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From its most glamorous locations to its most questionable, from private beaches to the fabulous North Shore, Oahu is flat wonderful

TONY AHERN - The beach between our condo and the Pacific, during a 'busy' time on the sand. The 'dangerous surf' signs may have kept the crowd down some, but it drew surfers in for our morning entertainment. My wife Shannan, 12-year-old daughter Gillian and I went to Hawaii last week.

First stop after a six-hour flight and about three hours of sleep the night before was the car rental place. We always talk about renting a Jeep or something fun, but usually frugality/cheapness wins the day and we drive off with something less exciting. But my wife came out of the rental office looking pretty pleased. They'd given us a free upgrade to a Jeep. Yippee! Waiting for a key, another tourist returned to the line, asking if anyone knew a trick to starting a car that was essentially locked-up. The key wouldn't ignite the engine. "Battery dead?" I suggested. "No?" Well, then my mechanical help was officially exhausted.

Then we got our Jeep key and directions to find it in the parking structure. My wife read off the three letters of its license plate — JTP. There it was: a nice, convertible Jeep, dark gray, essentially new.

"I thought she said it was a four-door," I heard Shannan say as I started tossing bags into the back. She signed the paperwork and was the driver of record, so she got in the driver's side and turned the key. Nothing. "What? Did these guys have a run of vehicles that wouldn't start?"

We tried various ways of starting the rig: foot on the brake, foot not on the brake, take it out of park and put it back again. Nothing. Did they have some magic freeze on the engine that they needed to remotely release via satellite? Just as I was ready to walk back to the office, Shannan took another look at the key chain, and re-read the license. While the letters were correct, the three numbers were, yes, different. Our four-door gray, nearly new Jeep was three vehicles down.

Guess what? It started right up. We drove out, noticing that nearly half of the Jeeps had those same three letters on their plates.

It was off to Waikiki Beach, maybe the most famous stretch of sand and ocean in the world. A couple of friends were waiting there for us, at Duke's, a restaurant-bar that begins off Kalakaua Avenue, in front of Waikiki, then ends with open air right on the beach. What better place to start your Hawaiian vacation.

After a leisurely lunch, we strolled along the beach a few blocks to where we parked, my daughter getting her first experience with warm ocean. The beach was crowded for a Central Oregonian, but not bad really. And if you like to people watch, as I do, it's the motherlode. It's like the United Nations beach retreat, people from all countries and cultures, intermixing on the beach and streets. Really cool.

Then it was off to find our rented condo. We were there for our niece's wedding. They were doing a church wedding east of Honolulu Wednesday, then a beach wedding in Ko'Olina on Friday, with a Ko'Olina luau thrown in on Thursday. Much of the party was staying in Honolulu for a few days then moving to Ko'Olina. But we have always liked staying "away from it all" while in Hawaii, and Shannan being frugal and me being cheap, we rented a nice condo about 16 miles north of Ko'Olina ... that could have been 1,600 miles away. While Ko'Olina is beautiful and the home to Disney's new Aulani resort, as you drive north on the west side of the island, it grows sketchier and sketchier. The west side, we were told, was where the homeless congregated, and indeed there were miles of tents and lean-tos lining many of the beaches along the highway, with several other apparently homeless people pushing carts on the other side of the road.

But the 16-story condo unit, behind a gate, was about as advertised, beautiful view of the ocean and a beach that was next to private, used mostly by a handful of local kids doing amazing tricks on booggie boards, and surfers who would provide free entertainment each morning. Not bad.

Our first night, the ladies then drove back south to find a grocery store, and the daughter and I headed to the beach. On the back gate leading to the sand, was a sign: Dangerous surf warning. Only experts should enter water! It could have said Sharks Waiting 10 Feet Out and my kid wouldn't have been deterred. For about an hour, Tony Aherntill it got too dark to see, we played in the Pacific, body surfing, boogie boarding, getting rolled, smacked and knocked over by the warm waves — a take-to-your-grave father-daughter evening.

The next day was the church wedding, and I got to see many of my siblings and their families that were able to come to the island for the week. We'd meet up again the next day for a beach party followed by a luau, then again Friday for the beach wedding.

After the church wedding, we had some time to kill as our friend had to fly back in a few hours. So, why not back to Waikiki? This time there was no room at Duke's so we found another place across the street for a late lunch. Then we walked through the historic and beautiful Royal Hawaiian Hotel. As for beautiful, did I mention people watching? After hours around Waikiki, Shannan, our friend and I were in agreement: the Japanese girls, whose skin looked as if they had never experienced sun, wind or French fries, as if they'd been raised in milk-filled cocoons only to be released at age 20, won the beauty contest. And yes, the majority of the guys all looked similar to one another, like they were either golden brown triathletes or trying to find their way back to the Abercrombie & Fitch photo shoot.

The next day was the beach party. My niece's fiance's family actually owned the property, a large, flat grassy area that looked like a couple holes on a high-end golf course, with a beach thrown in. We were treated to a great lunch, then enjoyed the perfect, natural swimming area. That evening it was a full-out committal to being a tourist, taking in the Paradise Cove luau. While I had to pay $6 for beers — yes, had to, state law — at least the kid got a free temporary tattoo and was one of the few, in the free spear throw, to actually stick her spear in the hay bale. Another great night.

Friday was the wedding, back at the groom's family's property. It was as beautiful as you might expect. It started around 4 p.m. and the party ended around 10:30 or so. Around sunset, everyone moved to the edge between grass and beach to take what would likely become Christmas card photos. We joined the photo party. We took a few for family members with their cameras and posed to let them take a few of us, then I turned and handed my phone to my brother-in-law ... and just then everyone started cheering. What did I miss, what did I miss?

"It was the green flash. I try to see it every time I come to Hawaii and I finally did!" my wife exclaimed. Apparently, sometimes, right when the sun falls into the horizon, a flash of green emits.

"Well, I didn't see it," thought the husband. My brother Shannon, often a skeptic, didn't see it either and didn't believe it. But judging by the sudden cheers and high fives, it would have taken an elaborate set-up just to fool my brother and me. Green flash seen or not, it was an unforgettable wedding, plenty of Hawaiian culture, but also Warm Springs/Native American culture from my niece's side of the union. Magical night, and the apex of the trip.

The next day was our only nonscheduled full day of the vacation, so we headed up to North Shore, to one of the coolest little towns on earth, Haleiwa. My green flash-doubting brother and his family were staying up there. We met up at Haleiwa Beach Park. In the winter, it's giant surf country. In the summer, at least Saturday, it was a huge, peaceful ocean swimming pool. I swam a while, but then retreated to visit with more sun-avoiding family beneath a shady spot on the beach. Shannan and Gillian hung out and swam with the five others in our party, and at one point a large sea turtle swam among them. Shannan had to pick up her feet not to hit it, and it swam right underneath her.

My back was starting to go out, a feeling that puts me in the mood akin to what Donald Trump would be in if he had to watch 10 hours of CNN while sharing a couch with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. I was a tad surly. It had to have been caused by either the body surfing in the rough water on Tuesday night, or the many times the kid played "Portland Wrestling" (for us old-timers) by jumping on me while I was laid out on the condo bed.

The next day, walking crooked and not winning any congeniality awards, I tipped our van driver from the rental car drop-off to the airport, saying "Thank you, sir."

"That was a woman," said my wife.

Well, I was an equal opportunity offender on the island, I guess. At the T-shirt shop two nights before, I thought the worker was a tall, thin high school girl with shoulder-length, perfectly loose-curled, sun-bleached hair and very well-applied make-up. Upon further review, it was a high-school boy sporting the very-well applied makeup.

My wife says I go brain dead when I'm traveling. I call it ultra relaxed.

On the flight back, we had two seats together and one not. Mister Happy got the one not. But that was OK. It gave me time to re-read much of the book I'd bought for the trip, "Calypso," by David Sedaris. Much of it is about his brother and sisters, life's oddities, good times and tragedy. The stories are interconnected by time they spent together, as kids and later in their 50s and 60s, at beach houses. During the week, with five of my seven siblings, all in their 50s and 60s, spread about the island, daily coming together then floating apart, I felt uniquely qualified to soak up the great read.

Mahalo for having the wedding in Hawaii, Marissa and Kaiwi. The place truly is a paradise on Earth.


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