“They paved paradise and put up a parking lot,
With a pink hotel, a boutique,
And a swinging hot spot.
Don’t it always seem to go
That you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone?”
That’s Joni Mitchell, of course. She wrote those lines from a Waikiki hotel room in the early 1970s, on the first morning of her first visit to the Islands. She looked up at the Koolau, let her gaze fall on the concrete rooftops surrounding and was filled with lament. When Bob Dylan covered the song a few years later he sang about a “big hotel” instead, but Mitchell’s pink reference is obvious, though it’s unclear whether she was actually staying there at the time.
It doesn’t take a music critic to note that “Big Yellow Taxi” is a ballad about the loss of innocence, and about the bad things that happen when we lose our connection to the things that matter.
A bad thing happened earlier this month on the beach fronting that famous pink hotel. Police say that’s where a 25-year-old visitor named Bryanna Antone had the life choked out of her. Antone was from New Mexico, and wanted to be a filmmaker. If the police have arrested the right man, he will presumably answer for his crime.
But what about the hotel employees–according to HPD, there were at least three of them–who saw a man on top of Antone, holding her down while she tried to kick him off of her? What happens to those people now? They didn’t come to her aid. They didn’t make a call to police. They apparently didn’t even grab a security guard.
There was at least one hotel guest who saw the struggle as well, and who took the same action, which was nothing. Even the early-morning jogger who found a young woman’s body floating in the water didn’t stick around long enough for the police to arrive.
There’s probably going to be a lot of hand-wringing about these five people over the coming days and weeks, and rightly so–they didn’t do what they should have done, and someone is dead and there’s some sort of relationship there that makes us angry.
But what are the odds that those five do-nothing bystanders were the five worst people in Honolulu that morning? Much more likely is that, as usual, “they” are really “us” in disguise, and that their inaction is a kind of horrible coded reference to our own withdrawal from one another.
We’ve lost a lot of natural beauty to “progress” on this island, and maybe we’ve lost a lot of something else, too. Alienation and misplaced priorities didn’t kill Bryanna Antone, and she’s not dead because we’ve buried ourselves in concrete. But you have to wonder: are we?