Whatever Happened to the “Can Do” Attitude?

 In October of 1975, Emperor Hirohito of Japan came to Honolulu on a state visit. Frank Fasi was Honolulu’s mayor at that time and the governor was George Ariyoshi. He and Frank were intense political rivals and, as one of the mayor’s department heads, I had a ringside seat. 

As part of the emperor’s official itinerary, it had been agreed that both the governor and the mayor would host an official event of some kind. Ariyoshi and his advisors arranged a formal luncheon for the emperor and empress at Washington Place, the governor’s official residence. And of course Ariyoshi invited all his political cronies and major supporters to attend. Unimaginative, but quite predictable.

Frank, on the other hand, decided to stage a program of entertainment for Hirohito, with local performers representing all the various ethnicities we have here in Hawaii. The Royal Hawaiian Band played the national anthems; there was Hawaiian music and hula, the Honolulu City Ballet, Filipino tinikling performers, a Samoan knife dancer, and several other ethnic groups entertained.

But as his guests, Mayor Fasi sent invitations to 5,000 Honolulu residents selected at random from the list of anyone with a Hawaii driver’s license. And so, in addition to seeing a sample of Hawaii’s various cultures, the emperor and his wife would see, and be seen, by an almost perfect cross section of Hawaii’s multi-ethnic, multi-racial population.

The U.S. Secret Service was providing protection for the emperor while he was in this country and Frank’s idea for a guest list was a security nightmare. In fact, we learned later that several of the people who attended our event had criminal records. As it happened, I was the one who informed the agent in charge that we were going to invite several thousand randomly selected local residents to the mayor’s event. I can quote his response exactly: “Oh, shit!” But then he said, “Well, it’s your party and we work for you. We’ll deal with it.”

The citizens of Vermont and Maine want to extend the route of Amtrak’s daily train, the Vermonter, another 60-some miles north to Montreal. Obviously, it makes much more sense for a train coming from Washington and New York to terminate in Canada’s second largest city instead of St. Albans, Vermont, a town of some 6,500 people. 

Everyone is for it: grassroots citizen groups, and civic and political leaders on both sides of the border, including Governor Peter Shumlin of Vermont and Quebec’s Premier, Philippe Couillard. But there are “obstacles”: The U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is dragging its feet and muttering about “pre-clearance issues” in Canada. Really? What issues? The Vermonter would stop at the border, U.S. officials would board the train, and passengers would show their passports. Just the way they do it when the Maple Leaf comes into the U.S. from Toronto. Or when the Adirondack crosses the border coming from — yes! — from Montreal.

It really would have been nice if the people from CBP had simply said, “Well, it’s your train and we work for you. We’ll deal with it.”