Hawaii, Chicago, Tulsa, and Kiribati

bio

July, 2003

LOS ANGELES - As the lyrics of the Rogers and Hammerstein song from "Carousel" rejoice, "June is busting out all over. All over the meadows and the hills." For me, June burst out all over America from the islands of Hawaii to the towers of Chicago to the green rolling hills of Tulsa, Oklahoma, with a day on the tiny island nation of the Republic of Kiribati thrown in for good measure.

June began with a Star Trek convention in Honolulu followed by a floating version of that convention known as a Star Trek cruise around the islands of Hawaii. It was grand sailing from one paradisiacal isle to another with fans - many who have become friends over the years. I'd been to most of the islands of Hawaii many times before. I'd hiked down into the spectacularly sere crater of the extinct volcano, Haleakala, on Maui. I'd marveled at the unearthly sight of the steaming moonscape of Volcano National Park on the big island of Hawaii. I was awed by the beauty of the undersea life as I snorkled in the crystalline waters of Hanauma Bay on the main island of Oahu. But, this was my very first visit to the fabled island of Kauai. As the ship sailed into the port of Nawiliwili, the lush tropical foliage seemed to cascade down the mountainside and over the cliffs like a verdant lava flow. I wanted to explore this island as much as I could within the limit of the day we had in port. I scheduled a boat ride up the Wailua River to the fabled Fern Grotto as well as a helicopter tour over the lush green majesty of this island known as the "Garden Isle."

We sailed up the slow flowing waters of the Wailua River in a thatched flat bottom boat with Hawaiian musicians serenading us on board with the lilting melodies of the islands. The jungle overflowed the riverbank and seemed to be testing the waters with their green tendrils dipping into the river. This, we were told, is the favorite island of Hollywood film makers. Movies from "South Pacific," "Donavan's Reef" with John Wayne, "Blue Hawaii" with Elvis Presley and the recent "Tears of the Sun" with Bruce Willis to television series such as "Fantasy Island," "Hawaii 5-0" and "Magnum P.I." have been filmed on Kauai.

On reaching the headwaters of the Wailua, we disembarked for a brief hike to the Fern Grotto, an almost cathedral-like shallow cave abundant with lacy ferns. The musicians from the boat, who trekked up with us, sang the "Hawaiian Wedding Song." It was so romantic. We could easily understand why so many couples choose to get married in this dream-like setting. We cruised lazily back down the Wailua, now eagerly looking forward to our afternoon helicopter ride over this magnificent island.

Kauai is singular. It has the wettest spot in the world, Mount Wai'ale'ale. And, weather here can change on a dime. What had been a beautifully sunny morning suddenly turned into dark churning clouds in the afternoon. As if maliciously on cue, when the 2 o'clock take off time of our helicopter tour came, it started to rain. Prudently, the tour operators cancelled our flight and my anticipation of a bird's eye tour of Kauai was washed out. As a consolation, we did the only other activity available. We took the port shuttle and spent a rainy afternoon at the local K mart. There was a price to be paid for the lush tropical beauty of this island - drenched frustration. At least I was able to stock up on Macadamia nuts from K mart. I salved my disappointment with plans for a return visit to Kauai.

The visit to the Republic of Kiribati was a legal mandate that our Norwegian registered cruise ship had to fulfill. As a foreign registered ship departing from a U.S. port, it was required that it stop at, at least, one foreign port before it came back into the port of Honolulu. Kiribati, a speck of a coral atoll in the Pacific, was that required foreign stop. A short tender trip and a quick hike around a blisteringly hot atoll was enough for me. I quickly retreated to the air-conditioned comforts of the cruise ship.

A meeting of the Board of Trustees of the Japanese American National Museum took me to the great city of Chicago later in the month. Our Museum is not only building a growing base of support in the Chicago area, but also preparing a major exhibit on the resettlement of Japanese Americans in the Midwest after their internment during World War II. This was an opportunity for the trustees to meet and talk with the people of Chicago about that history and to thank the supporters of the Museum. Of course, for a passionate lover of architecture like me, visiting Chicago is always a joy. Just walking around this city that gave birth to the skyscraper and continues to innovate with high-rise buildings is an inspiration. I even managed to squeeze in an evening of theater in a Chicago landmark, the Looking Glass Theater. The play was based on Studs Turkel's book, "Race," adapted and directed by David Schwimmer from the television series, "Friends." It was a powerful play that received a prolonged standing ovation on the night that I saw it. The "bravo, bravo, bravos" still echo in my ears.

From Chicago, I flew directly to Tulsa, Oklahoma, for another Star Trek convention. This one however, was different. It was in Oklahoma. To me, a convention in Oklahoma always brings back poignant memories. I had a convention scheduled in Oklahoma City on the weekend after Gene Roddenberry, the creator of Star Trek, passed in October of 1991. It was the year of the 25th anniversary of his, now legendary, creation. Gene was a dear friend as well as my producer. The pain, the sense of loss, was agonizing. I had seriously considered canceling my appearance. However, the organizer persuaded me to think of the fans there that were also grieving Gene's death. I decided to go with the plan to make the convention a memorial to Gene Roddenberry. But, even in death, so typical of Gene, his idealism prevailed over our grief. In sharing our memories of him - mine personal, theirs through inspiration - our recollections turned the event into a celebration of his life and ideals. I will always remember that gathering in Oklahoma as one of the most moving conventions that I was ever a part of. I shared that memory with the fans gathered in Tulsa this hot June afternoon. Some had been at that convention more than a decade ago but most had not. Indeed, a good number were first timers. We were, however, still together, brought there that weekend by the undying power of Star Trek, Gene's optimistic vision of our common destiny. His ideals and vision, as the Vulcan greeting goes, "live long and prosper."

You May Also Like
Hi friend— subscribe to my mailing list to get inbox updates of news, funnies, and sweepstakes.
—George Takei