The material and successful life that ‘Iokepa Hanalei ‘Imaikalani surrendered fourteen years ago - to take up arms (heart and soul) against the deception, the greed, and the oppression visited upon his people and his nation - included a house on a lake, seven cars “and a hot rod.” Despite the fact that his lavish passion in these last years has been cultural - language, history and spiritual practice - for the first forty-six years of his life focused an equal dose of passion on cars that go very fast.
For fourteen years now the only fast-moving vehicles in ‘Iokepa’s life have been in his nightly dreams. He awakens no less than twice a week behind the wheel of a race car.
He reminds himself and others: “You don’t give away gifts that you don’t value. The giving is the giving because you value it. I loved my life before…”
On the cusp of ‘Iokepa’s 61st birthday this year, he and I were traveling the American highways on book tour, telling our stories and disseminating the Hawaiian experience. Sometime in February, we were heading east on Interstate 40 out of Albuquerque, and the opposing lanes heading west were filled with multi-million dollar rigs carrying the likes of the premiere NHRA racing teams and their incredible hot rods. The ‘season’ was beginning the next weekend in Pomona, California. I could hear ‘Iokepa salivate.
I am ignorant of this world that my husband occupied before we met, but I know my man, and I know the sound of his passions.
That night, in the stillness of a Louisiana motel room, I used Google to locate the NHRA (National Hot Rod Association) 2011 season race schedule. I looked simultaneously at the calendar of our Grandmothers Whisper book events.
‘Iokepa’s 61st birthday was April 2.
The April 15 race weekend was in Charlotte, North Carolina. In the week before that we had a scheduled bookstore stop in Roanoke, Virginia - three hours drive away. This could happen. I could offer ‘Iokepa tickets to the Charlotte Speedway - to the ‘drags’ for his birthday.
And so I did - and so we did.
In preparation we bought ear muffles. The sound of a well-running, ‘nitro’ engine is music to my husband’s ears - but deafening never-the-less at excruciating decibels.
On race-day we patiently out-waited tornado winds and torrential rains, visiting ‘Iokepa’s old chums in the ‘pits’ where the drag cars are labored over until they reach the ‘staging area.’ We were surrounded by stereotype-defying crowds of every age, ethnicity, and socio-economic background.
The races were loud; they were brash. The sport challenged my learning curve. ‘Iokepa’s eyes sparkled, his blood pressure climbed, and he was awash with nostalgia.
So in the midst of this deadly serious occupation of ours: the grandmothers’ whispered messages and (as ‘Iokepa often tells it) “reclaiming a nation” - we had a day of noise and un-muffled pleasure.
‘Iokepa Hanalei ‘Imaikalani came home with a T-shirt.