In February it’s time to head back down to Palm Springs, pick up our trailer and drive south to San Diego for our annual APPL (Association of Partners for Public Lands) trade show where we preach the good deeds of the WPA-CCC artwork of our National Parks. We use our trailer as a prop. The centennial for the NPS is 2016 so we’re hustling to complete an image of each park by that time. We’re at #32 and here we are presenting our latest eight images. I built a cellophane fire that I could control (a la’ The Amazing Randi) with a rheostat when I fanned it with my fake ranger hat. Now that’s schtick! Shown are Brian, my artist computer guru, Martina and Sharlene in our outback monogrammed shirts. After all this hucksterism, I find a piano…..

I’m a sucker for a grand piano–I can play a little bit of everything but all of nothing. The only positive thing I can say for my playing is you get to hear a different piece every time I play the same work.

It’s then on to Hawaii for 11 days of relaxation despite three rip-offs: United Airlines, Thai Thai restaurant and Dollar Rent a Car:

1. United has totally lost it. They pulled our frequent flier miles when we flew to Antarctica 5 years ago and it took me three years of letter writing to get $1000 worth of replacement vouchers which paid for this trip. We flew a 767 with only two flight attendants and they couldn’t keep up with crowd so it was a long 5 1/2 hour trip. On the return, we flew a wide body 767 completely full with four attendants (two isles on this baby). We sat in seat 40 so were next to last seat and were offered the last stale turkey sandwich. Sensing the dry turkey, I took my dinner in liquid refreshments only to be told they were also out of wine. No such thing, I retort–go rob first class….which they did at a premium price. I rarely fly sober due to a perilous flight back from Vietnam which involved a missing engine, flaming wing, 12,000′ dive, a missing window and a seat partner with a missing leg. On my last trip to Hawaii, I sat next to a Sumo wrestler (honest) who took up two seats. On this flight, across the isle, was a 400 pounder who sucked his thumb the entire trip…you get the idea. If you pay extra for bags, why not for body fat…? And I’m not the only one with a gripe–check out United breaks guitars on You Tube.

Alaska now flies direct to Hawaii and I highly recommend them. The best pilots in of the lot.

2. We rented a car from Dollar Rent a Car. Have you ever gotten a straight answer about car rental prices? Me neither. We were initially told they had no cars, inquired on the internet purchasing a voucher for $236.55 for a 7 day compact car rental. Taking the voucher to Dollar, they gave us a car but the contract stated a lower price of $193.00 which included all taxes, etc. OK, lower is better. It also stated a $32/day extension if we wanted to keep the car another day or two but they told me to extend only if I was sure I needed it because there’s a $50 early return fee. OK, we call them on day 6 and want to extend one day–then realizing we rented at 10am and needed to check in at noon, what would an additional two hours cost. They told me $142.26 for the total cost of eight days, two hours….. Something’s fishy so I asked the attendant again, what the total price for the rental from Dollar and their agents would appear on my credit card bill; $142.26 again. This was neither the $64 I was expecting nor the $193 plus $64 nor the original voucher cost. Turns out my total cost was $378.81 which was the voucher plus the higher amount for the one day, two hours. So I called Dollar and had them explain the extension costs–here they are: Two day extension $64 (no hourly with them), $28.11 airport tax, $2.34 vehicle license, $11.81 excise tax, $6 road tax. Well this adds up to only $112.26–$30 less than their bill–but still no explanations. Plus these taxes are already covered by the initial $193.00 contract. Dollar states if you extend, it’s a separate contract and you have to pay all the taxes a second time…. Dollar Rent a Car are thieves so I’m lodging complaints with the BBB and Attorney General’s office. Boycott Dollar and United…..

Followup: Dollar’s customer service called me back only after I filed a complaint with the BBB and the State Attorney General’s office and refunded me almost $60. In the future, my advice is to get a ‘bottom line’ estimate in writing before taking the keys.

3. Thai Thai Restaurant, Volcano Village, HI: Martina and I decide it’s time for Thai food and are told the food is worth the one hour wait. Again, understaffed we cannot get even a beer during that time. Finally we order dinner and when we ask for the medium hotness–the waiter, David, a self described ‘bad boy of Honolulu’ asks us if we’re sure–no we’re not so we lower it down a notch to Mild-Medium. After much semantic positioning, we finally get our point across we want to enjoy the meal and not raise blisters on our lips. Well, guess what. Blisters so bad I can’t even eat the rice and no water anywhere as the service is poor. Finally to ward off further injury to my mouth, I bring the bowl of soup to the front counter and ask for some water. David turns on me and starts yelling that I will have to pay for everything. I immediately decide dinner is over and offer to pay for the beers (even though we didn’t start on the second round) but they refuse. When Martina doesn’t follow me out, I go back in to find David pestering her and calling her a dumb-ass and that she didn’t listen–well, David, you didn’t listen. Naturally the restaurant by then was absolutely silent except for an occasional fart. We drop $20 off at the Chamber of Commerce the next morning and register our story with the local gendarmes. We highly recommend the Kiawa Kitchen there. We loved the pizza and had live Hawaiian music all night and the friendliest staff. Boycott Thai Thai, Dollar and United….enough of this rant.

On the road again, we drive down to where lava has obliterated the road and discover just how rapid the advance of lava is.

The entire south side of Hawaii is getting daily additions of lava with a new island building to the south. As the continental plate is dragged to the NW, new islands are punched upward and the older line of islands slowly sinks creating multiple island summits (Maui, Molokai, Oahu, and Kauai). Two places to visit in Hilo are the Pacific Tsunami Museum and the Lyman Museum. We learned a lot!

This is the south shore of Hawaii–the southernmost point in the US lies 40 miles distant. A good jeopardy question.

One more rant: Don’t you just hate these needless Handicapped parking spaces?…which are used by tubbies who can’t or won’t walk. OK, I’m a bigot but first you fly, then drive to this remote place and you’ve got to park near what?? There is no advantage to getting out of your car at one end of this parking lot over the other. A waste of taxpayer’s money in my opinion. Even REI has preferred parking–so tubbies can buy their climbing equipment with less effort?! I try to take up two, even three of these when I find them.

This is Akaka Falls–a state park and very beautiful–located just north of Hilo.

OK–vacation is over. Time to turn in the rental car, paying double, and board a United jet and be starved and insulted in the process….. We need more natural selection on this planet, handicapped parking should be relocated the farthest from the store and fliers should pay by the pound (we had to chip in another $14 for our single bag). Next time we’re taking a Tramp Steamer. Check out Martina’s version here.

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