It’s very interesting to live on Maui, what a true melting pot of humanity with all its quirks, micro-climates, micro-environments and micro-celebrities. Everything is tiny and local on this mountain top in the middle of nowhere. Among celebrities that lives here or have properties here, such as Oprah or Wayne Dyer, you will be introduced to some local ones. Local celebs are a bit different. One of them is officer Keith Taguma.
It will only take about an hour after your landing on Maui’s east side, Kahului area, before you get a ‘Taguma warning’. It took us about twenty minutes. We were renting a car and the attentive clerk was just trying to be helpful: “Ok folks, if you’ll be driving around Kahului or Wailuku area, please do not speed and please, wear your seat belts! Don’t do anything odd, watch where you park, pay for parking and do not stay a minute longer. Do not use your cell phones or eat while you drive or you’ll meet officer Taguma! And trust me, you don’t want that!”
I was a little surprised, wouldn’t you be? “There is a police officer that checks all those things you mentioned and I will meet him if I violate any of those? What was his name again?”
“His name is officer Keith Taguma, he’s our local celebrity and our local ‘dragon cop’! If you were just visiting I wouldn’t bother telling you about him, but since you’re moving here, I thought it was important you knew what you’re up against. Taguma is famous and infamous in our community. If you live here, you’ll get a ticket from him at least once. He’ll find something to ticket you, I guarantee that! Let me tell you what happened to me…” He shook his head took a sip of coffee and continued: “I was driving home from work one day. I had a tan T-shirt on, but my Toyota’s seat belts were also tan. I had my left hand up on the window and I drove with my right. Taguma stopped me and ticketed me for not wearing a seat belt. He said he couldn’t see it. I tried to argue with him, I explained the reason why might be that my t-shirt was the same color… I mean we all know this guy, I’m not risking a ticket, off course I wore it! Then he said to me my ticket is for: ‘suspected violation of the seat belt law’! Come on, that’s not how it works! That doesn’t exist? Anyway, I reported him…”
How odd, I thought: “Thank you for the warning!
A day later we were back in Kahului and got the “Taguma warning’ again at the coffee shop. “Is officer Taguma all these people talk about?” This time the story got a little deeper, the coffee shop owner was telling me all about Taguma while making my latte: “Officer Taguma patrols the Wailuku and Kahului areas. The story has it that in 1985, he was shot with his own gun during a struggle after pulling a man over. He almost died. After he recovered he was not himself anymore, he was an angry and bitter man. These days he is a familiar figure out on the roads. A local business even sold ‘Taguma Got Me’ t-shirts and stickers until forced to stop. If he stops you, don’t argue with him, just pay, it’s not worth it!”
That was only our first two days on Maui! I was ‘Taguma warned’ a few times again at several different places, but no sight of the infamous officer himself. I did my own research on-line, just to get an idea and possibly find a picture. I was surprised at the quantity of data out there on a single police officer on Maui! There even used to be a Facebook page called ‘Taguma Watch’, where people posted his whereabouts and information on tickets they received from him. After a law suit the page was taken down.
Officer Taguma is not just a local celebrity, he is a legend! I admit to being a little curious to meet him… I didn’t want to get a ticket though. About three weeks ago I was on my way to Wailuku driving as carefully as I could. It was a busy morning and I was driving in a line of cars, we came to a sudden halt due to road work and I was stopped right on the pedestrian crossing. “Uh-uh, I hope Taguma is not around.” While I eagerly waited to move away from the crossing, I noticed a police tricycle approaching from the opposite direction and my heart sank. I had read online that Taguma drove a black police tricycle. “Ok, that’s it!”, I thought. Officer Taguma looked at me, smiled and kept driving, he didn’t seem as intimidating or mean as the stories that I’ve heard and internet articles I read. He looked happy to me and I was now really curious to hear more.
Two weeks have passed and I decided to pay a visit to Maui Department of Transportation. The nice lady that was helping me was Maui born and raised. She was chit chatting, telling me all sorts of useful things about this interesting place in space and time. Suddenly I heard giggles from the back room, someone was having a lot of fun. I guess at that point my intuition kicked in and my first thought was: “Taguma!”, but reason soon settled in and said: “Can’t be Taguma, what would he be doing here ? And these people are having fun!” ‘The giggles’ kept approaching, I still couldn’t see them behind the counter, but when my nice lady clerk joined them, I knew they were close. I heard the door open a foot or two away and before I even turned to look, officer Keith Taguma himself was standing right next to me!
“That’s the dragon cop?!” I don’t remember seeing a person as happy as this in a long, long time. He was throwing jokes at the female clerks and laughing his head off. The women reciprocated and even I started laughing! Suddenly it seemed as if I was encompassed in this circle of light and laughter, created by the infamous cop himself. He bowed to the ladies and left. I couldn’t hold it, I had to say something to my Maui born clerk: “So this is Taguma! I heard so many horror stories about him and I was starting to wonder whether the truth had anything to do with the myth that surrounded him.”
She seemed happy I touched on the subject: “I’m glad you said that! There are many people out there very angry and bitter at Taguma, but I’m not one of them.” Suddenly, as if someone had turned on an echo machine, every clerk at the office said: “Me neither. Me neither. Me neither. Me neither…” “You see we love him!”, she stopped what she was doing and she pointed to about twenty employees around her. “Is he doing everything right? Probably not, but who is? The way I see it; he’s just doing his job. He’s doing it really well and some people don’t like that.”
She then leaned toward me and started to whisper: “I probably shouldn’t be telling you this, but I feel as if I have to. I few years ago officer Taguma won a legal law suit and gave all the money to our local school to buy sports equipment they were missing. That’s the kind of person he is! Don’t listen to the stories, make up your own mind.”
I didn’t confirm what she told me, I didn’t really want to. I decided to do exactly as she advised, make up my own mind. I decided to believe in good in all of us. It’s obvious he’s writing a lot of tickets and maybe not all of them are deserved. Never the less, I could tell that whatever officer Taguma was doing; he was doing it with a light heart. Contrary to the rumor, he seemed a happy man, in love with life and it seemed like life was in love with him. That was good enough for me.