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Columnist confessions: Writing about Maui

By Staff | Aug 6, 2015

Peter Merriman, subject of one of the first “Voices of Maui” columns and a big fan of sustainability, extols Maui farmers during a news conference for “Maui County Fine and Fresh,” a comprehensive county program that was killed by former Mayor Charmaine Tavares.

LAHAINA – As this column approaches its ninth year in the Lahaina News, this might be a good time to reflect upon some of the things people ask, such as where the ideas for “Voices of Maui” come from. If you don’t care, it’s okay. In reading a lot of columns over the years, this writer moves on to the next page too when the first paragraph does not appeal.

When you have been around as long as this columnist has, you have read a LOT of columns. There are fine columns in The Maui News from Ron Youngblood and Jeff Lowenthal (“Aloha Now”). This writer has read many columns over the years, including those by Bill O’Reilly in The Maui News (not very often), Paul Krugman and Maureen Dowd of The New York Times, and Pulitzer Prize winners most young people have never heard of, including icons James Reston and Walter Lippman.

Mike Royko, who wrote five columns a week for the Chicago Tribune, had a character called Slats Grobnik, and competitor Bob Greene wrote of the “Treasure Island Bag Boy.” This column’s Kapono Gecko, my fictional character, is patterned after them.

Also, being around a long time, if you have been paying any attention, you can offer a perspective that younger columnists and most 40-year-olds cannot. You can allude to history you have experienced directly, or add little tidbits of information few know. (Chicago, for example, is called the “Second City,” where this column is written from today, because in 1871, the Tribune after the great fire headlined, “We will build a second city.”)

An editor once told me I was too old to write a column: “WE want younger people.” Clearly, age discrimination and also no understanding that we mature guys (I HATE the term old guys) offer perspective younger people will not have until they are older.

This column began as a product of passion; the desire to put old journalism skills (starting out in magazine writing, doing PR for 40 years) to work to learn more about Hawaiian culture and the island the columnist loved – and loves even more now.

Recently looking over some 200 columns, favorites emerge. In retrospect, one of the best was the first, interviewing the late Ed Lindsey on a bench at Maui Community College. Lindsey, a very wise man, is being re-introduced in the very first profile in my new book, which never seems to be finished.

Other all-time favorite subjects have been three columns each on slack key master George Kahumoku Jr. and activist Charlie Maxwell, my favorite female subject (Laura Blears, whose life did not fit into one column) and gadfly Blackie Gadarian. Maxwell and people like architect Uwe Shultz have all passed away, giving weight to a comment once made by cultural advisor Lori Sablas about my stuff, “that your columns will be valuable in history to generations to come.”

Over time, the column has expanded to writing occasionally about things the columnist has run across that the writer thinks readers would like or should know.

Favorite columnist Royko liked to provoke people. With hundreds of thousands of readers, he always got letters from people who wanted to zap him. He would zap them right back – in print.

People ask where the ideas come from. Mostly, they come from chance encounters with interesting people, but sometimes because you want to cover a topic.

Only one person has pushed strongly to be written about. That would be the artist Davo, who cornered me one day and mentioned he had just had dinner with Beatles legend Paul McCartney. He did not mention that 500 people also had dinner with McCartney that night at a Grammy dinner, and that Davo had a back table.

The artist, now a friend, also recently added to the bevy of stories a columnist can tell friends about. At 505 Gallery, Davo signed the back of one of his many Warhol-style paintings with a palm print after dipping it in paint. He also signed the derriere of the lady customer, wearing bright white shorts. There is more, but no space here to tell all.

There have been many good days and a few not so pleasant days for this column. In the end, it is the best “job” the columnist has ever had and a real privilege to be able to write for you and for the community.

Mahalo to all for your encouragment. And my apologies for anyone who may have not liked some of the things that have appeared here. The intent has always been good. Mike Royko never would have apologized for anything he put into print. Clearly and humbly, I am no Mike Royko. Time for lunch…