September 8, 2009

Why We Stay

Marc Comtois

While Justin and Monique kept things flowing over the long weekend, I took some time with my family and my folks (down from New Hampshire) to take in some Ocean State sights. Well, mostly. First, I had some soccer duties to attend to on Saturday morning--hey, it was uniform day!

We went to Waterfire on Saturday night. It was a perfect Rhode Island night. Not too hot or humid, just the hint of a fresh breeze in the air. The normal lighting ceremony was accentuated by torch-lighting for those who would be accompanying the various opera singers who would be "spot singing" throughout the evening. The usual tourists were around as were quite a few college kids. (I wonder how many "regular Rhode Islanders" attend Waterfire?) My daughters liked it all--they always do!--and made sure we saw the Lady and the Gargoyles so that they could get their fortune. Add in some Del's and it was a perfect night for all.

On Sunday, we continued our tradition of attending Newport's Last Day of Summer party at Easton's (1st) Beach. In addition to the great food and carousel--and beautiful beach--there was a waterslide and some other activities for the kids, including a sand castle contest, sidewalk chalk contest, pie-eating get the picture. The kids had a blast (no sand castle prize this year, but last year they got a 2nd in the Kids Division and a 3rd for "Best use of only beach materials" for their volcano "erupting" with red seaweed). The day was punctuated by a stroll on the cliff walk. Again, another great one.

My point? This was truly a "Chamber of Commerce" weekend here in Rhode Island. And that's one of the reasons we love it here. Of all of the New England states, Rhody is truly unique with its relatively temperate climate, protected Narragansett Bay and, as Dan Yorke would say, the water. Throw in its proximity to Boston and New York and all of the history...just a great spot.

Over the years, I've often read or heard people who protect the political and economic status quo counter those of us looking for change with, "Well, if it's so bad, why don't you just leave." This past weekend was a good example of why we stay. But it's only part of it. Since taking a job down here, my wife and I have had two beautiful daughters who have grown up here. We are active in the community and school and have made many dear friends. We've put down roots--this is home, even if we weren't born here. We've invested ourselves and our time in this place. We want to make it better for the future and do what we can. Is it quixotic? Perhaps. But we think it's a challenge worth taking and we owe it to our kids to keep at it.

ADDENDUM: To that parents have E-Z Pass in New Hampshire and used it to get across the Newport Bridge. My Dad noted that one of the benefits of E-Z Pass is that you're supposed to be able to, you know, pass easily through the toll both and continue on your way. Not in Rhode Island, though. Even the E-Z Pass lanes on the Newport Bridge have a gate that comes down and stops you until the pass is read. With the tolls going up as of today, that might be something worth addressing.

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We were seriously going to leave a few months back. But we decided to stay. But I'm not staying without a fight. A big one!

All that you describe Mark, are the reasons many of us chose to stay. But we will lose it all, and may be even forced out, if we don't fight to save our beautiful state.

We also need to seek leaders who are truly interested in fixing - seriously structurally fixing - the state. Not just applying little patches here and there and hoping no-one notices they're not really addressing the big problem. We need leaders who are going to take on the $1.2 BILLION problem, and not treat us like fools with 70 million dollar smoke and mirror schemes.

Posted by: George at September 8, 2009 10:52 AM

Marc, sorry about the mis-spelling of your name. I know it's Marc. Just typing too fast

Posted by: George at September 8, 2009 10:56 AM

No problem George, happens all the time. You should see what happens to my last name....

Posted by: Marc at September 8, 2009 11:13 AM


I use to feel the same about Rhode Island as you do until I started to age. You know that thing all of us do

Being born and raised in RI I had the good fortune to be raised in a family that loved to explore on those Saturday and Sunday drives and to visit Crescent Park, Rocky Point, Jolly Cholly’s in Attleboro, MA and Lincoln Park Amusement Park Dartmouth, MA, lived on fried clams at Pink Elephant, Seekonk, MA, demolition derby at Seekonk Speedway, extended family outings at Goddard Park and Lincoln Woods. Weekend nights were also for attending latest movies at the drive inns on hot summer bights.

I’ve lived on College Hill, East Providence and Federal Hill growing up in RI.

I watched RI grow, fall apart when the Navy North Atlantic Fleet left and rebirth as a tourist destination while the costume jewelry industry and mills mover to the south.

As a member of the first class of Rhode Island Junior College I designed the college rings, attended Providence College, worked as a ski instructor in North Conway, NH while attending college. Volunteered for active duty military service and volunteered two years in Viet Nam during major Tet Offensives. Returning to RI I met my future wife who lived in Newport and uncle was mayor of Newport (R), my family was involved in federal, state government so we married combining the families and moved to Woonsocket, RI because I worked in MA and she in RI.

During the 35 years of marriage we traveled a lot and also camped throughout New England and other states The older we got the more we started comparing RI to other states. Hawaii was a state and people that was just totally different from anything we experienced in all the other states and countries we visited. We started visiting Hawaii almost every year and learned a lot, as we grew closer to retirement.

Just before the recession we threw in the towel, sold the house and cars at our asking prices and retired to Hawaii. My wife lasted a little over a month in Hawaii after battling cancer in RI before she passed but her wishes were fulfilled having a Hawaii address.

Hawaii has aloha and it takes a thick book to explain what aloha is. Hawaii has a family attitude. Family comes first and there is great respect for the land, elders and children. Senior citizen discounts start at age 50. Yes housing is the greatest cost but senior discounts and property tax exemptions offset cost. Minimum property tax all owners must pay is $100 a year. Motor vehicles, boats and motorcycles are not taxed.

Honolulu for its population size is ranked by the FBI as major city with lowest crime rate, Honolulu was ranked best city to raise a family, Honolulu is ranked 2nd cleanest international city in the world, Hawaii is ranked the state with the least stress and best wellness,Hawaii is only state in nation closest to providing universal health care to its total population and Hawaii as a state has the most millionaires per population with access to $1 million in available liquid assets.

Conde Nast Travelers Readers poll has voted Island of Maui, Hawaii 17 years “Best Pacific Island” and “Best Island in the World” 13 years.

Hawaii has one of the largest senior and longest living populations in the nation and the senior discounts more than cut average living expenses compared to RI by almost 50%. The average daily temperature below 3,000 ft is 77 degrees year round with a plethora of free events, shows, concerts, education courses, socials and social security and some retirement funds are exempt from local income tax. The beaches are clean, free with free parking same as the parks. The public bus system senior pass is $30 a year for unlimited transportation except on one island where the public bus system is totally free island-wide.

I live on the Island of Oahu, which is the most populated cosmopolitan island (about 70% state population lives on this island) yet only 30% of the island land mass is developed. Honolulu, capitol city, is an international destination with all the amenities of New York City or other large international city yet a 30 min drive will take me into the mountains like New Hampshire solitude wilderness. I live in what is called the country with 300-400 ft waterfalls cascading off the 4,000 ft mountains over looking the beach and sunsets but a 45 min drive and I’m in the center of all the nightlife action that never stops 24/7.

If you get island fever (this island is 60% size of RI) than hop on a $29 inter-island flight because it’s like visiting another state. Of the eight major islands all are totally different from each other. You can snow ski or snowboard five miles runs with 6,000 ft vertical drops Nov to Mar and then swim in 80 degree ocean water same day. 9 of the 11 weather systems known to man are in Hawaii.

State of RI and the cities and towns provide very little if any relief for seniors plus if I remember correctly, RI shuts down at 2 AM where Hawaii tourist areas stay open 24 hours seven days a week.

For my life style, needs, wants and income (living off of 50% retirement income) I couldn’t be in a happier place. Glad I moved out of RI. I still visit RI every year for my father’s birthday but by end of week, I just got to get back to Hawaii! RI is so different now!

Posted by: Ken at September 8, 2009 9:27 PM

Ken, Thanks for sharing (sincerely). I'm also sorry for the passing of you wife, but I'm glad she got her wish! I've been to Hawaii a few times--all for work. I did a couple trips on a sugar boat between various islands and San Francisco when I was in the Merchant Marine and also visited once (maybe twice?) for my current job (again, related to the shipping industry). It's a beautiful place. I especially like the view from atop Diamond Head.

Posted by: Marc at September 9, 2009 7:59 AM


Visiting Hawaii while on business is a lot different than vacation visiting but I’m glad you appreciate what you’ve seen and experienced so far of my new adopted state.

Hawaii is like no other place in the world and that’s why people call it “paradise”.

It’s the most isolated population center in the world so sustainability is always in the back of your mine. Things that are taken for granted on the mainland are paid attention to in Hawaii. Life is a lot simpler and laid back in the islands.

If you have not been here in a while, Christmas and New Years season is the one of the best times to be in Waikiki Beach. Santa does arrive in an outrigger canoe passing out gifts to children on the beach. Everyplace is decorated with live Christmas trees and greenery. There are parades almost every day with up to 2,000 marchers and floats starting day after Thanksgiving, pageants, plays and concerts. The Sheraton Hawaii Bowl is an exercise in eating tailgating food. New Years is a fireworks spectacular as fireworks are legal in Hawaii. Yes, a city block in downtown Honolulu suddenly has real snow covering it so children and adults can play in snow. Of course the cold Hawaii winter 76-80 degree sunny daytime weather helps along with 78-80 degree water.

Anytime or month is a good time to visit Hawaii especially now with vacation deals on airfare and hotel that rival 1970 pricing. Some times of the year more events are going on but rest assured the City Council of Honolulu has only limited parades to 40 a year (high was 60 a year) through Waikiki Beach with associated block parties. Of all the U.S. vacation destination Hawaii had the highest hotel bookings at 70% occupancy during the past 6 months.

Waikiki Beach (3 blocks wide by 1 ½ miles long) just completed a $7 billion private funded makeover creating the Waikiki Beachwalk. In addition most all of the hotels have renovated and updated hotel public areas, restaurants and rooms. Donald Trump is near completing Trump Waikiki Towers and Hotel one block off the beach, which sold out all condos in 8 hours netting $700 million.

Ala Moana shopping center (world’s largest open-air shopping mall) next to Waikiki Beach has added a new wing adding over 31 stores and a very large Nordstrom in support of Neiman Marcus and Macys. There are now over 290 stores and over 80 restaurants on 4 levels and two hotels across from the very large Ala Moana Beach Park..

Ward Centers is gearing up to redevelop its 60-acre shopping centers with over 120 stores and entertainment complex to 20 condominium towers (staggered to preserve water views) with 4,000 condos leaving the lower floors open to over 400 stores plus restaurants, new open green spaces and walkways. This is adjacent to Ala Moana shopping center.

King Kamehameha Schools has received approval to redevelop 29 acres it owns from Restaurant Row to Ward Centers. Over the next 15 years 2,750 homes will be constructed and seven towers as well as low-rise buildings, some retail and park space. Forecast creating 5,466 full-time jobs at full buildout in addition to roughly 9,000 temporary construction jobs.

In southwest corner of Oahu the construction of the City of Kapolei is continuing (downtown Honolulu and Waikiki Beach can no longer expand) The 32 city blocks will have office towers, government offices, commercial and office spaces, shopping, medical facilities, central park, bike and walking paths, industrial park and deep water harbor. Over 200,000 residences are in some stages of planning or construction all interconnected with strip malls, new schools, green open space, walkways, bike paths, large public parks, golf courses and public swimming pools.

City of Kapolei is expected to add over the coming years 32,000 new jobs to the work force. It has already added over 40,000 new jobs in the live, work and play in community concept.

Next to Kapolei is Ko Olina, which will be the west side version of Waikiki Beach. J. W. Marriott has already constructed five towers four being condo/time-share residence and one being a hotel/resort along the five super-sized man-made swimming lagoons, 18-hole golf course and marina. Walt Disney Co. is constructing the first ever out-of-theme park 800-room themed hotel/resort creating 1,000 new jobs. There will be a total of 12 hotels and resorts added to Kapolei and Ko Olina plus the second largest open-air shopping center in Hawaii.

A new full size campus for University of Hawaii West will be added to Kapolei and Kapolei and Waikiki Beach will be connected by a $5.8 billion 20 mile long elevated high speed light rail system with spurs to University of Hawaii main campus and Honolulu International Airport. Rail project construction commences this December creating an estimated 11,000 jobs.

The west, north, east and central areas of Oahu will be left as country only the south side is being developed.

The State of Hawaii has developed the Hawaii Clean Energy Initiative, which sets a goal for the total state to reduce its imported oil dependence by 70% year 2030. This is a doable initiative with many firms and companies flocking to Hawaii to demonstrate alternate energy technologies. Green jobs in Hawaii have increased by 3,000 new positions. One island is up to 40% reduction and another will be 100% alternate energy in a few years. Hawaii is also investing in electric cars that get up to 300 miles per full battery charge.

Oahu is still “The Gathering Place” with close to 70% of states total population. Kauai is still the “Garden Isle” lush tropical undeveloped with the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific” as Mark Twain described it. Maui is still the “Valley Isle” or “Magic Isle” with vacation and hotel/resort development slowing down. Charles Lindbergh is buried in Hana. Lanai is known as “The Private Isle”. It’s considered Hawaii’s most secluded isle. Hawaii is known as the “Big Island”. The largest contiguous ranch, in the United States, is in Hawaii. The Parker Ranch near Kamuela has about 480,000 acres of land and the world’s most active volcano Kilauea is on this isle. Molokai is known as “The Friendly Isle”. No building is taller than a palm tree and the world’s tallest sea cliffs are on this isle. Kalaaupapa was once a leper colony administered by Father Damien. 11 October 2009 will be the canonization of Father Damien in St Peter’s Square, Rome by Pope Benedict XVI elevating Father Damien to a Saint.

Oh in case you might be wondering, Hawaii has an abundance of fresh State of Maine hard shell lobsters, which are flown in almost daily and stay at the “Hawaiian Lobster Hotel” in Kona to recuperate from their flight before being shipped on to restaurants and grocery stores.

Drop me a line when you intend to visit!

Posted by: Ken at September 9, 2009 9:07 PM
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