Wokstar Dies And Hawaii Turns On The Lights In The Pali Tunnel Of Doom

So the other night I was driving to the other side and noticed for some reason that though there were lights installed in the Pali tunnel, they were not on. Nor could I remember ever seeing them on, at night or any other time.

Suddenly terrified of having to drive through the tunnel in the dark (it takes about two seconds at 45 miles per hour, after all), I asked Hawaii Department of Transportation (DOT) spokesman Dan Meisenzahl (formerly of KITV news anchor/reporter fame). According to Meisenzahl, the good news is state workers were out the night of Oct. 22 installing new lights. But then Meisenzahl told me a dark, haunting tale of just how the lights came to be broken.

The whole system, according to Meisenzahl, isn’t actually designed to be used at night. Installed years ago, the lights are for the safety of bicyclists and pedestrians who pass through the tunnel. At either end are push buttons (similar to those at crosswalk intersections) that activate the lights, which are solar-powered.

But it seems this isn’t the first time state DOT workers have had to go into the tunnel to repair the lights. In fact, they’ve had to do so on two previous occasions. Apparently, person or persons unknown have been slipping in under the cover of darkness to do nefarious things to the solar panels that power the lights.

“The solar panels were stolen not once, but twice,” Meisenzahl told me. “We did a lot of improvements to secure the system.”


Anyway, even though state crews will be working on the lights this weekend, Meisenzahl said not to expect to see them on anytime soon. His reason: something even more unholy than solar panel thieves may interfere with the crews’ work.

“After the lights are hung, we will still have a lot of work to do including checking wiring that has been dormant for some years now,” Meisenzahl said. “We do not expect the lights to be operational for a couple of months. We anticipate the crews will probably get pulled off the job along the way as higher priority items come up.”
Higher priority items? Terrifying!

So Halloween is right around the corner, but do you know what’s really scary? The latest unemployment figures for, well, everyone. I mean, the stats that were just released from the Hawaii Department of Labor and Industrial Relations are a mixed bag: Maui County’s 7.9 percent unemployment rate (not seasonally adjusted) for September 2011 is slightly worst than August (7.5 percent) but a bit better than September 2010 (8.3 percent). And while it’s a whole lot better than the nation’s 9.1 percent unemployment rate (seasonally adjusted), it’s still nowhere near the 3.0 percent we were all used to only a few years ago. Of course, when you break up the county into its component islands, it’s clear that Molokai is even more skewered than usual–16.9 percent unemployment in September, which is way higher than the 13.9 percent figure from August 2011 or even the 13.6 percent figure from a year ago.

Look, what’s truly scary about these numbers isn’t that they’re so high–we’ve dealt with bouts of high unemployment before. No, what’s scary about these figures is that they probably won’t get any better. The Republicans and Democrats in Washington who nominally “run” this Great Nation of ours really have no idea how to deal with this, which must scare them too and possibly explains why they seem to spend so much of their time arguing over irrelevant trifles like how high to place the debt ceiling or whether to electrify the U.S-Mexico border.

Not scared enough? Well, to paraphrase the old master, let us sit upon the ground and tell sad stories of the death of small businesses.

I’m speaking of Wokstar, born in a small shop in Kihei Kalama Village. It died this week, on Wednesday to be precise, at the age of three.
I was there at the birth–before, even, when the owners were bolting together benches and hanging chalkboards and generally trying to find a way to serve fresh, good food at reasonable prices. The menu ended up being pricey, but they certainly succeeded in serving delicious bowls of rice and noodles, endless plates of tasty potstickers and incredible jaffel sandwiches. The effort they put into the place was nothing short of monumental in my humble opinion, and it showed.

I asked part owner Sarah Gray (who goes by the moniker Sarah Sassin in the Maui Roller Girls) why Wokstar was closing. Here’s her response, which deserves to be quoted at length:

“I’ve realized this week that closing is sad, but I don’t consider it failure,” Gray wrote. “The lease is up and we don’t make money–those are the boring facts. If we had made profit a larger priority, things may be different. It is disappointing, but I still see it as successful. We wanted to create a place where all walks of life could sit together and enjoy fresh affordable food. A place that people wanted to work at, that was fun and not contrived. That’s what we did for three and a half years, in a deep recession. Not a bad shot at it. The community response to us closing has been a testament to the value of the place. Some of our regulars are more emotional than me, and I’m touched by the support all the way through the final days. Those are the people that kept us going these last few years and we are grateful.”