The first time I went to Hawaii, I stayed with Maggie and Dave in Hilo. I was enchanted by the volcano with its vast crater, the red-hot lava bubbling up from the center of the earth and steamy sulfur hissing out of cracks. Miles before you got to the volcano, the lush tropical forest gave way to stark lava fields, nothing but lava as far as you could see. It was eerie, like being on a different planet, or on the moon, and I borrowed Maggie’s car to drive back to the volcano two more times. Dave said there were lots more things to see and we piled into his van one day and headed for the Kona coast on the other side of the island with its gorgeous tropical beaches and swaying palm trees, but the volcano enchanted me more. It was a long drive, and we were all very hungry by the time we got back to Hilo.
“You haven’t really experienced the island until you’ve eaten at the local drive-in,” Dave said, pulling into a parking lot next to a dingy-looking hamburger stand. There were several picnic tables near the ordering window. We chose an empty table and sat down to wait. At a nearby table was a Hawaiian family, an enormous couple and their three kids, having dinner. This meal was an event: the table was so loaded with everything on the menu that there was barely room for the plates and silverware. We tried not to stare but we just couldn’t stop ourselves.
This was a serious eating ritual with no talking. They all had masses of gorgeous, wavy black hair that they’d pulled back out of the way with elastic pony-tail holders. Thighs were spread wide to make room for their massive bellies to settle in between. Their sturdy brown calves were anchored to broad feet in black plastic flip flops while they gave full attention to the hamburgers and fries and pizza with all the toppings and greasy noodles with succulent chunks of Spam and fried chicken and coleslaw and mashed potatoes and gravy and pie, all within easy reach. The children were silent, steadily eating while their parents ate and smoked, one hand holding a fork and the other keeping a lighted cigarette ready for that steadying puff between each bite. They ate slowly, smoking deliberately, looking over the food and choosing ahead of time which golden piece of fried chicken to take next. Their attention and gratitude seemed almost holy and made me decide to notice my own food more. A warm wind smelling of sulfur gusted gently over us.
The woman at the window called out that our order was ready, and we got our teriyaki burgers and took them back to the car. We wolfed our whole meal down on the way home, joking and laughing and making plans to visit an ancient petroglyph site the next day. The first bite of my burger was delicious, but I was so busy talking, I never noticed how the rest of it tasted.
Sunday Scribblings: Event