Unexpected Paradise

Aloha!

Would you like to move to Maui? Ever wonder what it’s really like?

Here’s how I got here: I fractured my tailbone and then had a small stroke. But wait, I’m getting ahead of myself.

An acquaintance owned a lovely condo at the Maui Kaanapali Villas, www.astonmauikaanapalivillas.com  with a little bit of an ocean view and a short walk to the beach. Her mother on the mainland had cancer, and she needed to go care for her. She asked me if I’d like to stay in the condo and pay her mortgage (there are no free lunches.)

I was running my interior design business in the San Francisco Bay area and wearing high heels to work every day. The first thing that happened was I fell down a full flight of stairs. A client’s carpet was worn out (duh…part of why I was there) and my slick heel slid off the top step and I flew through the air, legs over my head, to land at the bottom in a heap. Result? A fractured tailbone. The doc said the only thing he knew to help that was to swim in warm salt water. Reason to say yes, #1.

Then I was leaving another client’s home and things got a little wonky with my vision. I chalked it up to fatigue and stress. The next thing I knew, I was driving on the sidewalk on a very busy main thoroughfare. Oh, this was not good at all. I could have taken out a light post; heck, I could have taken out a pedestrian, several, in fact.

I shakily drove on to the store to order furniture for my client, and when I opened my mouth to speak to the salesman, gibberish came out. Needing to recuperate from a small stroke: reason #2.

So I found myself on Maui, basically in the lap of luxury, see above. (Except for the pesky elevator that broke down and they had to bring a guy in from Oahu to fix it, but he kept not showing up. Little did I know this is how EVERYTHING works on Maui. In other words, it doesn’t.) Then, they raised the condo fees to pay for the elevator, so my acquaintance raised my rent. But the beach made up for it:

I talked the guy at the  beach shack into renting me a covered cabana by the month, with two pads instead of one, for my poor tailbone.I spent every day at the beach. I walked, swam, sunned, ate, and slept. I got better. I contemplated my life back home and saw that I’d been driving myself into the ground like a crazy person. You know the old saying: self-employment is where you go from working 40 hours a week to 80 hours a week for half the pay? It’s so true.

I started thinking about running away from home. Permanently.

But how in the world would I make a living?

Moving to Maui, Part Two

Posted on April 1, 2012 by jamaica

Aloha!

So here I was in Maui on somewhat of a permanent vacation. I was ignoring the calls from clients back home and getting in a little Margaritaville time. Jimmy Buffet played on a loop in my brain as I sat in my lounge chair. Oh, this was SO not me.

I strolled through the lobby of the condo/hotel on my way back to the apartment I was sub-letting, and noticed The Concierge sitting in the lobby. Check this out: an open-air lobby with balmy breezes blowing through. A mango-wood desk and a job where she got to sit down all day. Working with tourists so very happy to be on vacation in Hawaii, helping them plan their fun activities. A breathtaking vase of tropical flowers nearby.

I did a double-take and thought: I want her job.

No more demanding clients, legal contracts, furniture orders gone missing! No more commuting with 4 zillion other people in the Bay area. No more lying awake at night, worrying that I’d gotten a measurement wrong or put in an erroneous product number?

This was sounding better every minute. Jimmy Buffet sang louder.

And then a miracle happened.

Okay, I’m a screenwriter, and when you go to film school the first thing they teach you is this: at all costs you are to avoid writing the deux a machina. This is Latin, and means: “god out of the machine.” Wikipedia says “It is a plot device whereby a seemingly unsolvable problem is suddenly and abruptly solved with the contrived and unexpected intervention of some new event, character, ability, or object.” You know, a “miracle.”

In other words, the Calvary can’t suddenly ride in and save you like in an old Western.

So how do we explain the fact that the Concierge spontaneously invited me to an art show, and she then out of the blue asked me if I was looking for a job, because they needed someone to fill in? Deux a machina, baby. Box office poison, but so golden in real life.

I now had a job.

MOVING TO MAUI–PART THREE

Posted on April 5, 2012 by Jamaica

Aloha!

So I now had a part-time job on Maui and a place to live, at the Aston Maui Kaanapali Villas, which is a combination of hotel and condos:

I had brought along one suitcase and my bicycle. The condo I was renting had four plates, four forks, four glasses. Life was simple, and I was discovering I liked it this way. No boxes of unorganized Christmas decorations haunting me from the attic. No closet full of winter clothes. No grandmother’s china gathering dust.

Actually, my design clients in Maui tell me that that’s the very best part about a vacation home on Maui: no stuff. So if that’s what we all aspire to, why do we own so much stuff? The truth is, it owns us…

Anyway, I was settling in, and deciding what to do about my life back in California. Condo life was agreeing with me. Until, that is, the night of the infamous late-night condo cleaning incident. I’m pretty sure they still talk about it at the front desk there.

Here’s the scene: it’s HOT in Maui. So once the sun went down and it cooled off, I decided to do a little cleaning. I put on a thin white t-shirt. And that was all. Get the picture? Hold that thought.

I opened the door to the condo and tossed out the throw rugs to shake later. Now there are fire codes in hotels, and safety codes, and these all conspire to create self-closing doors. Big, heavy, metal self-closing doors. A huge gust of wind blew through and WHAM! The saying “don’t let the door hit you in the butt on the way out” was suddenly reality.

Except that now I was out. Locked out of my condo on the outside walkway three floors up in nothing but a see-through t-shirt.The only thing that could have made it worse would have been if I was out on a tiny ledge, like in the movies. If there was ever a time I wished to be beamed up, Scotty, it was now.

What to do, what to do?

I yanked my t-shirt down over what  I could cover, got into the (now functioning) elevator and rode downstairs. I moved like a lady in a too-tight skirt, mincing my way to the front desk. I stopped just short of it and called around a support beam: “Hey, excuse me! I’ve lost my key and I’m locked out.”

The night clerk was named Mary. Mary was suspected of doing a little nipping at the bottle she kept stashed behind the desk (actually, a lot of nipping) because the boss wasn’t there at night to know the difference. Mary looked over in a fog and tried to focus on me.

“Who’s that? Who’s there?”

I called out my name. I told her which condo I was in. But Mary didn’t know me from a tourist.

“Well, what do you want? I can’t hear you. Come over here to the front desk!”

I sighed, clutched my shirt, and began my slow journey into the middle of the lobby. At just the same moment that a tourist couple entered and wanted to check in. I sidled up to the front desk, turned my back to them and whispered loudly,  “I’m locked out. I can’t get in. Do you have a spare key to my apartment?”

“Well no, of course not. I’ll have to call the maintenance guys. I don’t know who’s on duty.”

The maintenance GUYS? Great. Just great. The gods who had come out of the sky in my deux a machina moment and given me a great apartment and a job were now extracting their pound of flesh. Literally. I was sure I could hear them laughing up there.

I yanked my t-shirt down as hard as I could as the tired tourists glared at me. I steeled myself for the moment my Savior With a Key would get his eye-full. Luckily he was a gentleman, and pretended that it was common-place for him to have to have to let stranded women in see-through t-shirts and no bottoms into their apartments. Let me tell you though, I made sure he walked ahead of me on my walk of shame.

Like I said, I’m pretty sure they still talk about this at the front desk, because let’s not forget, I NOW WORKED THERE!  And I know I made the maintenance guys’ Hall of Fame for stupid guest tricks at the hotel. Except, that is, that just the week before I had dropped my key down the teeny little crack in the elevator shaft and they had to rescue me from that.

What are the chances? And how could a woman who was smart enough to own a home and manage a business keep pulling these incredibly dumb stunts? Deux a machina.

And the gods laughed.

MOVING TO MAUI, PART FOUR

Posted on April 23, 2012 by Jamaica

Aloha!

I figured after the embarrassment and absurdity of the late night cleaning incident (see Moving to Maui, Part Three) things were bound to calm down for a little while. Right?

People often ask me if it’s true that you must work two jobs to afford to live on Maui. The truth: it depends on what those jobs are. The General Manager of the hotel is obviously not going to need  a second job. The waitress, bartender, or lowly concierge working part-time (Me!)…probably yes. It also depends on how lavish a lifestyle you’re used to, what you like to eat, where you want to live, how extensive your vices….pretty much like anywhere else.

I took a second job as a Tennis Court Supervisor at another hotel. This sounds important,doesn’t it? But all I did was check players in, sweep the courts twice a day (by hand) and haul five-gallon jugs of ice-water out to the courts and hoist them up to waist-high stands out there. (Arrrggh! He-man style.) Being that I weighed 100 pounds dripping wet, this was not the wisest thing to be doing, which came back to haunt me, more on that later…but in the meantime I looked for a job in my own field of interior design.

As I’ve said in earlier posts,it’s pretty unusual to be able to move to Hawaii and keep your former lifestyle…unless that former lifestyle involves a hefty trust fund or you need a Brinks truck to move your bank account.

Since I had been in business for myself as a stressed-out designer, I thought it was time to go to work for someone else. (This was back when the idea of finding another job was not absurd.) I got a job nailed down with a place that imported Balinese and Thai furniture.  The owner was leaving on a buying trip and said I could start work when she got back. Whoo-hoo! A job! Then she got back and said she’d “changed her mind.” That was all. No other reason given.

This was my first of many lessons about Maui-ites. They are….different. (Disclaimer: obviously this does not mean everybody, it just seems like it when you live here.)

I’m trying to figure out how to put it delicately. I guess I’ll go with “quirky” as a nice way to say spacy, flaky, and unpredictable in one all-purpose word. It’s as if all the disenfranchised and disenchanted people in the world who can’t quite seem to pull it together in other places all wake up at some point and say, “I know! I’ll move to Paradise! That will solve everything.” So they do. But then everybody else is expected to deal with their… eccentricities.

Case in point: My next job interview was with a design firm (I’ll never tell!) that was owned by a husband-and-wife. I wore a silk dress, looked and acted professional, and was told I had the job. But whoa, nelly! Not so fast. The husband had interviewed me. Then the wife entered the room and the whole climate changed from warm Hawaii breezes to Iceland.

Turns out they were divorced but still in business together. And she saw me as some sort of competition for her husband (therapy, anyone?) but of course I was ten steps behind, my head swiveling from one to the other as they argued. I was trying to make sense of all this as a scene from Jerry Springer erupted and I thought they were going to come to blows right there on the floor. The last thing I heard as I hoofed it out of there in my high heels was her screaming at him, all the way out to the parking lot.

For the record, I didn’t want the job. I had asked a simple question: “Since you have to order all the furniture sight-unseen to get it to the island, what happens when it gets here and it’s hard a rock?” Their answer: “You lie through your teeth and tell them it’s the most comfortable couch you’ve ever sat on.” So I was out of there anyway, even before they went at each other’s jugulars.  Not the way I do business, folks. And good luck with those anger management issues.

So I kept working my manini (small) jobs, learning that nothing in Paradise was as it had seemed when I had come here on vacation, and wondered what was in store for me next.

Whatever it was, I was hoping it wouldn’t involve Jerry Springer.

Moving to Maui– Part Five

Posted on April 28, 2012 by jamaica
Aloha!

And the gods kept laughing…

About the time I really relaxed into Maui mode and thought if I just had some friends (Lahaina was a lonely place unless you hung out at bars, one of it’s mottos is: ”Lahaina– a drinking town with a fishing problem”)… the owner of the condo I was renting from informed me that she was selling.

Would I like to buy it? she asked. YES, I’d  love to buy it– but I still had a house back in California to deal with. Purchase price wasn’t even the big issue, things were cheap then. It was the bleepin’ Homeowner’s Fees. For a one-bedroom condo: $1,200 month. I almost swallowed my chewing gum.

So I started searching for a place to live. I looked in the paper–this should be a piece of cake, right? Right. Maui was in the middle of a housing crisis in 1999 and there were no rentals. Craigslist didn’t exist yet, so the newspaper was the only resource.

The reason there was a housing crisis, ironically, was that things WERE so cheap. People from the mainland (listen closely here, because it’s the reason Hawaiians have no time for mainlanders) were coming to the island and buying things up faster than Lindsey Lohan lands in jail. So all the condos were disapperaing from the rental market, because the owners were buying them and them leaving them sit empty. They had been taken out of the rental pool and turned into vacation homes, effectively leaving the locals no place to rent.

I didn’t know this at the time, of course. I just couldn’t understand why every time I called on a unit it was already gone. ALWAYS. But I had about a month to look, so I wasn’t panicking. Yet.

The panic was to come later.

An acquaintance recommended a room-mate situation, and starting to get savvy to the way things worked on Maui, I saw that word of mouth would probably be my only hope. Getting desperate, I said yes. The guy offering the room was a well-known Lahaina realtor, about 65 years old, and the place had a view, was gorgeous, and cheap. (This should have been my clue.) I thought, why not? It’s an adventure, right?

The adventure turned to oh, *&%*!  when I stumbled out of my room that first morning and found him standing facing the kitchen sink, STARK NAKED. I tried to flee, but not fast enough, because he turned around in all his glory.

I hadn’t even had my first cup of coffee for the morning, and I was faced with a room-mate who was not only a pervert but a nudist. I had already signed a lease.

The smile on his face said it all.

My cute house back on the mainland where I had a business, and friends, and family was sounding better all the time. Maybe I was supposed to just cash in my chips and go home…

Copyright Jamaica Michaels, 2012. All rights reserved. May not be reblogged or reprinted without written permission of the author.

2 thoughts on “Unexpected Paradise

  1. Pingback: Austin Party of Two

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