MILES MAHAN(MM) and DAVID ISAY(DI)
Along California’s Highway 15, about 100 miles northeast of Los Angeles, stands an enormous weather-beaten billboard of a girl in a hula skirt. The sign says, ”You’ve reached Hulaville,” an off-beat roadside attraction that producer David Isay stumbled upon, a desert park built and operated for almost forty years by poet and artist Miles Mahan.
MM: What are you doing, shooting some gaff here?
DI: No, what I’m doing is I’m doing a radio story about you.
MM: You are?
DI: If you don’t mind.
MM: Not at all. (Laughs.) That’s a big laugh. (Laughs.)
DI: Miles Mahan lives in a small trailer on the side of the highway here in the California desert, watching over his prized possession: a fourteen-foot-high wooden cutout of a hula girl, and the one-of-a-kind theme park he’s built up around her. If you ask Miles Mahan how old he is, he’ll answer something like this:
MM: Well, uh, I’m not dead. (Laughs.)
DI: In fact, Miles Mahan just turned 97, although he looks and acts a good deal younger than his age, especially when talking about his Hulaville museum.
MM: This here I built myself — all of this.
DI: Can you give me a tour?
MM: You bet I can. We’ll walk through my place here.
DI: Miles Mahan leads me through an entranceway along a short dirt path lined with rusty tin cans, old plates, and discarded clothing to the centerpiece of his theme park — the Hula Girl. Nailed up high on the wooden post, she towers above everything. Her hips thrust to one side, hands waving to the other. Her grass skirt seems to blow in the breeze.
MM: If it wasn’t for her, I wouldn’t be here.
DI: Standing beneath the Hula Girl, Miles launches into his saga.
MM: Oh, I’ll tell you how I picked this spot. I was out…
DI: Miles explains that he was a career guess-your-weight man with a carnival before retiring to this small patch of roadside real estate in 1954. It was a year later that Miles came upon the Hula Girl, a billboard which had recently been discarded by a Hawaiian restaurant. He brought the Hula Girl home, placed her on display, and Hulaville grew up around her. Today, almost 40 years later, Miles Mahan says Hulaville is more than just a museum.
MM: It’s an attraction.
DI: It is, as he sees it, something of a roadside entertainment complex. There are natural wonders.
MM: You see how tall that Joshua tree is? That’s something that nobody ever saw in all their life, and if you can find one and bring it here, I’ll give you a hundred dollars.
DI: There is culture here as well — the poetry and pithy sayings of Miles Mahan painted onto scraps of cast-off wood. Unfortunately, he’s unable to read them because of his failing eyesight.
MM: What does that say there?
DI: America new fashion. Stomach comes first.
MM: Oh, for gosh sake. (Laughs.) I didn’t even know that was there. Stomachs…
DI: There is even a Hulaville miniature golf course. Signs lead the way, some of which Miles has painted himself. Others have been salvaged from more up-scale putting greens.
MM: Some of these are funny. What does that say?
ISAY: It says, ’During thunder and electrical storms, discontinue play and return to the clubhouse.’
DI: Where’s the clubhouse?
MM: Oh, the clubhouse is–the clubhouse…Uh, back there.
DI: The most curious thing about the Hulaville nine-hole golf course is that it seems to consist only of nine sticks, stuck into a narrow strip of dirt where Miles has cleared away the weeds.
MM: We’re in number one. Here’s where you tee off.
ISAY: I don’t quite see how this is a golf course. It just–
MM: Well, they have them now, miniature golf course. They’ve got ’em all over now–miniature golf. They got two up here.
DI: But there are no holes.
MM: They have grass now. I don’t have the grass.
DI: But there are no holes, Miles.
MM: Well, no. They like it this way. Then they don’t have to stoop down there and wear themselves out. They just kick it. It’s more fun.
DI: While Miles’ course does lack many of the expected amenities–there are no miniature windmills, mazes, moats or bridges–Miles has come up with some distinctive Hulaville touches. For instance The Religious Shrine, which stands beside hole number six. It’s made out of a jumble of rocks and crosses and weeds. He’s even given it a name.
MM: The resurrection of Jesus.
DI: You don’t find that on every golf course.
MM: No, you don’t. (Laughs.) You don’t find me either. (Laughs.)
DI: Miles does not charge admission to Hulaville, but at the end of the tour, he does ask visitors if they would consider purchasing a small bound book of his poetry. And, if they have an extra moment, if they might read some to him.
DI: Here we have a poem called Hulaville.
MM: Yeah, we did? I didn’t know that was in there.
DI: Yea so welcome are all of thee / To this museum so full with glee / Here are a host of signs you may see / So cleverly painted by old Mile-zee. That’s you, huh?
DI: And so this dream will always be / A haven of peace for you and me / From a tired world you’ll be free / To behold bottles before you flee
MM: Well I’ll be damned. I wrote a lot of poems, but that is about as good as I can write.
DI: Hulaville is located on Highway 15, a few miles south of Victorville, California. Just keep your eyes open for the Hula Girl. For National Public Radio, I’m David Isay.
MM: Well, goodbye and good luck.
DI: Thank you Miles. It was great to meet you. It was a pleasure.
MM: Well, it’s great to meet you. The greatest pleasure I ever had. You stop here the next time you come. Will you do that?
DI: Sure. Bye bye, Miles.
MM: Bye. I’m going to sit down again. What’s your first name?