Know your audience (or at least get their money before you insult them)


Photo by Jenny Shear

The Waimea Canyon lookout at Pu'u Hinahina on the Hawaiian island of Kaua'i is 13 miles up a winding road. About 10 miles up that road there is another lookout, and the sign makes it unclear which way the road continues and which way the lookout rests.

We accidentally pulled off three miles before the beginning of our planned hike and figured that we'd take in a view before continuing up.

When we got to the lookout, there was a man (pictured above) who told us some of the history and customs of the native Hawaiian people. Before hula became a sensual dance performed by women in coconut bras and grass skirts, it was a war dance performed by men in masks hoping to send the enemy into retreat before combat became necessary.

He taught us a little about the language, about how the word aloha breaks down into alo, meaning a shared presence, and ha, the breath of life.

And then he told us a little about himself and what he does.

You see, a few years ago, he was arrested and charged with being an unlicensed vendor. He'd been coming to this spot with a tip basket and a history lesson for tourists to provide for his family, unsanctioned by the parks service or any state agency.

He argued in his own defense, asking the judge for proof that the prosecuting attorney had jurisdiction to arrest and charge him. He said he didn't recognize the United States' sovereignty over Hawaii. He asked to see the articles of annexation. After five trips to court — five days he couldn't provide for his family because he was in court — his case was dismissed after the prosecutor failed to provide the requested document.

He continued his story about how Kaua'i, the furthest Hawaiian island from the US mainland (outside of one privately owned island with a small, mostly native population) and least developed to date, is being bought up by people who love its unspoiled nature, and are spoiling it. He complained about Mark Zuckerberg's purchase of 700 acres on the island.

At this point, his crowd started to scatter. He'd received one tip from someone who left before he got into his lesson.

As you might guess, his audience was largely (probably entirely) tourists. All were white. No one wanted to stick around to hear how badly we were destroying things — we knew we had a history of doing that on the US mainland and we were here to get away from, among other things, a particularly nasty bout of political shouting.

Educational vacation? Sure, I like learning things. I don't, however, enjoy being lectured to. If I want your opinion on politics and the local atmosphere, I'll ask. And I probably would have said some

If you rely on people giving you tips for a living, ask for money when you're at a high point in your speech. Don't wait until you're lecturing them on their bad behavior.

Know your audience. Stop talking at the point they're most likely to give you money. If you get to that point and they're not giving you money, cut bait. If you keep talking, you might accidentally find your foot in your mouth.