Monthly Archives: May 2019

T-Shirts from the Collection: A Town Built for Pleasure

Pleasure Point Bike Race 40th Anniversary Tee

The coastal community of Pleasure Point, east of Santa Cruz, was practically designed and built as a surfer’s haven. It had great surf breaks — spots where the waves are reliably good. They drew Dawn-Age surfers by the ’30s or earlier, and certainly by the ’50s. And the Point’s Prohibition-era speak-easies and road house gave it a certain, ah, casual feel that it still owns.

Nor did it hurt that living was cheap in Pleasure Point. In the ‘50s and ‘60s and ‘70s, four or five — or eight or ten — local youth could rent a house out that way, do as little work as possible, and party and surf their brains out.

The rents rose with time and demand, but Pleasure Point is still a surfer’s haven. Some of the older surfers are still out there — plenty of gray hair rides the waves — along with new generations of local-grown surfers and transplants. Their activities produce many t-shirts.

Back in the day, surfers formed clubs; several operated out of Pleasure Point over the years, and they staged events. Here’s one:

Valentine's Day Massacre Surf Contest Tee

Valentine's Day Massacre Surf Contest Tee 2

The sponsor bugs tell a lot about the surfing community. click to expand. Jimbo Phlllips is the artist who drew the t-shirt’s design; BroPrints is a silk-screen shop that probably printed it.

This came from a “locals only” surf tournament sponsored by the Pleasure Point Night Fighters surf club. Interesting name, no? The original Night Fighters were a volunteer fire brigade/rescue squad who fought fires in Pleasure Point  in the ‘20s and ‘30s because no fire department would come out there after dark. Myth and legend turned the original Night Fighters into bad-ass vigilantes, and surf clubs by this name have come and gone.

Notice the small ‘Locals Only” sign on the tee; you didn’t surf unless you were invited. Santa Cruz surfers are a clannish bunch, and kind of wish that nobody came from out of town — or sometimes even from the other side of the same town — to surf “their” waves. That said, this latest incarnation of the Night Fighters styled itself a force for good by cleaning the beaches and campaigning for other beach-goers to do the same.

The Night Fighters don’t seem active these days — what do I know, I don’t surf — but here is a contest tee from a surf club that’s definitely alive and well: the Big Stick Surfing Association.

The Big Stickers like heavy long boards of eight foot length or more: hence the tourney name “Logjam.” Moreover, the Logjam is only for boards older than 1970. It’s old-school surfing for old-school surfers: as the shirt says, “Old boards, no cords.”


And what’s the talk about “no cords” and “no kook cords” on these tees? The terms refer to surfboard leashes. These are lines that surfers string between themselves and their boards so that the boards don’t go shooting off into infinity — or the rocks — when surfers wipe out.

In surfing slang, “kooks” are inferior surfers (usually weekenders from out of town) that don’t give their betters enough room on the waves. Grizzled old surfers think surfboard leashes encourage lazy and dangerous surfing by making it too easy to hang on to one’s board. Hence the nickname “kook cords.” More about that in a bit.

Surf clubs surfed together and competed together at Pleasure Point.  And they partied, too:

Dirt Farm Pig o Rama Tee 1

A lDirt Farm Pig o Rama Tee 2ittle Photoshop can be an awesome thing in the wrong hands, can’t it? The Dirt Farm Surf Club is or was a group of surfers who hung in a dirt field by the O’Neill’s surf break and the adjacent beach. The field —aka The Dirt Farm, of course — was used freely by surfers for activities both formal and informal. Locals surf contests like the Logjam use it, for example. Or you could just run your dog.

Next to the Dirt Farm, and above the beach, lay the expansive home and property of Jack O’Neill. O’Neill’s presence alone made Pleasure Point a surfing capital. Back in the ‘50s O’Neill popularized surfing by perfecting the wetsuit, which allowed surfers to surf longer in chilly water. O’Neill made it possible for surfers to surf every single day, and for hours. The sport boomed.

He b"Uncle Sam" O'Neilluilt an empire of surf shops, wetsuits, water gear and clothing of all kinds — including t-shirts. It seemed right that he looked like a one-eyed pirate, complete with beard and eye patch. His own company sold the t-shirt shown at right, and hundreds of other designs.

That missing eye? It was taken out by an accident with an early-version kook cord: the line lashed him right across the face. The irony is that O’Neill’s son invented surf leashes, and O’Neill eventually made a lot of money selling them.  Live by the cord, go blind by the cord.

Now, every piece of ground along the coast is owned by somebody. And while there’d never been problems with surfers hanging out on the Dirt Farm, there was the future to think about. And O’Neill cared about that. So ten or so years ago, he bought the Dirt Farm for the free use of surfers and others, and willed it to the public good in perpetuity upon his death.

Jack O’Neill did die a few years back. A mighty paddle-out of 3000 surfers took place in his honor off his beloved Pleasure Point. And the Dirt Farm goes on forever, if not the Dirt Farm Surf Club..

Pleasure Point supports a whole ecosystem for surfers and their needs: surfer food, surfer services, surfer lifestyle. Below are a few tees for the other institutions that help make Pleasure Point … well, Pleasure Point.

Santa Cruz Board Ding Repair 1

If you’re hardcore and ride without a kook cord, there’s always someone to fix the dings when your board gets away from you and runs into something hard. BE Sanding, near Pleasure Point, will do the job.

Dunlap Donuts Tee Year 2

Head down Portola Drove on a Sunday morning and you may well see 50 to 100 cold-looking surfers in hoodies and shorts standing in front of Dunlap’s Donuts, coffee in hand. After a few early-morning hours in the cold water, a big coffee and a maple bar the size of a loaf of bread can look pretty good, wetsuit or no wetsuit.

Santa Cruz Boardroom Skateboard Racing Team Tee

The Boardroom is a vast and venerable skateboard shop in Pleasure Point’s business district on 41st. Skateboarding was invented by surfers for times when the waves didn’t cooperate. Many surfers came from skateboarding. The same artists who do surf art also do skateboard art; and yes, many surf, and some surf at Pleasure Point. The Boardroom’s walls and ceiling are covered with skateboard art; it’s like a museum, and worth a visit if your tastes run that way.


Kong 1

Show this tee to midcounty surfers, and sighs of nostalgia will ensue. Kong’s Market and Deli, run by the kindly Ahn family for many years, was a source of massive amount of cheap food at low-low prices: home-made egg rolls, the might Kong Burger, an insane breakfast burrito, and more. If they knew you, they might front you a keg of beer for your party/fundraiser and wait for the money after.

Santa Cruz Pleasure Point Bike Race 1994 Tee 3

Chilling out, acting-out and clannishness are joint traditions in Pleasure Point culture. This was typified by the Pleasure Point Bike Race, which was no race at all. It was an invitation-only drinking party on two wheels. Your “ticket,” if you were allowed to buy one, was a t-shirt. Most of them seemed to have a beer theme:
You and your fellow racers would launch in a loose column and cycle between several different grand houses to which your t-shirt would admit you. Then you would eat and quaff to excess and party to a live band, and a good one at that.
Then, back on the bike and off to the next house on the circuit, to do it all over again, riding more shakily than before.
The Pleasure Point Bike Race ran from 1974 to about 2014 or thereabouts. This may have been the last t-shirt “ticket,” or close to it. Written info is hard to find.

Pleasure Point Street Fair 2014 Tee

Pleasure Point still parties, but a little more openly now. There’s a street fair these days — and you don’t have to know anybody to get in.



Dunlap's Donuts Santa Cruz Tee 1

Just for laughs, another Dunlap’s Donuts tee. They put out a new one every year or so, and price it cheap so that everybody will buy one and wear it. Cheap advising, the manager explained to me when I stopped by. I asked her who Frank was. She said that was the donut cook’s idea, and he wouldn’t explain.


T-Shirts from the Collection: Community Radio Tees, Featuring the King of Radio

KKUP Psychedlic Marathon Tee Community radio stations perpetually have their hand out. Their plaintive cries haunt the airwaves: “Please, please donate to help us continue bringing you the programming that you love so much.” And for your donation (“$50 or more!”) you usually get a station t-shirt.

But they’re all different otherwise. Some are radical, amateurish, and low budget. Some are hyper-slick and arty and well-funded;. And some are dens of  music genre junkies who;re there  to share the music that they love. Their station t-shirts reflect this.

Let me state, for the record, that community radio station KZSC puts out some pretty odd t-shirts.  KZSC is  a self-supporting creature of the University of California at Santa Cruz. Student participation is what that school is all about.

KZSC Tee -- Commercial Radio Sucks 2

So for much its history KZSC has picked its t-shirt designs from student submissions.   And yes, the final products are not especially professional. If you can’t parse out the meaning of a tee covered in vacuum cleaners, the other side reads “Corporate Radio Sucks.”

But that’s UCSC for you, a rebellious, counter-culture campus with no football team and a banana slug for a mascot.  Three freshmen started KZSC as a pirate operation back in ’67. They had a home-made ten-watt transmitter in the basement of a dorm.  The administration happily signed off: “Sure, go ahead, but please call the FCC when you can get around to it.”

KZSC Many Beats Tee

Were those the good old days, or what? True, it wasn’t long before the FCC was knocking on dorm room doors at eight in the morning. But  all worked out eventually.

KZSC is still student-run and mostly student-programmed,  with an advisor to keep things on track.  Students even raise money to keep the station alive.

And they’re all young, and learning, and don’t always do things well the first time.  But that’s all right. In a liberal arts/research university with few occupational programs, KZSC gives students real-world expereience: in operations, management, production, community journalism, and more.

KZSC programs the new music and the old music, and even gets the local news out there, with a heavy dollop of social justice.   We locals like it.

Public Radio Robot Tee

And then there is KEXP.  KEXP is what happens to a community radio station when it finds itsel floating in cash  and is so hip that it calls itself an arts organization.  Radio’s just a tool, bro. KEXP is affiliated with the University of Washington, but nobody would call it a college station.

And it’s in Seattle, home of the rich hip.  KEXP plays all the music that’s hip. KEXP even tells you what music you should think is hip. KEXP broadcasts live performances and concerts.  KEXP supports new artists in the PNW.  Their website is so loaded with performances and podcasts and archives that it’s hard to find the live feed.

KEXP has deep-pocket backers and a budget of mlllions and well-paid staff. KEXP has a postmodern campus in the Seattle arts district with its own ultra-hip coffee house and record storeKEXP’s t-shirt is witty, professional… and hip.

I’ve listened. I don’t think I’m hip enough. I like KZSC better.

And I like KKUP in Cupertino, California — in Silicon Valley, just over the hill from Santa Cruz.  Unlike KEXP, KKUP is about 100 percent volunteer and 100 percent listener supported. Unlike the kids at KZSC, a lot of KKUP’s volunteers are already pretty savvy when they walk in the door. It’s Silicon Valley, remember.

The programming is practically all music from a couple of dozen different genres.  Every month the station runs a two-day music marathon for a single genre:  all blues, all Latin, all visionary, all Dead, and more.  The marathons double as a fund drive, and the station issues t-shirts for many of them. KKUP’s 2008 Psychedelic Marathon tee is a great deal of fun..

KKUP Psychedlic Music Marathon Tee 1


But my real favorite is KKUP’s 2007 Bluegrass/Country/Folk Marathon t-shirt.   Not just because it’s a great image, but because it’s about a man who mastered radio itself.

KKUP Country and Western Marathon Tee

The tee bears a scratchboard portrait of country music great Buck Owens, beaming out from behind an old-school radio mike.  Owens had died recently, after a long career in country music and radio station management.  He was a good musician,  a smart businessman, and the originator of country music’s stripped-down “Bakersfield Sound” : twangy, basic, loud. And he was all about radio. It made him.

In the ‘40s, Owens was based out of Bakersfield, California, a hard-scrabble oil town full of Okie transplants.  They liked country music there. Owens went downt to LA to make a few records and played a lot of backup, but not much came of it. He went up to Washington state for a change of scene. and bought a piece of a radio station.

It was his job to pick music for airplay.  He was a good judge of tunes, but the job bugged him. Two recordings would both appeal to him, but one would get lots of listener response while the other one died on the air. He just didn’t get it.

He worked on the problem for a while and finally figured it out: he was listening to music on high-fidelity studio speakers, but his audience was listening to the tinny AM radio speakers in their cars. Those cheap, small speakers were okay on sharp highs, but anything subtle or bass-heavy turned to mush.   Music producers weren’t thinking about automobile speakers when they mixed their music.

So Owens did. He went back to recording music, and back to Bakersfield, too.  But this time, he hooked a pair of tinny car radio speakers to the mixer and twiddled the tracks  till the music sounded strong on them, not on the good speakers.

And Buck Owens turned out the sharpest, twangiest music you ever heard in the front seat of a ’59 Chevy Bel Air: the Bakersfield Sound.

That sound brought Owens a string of ‘60s hits,  a string of successful radio stations, a successful TV show, and his own nightclub.  Because Buck Owens figured out how to work radio, in more ways than one.

He was truly Mr. Radio. Whatever else he was, honor him for that. KKUP did.

T-Shirts from the Collection: A Nuclear Submarine from the Gold Rush

USS California

This scenario occurred to me upon snagging the latest t-shirt for my collection:

Suppose that you live in Santa Cruz County, home to alternative lifestyles. It’s also the home of hope for a greener, better, more peaceful and non-authoritarian tomorrow.

And beyond that we Santa Cruzans all hope that all the world’s peoples survive the next 50 years without nuking each other to glass, despite the pressures of growing shortages and environmental catastrophe.

And you agree with much of that. But you’ve got to make a living, too. And sadly, your living comes from the military industrial complex.

One day, to commemorate a very special occasion, your management gave you this rather wizard t-shirt.  And you deserve it, because your team helped roll out a $2 billion nuclear-powered attack submarine: the USS California, SSN 781. This shirt honors the commissioning of that vessel in 2011.

The California is the pride of the Virginia Class  submarines and yet another guaranteed cost-plus-profitable project for your employer, defense contractor Northrop Grumman. SSN 781 is a veritable Stradivarius of destruction; although these days, the defense establishment prefers the term “force projection.”

Northrop Grumman, of course, is one of the ever fewer, ever larger defense contractors who provide America with its weapons — and increasingly, even run weapons programs for the government.  Ain’t private industry wonderful? It can be part of the government, and run a guaranteed profit, too.

And you, the minion who got this wondrous shirt, went home and put it in a drawer.  Seven or eight years after the fact, it’s in mint condition.  You never wore it; once at most, at the office party.  No doubt you’d feel uncomfortable wearing it in Santa Cruz. Would they understand at the farmer’s market, as you dithered over your organic heirloom tomatoes?

Perhaps not. In some parts of this county, somebody might just hiss at you over that shirt. In other parts, the more monied parts — it’d just be bad taste.  One does not talk about where the money comes from; one simply has it.

A few years later you got tired of having the t-shirt stare at you from the drawer, and you donated it to a worthy charity.  They put it in their thrift store.   Now I have it.

Take a good look at it: look at all the California iconography.  There’s the Great Seal of the state; there’s the Bear Flag.  Even the name “USS California” is printed in an old-school 19th- or 20th century font.  The ship’s motto, “Silence is Golden,” refers to both the Golden State, and the ship’s stealthy nature.

Yes: someone made a nice try at establishing a 21st century killing machine as a part of California’s heritage.

And you know what? It’s true.  It’s all true. This nuclear boat has 200 years of heritage, or almost. Back to before we were even part of the United States.

The year is 1822, and in Cornwall, England, a young boy named Joshua Hendy was born into the world.  Cornwall sucked, so he and his brothers migrated to the US while he was a young teen.  After traveling the South, he married and settled in as a blacksmith in Houston in the 1840s.

Yellow fever killed his wife and children; after that Houston had little to hold him. When gold was discovered in California in ’49, Hendy hopped a clipper ship for San Francisco.

Hendy found his fortune in San Francisco insted of the Gold Country.  At first, he made tools for the prospectors and then, equipment for the big mining operations that came soon enough: pumps, ore crushers, grinders, ore concentrators, giant water cannon.

Hendy proved to be an engineering genius, and the Joshua Hendy Iron Works was the engineering company that made the Comstock Lode mineable. Some of his designs for mining equipment were still current 100 years later.

Hendy passed in the ‘90s, but the Hendy Iron Works chugged on. It even made machines to carve out the Panama Canal. When the 1906 quake wiped out its San Francisco headquarters, the city of Sunnyvale offered the company free land if it would relocate to the South Bay. It did, and became a (very) early technology company in what would become Silicon Valley.

During World War I, the Hendy Works was asked to make two-story tall marine steam engines for cargo ships. The company had never made marine equipment before, but the giant units that they turned out were later prized for their reliability and durability.

Flash forward 20-odd years through the Great Depression and some really bad times. The Hendy Iron Works was down to 60 employees. Financially it was on the ropes, with the banks closing in. But a hard-driving engineer named Steven Moore  bought the company and refashioned it, with the backing of a consortium of western engineering firms.

Moore ramped the company up to 11,000 employees during World War Two to mass-produce old-fashioned but durable marine steam engines at a clip that nobody could believe.

Joshua Hendy 2500 HP Triple Expansion EC-2 marine steam engines would power the Liberty ships that the Kaiser yards were building in the East Bay.  The plant turned out one 136-ton, 20-foot-tall steam engine every 40.8 hours.  The Hendy Works built over 750 of them in three and a half years, plus dozens of more modern steam turbines for faster vessels.

Moore moved on after the war, and Westinghouse Corp. bought the Joshua Hendy Iron Works. The company began making pressure hulls for submarines, control and missile-launch systems for nuclear subs, radio telescopes, steam turbines for use in power generation, nuclear power plant equipment and more.  Northrop Grumman bought Joshua Hendy from Westinghouse in the ‘90s and renamed it Northrop Grumman Marine Systems.

And it was that unit, the Joshua Hendy Iron Works of old, that served as prime contractor for the USS California project — even if the actual boat was built in Northrup Grumman’s East Coast shipyards.

The Northrup Grumman PR flacks had it right, whether they knew it or not. The USS California was a California boat from a California lineage: all the way back to the Gold Rush.

But… somebody really didn’t want to wear that t-shirt in Santa Cruz County.  And I don’t blame them.

T-Shirts from the Collection: The Fairly Civil Servants

No Water No Beer Waterworks Tee

Civic water department employees have a certain cynical attitude towards customers.  It’s not that they “don’t get no respect” from them.  It’s that customers don’t even remember they’re there at all — until a water main or a sewer line bursts.

I mean, clean and healthy water always comes out of the tap, right? Magically? And crap always floats away to some exotic land where it is never heard from again.  Right?

In reality, both ends of the job are hugely technical and difficult and important.  And the American Water Works Association keeps trying to shock the public into some kind of awareness of that.  “No Water? NO BEER!” is a new approach for them.  It’ll at least hit some people where they live.


Santa Cruz Metro Surfing Bus Company Picnic Tee

You are a bus driver for the Santa Cruz Metropolitan Transit District. It is a hot afternoon, and you’re pulling your 2008 60-passenger New Flyer out of the Metro Transit Center on Pacific Avenue. You will head down Soquel Avenue for the 10,000th time in your career and take the 71 Route overland all the way to Watsonville, 15 miles away.  Through bad traffic.  Really bad.

But you know that your work is as important to Santa Cruz as the ocean and the sea creatures and the mighty waves.  And hence, this shirt for you all the other transit toilers at the employee picnic. It’s kind of boss; it was even drawn by one of you, a fellow bus driver.

That’s one theory.  There’s also the true story of a Metro bus that got hit by a mighty wave on an oceanside route, back in the ’90s, and almost got pushed off the road.  So in a sense, a Metro bus once actually surfed.  And the ocean’s only a mile south of Soquel avenue and damn, if only you were out therein the cool water, surfing your New Flyer across a wave and telling the octupii to LET GO OF THE WINDSHIELD WIPERS, DAMMIT!

It’d be awesome.

Postal and Proud Post Office Tee 1Speaking of awesome.  Back in the 80s and ’90s, the U.S. Postal Service was having a very, very bad time with employee morale, and some people attributed that to heavy stress coming down from management.  Which caused some people to crack.

At any rate, there were workplace shootings by out-of-control postal employees.  It happened often enough that the phrase “going postal” came into use: taken to mean, going crazy from stress.

Postal and Proud Post Office Tee 2And then, fiteen or twenty years or so later, this t-shirt. From a faceless distribution center in San Diego somewhere: just a concrete box full of postal workers slinging the mail as fast as they can.  And those workers want you to know: they are postal, in the best sense of the word.  And proud.


California State Parks 150th Anniversary Tee

I don’t quite know how i feel about this t-shirt: it’s really commemorating the 150th anniversary of the California State Parks, not their employees.

But there he is, the stereotypical ranger: a little portly, Caucasian, middle-aged, well-met, and knows more about the feeding habits of the Steller’s Jay than any sane man should know.  But there are a lot of other things they do, like search and rescue, general park management, law enforcement, and more.

And ranger’s aren’t all guys anymore either, nor all white. Shame on the State Parks for going with the stereotype.  Yeah, yeah, everybody loves Ranger Friendly, but these days he (or she) should have a couple of earrings and maybe not always be so pale.

Of course, they should all wear that damned hat, forever.  It’s tradition.

Declare Iranian American! Census Tee

Being a civil servant: it’s not always a comfortable thing.  I see a couple of staffers from the Census Bureau wearing these shirts in a small booth at an Iranian cultural fair in 2010, trying mightly to get Iranian-Americans to self-indentify as such for 2010 census.

It’s voluntary.  But it’s also important, because there might be a federal program targeted to help Iranian-Americans.  The funding assigned to particular geographical areas would depend on the number of Iranian American living there. Government needs this demographic information to serve people well.

And maybe they were studiously ignored despite their efforts, or even shouted at.  Ethnic Iranians might be suspicious of the government’s intent towards people whose parent country clashed so much with the United States.

And the horrible thing is, perhaps they were right to be. One question that the census has never asked is, “Are you a citizen?” But the Trump Administration now want to include it.  A xenophobic, racist-friendly administration wants to know exactly where every non-citizen in America is.

And I do wonder how the census workers who tried so hard to get Iranians to self-indentify feel now. Sometimes being a civil servant is Hell.

T-Shirts from the Collection: The Kine Grindz

Most t-shirts out of Hawaii are tourist tees; I pay them no attention when I’m on the hunt for interesting tees.

But I paid attention to this one. If it’s even a tourist t-shirt. In a way this t-shirt represents all of Hawaiian culture — more than beaches and waves and palm trees do, anyway.

Local Kine Grindz Hawaii Tee 1

In Hawaiian pidgin, “local kine grindz” means something like, a wonderful spread of Hawaiian-style dishes.  Hawaii is proud of its food: the cuisines of several different countries came to the islands and merged into something unique.    Hawaiians feel the same way about themselves.

Know the food, know the people.  Know the people, know the food.  Of course, Hawaian food is not a friend of the slender, as the t-shirt implies.  Let’s get started.

Waikiki Spam Jam Festival 2Oh yeah. SPAM! You could probably see that coming. Hawaiians are notable Spam-heads.  They eat more Spam per capita than anybody. So much so that they have an annual festival to Spam: the Waikiki Spam Jam.

To be honest, the Spam Jam is no World’s Fair of Canned Pork Products. It’s a one-day street fair with three stages of entertainment and sweltering actors dressed like cans of Spam pausing for Panasonic moments with the tourists.

And of course booth after booth of Spam dishes from local restaurants: candied Spam, Spam French Toast, kimchi and Spam, Spam fried rice, Spam tacos, Spam musubi, and on and on and on.  The Spam Jam drew 40,000 people this year. In one day. Spam is big.

BreckySpam came to Hawaii with the military for World War 2.  It was cheaper than all other meats, it was portable, it didn’t need refrigeration, and you could do about anything with it.  And the military wouldn’t let the locals go fishing during the war, so… Spam it was, and Spam it still is.  Spam and eggs and white rice for breakfast are the Hawaiian ideal, maybe even with special Hawaii-only Teriyaki-flavored and Portuguese-sausage-flavored Spam. 2 SPAM

Like everything else, Spam got processed through all the cultures that came here: Japanese, Chinese, Philipino, Portuguese, American, and more.

The Japanese brought the Hawaiian plate lunch, by way of the Bento box: any kind of meat — teriyaki beef or chicken, Philipino pork adobo (maybe with pineapple), Spam of course, and more — with two scoops ofplatelunch white rice with a gooey scoop of macaroni salad on the side. It’s what Hawaii eats at midday

And there is also real linguica sausage at breakfast  and lunch — a fine substitue for Spam — from the Portuguese, who also brought malasadas, the Hawaiian donut. They also brought masa sovada, the Portuguese sweet bread that became known as Hawaiian bread. And From Japan and China came fried shrimp and chicken katsu, stir fry (yes, sometimes with Spam), and on and on.

In Hawaii, McDonald’s and Burger King offer Spam dishes along with their usual menu.  They have to, to get the locals’ business.

I’m personally a big fan of the loco moco, sort of a plate lunch in bowl form, with a hamburger patty and egg (or Spam or linguica or fish) on top of the white rice, and brown gravy over all.  It was invented by Hawaiian high school kids in the ‘50s, and you can get it over here now. Along with Spam musubi.


And indeed let us not forget musubi, the Hawaiian national snack: a slice of grilled Spam atop a bed of rice, wrapped in nori (a type of seaweed). Spam musubi in Hawaii  is a mutated Japanese rice ball dish, and you can buy it in convenience stores anywhere. It’s locals’ food all the way. Musubi defines “local.”


So much so that when not-quite-local radio personality/comedian/musician Fernando “The Love Machine” Pacheco floated his own comedy sketch show on Honolulu cable, he called it “Almost Local.”  With a picture of a musubi roll made with a corn dog instead of Spam.  Almost local.   Not quite.

Hawaii Food Bank Tee 2

Another thing about food in Hawaii: not everybody gets enough.  Living is expensive here, and a great many residents of Paradise, especially seniors and children, go to sleep with an empty belly.

The Hawaii Food Bank does what it can, and indeed Hawaiians are generous in their donations: there is the Hawaiian tradition of ohana, or family.  Of course the proceeds of the Spam Jam all go to charity, with over a quarter of a million dollars donated to the food bank over the years.  You can even buy cans of Spam there and hand them off to food bank volunteers.

Know the food, know Hawaii.  But Hawaii is a tourist mecca, too. What about food in Hawaii that isn’t really for Hawaiians?  Here’s a t-shirt, and a success story, and also a cautionary tale.

Cheeseburger Waikiki Tee

Back in the ‘80s, a couple of women from Los Angeles took a break from their picture framing business at the LA Flea Market and flew to Maui for a vacation.  They loved Maui, every minute of it.  And they would have loved to live there in Paradise.  What they didn’t love, after a few weeks, was the diet of fish and vegetables that was largely all that they could get.  And one of them said, “What I wouldn’t give for a good gooey cheeseburger right now…” A couple of light bulbs began to glow.

So they went home, raised money, came back and with no experience opened “Cheeseburger in Paradise” on the waterfront in Lahaina with prime beef imported from California.  It was an instant smash. Tourists lined up out the door; they grossed millions of dollars even the first year.  And then they built another “Cheeseburger in Paradise” in another tourist location, and another, and then…

…then came Jimmy Buffet.  Who had written the song “Cheeseburger in Paradise,” and was fronting a chain of Cheeseburger in Paradise restaurants on the mainland for a big corporation.

The legal battles were long and thunderous, and in the end both sides agreed that only the lawyers really won.  But the partners were allowed to keep the CIP name for their first two restaurants, as long as any new ones were simply called “Cheese Burger.”  They built a Cheese Burger empire of restaurants and brewpubs across the Islands, and the tourists flocked to them.  And it was Good.

Eventually they tried to open restaurants back on the mainland: with the signature Cheese Burger, but also with Hawaiian food and a Hawaiian theme.   They didn’t work out.  As far as I can tell, their last mainland venture was a Las Vegas Cheese Burger in the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino.

Cheese Burger Hawaiian Restaurant in Vegas ee

You can bet I snatched that one up off the rack.  It’s more Vegas than Lahaina, I think; but boy, is it Vegas.

And yet, even that Cheese Burger branch did close eventually.  And I wonder if this is the reason: that a Cheeseburger in Paradise is a wondrous thing for the weary traveler.  But a Cheeseburger in Vegas?  That’s just another cheeseburger.

Meanwhile,”real” Hawaiian restaurants are popping up all over the west coast, including my part of California.  There weren’t any Hawaiian joints in town years ago; now there are four, and I can get Spam musubi three blocks from my house, and yes, even a plate lunch with two scoops of rice and the deadly macaroni salad.  And Spam. I’m not going there; but I could.

These restaurants aren’t just for tourists; they’re for the locals. Our locals.  Not for nothing is this California surf town with great weather  known as “The Easternmost Point in the Hawaiian Islands”. And some of our local surfer dudes hold benefits for the hungry, too, just like the Spam Jam.  People go to bed hungry in our local version of Paradise, too.

Grind Out Hunger Event Tee by Jimbo Phillips

And somewhere beyond the horizon, so far beyond that you can see only a faint glow: vegetarian Spam.   Hormel is dreaming about it. And so the kine grindz marches on, for everyone.