The next time you hear somebody say one person can't make a difference, mention Carlino Giampolo.
In fact, give Carlino much of the credit for all of the changes that are transforming Waikiki into a more Hawaiian place - and a more enjoyable place for locals and visitors alike.
It started back in June of 1988 when then-Mayor Frank Fasi put up those big, ugly, brown traffic light standards on Kalakaua Avenue - big enough to block out the sun and views of Diamond Head.
At the same time, Carlino came across a line in a metaphysics book - "belief precedes experience."
When I saw those brown poles, it was like those words flashed on them," says Carlino, a native of Pittsburgh who moved to Hawaii in 1980 and lives in Waikiki.
"I thought, 'I came to Hawaii for the beauty, why should I allow a few government officials to ruin that?' So I started writing letters to the city."
None, he says, was answered. With the exception of one daily columnist, the Honolulu media declined to get involved, figuring the standards were a done deal.
So, he started paying for ads to tell his side of the story. In all he and a few friends would spend $15,000 on 17 ads over the years.
"It was an investment in the Hawaii I believed in," he says. "And it went beyond just a question of 'beauty.' It was a question of values. To me, the renaissance of Waikiki had to be a Hawaiian renaissance."
Through it all, he took the high road. Instead of creating a disturbance on the streets of Waikiki or at City Hall, he says, "I chose to argue elegantly with words. I continued to speak my truth. I could have cut them down with a hacksaw, but that would not have changed the future or values.
"That project was the beginning of the decline of Waikiki. It wasn't the Gulf War or the economic downturn in Japan. The poles created negative feelings in people. It's because there was no regard for Hawaiian culture. It was if Hawaiian culture did not exist in Waikiki."
As for the new changes in Waikiki, Carlino says, "It is very gratifying to see my dream become a reality after 12 years. This is a significant historical change. We're seeing a changing of consciousness toward Hawaiian culture in Waikiki. The result is we're creating a greater Hawaiian ambiance in Waikiki. Again, it isn't just about beauty. It is about values. And it's obvious Hawaiian values are coming back to Waikiki and we'll never go back to the other way."
Carlino, who publishes the visitor publication Paradise News and is the author of The Art of Letting Go, is easy to recognize around town. He drives a gold Chrysler LeBaron convertible and the top is always down: "I've never driven with the top up - October will make 11 years, so I think we have the record. Of course it helps that I live and work in Waikiki."
Carlino also took on the state over an agricultural inspection film shown on Hawaii-bound planes. "It showed a Hawaiian woman giving a silk flower lei to an agricultural inspector for approval. And I thought, no Hawaiian woman would do that."
He started writing letters. That portion of the film was taken out.
"Again, it shows that one person can make a difference," he says. "You have to be patient, you have to be willing to look like a fool, but mostly you have to speak your own truth, your own values."
New light poles and traffic lights have been installed on Kalakaua
Avenue in Waikiki. Carlino Giampolo sees a special significance
in that project.
Since 1988, when the last renovation of Kalakaua Avenue occurred
- a project he believed took place as if Hawaiian culture did not
exist - he had been writing for the removal of the light poles
and traffic lights there. "Belief precedes experience and those light structures were a symbol of an indifferent attitude and oppressive consciousness toward Hawaiian culture," Giampolo
However, his knowledge of Hawaii was very limited when he first arrived
in the islands. Back in 1973, Giampolo heard the pilot say over the public-address
system, "We will be arriving on Oahu"" and he thought he was on the wrong
plane. He was after all headed for Honolulu.
Seven years later, after touring 37 countries, he returned to Honolulu
for good, wiser of the world, but still naive in the ways of the Islands.
He started a publication business in Waikiki, even though he knew very
little about the travel industry, even less about Hawaii, and very little,
about publishing. His visitor publication, Paradise News, begun in 1980,
carried only articles of Hawaiian history and culture.
In 1988, the City and County began erecting modern, big, orange, right-angular
traffic-light poles on Kalakaua Avenue. Giampolo was appalled when he saw
structures didn't belong on Kalakaua Avenue, the street that is the Hawaiians'
showcase for the presentation of their culture and heritage to people from
around the world."
He wrote a call-to-action message entitled "Lights Out" and another message, "Hawaiians Unite," which contained these words: "The renaissance of Waikiki must be a Hawaiian Renaissance." Both
messages were published in the daily newspapers on June 22, 1988.
He viewed the structures as an affront to the Hawaiian people, and fully
expected an outcry from the Hawaiian community. There was none. He decided
to be an adventurer and use the written word as the means to change the
There was little response to the messages from the media, the Hawaiian
community or the general public. Giampolo continued to voice his concerns.
Fifteen more "Lights Out" newspaper
messages followed over the years. The messages led to a 10,000-word journal
on the issue. Giampolo raised thousands of dollars from his own savings and
the magnanimity of his friends to pay for his effort. He personally distributed
the journal throughout the State Capitol, into the offices of every representative
and senator, the governor and the lieutenant governor. He dropped it off
at the offices of the Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau, business leaders
and Hawaiian organizations. Hundreds of attendees to a Hawaii Tourism Congress
No response from anybody.
"I wondered why the silence," Giampolo says today. "I decided the government
officials would prefer to stay quiet and hope the issue would simply go away;
or if the issue didn't go away, they would take no responsibility and blame
He believes the traffic lights were corrupt on a spiritual level; that
they - however subtly - undermined the attitudes toward Hawaiian culture
visitors may have brought with them to Waikiki. He sees the 1988 renovation
of Waikiki as a significant part of Hawaiian history; one he thinks should
be a part of the curricula at Kamehameha Schools so that the next generation
can be better prepared to ensure a future for their culture.
He also believes the shame of that project like so many other events throughout
Hawaiian history, had been passed on to the next generation. He would like
to see politicians participate in the healing process and to "end the shame by coming forth and having the courage to publicly express their genuine remorse for supporting a project that took place as if Hawaiian culture did not exist." He would like to see politicians "take
responsibility for their involvement or silence."
One of Giampolo's newspaper messages said this: "The degrading and humiliating
light structures on Kalakaua Avenue will be uprooted and removed, and with
them a negative consciousness toward the Hawaiian people that never again
will gain a foothold in this land."
Now, twelve years later, the light structures on Kalakaua Avenue are replaced
by lampposts that are reminiscent of a bygone era, and there are numerous
other improvements that are reflective of Waikiki's rich history and charm.
Giampolo sees the new fixtures as the beginning of a Hawaiian renaissance
in Waikiki. He believes the change represents a change in consciousness
toward Hawaiian culture in Waikiki, which was his intent in writing those
thousands of words. "Today we are in the midst of a transformation in Waikiki spurred
by a new system of beliefs and attitudes, thoughts and feelings, choices
and decisions that are most respectful of Hawaiian culture. There is a new
light dawning in Waikiki that is illuminating a new future for Hawaiian heritage."
Now he would like to see a re-emergence of the Hawaiian language in Waikiki. "It used to be the only language spoken," he says. "If
business owners can create menus and storefront signs in Japanese, Korean
and Chinese, then they can do the same in Hawaiian. For language is indicative
not only of the origins of a culture but also of a culture's strength."
"I realize that some may have deemed it foolish to equate light structures with
the demise of Hawaiian culture, but to create major changes you must have a
willingness to be wrong in the pursuit of what is right, go beyond logic and
reason without abandoning it, look for the meaning within symbols, dream, be
patient, and also seek the highest truth and be not afraid to tell it."
Giampolo sees a doorway that the Hawaiian people can go through to
create a new awareness - and a new future - for themselves in Waikiki.
Were his "Lights Out" messages the catalyst for a new beginning? "I
would like to think that I played a role as a spark for that rebirth."
The following article appeared in the Honolulu Star-Bulletin. Reprinted with permission.
Hawaii man dances across America
By Jim Winpenny
Special to the Star-Bulletin
For Phileas Fogg, an 80-day trip began and ended in London in 1872. He was daunted by storms, an Indian attack and other perils.
For Carlino Giampolo, an 80-day trip began and ended in Honolulu in 2004. He remained undaunted - and danced - all the way.
Why would Giampolo, publisher of the visitor tabloid Paradise News, want to dance his way across America? Hard to say. Why would he drive the same gold Chrysler convertible around Oahu for 15 years without ever putting the top up? Why would he write and publish a self-help book on surviving broken relationships when he holds no doctorate or degree in psychology? Why would he write and publish an instruction book on golf when he'd been swinging clubs for only a couple of years? Why would he launch a campaign against unsightly, modernistic traffic-light fixtures in Waikiki as an affront to the Hawaiian people when he is a Pittsburgh native of Italian heritage?
This dancing-across-America thing: A tie in with the new "Around the World in 80 Days" Jackie Chan movie, perhaps?
"No," he says, "I didn't even know they'd be making the movie when I began in January."
A lady friend, who would be my traveling companion for a trip we hadn't planned yet, said, 'I have never been to Florida, and I would like to visit there.' So I took that thought and expanded it 50 times. I decided to do them all."
But Giampolo didn't want to visit 50 states without purpose, so he imposed two stipulations for this journey. The first was to stay at least one night in each state; the other was to dance in each state, in 50 different restaurants.
The first leg of the trip began on January 22 with a return to Honolulu on Feb.4. Leg 2: Feb. 11 to March 23. Leg 3: April 13 to May 8. Let's see. If we subtract the in-between days from the time elapsed from the first day to last, that's - well 80 days.
Total miles traveled: 55,700. That's equivalent to two trips around the world at the equator.
Carlino danced in 30 states with his companion, but she then had to return to her native country because of visa requirements. He handled the remaining 20 states alone. That brought about a change in the dance routine. "When I had a partner, we did a short swing dance. When I was alone, I did a little tap routine."
He had learned from past travels to always do the most important thing first. When entering a new city, his first question to residents was, "What is your best or most unique restaurant?" Then, almost as an afterthought, "What are your most interesting places to visit?"
Cities he selected were determined by what he thought would be fun and interesting to see, and by what cities were served by Amtrak. Most of his travel was with Amtrak's North America Rail Pass Plan, which allows unlimited travel for 30 days. He took Greyhound buses when it was more convenient or when it could take him to states without Amtrak service. In many cases he rented a car.
Along the way, he learned a lot about this nation. He was surprised to learn that it took three days by ferry to reach Alaska from Seattle. He chose a three-hour flight to Anchorage, which took more time than it takes to fly over half the mainland.
No restaurant in any city refused his request to dance there. In every case the restaurant manager or a waiter took a photo of the actual dancing.
The bad weather always was either just ahead of him or just behind him. His only encounter with snow was in Nebraska.
In Missoula, Mont., he was checking out of his hotel when the front desk clerk noticed from his credit card that he was from Hawaii. She asked, "Do you know Mr. Goodburger?" He replied, "No, I never met him."
She said, "I mean the restaurant."
The he understood. His friend, entrepreneur, Wes Zane, was in Missoula at the time to set up the franchising of his Mr. Goodburger restaurant to a resident in Missoula.
He found Mt. Rushmore in South Dakota to be awe-inspiring, especially when seen in the early morning sunlight. The monument to four of our presidents took 14 years to complete. Nearby was the mountain carving of Crazy Horse, which - when finished - will be the largest mountain carving in the world, at 563 by 641 feet. All four 60-foot heads on Mount Rushmore would fit inside the carving of Crazy Horse's head, with room to spare.
New Jersey, he learned, has the most cherry blossom trees of any state - even more than Washington, D.C., whose Cherry Blossom Festival is world famous.
In Portland Ore., he went to the world's largest Cinco de Mayo Festival outside of Mexico.
He discovered the country's only capital city with no McDonald's, no Burger King and no Starbuck's: Montpelier, Vt. People there, he says, are very proud of that distinction.
When he arrived in Gillette, Wyo., he was walking from the train station to his hotel when he had to walk (dance?) around horse dung. A sign on the door of the hotel where he stayed reads, "Please remove your dirty boots before entering." He then thought of a title for a book MidWeek editor Don Chapman might write: "You Know Your Not in Honolulu When..."
Will Giampolo write and publish a book about his tripping across the country?
He says he will, but only to thank all the people and companies that helped to make the trip successful and enjoyable. He has presented a large cake to the local AAA office for their help in booking hotels for him and for mapping out car routes for 13 states.
Now back in Honolulu, Giampolo quietly contemplates his next venture. He says
he has no idea what that might be.