their friends were still raising children during some tumultuous times, their two sons were well into their 20s, college graduates, off making their own paths, back in the continental United States. One had a talent for food and was in post-graduate culinary school, and the other had a knack for picking up languages very quickly and was a linguist for a government organization. Both seemed to love their work, and this made Jack and their mother very happy.
At very young ages, both boys had expressed a desire to play sports like Jack and his father had done or follow Jack into the military, and although he didn’t aggressively discourage either of these professions, he quietly opposed the notion. On one hand, having come from a noted athletic family, he had experienced and witnessed firsthand the dysfunctional, sometimes twisted world of college and professional sports and the strange culture that followed them, and on the other hand, military service was just not something he wanted for them. It was a difficult life. Putting aside the inherent danger of the job in many cases, you were constantly moving every two or there years from one side of the country to another or overseas. It could be an extremely unstable lifestyle. It was impossible to put down roots. This was one reason the boys had stayed put during high school and college, and they still lived in the same area.
Both sons had grown up military brats and been surfer boys at heart. Two tours of duty in San Diego will do that. And both had excelled in sports through the college level. But when the oldest was drafted by the Seattle Mariners in a middle round after college, he had flat out turned them down. He told Jack he was “burned out” on baseball.
“Well, what are you going to do?”
“I’m going to Culinary School Dad. Besides, the juice isn’t worth the squeeze. I know what you went through in the minors, and I have no interest in that. And after what happened to Grandpa….” He trailed off. Jack knew where he was headed. “I’m just not interested in pro sports. Sports was a means to an end, Dad. It paid for college, and now I’m done with it.”
Jack was so proud of him. He was so far ahead of where Jack was at the same age. Jack was actually a little envious; where would Jack have been if he had figured all of this out at the same age?
His sons were getting a much quicker start on life after sports than Jack or Jack’s father had. And this made Jack very happy. He and his wife had raised two sons who were free thinkers, could think for themselves, and were good at making decisions. He didn’t know if it was him or just luck. Maybe a little of both.
Now, the boys were both back in CONUS, and Jack and his wife missed them. But the boys were all they missed back there. Jack and his wife had moved physically, intellectually, and emotionally beyond almost everything back there. And they didn’t miss it. They felt like expats who still lived in the U.S., but had escaped.
Both sons had made the eight-hour, two-flight slog from their homes in middle America to HNL and taken the interstate through the central Oahu mountains to see their parents in Kailua on the north shore, but both had silently indicated they were not up to making the trip very often. It was totally understandable.
But Jack would have to fix that. And he had plenty of time.
He walked out the back door that opened onto what had been the original carport. After they bought the one-story rambler, he had constructed a six-foot high wall that ran the full length of what had been the front yard, such that the yard was now enclosed and bordered against the wall by native plants and palm trees that rose high above it and shaded the house and yard throughout the day. It was now a courtyard, bordered on three sides by the carport, the wall, and a fence that ran down the left side of the house as you were facing it. Gardens and plants formed borders here and there, against the house, the wall, and the fence. The carport was still usable, but he had poured a sizable patio underneath on which now sat a table and a few outdoor chairs in the Key West fashion.
Along one long side of the patio sat a bar made from mahogany upon which sat various glasses and bottles. This is where he “entertained,” if you could call it that. An old refrigerator sat in one corner, filled to the brim with local beer from Oahu and the nearby islands. The other long side of the patio opened onto the courtyard. On the higher short side of the patio was the aforementioned back door, and along the other short side was a sliding gate that rose from ground level to about six inches from the roof and was currently locked. If he needed to open it for some reason he could. But the driveway was on the other side, and it was plenty big enough for their two vehicles.
This area was where he sat and watched the occasional MLB game from April to September when the urge struck to do so in the middle of the afternoon (Hawaii was six hours earlier than the east coast, so when the first pitch was thrown at 7pm, it was only 1 pm in Hawaii). But for the most part the big screen was turned off out here. It was almost never turned on during the fall or winter. There were very few sports that interested him from September to March.
No, the patio under the old carport roof was a place for silence and relaxation. He stored his surf boards and suits out here as well, on carriers that he had installed under the roof along two sides. It made it simple to leave in the early mornings when he would go out. He’d come out to the patio, pull on a suit, grab a board, walk through the gate, and either put the board in the back of his SUV or just walk carrying it under his arm down to the beach. Several of his neighbors who also surfed did this.
But not this morning.
He closed the door behind him, breathed in the crisp morning breeze, and made his way out the gate. It was a ten-minute walk to the Kalapawai, and after that, only five more to his shop. And it was another perfect morning. He wore a t-shirt, board shorts, and Keens. He carried his keys, his wallet, and his phone.
It was another new day in Kailua. It was 75 degrees at 8 am. The sun was coming up over the mountains to the east, and he couldn’t wait to get started.
Glen Hines is the author of five books, including the recently published Of Time and Rivers, and the highly-regarded Bring in the Gladiators, Observations From a Former College Football Player Who Was Never Able to Become a Fan, all available at Amazon.com and Barnes and Noble. He is the writer and producer of the book and podcast Welcome to the Machine, available on most podcast platforms. His writing has also been featured in Sports Illustrated, Task & Purpose, and the Human Development Project.