Paradise being all it's proclaimed to be, and the beautiful people being all they are supposed to be, past or present, in any season or any clime, the scene had a certain inevitablity:
Night, full moon, swaying palms, pounding surf, trade winds rippling over pool and gardens, strains of guitars hanging in the breezes, processions of people making their way across the grounds by the ocean. They're in costume: short flapper skirts, boas and long cigarette holders for the women, straw hats, suspenders and white bucks for the men, carrying their cocktails as they go.
"Which way to the party?" a man in the front asks a bartender by the cabanas, "Which party?" the bartender replies. Slight tone of annoyance now: "The Gatsby party," the man answers back. A gesture, and the group heads off into the darkness toward the pointed direction.
There are Gatsby parties all week long, here in paradise, and luaus and pool-lounging and bikini-watching and lavish dining and all other other familiar activites that form this part of America on holiday. The lobbies are filled with tourist groups coming and going, the specialty shops bearing the best goods from London and Paris are crowded, the display of affluence is overpowering. Not just the usual idle rich, jet-set version, either.
Here, it's corporate America that so visibly provides a spectacle of immense wealth. Here, the clear message is that for many huge enterprises, business, and especially the benefits that go with it, is booming. Whatever anyone else may say about problems with the nation's economy, here it's the obvious state of great prosperity that is so striking.
At the new $85 million hotel where I'm staying, having accepted the harsh assignment of speaking to a convention of business executives, admittedly a form of legal whitecollar crime to which I plead guilty, one Wall Street firm virtually has taken over the establishement for two weeks.
Merrill Lynch has rewarded the top 5 percent of its brokerage producers by sending them on an all-expenses paid trip to this sumptuous beach resort, and not just the employes, but their wives, children and in-laws, too. They come in waves, are feted day and night by the firm, receive gifts in their rooms, and then depart to make way for the next company group.
One executive, checking out in the lobby, proudly says the firm is spending more than $4 million to reward its top people in this fashion. That figure may be exaggerated, but there's no doubt about the lavish spending that is in keeping with the setting here.
Along the coastline, north of the old Hawaiian capital and whaling center of Lahaina, other multimillion-dollar resort hotels are rising. They will stand alongside the luxurious hotels and condominiums that already have claimed most of what not long ago was a stretch of miles of unbroken beautiful deserted beaches. Taken as a whole, this scene is a testament to the success of the American capitalist system. Work hard and well land earn your slice of paradise in Maui.
There is, of course, another side. It is less visible, but significant. What you see developing here are two distinct cultures: the haves and the have-nots. While government unsuccessfully struggles to find a way to satisfy each side, seemingly the two groups are growing further apart. In this, the strains, tensions and problems afflicting Maui and the other Hawaiian islands are no different from those found in many other sections of the mainland states.
Now, they are being intensified by the Reagan administration's bold efforts to reverse the flow of federal dollars from Washington to states and communities.
The other night the mayor of Maui, Hannibal Tavares, went before a local citizens' community association. Like city officials everywhere, Mayor Tavares finds it difficult to win support for what he believes are necessary increases in public spending. He's asked the county council to approve a $4 million increase in this year's budget. One of the things Maui needs, he says, is additional police protection; he's asked for money to provide 28 new police positions.
"I think it's kind of a game of roulette, of Russian roulette," the paper quotes him as warning the citizens' group. Failure to strengthen the police force, he adds, means gambling with public safety.
The problem of crime is real enough. In recent years there's been a dramatic increase on all the islands. On Maui, the mayor says, serious crime incidents have risen from 1,800 in 1970 to 6,600 last year. In that same decade, only two more police detectives were added to the force, giving the county a total of 12.
His appeal fell flat. The community group already was on record as opposing his plan to raise public funds by increasing property taxes. Now the county council is slashing away at the mayor's budget proposals for local programs and services, a process that is especially difficult as federal funds are being cut, and there's little disposition to provide 28 new police positions.
And when it comes to picking up the tab for those who have less, the result is predictable.They don't. This is only one of the reasons local residents tell of growing tensions here, of resentful natives watching the procession of wealthy holiday-goers and condo dwellers, of the least prosperous bearing the greatest burden of an annual inflation rate that stands at 18 percent here, of the tightening squeeze felt by citizens as local services deteriorate even while outside investment money, much of it foreign, continues to pour into the golden strip of high-rise buildings.
These are variations on a familiar theme, of problems in paradise. But here, in the midst of this wonderful world of Gatsby parties and pool chits and lazing on the perfect beaches, any problems seem either far away or nonexistent.