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.
I had a very pleasant encounter on my shuttle bus this week. I picked up five young folks at the airport, three men and two women. The guys were steel-jawed handsome, the women stunningly poised. All had clear colorful eyes and perfect posture. They wore crisp collars, pressed jeans and gleaming shoes. Settling in, they moved around the bus in a choreographed and seemingly rehearsed precision. They were extremely congenial, courteous and genuinely polite. As we drove to the rental car office, I asked them if they were professional dancers, models, or maybe a college pep squad. One young man responded in a perfect John Wayne tone. “No sir, we are all F-16 fighter pilots in the United States Air Force.” That explained everything, and evoked in me a secure feeling knowing they were part of protecting our nation. The encounter with these five officers impressed me, to say the least, and I thanked them for their service.
This day also saw many of the contestants arriving for the Ironman Triathlon, a world-famous race event held each October. The participants swim, pedal and run amazing distances, and they bring their high-tech bikes right along with them. The two-wheeled lightning bolts are transported in very light, composite travel cases that would make a crystal goblet feel secure. As I open the shuttle door, these pristine athletic specimens stand there carrying $200 running shoes and holding a $15,000 bike. Some have an excited entourage of family and friends. Many are solo professionals traveling from event to event with corporate sponsors. Most are amateurs, hardworking folks just like the rest of us, but in amazing physical condition. They are the elite endurance athletes of the world, some with 7 percent or less body fat and as striking in appearance as cover models on fitness magazines – because many are. Unloading luggage and bikes this day I found myself right next to one of the Ironman competitors. I am in pretty good shape, but imagine Homer Simpson next to the Terminator’s inner-titanium frame and you get the picture. Our island is awash in an excited and frenzied whirl during their time here. One of the many benefits from this week-long event is the sumptuous pasta (or carbs) buffets all around the Kona area. The Ironmen folks gobble these up without a hint of visual weight gain. We Homers are not so lucky.