Some of my earliest moviegoing memories took place at the Kam Drive-In in Aiea on the island of Oahu. All the cars and trucks parked in neat rows in front of a massive screen, running to the concession stand with my uncle to get French fries and saimin, watching movies out of the back of my mom’s old, blue four-runner beneath the stars. I can’t recall a single movie I saw there, but I’ll never forget the experience. Kam Drive-In first opened on January 30, 1962, but due to a sharp decline in attendance, Consolidated Theaters shut it down in 1998. It’s all gone now and it has been for a long time.
A swap meet is now held where the beloved drive-in once operated. I basically grew up in this swap meet, trailing after my grandmother and grimacing at the smell of the fish market section or playing my Game Boy in the back of my mom’s same four-runner as my parents participated as vendors. Over the years, I’ve learned to differentiate between secondhand shops, flea markets and swap meets. When I lived in Portland, Oregon, the secondhand shops sold cool, vintage clothes and jewelry while the flea markets peddled glass pipes and red, yellow, green everything. In comparison, the Kam Swap Meet is grungy, dirty and bursting with the mix of cultures that have taken root in Hawaii. The items sold are more of the used, garage sale type of finds. If you patiently sift through what’s offered beneath the blazing sun, you may find something worthwhile or interesting at the very least.
This is where I spent my Saturday morning. On what seemed to be the hottest day of the month, I pursued the aisles of tents and tables, vendors selling everything from lamps for a quarter to booming sound systems, DirectTV subscriptions and (bandwagon) Seahawks swag. Camouflage vests, Hawaiian style stickers, tools, dollar sunglasses. An array of seemingly random items were laid out waiting for the right person to haggle over the price and take it home. There was even a guy trying to sell his car.
The air was thick with smoke from the beef sticks on the barbecue and the huli huli chicken turning and turning and hypnotizing. A little, old Filipino aunty sat behind a table of palabok and babinka in plastic trays, calling for her daughter with the fanny pack (the bank) to make change. The Korean woman at the far end is our go-to for fresh vegetables. Gotta get that kale, better quality and for a lower price than any grocery store on the island.
My favorite as a child was always the vast selection of toys. Some were once loved, at the top of a child’s Christmas list and forgotten with age. Others set up camp and feed the needs of the local kids and their latest toy obsession. In 2014, that would be the kendama epidemic, a fad that swept the islands and YouTube, or at least that’s what my little cousins told me. I couldn’t help, but smile at that pogs banner. I remember my uncle and all of his friends having pog collections back in the 90’s. Pogs are literally little cardboard disks with cool images printed on them and everyone had to buy them when it was “the it” thing. So simple and so genius. Some fads die fast while others never die at all, living on in memories and adolescent nostalgia. Everywhere I looked there was an image straight from my childhood that brought back such fond feelings of familiarity.
Another reminder of how the world is constantly changing and that stasis is not never an option is the news that the Kam Drive-In swap meet is closing and a block of shops, eateries and over a thousand new condominium units to be built in its place.
Change is as interesting as it is unavoidable. What’s even more interesting is the way people react to change. Some try to resist change even if resistance isn’t an option. Time comes and goes along with fads. People get older and change just like times and places. Even my mom has sold that old, blue four-runner and drives a new Toyota. I’m not saying this specific change is good or bad, mostly because I haven’t decided myself, mostly because I’ve learned to accept the simple, at times devastated fact that change is inescapable. I’ll always have the memories of the Kam Drive-In when it was a drive-in and when it was a swap meet and I’ll probably create new memories involving whatever it evolves into next. Nothing ever stays the same forever and we wouldn’t want it to because an eternal state of stasis is as unfortunate as it is boring.