Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Kauai: Captive Audience

Many years ago, my wife and I took a tour of Universal Studios in Los Angeles. It was a confined tourist activity – you boarded a tram and were taken from one exhibit to the next (Jaws, King Kong, Earthquake, etc.), never leaving the tram. The trams zoomed from one attraction to the other. It seemed that once you paid for your ticket, their goal was to get rid of you as quickly as possible. I was bored by the ludicrous attractions that were designed to impress six-year old kids. But as we flew down one back lot access road, we passed a large parking lot full of crashed airplanes. There had to be twenty of them, all mangled and blackened. I desperately wanted the driver to stop, but he was on a mission to get us to the next lame attraction.

We swung around a corner and drove through an enormous building. “This is one of the prop warehouses,” the driver announced. We passed aisle after aisle of fascinating objects. The aisles appeared to be a hundred yards long. One was filled with chandeliers, another with paintings in ornate gilt frames, another with vases, and so on. It was overwhelming, but 20 seconds later, we exited. I can barely remember the exhibits they wanted us to see, but I will never forget that warehouse.

My wife had booked us on a Movie Tour of Kauai. This experience ranks as the second worst thing we did in Hawaii. We boarded a bus and were driven to pick up the remaining tourists. Most were older people (okay I’m old too), but there was one young couple on their honeymoon.

The bus driver started regaling us with stories about himself, but during the rare silences, we struck up a conversation with the young couple. The bus driver shot us irritated glances, annoyed that his captive audience was not permitting him to entertain them. What I didn’t know is that he was only the first entertainer that I would piss off that day.

We picked up our tour guide last. The bus had been rigged with a TV in the front, and she would show us brief clips of movies, and then point out the window to some part of Kauai that had been used to shoot the scene. For example, the little framework shack that you see in this photo was used in the film “Tropic Thunder.” None of the cows appeared in the film.

On this beach, the SS Minnow was beached in the opening credits of “Gilligan’s Island” (before the show was presented in color). This beach is now rimmed with million-dollar homes.

Are you starting to get a feeling for the entertainment level of the tour?

We drove to Hanalei Bay, where South Pacific was filmed.

I discovered this device mounted on Hanalei Pier. It was the first thing that interested me, and it was not part of the tour.

On the way back from Hanalei Bay, the tour guide insisted on playing the musical number “There is Nothing Like a Dame” from South Pacific, encouraging everyone on the bus to sing along. It was almost the low point of the tour. But not quite.

We stopped for lunch at a restaurant that was used in the movie “The Descendants.” I haven’t seen the movie, and George Clooney wasn’t there, so I had to content myself with a hamburger.

The absolute high point and the absolute low point came about 20 minutes later, when we arrived at the Coco Palms hotel. This hotel was a hot spot back in the sixties, but fell into a state of decline until it was terribly damaged in Hurricane Iniki and closed for good. Why did we stop there? Because the hotel was used in the last 20 minutes of the 1961 Elvis Presley movie, “Blue Hawaii.” Please don’t watch the movie, it really sucks.

The hotel now stands in ruins, overgrown by jungle. In fact, we had to sign a waiver in case we were injured on the premises, which included a clause about falling coconuts. I was entranced by the place, and it wasn't the real reason we had been brought there.

Here are two bungalows on the grounds, one used in the film, and the other occupied by Elvis during the filming.

The place is a photographer’s dream. For example, this giant papier-mache conch shell hangs over a doorway, occupied by pigeons.

This flower-shaped chandelier must have looked beautiful once, but now appears menacing.

There is a series of canals on the grounds, where the wedding scene in “Blue Hawaii” was filmed. It is now occupied by wading birds.

Unfortunately, the hotel is also occupied during the Movie Tour by this guy:

His name is Larry Rivera, and he is a Hawaiian singer who performed regularly at the Coco Palms during its heyday, and appeared in one episode of the original “Hawaii Five-O.” He continues to perform on Kauai at some godforsaken hotel lounge from Hell. We were led straight to him, and he started singing and playing the ukulele. He stopped abruptly before the song ended and began a monologue in which he told us how old he was, how many children he had, and how many grandchildren he had. He went on and on about how long he had been performing, how many awards he had received, and then waved at a display on a nearby table, where he had CDs available for sale. I realized we were a captive audience, being pumped by a guy who wouldn’t stop until somebody bought a CD.

He then started to sing again, but I couldn’t pretend to listen politely. So I began taking pictures of the majestic decay of the hotel. I wandered a bit too far from the group, and suddenly Larry materialized next to me.

Glowering, he said, “Hey, no leaving the tour!” And then, under his breath, he muttered, “If you weren’t so big, I’d…” He let the thought trail off, and turned to the rest of the tourists, who were now dispersing. The spell broken, he returned to his car and packed up his CDs. We returned to the bus, pretty much unimpressed with the motion picture history of Kauai.

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