Happenstance in Chinatown

May 24th, 2014
By

A writer friend I've collaborated with on a couple of screenplays posted on Facebook that a word you rarely see these days is "ubiquitous." Which seemed ironic to me, since social media forums such as FB can turn a forwarded video, photo, comment or cause into something that millions of people will see on computers, smart phones, then later on national TV shows, even local morning news spots about today's "Viral Video" or "Trends & Talkers" segments. It's everywhere you look -- ubiquitous, in other words.

And since I'm in the media biz, writing scripts for TV/movie projects, plus producing a local OC16 television show that often features newsworthy people, my life is filled with moments of convergence... a surreal blend of real life merging with online interactions, nationally-broadcast TV shows, and live local news programming. One day I'm interviewing a subject for Career Changers or blogging about it in the Star-Advertiser, the next day or on the evening KHON News, I'm watching that same person talk about their biz or responding to complaints (like the new vertical wind tunnel at The Groove Hawaii, which is on this month's show). Then I hit play on my DVR, and see another familiar face appearing on a Food Network or History Channel show after we had them on Career Changers awhile back. A week or two later, I run into the same person(s) while out and about looking for my next story, completing the Circle of Media Life.

That just happened to me again this past week. I bought discounted Groupon tickets for the Honolulu Exposed Red Light Tour because I had never heard of it before, and it sounded interesting: take a walk through the seedy side of history in Downtown Honolulu and Chinatown. Having researched stuff like opium dens, brothels, small pox outbreaks and other unsavory elements of Hawaii's past for scripts I was working on, this sounded like something right up my alley. Also, I wondered why no one else had offered this type of tour -- there were ghost tours, walking tours that focus on architecture, straight G-rated history, but nothing that included places like Club Hubba Hubba or the infamous Glades (btw, local filmmaker Connie Florez is producing a documentary about that... click here for details).

Now bear with me, because this trip down the rabbit hole interweaves a few seemingly-unrelated threads that all come together in the end. Last Saturday, my wife and I arrive at the Hawaii Theater where the Red Light tour starts at 9:30 AM. But we're early and having driven from Kailua after a couple of cups of coffee, need to find a restroom. Back in January 2012, my show was the first to air Chu Lan Shubert-Kwock's plans for a badly-need public restroom, which her Chinatown biz organization had raised money for. However, the experimental toilet program didn't receive enough funding to continue, ergo no place for us -- or other locals, visitors and of course, the ubiquitous homeless people -- to relieve ourselves. The closest coffee shops weren't open at that time, so my wife wound up walking down to the police station.

While waiting for Isabel to return, I nervously observed a rail-thin, wasted-looking woman growling and yelling madly at whoever walked past her across the street from me. She was scary, to put it mildly. On the way to the theater meeting spot, my wife and I had to stroll past smelly, filthy homeless men and women on just about every street and occupying every open space around the Hawaii Theater area. I'm not making any judgments -- just telling you what we experienced. What the solution is, I don't even know where to start. Wait, check that. I do know where to begin: by talking about creative approaches that involve partnerships between private interests and public services. I'll eventually get to that.

Anyway, our walkabout in search of a simple toilet answered one of my questions. Q: Why didn't anyone do a Red Light tour before? A: Who the heck wants to come down to stinky, dirty Chinatown in the morning, when you can't even find a public restroom or place to sit peacefully without mentally-ill people accosting you and getting right in your face! Still, having lived in New York City years ago, I've seen worse. Later, the tour guides said hotel concierges won't send visitors to the Chinatown area because of the homeless problem, so that's a major obstacle for their new venture to overcome.

First tour coincidence: the couple who run the Honolulu Exposed tour (click here for their Facebook link) arrive while Isabel is still on her bathroom run, and tell me they just moved here about four months ago and used to work for the Seattle Underground tour. I'm stunned because I had just pitched a TV series idea to the writer friend I mentioned up top, about how the Seattle Underground came into being after a huge fire destroyed much of downtown Seattle, which was originally built at sea level and prone to flooding. This was in the late 1800s. So city leaders figured it was a good time to rebuild the area higher. But cash-strapped biz owners who couldn't afford to go along with the plan, continued running their businesses while the new streets and sidewalks were constructed several feet above their storefronts. Eventually, to stop pedestrians from accidentally falling off the newly-elevated sidewalks, the city built right over the old buildings, creating an underground city where the dregs of society settled. Criminals, prostitutes, scammers, the homeless, all congregated down there. Meanwhile, the Yukon gold rush resulted in many fortune seekers coming to Seattle to deposit their newfound wealth -- making them ripe pickings for crooks. I learned all that from watching a Travel Channel show called "Hotel Secrets and Legends."

As it happens, when I told Clinton and Carter (she's an actress, although the name combo sounds like a Dem presidential ticket from the past) about my TV series idea, they looked at each other and said Clinton was working on a screenplay about little-known stories related to the Seattle Underground. However, he hasn't had much experience writing for TV or movies... and I have won a few awards, was repped by a semi-famous Hollywood manager, had scripts optioned, etc.

In fact, last week  I got word I'm a Top 10 Finalist in the Industry Insider contest, which spawned two prior winners who have gone on to major success: that new sci-fi series "Extant" starring Halle Berry in the ubiquitous CBS commercial spots; and a movie in the works called "The Disciple Program," starring Mark Wahlberg, landed on the vaunted Black List for unproduced scripts in 2012 after winning the Insider contest. So I'm in pretty good company just to make the finalist cut, and I'm thinking this Seattle Underground connection timing could be fortuitous if I happen to win and get some Hollywood heat. The tour hasn't even started, and already things look promising.

Just then, Isabel returns and says, "Look who's here!"

To be continued...

 

 

4 Responses to “Happenstance in Chinatown”

  1. John Reid:

    I hope the folks doing the Chinatown tour can find someone who can tell them about the strip bars next to and across the street from the Hawaii Theatre back in the 1980's (Club Darling which was next door on property that is now the park and The Harbor Lounge located across the street that is now a French restaurant. Both of these were frequented often by a couple of local motorcycle clubs and have colorful histories. In addition there was another straight bar down a small alley next to the theatre owned by Bill Mederios called the Alley Cat. They also don't want to leave out the site of the oldest bar in Honolulu, called the Pantheon. over on Nuuanu and Bill Lederer's on Hotel Street where HPD has their Chinatown office. Visitors will also be interested in learning that live sex acts were performed in the basement of a building on the short street connecting Bethel Street to the Fort Street Mall called the Theatre of Venus. The then president of the Devils Breed Motorcycle Club and his wife perfomed live sex in front of large crouds of Japanese visitors who were brought down in tour busses. This one was shut down by a prude prosecutor of the City And County of Honolulu. I was the owner and operator of Club Darling and the Harbor Lounge during most of the 1980's.


  2. Rich Figel:

    Thanks, John! I'll pass this info along. I think the tour is a work in progress since they just moved here recently, and are learning a lot more as they go along. Part of the fun was hearing stories from the locals who were going on the tour. But I've lived here since 1985 and a lot of the stuff they told us about on the tour was new to me! I'll be getting more into that in Part 2.

    Aloha,
    Rich


  3. makaha wahine:

    Can you find out where all the gypsies went?
    We used to see them sitting outside of their door ways on Smith or Bethel street near the tattoo parlors.


  4. Rich Figel:

    I didn't know about the gypsies. Were they from Romania/Europe, or part of the Mainland clans that are called Travellers (Irish descent, I think)? The tour does go down by the oldest tattoo parlor in Hawaii, which has some really interesting back stories too!