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Sandro Tasson

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To Maka Kilo from Italy

How long have you lived in Maka Kilo? What brought you there?

I’ve been here about a year-and-a-half. I came here to visit friends of mine in the military. They were moving to Hawaii and I’m not sure I could’ve found it on a map, but I said, “Sure let’s do it.” I went back and forth to visit a few times till I finally got married (my wife is in the Coast Guard), and that’s how it went. We really love it here.

Where is Maka Kilo, and what’s it like as a community?

Maka Kilo is on the west side, but not on the west coast. It’s on the windward side of Oahu, on the southern end of the western slopes of Waianae. Truly beautiful. Not crowded, either. You don’t have too many big stores. It’s on a hill, so pretty much all the houses have a great view of Pearl Harbor. Some people can see the farms of the highlands. It’s windy, but the temperatures are great up here. You don’t even need AC. It’s a little cooler than down the hill.

How’s the weather?

The weather here is good. It’s warm during the day, and a little chilly at night. There’s a little wind. We open the windows most of the year. The weather here is the best thing about this place. You can go to the beach every day if you want, or go hiking, wear T-shirts and short every day. That’s pretty nice.

Did you have your heart set on Maka Kilo or did you consider buying in other neighborhoods in and around Honolulu?

We were looking to buy a house for two-and-a-half years, just browsing, basically. Then we found this one and fell in love with the place. The view is fantastic, and it’s so quiet—we have some great neighbors. We said, “This is the house we want.” Adrienne told us it would be a tough one to get, but I said, “I can wait 10 more years, I don’t care. Don’t show me any other houses.” And somehow Adrienne made it happen.

How was it starting your own business?

I moved first with a tourist visa to see how it was—those last three months. When I started looking at colleges I applied for student visa to allow me to stay longer. But by then I was running low on money, and I didn’t have time to work while going to college. So I went back to Italy. My previous boss hired me the day after I landed, doing landscaping work.

My friends called and invited me back to visit in Honolulu. I quit my job again and came here. I met my future wife, who was living next door to my friends. We eventually got married. After the wedding you have to wait five or six months for green card. As soon as I got my green card I started working at Home Depot. I saved up for a small truck and small lawn mower. In the beginning I was happy to get one new customer every other month, and now the phone’s ringing all day. America is great; if you work hard you’ll see results.

Is your area small-business friendly?

Yeah, I think so. I had previous experience in a country where they taxed you 60%. Gas in Hawaii may seem expensive at $6 a gallon, but in Italy it’s $11. I mean, Italy is a nice country, but the taxes kill you. Retail taxes are 23%. Here they really make stuff easier for business. You can actually get permits right away.

Was it hard to meet people when you moved to Maka Kilo?

No. My wife’s from Boston—she said the mainland is different, that they don’t like people from other countries. But Hawaii is a multiethnic island. You have people from all continents and everybody here is welcoming and nice. You hear about the Aloha spirit, but you have to see it to really appreciate it and how friendly everybody is.

Is it hard to get to know the island natives?

I’ve got black hair and brown eyes. If I get a tan I can blend in a little. As long as I don’t talk, I’m good. Depending on what area you go to, I think if you respect the locals and respect the places, everybody will be cool. Like most places, if you don’t act stupid, you’ll get along just fine.

Would you have any advice for newcomers regarding transportation or traffic in Maka Kilo and the city of Honolulu?

The traffic here is horrible. Even if you leave at 5 a.m. it will take you an hour to get to work on account of the traffic. I suppose if you’re from California you’d like it because it seems like the Autobahn compared to Bay Area traffic, but it’s still a mess. Definitely try to buy a house near where you work or you’ll waste three hours a day stuck in traffic. My wife has to leave at 3:30 every morning to make her 5:30 shift. Without traffic it’d be 25 minutes. Even coming back it could be an hour, an hour and 20. I guess people don’t mind because they take life a little slower around here.

How has the real estate market changed since you’ve been on the island?

My house went up at least $100,000. If I wanted to sell it now, it’d easily sell for $100,000 more than what I paid for it. In Oahu there are more buyers than sellers; it’s the only place where the value just doesn’t drop. The houses keep their value because the land is so limited.

Do you like the quality of life in Maka Kilo?

I love it. Like an example, when you’re driving and you need to merge, everybody waves you in. It’s a very easy going place, I think. Over here, everybody says hi to you, even people you don’t know.

What surprised you most about moving to and living in Maka Kilo?

There’s so many things. Like I said before, coming from Italy, America is just a happier place. You can save money and do what you want to do. In Italy everyone drives small cars. Over here I can afford to drive a V8 truck and still pay less than what I’d pay in Italy. There’s so many things. Hawaii is a beautiful place—even driving to a job is like being on vacation. The ocean is so blue, the mountains are so green. We just really love living in Maka Kilo.

What would you say is the one “can’t miss” event or place that a family living in Maka Kilo and Hawaii should be sure to experience?

I would tell them to go to the windward-side beaches. Waimanalo Beach is one of my favorite places on earth. It’s not crowded, and the water is so blue. The little ocean waves, all the palm trees, the snow-white sand. It’s stunning.

How do you cope with the higher cost of living?

My wife is in the military so she’s making the money and paying the mortgage. I have juice money. Without the military salary there’s no way we could afford it. We’d have to rent a room. Some people here work three jobs to afford living here. They don’t really—they take it easy, but you still have to work so many hours, it wears you out. We have a house that has four bedrooms. We don’t have any kids yet so we rent rooms out—we have three people renting from us. And a bedroom here costs $800 bucks. The people in our neighborhood who can afford to buy a house are all either older or in the military.

Do you travel between the islands much?

I went to Maui a few times to buy vehicles. In Hawaii the trucks are beat up a little bit from work or they have a lot of mileage. But I went two times to Maui. It was worth it to fly there and have the truck shipped here. The whole process only took twenty minutes. I would like to go back for an actual visit and really see the island, though.

Do you have a favorite restaurant in Maka Kilo or in other parts of Honolulu?

I like this new restaurant called Le Nonne. It’s an Italian place. It just opened and the owner is this guy from Tuscany—he’s really doing his best to make Italian food as authentic as possible even if you don’t have fresh produce.

Is there anything that you don’t like about living in Maka Kilo or living in Hawaii?

The traffic probably. That’s about it. We only have one freeway and if there’s an accident you are talking about hours. If there’s a big crash, the freeway will shut down for four or five hours. There’s just no moving.

What advice would you give people who are house hunting in Honolulu and especially in Maka Kilo?

There’s some areas you can afford, some condos or small houses. Some other areas you have to take your time and take a look. It depends on your budget. Some houses are so close to each other you could high five your neighbor from your window.

For house hunting, after spending so much money you want to make sure to take your time and pick out the one you really like, and to find a Realtor who really cares about your decision. Adrienne and Attillio are good people. I usually don’t recommend people, but those two take pride in their work—they really care and do everything they can to make you happy. They will tell it to you straight and not let you make a mistake.


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Derek Curry