I recently came back from a trip to Kauai with my fiance. Being the times that they are, I used my phone to take pictures and posted them a couple at a time on Instragram and Facebook. To go back to sea turtles on the beach, a Hindu temple in the rainforest, horseback riding where a scene from Jurassic Park was filmed, and getting engaged on a beach, I just have to log in.
Going to that magical isle brought back memories to previous trips to Hawaii, and I wanted to look back at the pictures and remember.
The pictures from my trip to Oahu in 2002 to visit my cousin Jewels were easy enough to find. They are in a relic from a disappearing time--the scrapbook. I used an actual camera and printed out the pictures at Walgreen’s. Visual memories include seeing crazed goldfish at the Dole pineapple plantation, horse riding where more parts of Jurassic Park were filmed, ringing a giant gong at a Buddhist temple set against a paradise of green mountains, and snorkeling with parrot fish eating coral and pooping pristine white sand at Hanuma Bay.
But where were my pictures from my trip to the Big Island in 2006? That Hawaiin trip was definitely the most random. An extraordinarily generous parent from that year’s preschool class worked for American Airlines, and wanted to show her thanks by giving me and my assistant a free round trip flight anywhere in the US, including Hawaii.
I chose to go that following Thanksgiving. I was single at the time and no friends could join me, so my mother suggested I go to Hawaii, or the Big Island, where her friend lived. And the pictures? Facebook didn’t exist yet, but the world was the digital revolution was well on its way. There was no photo album or scrapbook of them. And then I remembered--Smugmug.
Smugmug was a picture storing and sharing webpage, kind of like Flickr, though it claimed to be better because it didn’t show any ads. It cost $25 a year. I figured it was worth it because you can order prints of varying sizes.
Having succumbed to just using Facebook in recent years, I had forgotten I even had a Smugmug account. Then six months ago they started bugging me saying I needed to update my credit card info. I almost shut down the account. But then I remembered the Big Island, and decided to see what else was on there. It turned out to be a record of my Life in the Aughts.
The album titles make me sound like an intrepid traveler, extensive partier, and one whose friends loved themes. And I suppose all those things are true. Trips that for a long time seemed recent now prove to be well in the past, such as “Barcelona/Morocco/London” which happened exactly 10 years ago. “Northwest Road Trip” I think happened in 2008. “Toronto to See Steph” was also 2006, shortly after a friend of mine committed suicide. Do I look a tad less innocent after that? Hard to say. I know I felt that way.
My friends used to take part in Bay to Breakers every year, and of course they had to be a theme. The first year I participated must have been 2002, with the theme “Pajamas and Babies.” Our keg was converted into a bottle. The few pictures I took before I had partaken of the baby bottle too many times actually made it into a photo album. Following years, including “Where’s Waldo?,” “Things You Find at an Airport,” “Trashy Prom,” and a unknown theme one in which I’m wearing a lion costume are all on Smugmug. We walked for miles while drinking and dancing, every year for many years. Thankfully, the pictures only show the beginnings of the race.
There are pictures of weddings in wine country and in Lake Tahoe. They always start out well-composed, of beautiful people in gorgeous dresses, and then descend gradually into blurry depictions of friends attempting to dance around a stripper pole. There is a whole album dedicated to a combined bachelorette party in Las Vegas, with some gems of me dancing with an army guy. Oh yeah, that happened….
Some albums are a combo of random events which then make the album an incredibly random smattering of bizarre drunken exhibitionism. “Thanksgiving/Santarchy/White Elephant Party” has to be the pinnacle. The album starts out with various friends dressed up as elementary school style Native Americans using only paper bags. Then everyone is on the roof of a Mission apartment, a post-meal tradition that could have ended in tragedy, but never did. Fast forward a month to Santarchy, a giant street party in which everyone dresses as Santa and of course, drinks to excess. There is a picture of me in a Santa hat with a Hanukkah Harry. More drunk Native Americans. I captured a fight over a Hello Kitty waffle iron during a White Elephant Christmas party. The two women involved in the dispute were stomping the floor so hard I was worried it would cave in. The person who didn’t get the waffle iron got a Snoopy Sno-Cone machine, so they remained friends. I think.
The albums do show the effects of time, not always favorably. People are noticeably younger looking and thinner in the pictures, myself included. Some make the reality of now hard to reconcile with. The album “An August of Friends and Family, 2009” shows my mom hiking in the Mono Basin and riding horses through Yosemite. She is 70 now, in good health, but needs a double knee replacement. How has she aged so much? It was only 7 years ago.
“Animal Friends” is another wistful one. I haven’t been able to own many pets in San Francisco, so this album shows my friends’ animals and ones I house sat for. Most of them are dead now, though some still survive, including my 15 year old leopard gecko Cleo. Tippy, Waverly, and Bean live on in in the pictures.
I can see how my world view has changed by looking through these albums. One album is simply titled “Friends.” It looks like most of the pictures were taken at a backyard barbeque, I think in 2010. What is amazing about this album is how many of those people are not my friends at all. Not that I had any fights or falling outs with them--there have been a couple of those, but rather that the people in those pictures were never my close friends to begin with. They are acquaintances, housemates, co-workers, and people I used to see around more often. They are all good people and I hope their lives are good and fulfilling, and I don’t talk to them anymore. That’s fine. People have families now. I live with my fiance and not with housemates. I drastically cut back on hanging out with co-workers due to gossiping and negativity. The friends that are indeed the real ones were that ten years ago, and I am confident that some of them still will be in ten years. That album would be vastly shorter and different were I to do it now, and I am not sad about it.
What were the aughts for Elissa? At first glance, it seems a second adolescence. Rather, it was my first, since my teenage and college years were quite tame. Drunken footraces and themed parties and music festivals and trips with fellow single friends was what needed to happen at that time. Some of these events will not happen again, some still do, in a much tamed- down version. I am happy they happened; I am not sad they are over. I am at peace with who I have become. I am pleased with the memories, in my mind, in albums, and online. I hope my friends and family are as well. Although peoples' lives are vastly different than they were in the early aughts, I would say they look as happy in the pictures then as they do in real life now.
Oh yes, the pictures of the Big Island trip. They show gigantic insects, lava flows, ancient Hawaiian temples, and another horseback ride through the jungle and along cliffs. Jurassic Park, however, was not filmed there. No place is perfect.