by Laurie H.
There’s a phrase that everyone who lives here knows: “Lucky you live Hawaii.”
As an MTV-addicted, British pop band-obsessed teenager growing up in Hilo in the 80’s, I didn’t feel so lucky. I felt isolated. I wanted to go see all of the bands I loved, and opportunities were few and far between (not to mention, expensive, when you added in flights to Honolulu and hotel costs). All I could think about was what life was like on the mainland, where you weren’t constricted to a few hundred square miles of land.
After graduating from Hilo High School, I left The Big Island for college in the Midwest. Whenever I told someone I left Hawaii to go to school in Iowa, they would invariably say, “how could you leave paradise to come here?’ To me, Iowa was paradise. Sure, it snowed and was mostly miles of corn fields, but it was smack-dab in the middle of the country and in a matter of hours you could be in a number of major cities – and see any band you wanted to. After spending the first 18 years of my life on an island, I loved the ability to roam freely – and took advantage of the opportunity to visit as many states (and see as many concerts) as I could.
After graduating from college and fulfilling a lifelong dream of living in London, I moved to San Francisco. I had fallen in love with the city as a teenager while visiting family in Marin County, and decided right then and there that San Francisco was where I wanted to put down roots. And having just come from London, it had a similar cosmopolitan vibe (although on a much smaller scale) than what I had become accustomed to. Returning to a small town like Hilo was the last thing on my mind.
My life in the Bay Area was every bit as wonderful as I hoped it would be and more. I accomplished my career goal of working in the music industry – as a talent agent, putting together tours from some of my favorite artists. When it was time to move on from that, I established a successful second career as a massage therapist. There was unlimited access to all kinds of music, art, culture, food – anything you wanted, you could find it there. I made a lot of good friends and had a fun social life. As a huge San Francisco Giants fan, I had the good fortune to experience three World Series victories (which balanced out the many tough seasons prior). I bought a charming 1913 bungalow in an up-and-coming neighborhood in Oakland, met my sweet husband, and adopted the world’s best cat. I had a very happy and fulfilling life.
So why would I leave all that? As an only child, I knew that someday I would return home to Hilo to support my parents when they got older. Over the years, they’ve asked many times when I was coming back, but I wasn’t ready to give up my life in the Bay Area. When my dad asked again last fall, I realized that 30 years had passed since I left Hilo. Although I had originally planned to wait five more years to make the move, it seemed like a better idea to do it now so I could spend time with my folks while they’re still in good health. Fortunately, my husband (a lifelong Californian) was up for the adventure.
Just because my logic was sound, that doesn’t mean the decision was easy. In the past, I’d only made huge life-changing decisions when things weren’t working – it was hard to imagine making such a huge move when everything was great. I had doubts about whether or not I could be happy in a small town again. Would I be really bored without all of the culture, culinary opportunities, and convenience the Bay Area had to offer? Would I miss my friends too much? Could I adjust to not being able to watch the Giants every day? Will I survive without Trader Joe’s and IKEA?
I’ve been in Hilo for a month now and for all of the worrying I did, I’m a bit surprised at how relatively easy the transition has been so far. Having lived in such a fast-paced urban environment for so long, the relaxed pace of life is a nice change. In the Bay Area, everyone seems to have their guard up and there’s a pressure to be hip and cool. Here, everyone is friendly and unpretentious. I’m loving walking around at night in shorts and not having to bring five layers of clothing every time I leave the house. I’m enjoying spending time with my parents and haven’t been longing for things that I thought were important to me (except for IKEA). I was even able to get the Bay Area sports channel on cable so I can watch my Giants games. I do miss my friends on the mainland, but I’m looking forward to reconnecting with old friends and making new ones here. I’m excited to play both tourist and tour guide to visiting friends, exploring the island in a way I didn’t when I was a teenager. There’s so much to learn and experience here in my old home that’s new all over again. Even though I’ve definitely left a piece of my heart in San Francisco, I may finally be ready to believe in “Lucky you live Hawaii.”