Monday, May 3, 2010

Last Stop

You’re off on an adventure, enjoying what you’re doing, looking forward to the sights you’ll see, the places you’ll stop, and the things you’re going to do, when a sign pops up, “Last stop.” O-o-o-h. Sounds a bit like death. “Last gas” till you come to the other end of Trail Ridge Road in Rocky Mountain National Park. “Last stop” for food, gas, or anything for the next 200 miles or more on the Dalton Highway north of Fairbanks. “Last gas” before Death Valley. These signs make you pause and ask yourself, do I have what I need for the next part of the journey? 

One of these signs stopped us in Hawaii. On the island of Moloka’i, the “Last Stop” before the end of Kamehameha V highway to Halawa Valley is this:
The sign intended to yank people into Mana’e Goods and Grindz says “Last stop for pop, ice, snacks, restrooms,” and I forget what else. The end of the highway, which leads to the storied Halawa Valley, is only 15 miles beyond the store. Look at your map and you could wonder, “What can I possibly need between here and there and back?” OK, the restrooms. [For pronunciation of Halawa, see my blog below, “The Deal on Hawaii.” The "w" is pronounced “v,” as in “lava.”]

Dottie and I didn’t need anything for the trip out and back. But I “needed” to see what this store had to offer for the rest of the journey. And immediately, just as I had in Dick’s Old-Time 5 and 10 Cent Store in Branson, MO, I began to have fun. Scroll down
in this blog to the third post from the bottom to see a writeup about Dick's store.

What do people need when they get to the east end of Moloka’i? Snacks and ice cream bars, certainly. That's what the "Last Stop" sign refers to. 

But videos? They're right together with snacks and ice cream bars at the front. Between the store and the end of the road and back, there would only be enough time to watch cartoons on a DVD player. And the scenery is spectacular and the drive can be scary. Videos? Hmm.

What caught my eye was the rack at the back of the store. Flip-flops. Of course. It would be interesting if they didn't have flip-flops.
What was really interesting? Spark plugs. I told other people about them. Some said, "Spark plugs?" "Yes." Seven different kinds, large and small. Next to them, a fan belt, chain saw chains, electrical tape, battery heads, soft cloth for shining your car, and on the other side, fire-starters, hose clamps, night lights, fishing lures and lines, drill bits, a hitch pin, vise-grip pliers, and more. I thought, this store is as interesting as Dick’s Old-Time 5 and 10 cent store.

In the center were the shelf goods, selected for western and Asian tastes: Ketchup and soy sauce, Newman’s own salad dressing and Hawaiian papaya seed and Maui sweet onion dressings. Down below were potatoes, onions, ginger, and garlic.

Above the dressings, with a large empty space to the right of the upside down ketchup bottles with the right-side up labels, were products for Japanese cuisine: tempura dip and somen tsuy concentrate for noodle soup, several other products that I don’t recognize and can’t decipher from my pictures and Google. Then there were pastas, tuna helper, spaghetti fixings.

On the other side of the central shelves were snacks, canned nuts, soda, bread, and what we bought, Ho-Hos and Ding-Dongs, along with a cup of coffee. The freezer case and the refrigerator case were well-stocked with a good variety of frozen and refrigerated goods. There was a small over-the-counter medicine section and a small selection of alcoholic beverages.

I asked the clerk, whose name I later learned is Jill, if I could talk with her about the store, but she said she wasn’t the owner. She talked with the owner, who was going to be busy until about 3:30 p.m. We went back to our condo at the far western shore of Moloka'i. That's an hour’s drive. We ate lunch. I shaved, put on one of my two Hawaiian shirts, and we went back.

I met the owner by myself. For Dottie to take part this kind of interview would have been hard, because her hearing was still severely affected by something that happened when she was walking to the doctor's office at the Hilton Hawaiian in Waikiki. (It's better now.) I asked the staff member if the owner was free, and the staff member talked with her and found that she was.

The owner of the store is Ms. C.K. Ward. She is a pleasant woman, who appears to be of Hawaiian or other Polynesian background. She has a pleasant smile and a friendly manner. She's dead serious about her work.

I told her that I had written something for a blog about a store in Branson, MO, and that when I saw her store, I wanted to do the same. She asked, “What’s a blog?” I told her it was something that people write and publish on line. That evening I sent her the piece that appears in this blog about Dick’s Old-Time 5 and 10 cent store in Branson.

She said she had never been interviewed for a blog, and she wondered how long it would take. I said about five minutes, but I aimed to keep it down to about two or three questions that she could answer briefly. I said we could wait till she was finished with her work. She said she could be busy with her work for a long time. She said she wasn’t very good at business and that she was still learning.

Me: “Are you the first owner?”
Ms. Ward, smiling: “Oh, no, the fifth,” Then she added, “sixth.”
Me: “How long have you owned it?”
Mrs. Ward: “Not quite two years, about two years.”
Me: “How far is the nearest store?”
Mrs. Ward: “All the way back in town.” Town is Kaunakakai, the largest community on Moloka’i.” Mana’e Goods and Grindz is almost at the 16 mile marker away from town.
Me: “How do you get your ideas for what to carry? From the people, your customers? Like the spark plugs.”
Mrs. Ward: “You’re the second person who has mentioned the spark plugs today. [Maybe I was the only person, because I had mentioned them to the clerk in the morning.] The spark plugs came with the store. The previous owner had owned an auto parts store in town, but sold it and came out here. When he came out here, he brought his inventory with him. So when we bought the store, we got the spark plugs from him. But there’s a big [market--?] for them.”
Me: “You’re going to have to restock, order some more?”
Mrs. Ward: “Yes, they need them for their cars, their motor boat engines, their lawn mowers, and they don’t want to go all the way back into town just for that little thing. Same with the motor oil, and things like this here,” pointing to the oil products behind her. Above them were the rat traps and the pesticides. With gas at $4.52 ($4.48 Saturday the 17th of April), avoiding that drive would be a good idea. Not to mention the time—45 minutes to an hour round-trip.

So that explains the videos, the spark plugs, and everything else I've mentioned: Mana'i Goods & Grindz is not only a last stop. It's the first stop and a repeat stop for people who live in the area.

Me: “What do you like best about the store?”
Mrs. Ward: “Helping the people. Helping them get what they need and want.”
Me: “You like helping them that way.”
Mrs. Ward: “Oh, yes, very much.”
Me: “What gives you the biggest difficulty?”
Mrs. Ward: “The pricing. Figuring out the pricing.”

I asked if I could take a picture of her. She said, “Oh, no, but you could of my staff.” Then she said her grandson would like to be in a picture. She went around the corner and brought out a granddaughter, about 8 years old, and a grandson, who appeared to be 5.

I told Ms. Ward that my blog would be called “Random Passages.” She said, “You could call it ‘Last Stop.’” I liked that idea, so that’s what I’m calling this post.

That evening I found that Random Passages had already been taken on I fiddled with possible names until I came up with “Scribbler’s Travels.”

I told her I would send her a copy of my piece as soon as it was finished. She nodded. Then she asked, “How will I know it’s from you?” I said, “It will be from ‘’” She said that if she doesn’t know who an email is from, she deletes it. I wrote my email address down for her and put it on one of my business cards from the institution I worked at before retiring. She said, “I don’t even have a business card for my store.” “You don’t?” She shook her head, laughed, and said, “I just take a sheet of paper and write out the information there.” I said, "I don’t have a business card for writing about travel."

She volunteered that the owners before had told her she should purchase the business and that she would be good at it (they forgot to tell her about the 24/7 that comes with owning a business). What had she done before? “Worked for the previous owners of Mana`e Goods and Grindz. She added that her son and she own the business together, but he doesn’t come into the store much. What does he do? He’s a construction worker. He likes building homes. I said, “He’d rather build things than stock shelves.” “Yes.”

As I was looking for the veggies that we needed in our condo, she said that she gets her supplies from Honolulu via Young Brothers barge twice a week.

That’s it for the goods. As for the grindz, she said, “I also have a food stand next door.” But I couldn’t think of anything to ask, other than how’s that going? It’s going fine. Later, while we were at the airport to leave Moloka'i, several people I talked with said that they go to Mana'e G&G for the food.

Dottie and I bought a package of mixed vegetables and two Starbucks cold coffees and left.

We drove farther east to check out an ancient fish pond. To see how fish ponds worked and how people on Oahu are restoring one of them, click on this URL: These fish ponds are particularly fascinating, because they show the ingenuity of the Hawaiian people in providing for their needs. An interesting resource concerning these fish ponds is Tide and Current: Fishponds of Hawai'I (A Kolowalu Book)
Yesterday, a burial was occurring there. Today, it was still being used for that purpose. A dark-skinned man was walking along the rock wall clad only in a bathing suit or perhaps some traditional garment. A sign at what appeared to be an entrance warned, “Burial, Keep Out.” And there was another warning sign along the road, “Keep out,” which I hadn’t seen the day before when we passed. And in fact, I had stopped at nearly the spot where the sign was to video the pond. But I may have missed it.

We turned around and headed back. I thought I should tell Mrs. Ward about one of my user names for email. I went in and did that. On the way out, I asked her staff what “mana’e” means. “East.” The east store. Glad that her sign had drawn me in and had given me a chance to learn a bit about life on the island, I turned the car toward home.

But that wasn't the end of the story. Cheryl Sterner, a surveyor, wanted to ask Dottie some questions that would help Moloka’i’s economy. I had some of the information that Ms. Sterner was asking about, so I took part in the interview, too. Along the way, I mentioned Mana’e Goods and Grindz. She said she knew it. I referred to Mrs. Ward, and Cheryl said, “I call her ‘Auntie.’” Cheryl says that Grindz, the food stand, makes the best hamburgers, the best cheeseburgers, and the best ground beef cheese sandwiches. Sorry I didn't know that before I got on the plane. Oh, well, just have to go back.My experience with Cheryl encouraged me to approach the other passengers lining up to board the plane. On the plane Jonnette Spencer put the piece in place that pushed my understanding of what brings people into the store beyond goods and grindz. She said, “If you don’t buy something there, you leave with a new friend or relative.” I forgot to ask what she meant, but I took her to mean that you may leave empty-handed, but you'll probably have a new connection with someone you hadn't known before.As we were getting off the plane, Nadine Akiona, a young woman sitting in the back of the plane with two young children, laughed about the conversation Jonnette Spencer and I were having. Jonnette said, Why don't you ask her about Manae Goods and Grindz? I asked Nadine what she goes there for. Like Jonnette's husband and Cheryl, who like the food there, she said, We stop there when we go to the beach. That way, I don't have to pack a lunch.

Later I began to think that Mana’e Goods and Grindz is not just the “Last Stop.” Back in Oak Park, IL, I told my friend, Bud Hayes, about this social function of Mana'e Goods and Grindz, he told me about his aunt Laura, who he said, was a very nurturing person. She had had a store in her home in Fond Du Lac, Wisconsin. People would come in, a bell would ring, one of the family would go out to the store. The customer would put a few items on the counter, and then they'd talk.For some people Mana'e Goods and Grinds is one of those places where they maintain some of their ties and make new ones. How on earth would you put a price on that?

© J. Russell Burck, 2010

1 comment:

  1. Interesting and well written piece. We're heading to Wavecrest in a week, and was just checking to see what the only nearby "store" might be like. Many thanks!


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