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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, January 1, 2010

At old air terminal, memories were made

By Lee Cataluna

Of all the oddball things to wax nostalgic about, the old Honolulu airport commuter terminal is right up there with missing the sour milk smell of the school cafeteria or fondly remembering the crushing din of intermediate band class. How can you possibly miss something that smelled so bad, sounded even worse and had all the graceful ambience of a concrete bunker?

Yet these things do press up against our hearts, these little pungent, noisy things from simpler days,and when they go away, we miss them although it's hard to explain why.

The commuter airport, what used to be the interisland terminal until the mid-'80s, was as tear-soaked and romantic as the dock at Honolulu Harbor. When ships were replaced by planes for interisland travel, all the elated hellos and fond farewells that seemed so exotic and tender on the waterfront got transferred to the dingy hollow tile jet-exhaust filled box of a building at the 'Ewa end of the airport complex. If you were in Hawai'i during that era, chances are you stood misty eyed on that tiled floor at least once.

Air travel, even interisland, was different then. The old habit of "dressing nice" to get on an airplane hadn't died yet, and women bravely wore dresses even though they had to drop the Shishido Manju package to grab a billowing skirt when coming down the airplane stairs to the tarmac.

People could still smoke on planes, even interisland, and if you just passed through the smoking section, your hair smelled like an ashtray the rest of the day. The little terminal was thick with that cigarette haze mingled with the spicy perfume of yellow plumeria and white carnation, lei you don't see much anymore.

And there were those magical black plastic chairs where you could watch a few minutes of bad-reception television for a quarter. Watching "Checkers and Pogo" on that tiny, tinny TV was even better than watching the show at home. It was a decadent treat.

It's not so much the squat building with its astoundingly convenient parking that will be missed, but the memories that were made among the yellowing cement walls and plastic bucket chairs. The first time you saw your crazy auntie from Hilo, the one with the flower shorty mu'u and the matching babushka, was there. Maybe the last time you hugged grandpa was there. The time your team came stumbling home from the Maui tournament, crazed from celebrating victory all night in the salty-smelling halls of the Maui Beach hotel, was there, the rows of plastic chairs bearing witness to your triumphant homecoming. Even if you hadn't been in the old interisland terminal in years, it was nice knowing it was still there.