School started up again late last month in Honolulu. That meant about 50,000 more cars on the city's already crowded freeways and streets, especially as University of Hawaii students fought their way through downtown to get to the Manoa campus. Our mayor, Kirk Caldwell, was on all the morning news shows reminding people to "drive with Aloha."
But that's a lesson that hardly needs to be taught here. When nearly a million of us are all jammed together on an island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean you learn a lot about patience and tolerance. We're hoping that's the kind of thing HuffPost Hawaii can share with the rest of the world.
Hawaii is Earth's most isolated land mass. That means we are farther from any other place than any other place on Earth. Yep, it's just us out here in the middle of the big blue ocean -- 2,500 miles from the West Coast.
So what do we do, out here by ourselves, that people living in other places don't? We treat each other with respect and consideration that I don't see -- at least not to this extent -- in any of the other places I've lived or visited recently.
As Caldwell knows, we are all about respecting other drivers. We know what it means to share the road because we have among the worst traffic jams in the country. When you put on your blinker to change lanes on the freeway, the guy in the lane next to you immediately makes a hole. When I was in Phoenix last year, I tried letting someone in and nearly got rear-ended.
Recently several of us from the Honolulu office paid a visit to The Huffington Post headquarters in New York City. Yow. What a difference between the island of Manhattan and the island of Oahu when it comes to considering -- or even recognizing -- other people.
Here on our island, people actually speak to you for no real reason other than you have entered their orbit for a brief moment. Most notably, we chat idly with each other in elevators -- probably the one place you're trapped with strangers even briefly. You say "Have a great day" to the person who gets off the lift first. That does not happen in New York. People avoid eye contact rather then greeting a stranger with a simple cheery "Good morning. How's it going?"
The other morning I was riding up to a meeting in downtown Honolulu with my Alaska coffee mug in hand. "Oh, have you been to Alaska?" a woman in the elevator said. "I really want to go there. What's it like?" I gave her the 8-floor version.
I did live in Alaska, and while people there are generally friendly, I think it's more because misery loves company. Or because you might need them to pull you out of a snow bank at some point. In Hawaii, we realize that our dense demographics require a measure of natural civility that just makes life a much nicer user experience.
Back in New York, my Hawaii co-worker -- Heidi Pliszka -- and I ducked into a pizza place near Grand Central Station, one of those shops where you order at the counter then find an open seat at one of the few small tables. Except that the two open tables were piled with other people's trash. Heidi did what comes naturally to us and cleared them both. We took one and the elderly couple waiting behind us took the other -- without making eye contact and certainly without saying thank you. Sheesh.
Here at home we kick off our "slippers" -- flip flops to you -- before we step into someone's house. We don't go to a friend's for dinner empty-handed; a bottle of wine, a six-pack of beer, flowers, even a small knickknack you picked up in the kitchen and bath section of Whole Foods is what we bring to the table.
The remote location of Hawaii means that, on some level, we know we are all trapped together. There's no escaping the traffic, the trash, or each other so we follow rules a bit more closely and approach life with a bit more patience than most.
Perhaps the biggest lesson in patience comes when you're waiting to cross the street. No one jaywalks. New arrivals find this reluctance to knock a few seconds off your journey by crossing against the light infuriating. "This is so bizarre!" they practically screech. "Why does everyone do this?"
I smile. I was just like them. I grew up in Los Angeles, where dashing across four lanes ahead of oncoming traffic was no big deal.
But what does it hurt to wait for that little green "walk" guy to light up? True, when there are no cars -- or cops -- coming why not just sneak across the street?
I don't know. But it just doesn't feel right anymore. And maybe that's not such a bad lesson to have learned.