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The big trouble with tropical islands is that they wreck the whole idea that being useful is worth your time.

After decades in hot pursuit of "making a difference," I continue to dash to the job in what my embarrassed family calls dad's "Maui-mobile." It's a sun-setting-red Chrysler convertible complete with hibiscus flowered custom seat covers, palm-tree license plate holders and a President Obama surfer Bobblehead who wiggles his noggin over my dashboard. One sticker proclaims "Live Aloha" from a passenger window. Pasted to another are three large Tiki God decals.

My philosophy started to shift with our first trip to Kauai more than a dozen years ago. I once believed the "good life" required two basic ingredients: happiness and usefulness, in the form of meaningful employment. A job would keep me vital into my golden years -- better to wear out from toil rather than rust accomplishing nothing.

Following a few more island vacations and my government boss wrote me a disciplinary note. She had caught the grey-haired old guy wearing retinal-burn Hawaiian shirts rather than the drab service uniform required at work. Now I think less and less of being of use to anyone and more and more of rusting away - especially on that beautiful stretch of sand between Ka'anapali and Lahaina where I happily swim with my beloved green sea turtles each year.

My son's friends think it's weird when I introduce them to the sounds of the ukulele while shuttling them to the gym. My teenager, well, he just grins and bears it. He'll need to go to college and we all require medical coverage for now, so I'll continue doing for a while. But that poster above my desk keeps me planning on a less useful yet happy life - the image of the splendid island waterfall that reads overhead:


"Here today, gone to Maui."
With a Perspective I'm John Dorrance.

John Dorrance is a park educator and naturalist in the South Bay.