Willee Sings: “The Kapolei Choo-choo”

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BY J. ARTHUR RATH – Willee Sings: “The Kapolei Choo-choo”

I’m ready to be a singing conductor on Honolulu’s new train,” Coconut Willee said jauntily, standing under a tree at Waikiki’s Queen Surf restaurant.


“Like my hat and train whistle puller?”

“Archaic, but colorful,” I acknowledged.

He was full of news: “Union workers are starting right now.  Even if what they do turns out like playing with a Gilbert Erector Set—assemble some towers, then tear ‘em down–they say, it’s cheaper that way should voters say ‘Go away.’

Is that anyway to run a railroad?  I thought to myself.

“Listen to my song.”  Willee used a speech-sing style I think of as “parlando”:

“Pardon me boy, here comes

The Kapole’i Choo Choo,

Producing billions in dough,

As back and forth it will go.”

He borrowed the melody from a song as old as Willee’s train conductor outfit. Willee made ‘Kapole’i (Hawaii) and Chatanooga (Tennesee) rhythmically alike. Observing my doubting look, he stopped to explain:

“Don’t know if it’s true: It’s what paid informants spew—‘Development will spring up all along the route.  Each year 10,000 jobs’—they don’t explain if these are the same jobs continuing each year or if that many more jobs will be added yearly.”


“Done on purpose, Willee; the word “Propaganda” begins with letters ‘PR.’”


Letting this aphorism pass, he continued his sort-of-singing:


“Twenty miles of rail in the sky,

Twenty-two stations that climb high,

Come aboard, all can afford,

The Kapolei Choo-choo.”


He called out train stations:


“Aiea, Pearl City, Aloha Stadium.  Forty-two minutes from first-stop, Kapolei, to last stop, Ala Moana Shopping Center.”


“Aloha Stadium might be a nice connection,” I interjected.  Depends if UH football coach’s Chow Line stirs interest.


“HART’s big shot, a nice smile, has five non-Hawaiian consonants in his name.  He was top man at Boston’s M&T system from which HART hired him.”


Willee gave big smile.  “I remember when two Punahou 1952 ukulele players, Dave Guard and Bob Shane, formed The Kingston Trio and sang about how Charlie got on the M&T train, then couldn’t get off because he couldn’t pay M&T’s suddenly imposed exit toll while he was in transit:

Willee began singing:

‘Did he ever return?
No he never returned
And his fate is still unlearn’d
He may ride forever.’

“Bet the new guy with all the consonants learned in Boston how to make a train remunerative.”

I added, “Kapolei is identified as ‘Oahu’s Second City.’ It’ll have everything except a Royal Palace.  Disney may take care of that–he brought in a Pirate Ship from one of his movies.  Kapolei’s firm economic foundation is built on Stone!”


I mused and said,  “I wonder why anyone would want to go from there to Honolulu?”


“Maybe they won’t build a China Town in Oahu’s Second City,” Willee suggested wistfully.


“China Town is where I get fresh veggies because Farms and Farmer’s Markets are being shoved away by developers.


“Maybe Second City football fans will ride the train to Aloha Stadium to watch the Chow line.”


Willee was crest worn as our discussion wound down.  I added:


“Those working in Honolulu will have the choice of standing and holding a railcar strap for 45 minutes, or sitting longer on a soft car seat with air conditioning at their temperature choice, while listening to Perry and Price,  and other airwaves’ idols.”


I concluded: “Maybe residents will choose a mayor who’s tried and true and who’ll have Honolulu invest in what’s needed: Drinking water, clear flushes, bumpless roads, and neighborhood preservation.  Then we won’t need to sing a song about a train and a drain–“Ghost Riders in the Sky.”


“All things to consider, with our chance for a different kind of mayor. “


Willee nodded sagely: “Maybe locals will ignore choo-choo glamour and choose wisely.


(Willee portrait by Paul Forney is not  available for Coloring Book use.)