Sunday, March 8, 2009

Hula Ville

Getting rid of old books is an job I never enjoy. I've read most of my collection of books. Most of those more than once, but there comes a point where shelf space runs out.
Encyclopedia of Civil Aircraft is hogging a big piece of shelf space, it's on probation along with Hubris. Once was enough for that one. Wolverines are Eating My Leg by Tim Cahill, that should stay for another read. One of the books that won't ever go to House of Hope is Legendary Poems of the Valley and Others We Tallied, 1987 Edition by Miles Mahan.
I mentioned my mural painting days for Olive Garden Restaurants in an earlier post. There were 15 years of travel and too many experiences to detail in a couple of blog postings. But here is a memory that sticks out as I scanned my bookshelf.
Miles Mahan was a poet and an artist. When I met him in 1990 he was 94. He lived alone in a trailer on 2 1/2 acres of joshua trees along Route 66/I-15 in California's high desert north of the San Bernardino Mountains . I had finished a mural job for Olive Garden in Victorville and was driving back to Los Angeles for a red eye flight to Orlando. On the right of I-15 was a strange looking collection of bottles hung on dowels, primitive hand written signs and a giant hula girl waving to traffic. A sign said, Welcome to Hula Ville.
I got out of the car and wandered into what looked like an entrance but was just a dirt path under the overhanging branches. There was scrap wood everwhere nailed to the Joshua trees and staked in the ground. Poems. I thought I might be intruding in someone's personal garden when Miles stepped out of the shade. He was dressed like my imagined vision of a desert rat. Scruffy beard, suspenders, I noticed he could use a shower. He told me he had lived there in that spot in the desert since 1955. He said every day he picked up the trash that people threw out their car windows, and soon he noticed bottles were an endless commodity. He decided to make sculptures to go with his poems painted on scrap wood. Travelers began to take notice and stop.
He had a notepad in his hand and said he was composing a poem to read for some folks later that day. He read me what he had.
On a mound bottles ya see,
bringing joy to all of thee.
Once they held a tasty wine,
now in th' sun empties shine."
"Who are you reading it for?"
"I'm going to be on the Johnny Carson show," he said. "They are sending a limo out a little later."
I wasn't sure how to reply to that. I sputtered something like "uh, that's great".
I sat on a metal chair outside the trailer facing Miles as he put together a few more verses and read them out loud.
You could tell he took joy from word play. We talked for awhile, him wanting to know about painting wall murals.
I could tell a bath was in order before the "limosine" arrived.
"I'll watch for you tonight," I said as I got up to leave.
Someone once said no man is happy without at least one delusion. OK, I thought, he seemed happy and otherwise normal. I wished him luck.
That evening at LAX I stopped at the newstand on the way to the gate. The LA Times TV section, Friday August 17, 11:30 pm: Nightline- Ted Koppel is anchor; Arsenio Hall - Steve Martin, Rick Moranis; The Tonight Show - Patrick Swayze, bottle collector Miles Mahan.
"Son of a ..."
I called home. Susan recorded it on the VCR. Miles wasn't talkin' trash.


  1. One of those proverbial persons you were meant to meet. It seems like there is a lot more to this story and this man- like there should be a proverb or something! How lucky you are!

  2. Great story!! The guys on American Pickers need to have you and Miles on for a special edition!!

  3. How wonderful that a miraculous person shows up just when we need one. Miles goes beyond reduce, renew and recycle to rejoicing in word play. What wonderful serendipity. Tanya Levy