“Black Magic Woman” always takes me far from the mountains … to the Molakai Channel, with Oahu slipping out of sight on oily smooth, house-sized swells and a bare zephyr nudging us toward Lanai shortly after sunrise.
Just the music, us in a 30-foot sailboat, and a big, big ocean. It’s spring break, and we’re 19. The crew: my best friend in Hawaii, my best friend from California, my Hawaii bud’s girlfriend with one of her friends, and a kid of 15 I think we called Mouse, no disrespect because we really liked him.
What’s freedom for you? That moment will do it for me, right when Carlos is soloing at full blast in the middle of an oddly silent ocean.
That evening we anchored in Manele Bay long before there was a fancy hotel there. The next day, we almost hit a humpback on the way to Lahaina. I had the helm and missed the sight, but everyone was shaking after the shrieks and quick tack away. It fed excited recountings for a lifetime afterward.
I remember the spouts filling the view to Lanai from the pool table on the second floor of Lahaina Yacht Club around sunset, all whales celebrating their migration. We’d crossed a minefield.
My California buddy and I spent much of most nights in town at a nightclub that had couches and was famous for the big name musicians who we had heard showed up to play unannounced — Neil Young, Elton John, Jim Messina among them. None showed, but that didn’t change our mood.
We’d get back to the boat toasted enough to laugh uproariously as we rowed in our skiff past a sailboat with “Cody, Wyoming” painted on its stern. Every night.
We tried hard to make friends with the pack of gorgeous girls in the boat anchored next to us in the harbor. We didn’t get anywhere past “friends,” for all our still-adolescent charm. No matter.
The prettiest girl I swore I’d ever seen was a waitress at a resort just west of town at Kaanapali while I blushed beet red asking her about a drink with a naughty name that we’d heard a rumor about. She laughed, and brought us a round.
It was brunch, we were of age for the state and very much on vacation from as stressful of lives as carefree 19-year-olds could possibly have.
I recall we probably should have been at least a little embarrassed playing in a knee-deep pool with a fountain on the grounds about an hour later. I laughed even harder than while passing “Cody, Wyoming” in the wee hours to get back to our boat, a stalwart Cal 30.
Sometime during our night prowls in that little town, my California friend, who had flown out a few months earlier, decided he was in love with his gal back home. That bug didn’t bite me for a few more months, before I met a girl I wound up chasing to Santa Barbara, where years later I met my wife.
My Hawaii buddy saved a couple of teen-aged girls at one of the beaches on the west side of the island. They didn’t understand the rip tide. Then the guys all went body surfing. We didn’t want to put good surf to waste, and it was easy enough to tell where the rip current was — mainly, you didn’t get a ride, and so you’d sideslip to where the waves would push you again. We weren’t the brightest bunch, just maybe the happiest for that week bracketed by weekends.
I remember catching sunrise at Haleakala Crater, a long drive in the night to get as cold as you possibly can get in Hawaii, and definitely a bucket list moment. Even stupid, feral man-boys get that much.
And then the Seven Sacred Pools at the end of a skinny road to Hana on the east side of the island. I have a distinct memory, not sure it’s even true, but it has us sitting on the edge of a deep green field, legs dangling over black volcanic cliffside, looking out at deep blue and white-whipped ocean, just reveling in the moment.
The wind had picked up steadily since our rare easy crossing of the Molakai Channel from Oahu. At least it was a downwind ride back home. I think we took our only prudent step of the trip by leaving the spinnaker down as we sailed past the huge cliffs along Molokai’s north coast, where the leper colony lasted for 100 years. Then across the channel in its usual awesome form, but surfing home with the waves and wind, “Black Magic Woman” in its turn blaring, signaling the end of boyhood, though we couldn’t possibly have known it then.
My California buddy wound up marrying his girl. They still are together in suburban Los Angeles, with grandchildren. My Hawaii buddy wound up in San Francisco, chasing a career. Time and distance eventually put us out of touch.
All too soon after this last adventure to cap adolescence, I started tripping down a path that wound up with the best possible outcome I could hope to imagine, living with the love of my life, with easily the best job in my field, in mountainous swells of rock and tree marking the best place in the world to make a life.
I can visit Maui any time. I don’t think it can match my memories, though. So I stick with Carlos, and crank the volume.
Editor and Publisher Don Rogers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.