Until last month, I hadn't left Hawaii for a long time.
After all, it's a literal paradise with rainbows and mountains and hotels and Speedos and bikinis and girls who think they're Kim Kardashian and guys who think they're B.J. Penn.
It's home to great chefs, healthy cuisine, mixologists of complex cocktails and an always burgeoning art scene. Add that to the options for surfing, hiking, biking, swimming, and okay, working, and it's easy to understand why I'd stayed here for five years without ever even thinking about an airport.
In February, however, I took a business trip to New York City. It was my first time out of Hawaii in five years and while I thought I remembered what life was like on the mainland, it turned out I'd actually forgotten some crucial facts.
If the following life lessons don't immediately apply to you, just know that a life lived on the most isolated landmass in the world -- Hawaii -- will start to, well, isolate you from some things after a while.
1. I forgot about squirrels.
There are (thankfully) no snakes in Hawaii (save for the occasional illegal kind that you have nightmares about that gets surrendered to the Humane Society every once in a while), just as there are (thankfully) no squirrels.
These nut-hoarding forest urchins who terrorize picnics across the country have no place in Hawaii, what with the boars, goats, mongooses, feral cats, green parakeets, and (just as evil as squirrels) centipedes the size of your child's arm that run wild and free across the islands.
I was quickly reminded of the terror inspired by the common squirrel when one came at me in Central Park, tiny claws outstretched, clearly after my eyeballs and, probably, my wallet.
(Scary squirrel looking at me)
2. Winter is shocking.
I now understand why mainlanders (namely those in the northeastern US) post about the end of the world between November and April every year. I also now know how bad it feels when, on a particularly blustery day, somebody accidentally bumps into you on the street and a part of your frozen face falls off.
I mean, if you live in Honolulu -- a city that has a temperature range of about 20 degrees all year -- you start to think that 68 degrees is a cold night. Not any more. I understand everything now. Sixty-eight degrees is not a cold night -- 68 degrees is shorts weather and I'm sorry for ever thinking otherwise.
(Me in winter)
3. Chipotle is (still) a gift from Heaven.
Just like there's no Shake Shack or In 'N Out in Hawaii, we also have no Chipotle -- this is serious. As soon as I got into the city, it was clear there were two things I needed to do: buy some long pants and go to Chipotle. And, God bless, it hadn't changed a bit. Eating Chipotle for the first time in five years was like catching up with an old lover who remembered that I like it with black beans and extra guacamole.
(Me leaving Chipotle)
4. And Chipotle actually comes from Heaven if you order it from the future.
I'm convinced that NYC is set 11 years in the future, or rather that Honolulu (judging by our live music calendar this year, the fact that MIA's "Paper Planes" is still playing on our local radio stations, and the condition of technology in the state's government) is set 11 years in the past.
In NYC, mere humans can call in a Chipotle burrito, and Hosanna on High will deliver it straight to their door, via Seamless, Delivery.com, or Grubhub, and -- judging by the countless delivery people on bikes in winter's sub-zero temperatures -- sheer human willpower.
Thanks to these kinds of delivery services, I delightfully discovered that you can get an entire meal, groceries and even booze brought directly to you while staying in the comfort of your warm apartment without even having to put on stretch pants. Now that Uber has finally come to Honolulu (4 years after the company started in San Francisco), I can only hope that we'll get Seamless by 2020.
(Me ordering Seamless)
5. Bookstores are still a thing.
Honolulu has a great used bookstore (Jelly's), but it's a mere blip on the massive, sprawling Jumbotron that is New York City's bookstore scene. Looking at New York's bookstore map, I felt the way Rosamund Pike must've felt after spending all that time married to Ben Affleck in "Gone Girl": I just wanted to walk away and be left alone forever.
With so many stacks of books teetering to the ceilings of these places, I could have. What's more, these bookstores were crowded. It was encouraging to remember that people will brave black-ice sidewalks and potential frostbite to frequent a highly-curated independent bookstore (of which there are at least 15) and pick up a used copy of a Gary Shteyngart novel for a girl they want to bang.
(Me inside The Strand bookstore)
6. Real Banksys are really real, man.
I thought I knew what it felt like to see something that looked like a Banksy, but the murals in Honolulu's annual street art party, Pow! Wow! Hawaii, are merely near beer compared to the real things.
There's something about seeing a real Banksy on a wall and understanding that Banksy, or one of his/her ninja assistants, was really there, poking the belly of authority with his/her own spray cans. Dozens of street artists will soon fly to Honolulu to paint murals that sort of look just like it, if you squint a little bit.
(Me looking at fake Banskys, punk)
7. Late night eats are great, but Spam.
Sure, Spam exists everywhere, but there's nothing quite like it doused in teriyaki sauce and wrapped around a ball of sticky rice with seaweed. And, in New York City, these Spam musubis are really hard to find.
After some digging, I discovered that deep in the heart of Williamsburg (New York City's hipster mecca in northeast Brooklyn, where both the rent and entitlement of its residents is ever-rising and the levels of privileged malaise is unnecessary) and on the cobbled streets of Cobble Hill (a neighborhood in Brooklyn where all of the real grownups and their unconventionally named children -- Eames, Katniss, Wintergreen -- live), there are hidden gems that offer this magical Hawaiian staple.
Thanks to Onomea, New Yorkers, by way of Hawaii, still have musubis -- it's just too bad that the only trains that can bring the ravenous expats to these places never run (typical L and F trains, am I right?).
The striking lack of musubi access gave me pause. One restaurant? In Hawaii, you can find perfect musubi at every 7-Eleven and Foodland store. I was reminded of the Counting Crows cover of an Amy Grant cover of a Joni Mitchell song: You don't know what you've got 'til it's gone. The Central Park Conservancy could learn from James Dole's success in Hawaii in the 1800s: pave paradise, and put up a damn Spam kitchen.
(Spam's magical powers)