The following column is from Frank Critelli, who drives an airport shuttle bus for a rental car company in Kailua-Kona. He offers first-hand accounts from the front lines of Hawaii’s visitor industry.
My wife and I pulled the retirement plug a bit early and moved to the Big Island. We bought a home in Kona and in order to secure a loan, our bank required that we be employed. (Imagine that.) We became mortgagors to avoid dipping into our bingo card retirement funds.
I drive a customer shuttle bus for one of the major rental car companies at Kona International Airport. I pick up our customers at baggage claim when they arrive and I return them to the departure terminal when their trip concludes. When friends and family boldly ask how we create disposable income, I reply, “One suitcase at a time.” In addition to my hourly wages, I receive tips, just as I did in various service positions 45 years ago as a youngster.
The difference is that I am no longer a youngster. After work, I stand under hot (solar-heated) water, hoping my joints don’t stiffen, which will require my wife to lift me out of the shower like an undressed mannequin. I must add that my wife has an excellent job here on the Islands. With her salary and my suitcase schlepping, we manage to stay out of the shuffleboard kitty.
My work ritual begins at the baggage concourse when I open the shuttle’s outward doors and bump the arriving customers’ knees. The trip takes us by rows of raspberry-pink bougainvilleas and clay-colored lava fields. The shuttle is filled with excited conversations of plans, text messaging, and calls to the babysitter back home. Sometimes I hear, “They did what?!” Sometimes there are pleas to me that they didn’t get the red convertible (as if I had any say).
A shiny red convertible – with iridescent suitcases rising up from the back seat, weaving while two straw hats fumble with a GPS – is a homing device for a patrol car. Conversely, renters of small drab sedans – consuming alcohol while lying naked on the floor and steering with their feet – cruise to their hotels unnoticed.
The arrival experience concludes when I line up their luggage on the office blacktop, grimacing when a blacksmith anvil disguised as a carry-on bag lands on one of my toes. When they return days or weeks later and I stack their bags into the bus for their return trip to the terminal, I estimate if any of the luggage is over the current 50-pound limit. Shuttle drivers’ arms are calibrated from the redundancy of lifting several hundred bags a day, so I can usually get within a 1-pound accuracy range. A few bags of Kona coffee and some macadamia nuts can pack it on to bags, so to speak. Once they understand that the airline scale operator may not be in a happy place that day, hasty redistribution ensues, often accompanied by a spirited marital discussion.
Some airlines now allow golf bags to exceed the suitcase limit. These metallic structures look straight out of “Star Wars” and looks like they could hold the Hubble Space Telescope. Human nature being what it is, some travelers are forsaking traditional bags and packing their belongings in these mini-highway culverts. What next, fake medical oxygen tanks? In my job I see a human kaleidoscope in all of our visitors, the smiling face of every man, every woman and every child. When all is said and done, I secure my rig for the next driver and clock out. I drive along the ocean, home to an amazing woman and our 14-year-old Montana stock dog. The three of us sit peacefully on the lanai, watching the Kona sunset – a sizzling ball of orange melting into the mercurial blue Pacific. I count my tips, and I count my blessings.
So please watch your step, be seated, and we hope you enjoy the shuttle-view.