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 firstname.lastname@example.org.