Sunday, February 11, 2001
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Posted on: Sunday, February 11, 2001

Hawai'i Ways
Blackouts, curfew and no bus home

By Yukio Higa

Editor's note: The classic movie "Casablanca" brings back good memories for most people, but not for Yukio Higa of Honolulu.

In 1943, when I was a senior in high school, two friends and I went to see "Casablanca" at the Waikiki Theatre. The movie ran long and, after it ended, the three of us were horrified to learn there were no trolley buses to take us home to the Chinatown area; they were all heading for the car barn.

Deeply worried about the curfew in place under the 1941 Martial Law, we boarded a trolley, anyway, and silently rode to the car barn at South King and Alapai streets, where we were ordered off.

Walking in the dark, deserted city was spooky and eerily quiet. The only sounds were the soft thumpings of our shoes. Often I turned around to see if any entity stalked us, possibly planning to attack; fear-induced streamlets of sweat streaked down my face and back.

We walked fast and no one spoke, our minds occupied by thoughts of what would happen if we were caught in violation of the curfew. I imagined being nabbed by burly military police who patrolled their posts in the area where I lived.

Walking near the police department was so intimidating we tiptoed until blocks later, heaving great sighs once we’d passed the area. When the North King and River Street bridge came into view without us having encountered anyone, I just couldn’t believe our wonderful luck. I was overjoyed, seeing the building where I was temporarily staying - in a renowned slum district, but at this moment the most comforting sight of the dreadful night. Full of good spirits, I smilingly stepped onto the bridge, feeling happy that I would finally reach home in a minute or two.

Suddenly, the quiet of the night was shattered by the heart-stopping command: "Halt! Stop!

Stop we did, our feet briefly suspended in mid-air. My heart sank. My short-lived happiness faded and I stared longingly at my home as we waited for the unknown specter of the night to appear out of the darkness.

It was, of course, a policeman. We were apprised of the violation. There were no Miranda warnings in those days. As the citations were being written, we pleaded for a break, arguing that we were unfortunate victims of circumstance. But nothing we said impressed the duty-bound officer.

We three were cited and told to report to the Office of the Provost Marshal. Three citations were issued, but I thought there really should have been four because the officer himself committed a much more serious act than ours, using a flashlight in the darkness of the blackout night to illuminate the citation as he wrote. He should have cited himself, too, since his violation was as unintended as ours.

Expecting the worst after hearing of people being arrested and hauled off to parts unknown and also fearing being sent to an internment camp, I headed for the PM Office the next day. Facing a clerk, I was just about to protest and declare my rights as a U.S. citizen, when I heard him say something like $5. I shut up. I couldn’t believe the unexpected leniency. I paid and fled, this time without looking back.

Years later, I was working for Sears Roebuck and Co., on a service call to a customer’s home, when memories returned of the movie "Casablanca" and what ensued because of it. I found myself impolitely staring at an unforgettable face - yes, the same cop. No longer that scared teenager of the past, I now felt sufficient courage and curiosity to ask him why he did not give us a break even though our being out in the streets was caused by circumstances far beyond our power. But logic persuaded me to forget the idea and just let bygones be bygones, because, after all, the man had his duty to perform and it was such a long time ago.

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