Maui Nei

The faded sign is an echo of better times for Bullocks, a place where not everyone knew your name but the patrons were always ready to welcome a stranger with pidgin-accented conversation flowing from table to table.

An old van missing license plates, its tires slowly going flat, sat in the rain that went from mist to downpour to blue skies and back. A Brobdingnagian fake tiger stood on the other side of a plate-glass window. The once popular Pukalani sandwich shop was dark. The identifying sign sat above one corner of a one-time liquor store that had been turned into a gift and clothing boutique.

Paul Elkins met his late wife, Helen, while he was an Army MP. As a married civilian, he went through a series of jobs. The couple often vacationed on Maui. He was working on a missile facility in the Marshall Islands when he received a letter from Helen saying she had bought a liquor store on Maui.

The liquor store didn’t last long. In a 1986 interview for The Maui News, Elkins said in 1963, the year he arrived, liquor laws were onerous. The liquor license was given to the Pukalani Superette. He went to work building a restaurant between their adjacent house and Helen’s store. While the restaurant was under construction and a customer base was built, Paul worked as the night auditor at the Royal Lahaina hotel. The daily drive to the west side took an hour and 15 minutes. In that interview, he said “if you met 10 cars it was a traffic jam.”

Bullocks, the restaurant, was famous for its “Moonburgers” and mango milk shakes. The fame extended to tourists on their way to and from the summit and one astronaut who was the inspiration for the signature burger. The place was infamous for instant coffee made in a big urn. The customers didn’t care. This was decades before Starbucks and fancy brews.

The beginning of the end for Bullocks was caused by the state Department of Transportation. The Pukalani bypass was built. At first, the Makawao Avenue intersection was a four-way stop at the bottom a hill. Until traffic lights were installed, locals called it “chance-’em pass.” That resulted in a major loss of business. Besides, Paul was ready to retire from his 24/7 business.

On Tuesday, the door to what was now “the shop” stood open. Peering into the weather-caused gloom of the inside, the place appeared empty. Paul was spotted toward the back of what appeared to be a combination living room and store house.

“Have a seat over here,” he said, easing into a chair next to an unconnected oxygen bottle. “Want some coffee?” The caretaker volunteered to make it, this time in a percolator. Paul had sold his restaurant equipment to a business being established farther down the road in Pukalani.

The long-overdue meeting was scheduled in order to talk about a professional-grade tape recorder spotted years before when the former gift shop was being used for storage. That had to wait. There were stories to tell.

For more than hour, detailed recollections of women, adventures, Maui events and notable local characters were exchanged – just two old guys doing what old guys do when their most interesting years are behind them. Paul is 83. The other guy is 71. The characters and Maui events invariably involved politics. Paul, a staunch Republican, once ran for mayor and never lacks for an opinion on who was doing what in national, state and county government.

The stories were interrupted by the clock. Time to get down to the business at hand. Paul motioned over to a corner of the room where there was an impressive clutter of vintage electronic equipment, including a hulking video camera on a tripod and two Betamax machines. (Ask grandpa.) The accurately remembered audio recorder was fished out.

“How much do you want for it? This model is going for around $300 on eBay. Most of them have something wrong with ’em.”

Paul thought for a minute or two. “Why don’t you just take it. If you end up not wanting it, bring it back.” He is nothing if not a classic Mauian. He wasn’t using it, so give it to someone who would.

Gratitude expressed, it was time to go. The big recorder was lugged out to the truck. Pulling out of the parking lot, there was time for a glance at Bullocks. Paul stood next to the tiger’s tail on the other side of the rain-washed window.

* Ron Youngblood is a retired editor and staff writer for The Maui News. His email address is

Maui Nei

At this latitude, 20 degrees and some minutes north of the equator, the attitude toward cannabis sativa has tacked through some subtle shifts in the political winds since the United States outlawed the use of marijuana in 1937. Some 40 years later, those winds blew through an old Plymouth sedan.

The car had begun life as part of Haleakala National Park’s fleet of vehicles. At some point, someone had used a brush to give the vehicle a coat of “Maui green” house paint. When the driver of the car pulled over in Pukalani, the rolling relic was a welcomed sight for the young man standing on the shoulder of the road.

In those days, hitchhiking was illegal. The county prohibition was part of an island backlash against the hippy invasion. If memory serves, sticking your thumb out could result in a $500 fine. You could, however, just stand in the light and wait for a kindhearted driver to offer a ride. The wait was never that long, even for an obvious malihini.

The driver was just as obviously an Upcountry local, grizzled and deeply tanned. The hands on the steering wheel were gnarled, mute testimony to a life of manual labor.

“Headed to town?” the driver asked through the car’s cranked-down window. “Climb in.” Once underway, the driver asked the usual question. “How long you been on Maui?”

“Not long. A little over a year,” the passenger replied. “I was on Oahu for five years before I came over. My motorcycle broke down. Don’t have a car.”

The driver nodded, keeping his eyes on the highway that had been straightened and rebuilt just the year before. As usual, midday traffic was light. The car rolled along at an easy pace. It was easy enough to talk over the sound of the wind through the windows.

“You must have seen a lot of changes growing up on Maui,” the passenger said.

“I’m not a Maui boy. Like you, came from Oahu.” The driver glanced sideways at the longhaired haole and smiled. “It was either come Maui or go to O.P. You know, Oahu Prison.”

The car rolled on. The passenger had no idea what to say next. When in doubt, don’t. With the air of a born storyteller, the driver let the unspoken question hang in the air. Hana Highway was in sight when the driver continued.

“My partner and I were doing a little pakalolo farming over Kailua side. Pretty good business. Not so much sell to locals. Soldiers and sailors, especially the popolo kine, pretty much main customers. Partner smoked too much of the crop while running the tractor on a hillside. He huli the tractor. Make die dead. Cops come. I ended up in court. Judge say I had a choice, leave the island or off to O.P. So I went Maui to live with a cousin. That was 30 years ago. Haven’t smoked since.”

According to more than one story told, there was a time when Hawaii judges routinely kept the prison population down by giving defendants guilty of less-serious crimes the choice of moving off the island.

Then there was the guy who complained about hippies. “Befo’ da hippies, I grew ’em in the front yard. After the (rhymes with docking) hippies, had to grow ’em in the backyard.”

It wasn’t until the island became widely known as the source of “Maui Wowee” that official attitudes changed. One theory was that police officials were embarrassed by the notoriety. Blame the magazine “High Times” for spreading the word. Or, maybe the sea change was due to the amount of money changing hands and radio stations playing “Cane Fire.” The lyrics include a plea to “save the children,” a not-so-veiled reference to growing dope in sugar fields.

A more recent story: The holder of medical marijuana card grew his legal supply in his backyard where it was easily seen by pot spotters during monthly “Green Harvest” operations. A day or so after the helicopter flew over, there would be police officers at his door. The repeated need to show his authorization for the plants in his yard grew tedious.

“I finally got this full sheet of plywood. Painted it white and in bright red letters wrote my name and medical marijuana authorization. I stuck it on poles, face up, so it couldn’t be missed by the copter guys.” That ended the official visits.

At one point on Maui, growing and smoking pakalolo (crazy tobacco) was no big deal. Later it was. And, now? Cast a weather eye on the eastern horizon. The winds of change never stop blowing.

* Ron Youngblood is a retired editor and staff writer for The Maui News. His email address is

Maui Nei

In the 1970s, money from Washington padded Maui County’s payroll. In 1973, President Richard Nixon signed into law the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act. The idea was to train workers and provide them with jobs in public service.

On Maui, that translated to county jobs. CETA workers filled out the ranks of the county’s various departments and put much-needed money into family budgets and into an island economy that was moving from plantation to tourism, from a population of less than 50,000 to more than 100,000.

A number of those CETA workers found themselves in the county’s Department of Parks and Recreation, working for a woman who had a doctorate in recreation. Jan Dapitan, a teacher at Baldwin High School, had been hired to write a recreation master plan. Halfway through the job, she was named director of the department, and a between-jobs wordsmith was contracted to finish writing the plan.

The parks department office on the fourth floor of Kalana O Maui was a busy place. With an annual budget of around $1.5 million and the recreation needs on three islands, there was seldom a day when the place didn’t crackle with energy. Felix Pascual was department deputy director. Al Deloso was the department’s recreation director. The county was divided into three districts. Richard Machida was responsible for Central Maui, William “Blea” Amoral for East Maui and Ed Kaahui for West Maui, including Molokai and Lanai.

The guy hired to put Dapitan’s master plan on paper soon found himself drafted into doing publicity and cranking out a monthly department newsletter. No computers then. An ancient mechanical typewriter was used to cut stencils for a mimeograph machine. You are an old-timer if you’ve ever had any experience with typewriters, blue stencils and the peculiar aroma of a mimeo machine cranking out copies.

One of the higher-profile programs begun under Dapitan was Maui Youth Theater. Linda and Michael Takita were CETA workers who put on plays for and by youngsters. The program had its roots in a Maui Community Theater production for kids. Dapitan’s young daughter was one of the performers. Mom saw the positive results of theater discipline.

Maui Youth Theater later went out on its own and became the Maui Academy of Performing Arts. During those early parks department days, Maui Youth Theater performed here, there and anywhere it could find rehearsal and performance space. Ingenuity and volunteer parents made up for the lack of money.

While parks were maintained for field sports and community centers for whatever, programs of a more esoteric nature fell under fee for service. The first stop for instructors was Deloso. He’d decide whether to give the proposed class an OK and find a place for it at one of the county’s facilities. Students would pay a average of less than $1 an hour. If the class proved popular, the instructor could make a fair wage at no cost to the taxpayers.

There was this one notable morning when a young, hippy-looking guy showed up at Deloso’s door. The guy wanted to give lessons in constructing and playing a kind of bamboo flute using a traditional saxophone mouthpiece. The would-be teacher played a recognizable tune on the thing, much to Deloso’s amusement.

The county also ran Summer Fun and After School programs involving hundreds of children.

Organized athletics fell under Kenji Kawaguchi, who ran leagues in basketball, football, baseball and softball while supervising canoe races, swim meets, track and field and tennis tournaments.

Soon enough, the recreation master plan was finished. Dapitan debuted it at a national convention of recreation specialists. It got raves from the experts because it was program-oriented and the programs were to be based on what Mauians wanted.

The plan made its way through the county administration, ending up in the hands of Eric Soto in the Office of Economic Development. There it was turned into a plan for parks and facilities, not programs.

CETA? In the 1980s, the program was replaced by the Job Training Partnership Act. Most of the CETA workers went on to private-sector jobs or became regular civil service employees with the county.

The between-jobs wordsmith? Eventually, he found a home at The Maui News.

* Ron Youngblood is a retired editor and staff writer for The Maui News. His email address is

Maui Nei

The ocean had a cloudy complexion, a light gray created by an overcast sky. The filtered light made a convoy of islands stand in stark relief. From the pali lookout, Maui’s Puu Olai, Molokini, Kahoolawe and Lanai sat serenely on the line marking the end of here and the beginning of there.

The lookout parking lot was full, but there’s always a sliver of space for a motorcycle. Making the turn off Honoapiilani Highway was easy. As expected, traffic everywhere on Maui was light. As expected during the whale season, there was a crowd of hopefuls draped over the railing.

The whales were being coy. In the distance, an occasional explosion of white marked the presence of one of Maui’s winter visitors. Wishful watchers held their tiny point-and-shoot cameras and smart phones up for a shot of a lifetime. Wasn’t to be. No breaches. No spouts.

Two slow-moving whale backs barely disturbed the wind-ruffled surface before sliding into the deep. A third whale back appeared a few yards farther out to sea. The size of the two humpbacks suggested a mother and calf, a speculation reinforced by the presence of the third, a possible guard auntie or juvenile male.

It was the first stop on a day traditionally devoted to roaming. There’s nothing quite like going for a long motorcycle ride on a day when the island’s attention is riveted on an East Coast football stadium. The game and the ride began at 1:15 p.m.

Down Pulehu Road out of foggy Kula, across Mokulele and along Piilani highways before dropping down to the coast to sample Kihei without the usual glare of sunshine. Spotty traffic. There’s a feeling of the beach town as it was 30 years ago.

The Kamaole beach parks were loosely littered with bodies. No bikinis strolling down sidewalks. Too bad. The lack of traffic left plenty of space for gawking. It was more than warm enough for the winter refugees, but what’s a beach town without sunshine? The old houses at the end of Kihei Road held the answer: A village of residents forever tied to the sea.

The recent rains had filled Kealia Pond and covered the mudflats on the makai side of the road. Once upon a time, Alexander & Baldwin thought about turning the flats into a marina. Opposition to the idea led to the creation of the Kealia National Wildlife Refuge.

Baby Dancer purred through the pali at a steady 40 mph, 5 mph above the legal minimum and 5 mph below the legal maximum – the only speed setup of its kind on the island. Blame whale-watchers.

A highlight of any ride to Lahaina is Olowalu. The highway is covered with the spreading boughs of ancient monkeypod trees. The shade wasn’t needed but beautiful roads are in short supply on Maui, never mind spectacular views.

One of the most unexpected views comes at the top of the new Lahaina bypass. The light, smooth-flowing traffic allowed plenty of time to gaze at the developments at the foot of the mountains and spotting a sign pointing the way to the bypass. Make the turn.

Where’s the bypass? The road seemed to lead off to nowhere. There it is. In bright sunshine, the slab leading left glares as only fresh concrete can. The bypass can claim a couple of Maui firsts – an overpass and an honest-to-Oahu on-ramp. At the top of a 12 percent grade, Lahaina is spread out below. There’s no savoring the best-ever ground-bound aerial look at the old town sitting around a white smokestack. “Emergency Stopping Only,” the signs say.

The most direct way from the bypass to Front Street is through the Lahaina Cannery Mall parking lot. A left turn. All the tourists seem to be down near the harbor. The sun glitters off the sea. Settle into a spot next to the library park. A young man leans against a coconut palm, his attention riveted on a book. A couple of surfers carry their boards across the grass.

“What’s that?” asks a tourist, pointing at the orange-and-white striped navigation aid planted behind the library. She’s told it marks the port side of the Lahaina Harbor entrance channel. The starboard side marker is down on a seawall literally anchored by an ancient, rusty chain. Out in the roadstead, a clutter of private boats wallow where whalers and the U.S. Navy once moored.

The most action at the harbor was a bus unloading a tour group. It could have been Lahaina circa 1970, with or without dogs sleeping in the street. It wasn’t though. It was simply Super Bowl Sunday, one of the best days of the year to get reacquainted with Maui. The 94-mile ride was a bonus.

* Ron Youngblood is a retired editor and staff writer for The Maui News. His email address is