Tuesday, July 31, 2012


I LOVE YOU- NOW CHANGE: To say Kapa`a in the 70's was a sleepy little town is to do a injustice to repose.

Town proper consisted of the Olympic Cafe, Ding's Bar and Cash and Mrs. Cash Kubayama's liquor store. The rest of the storefronts were pretty much closed up although a hippie head shop opened up where the old bank had been, followed by a couple of other somnambulent establishments like the fertilizer store that sold imported bat guano to the pot growers.

But down past Tony Rapozo's anything-you-wanted-upstairs and the strip of sidewalked businesses like Pono Market, on the mauka side of the "highway"- across from where Pono Kai was being built by coked-out haole construction workers- was what everyone called the "fake gas station."

There were two pumps where the Kodani Building now stands but it was apparent that no one wanted to sell anyone gas, although if you wanted a safety check Gary would come out and hand you the stickers in exchange for the buck-and-a-half or whatever they were charging in those days... kind of like it was a public service.

Well it it didn't take long for a niele newcomer to find out that there was a 24/7/365 gambling operation in the back. And with a little more inquiry it wasn't hard to discover that it was under the protection of "Kauai's Finest" at KPD... especially what with the ever-present patrol car parked out front.

So what brought this up? Well, these youthful memories come courtesy of a little "aside" in today's CivilBeat.com article about how "(a) top union official says he was fired after he refused to kill other union members who were critical of his boss"... in posts on Facebook.

Under the headline "Lawsuit: Hawaii IBEW Chief Wanted Hitman To Take Out His Enemies" the report says that:

The lawsuit was filed last week by Thomas Decano Jr., who says he was wrongfully terminated by Brian Ahakuelo, IBEW’s new business manager and financial secretary.

So what does this have to do with the fake gas station? What prodded our fond memory of the oldest established permanent non-floating crap game in Kapa`a?

Well about halfway down the page was this little piece of info:

Decano was also one of three Honolulu police officers who was arrested in 1975 for robbing a gambling operation on Kauai.

It was the talk of the town- and the island at the time. But the oddest part of all of it was that people of Kaua`i were outraged. No they weren't "shocked shocked" to find gambling at Rick's but rather at the thought that three Honolulu cops could and would fly over here and rob OUR card games at gun point.

And, more importantly, the word was that KPD just stood there and didn't do a thing.
We had our own little "Kaua`i mafia" in those days. It was a small but effective operation and as long as you didn't threaten them, they didn't threaten you. Actually they were pretty nice guys once you got to know them as we did, playing Mountain Ball at the old Kapa`a ball park a few nights a week.

But the idea that the Honolulu cops could come over here and rob our guys was an affront to local Kaua`i people's sense of local pride. There was still a sense that even though it was organized crime, it was OUR organized crime.

If it would have been someone on Kaua`i who tried to rob the game, people would have just thought he was crazy but it wouldn't have been an affront to our sensibilities.

In a way, if you can understand this attitude you can understand the Superferry protests.

There was a lot scuttlebutt about how some of our guys went over there and robbed some of their guys and even a rumor or two about some guys on both sides "disappearing"... after all, there's a big ocean out there between O`ahu and Kaua`i.

But that was just about the end for the fake gas station. It remained open for a while but the games were no longer full time, mostly because it was said that gamblers tended to shy away, afraid of another "scoop" by the big guys.

In a way, it seemed symbolic of the end of the age of isolation and indeed innocence on Kaua`i. Uncle Billy Fernandez made his fortune in the 70's building boom, and the Coconut Marketplace, Foodland and all the little strip malls between the post office and where Safeway was eventually built, were installed. There was actually somewhere closer than Kinipopo to buy beer when the Kubayama's closed for the evening. And while our all hippie-haole Mountain Ball team had been a shock to the system for many local people at the time- mostly because it meant that there were actually 10 of us living in Kapa`a, by the late 70's there were actually "integrated" teams.

Soon the traffic stopped moving as the mauka subdivisions multiplied and having a perpetual card game going on in the middle of Kapa`a these days would seem as out of place as Ding's bar.

But for many, the memory of the fake gas station makes us nostalgic for the days when everybody knew everybody and no one wanted to break anyone's rice bowl... even those of the local crime consortium.

After all, they were our mobsters and no Honolulu boys were going to come in here and mess with us.

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