Another weekend, another Tiki-do. This past Sunday's was a doozy. Named "Bamboo Ben's Nooner", it was hosted by well-known Tikifyer Bamboo Ben. Seriously, Google this man. There's no way for me to explain him without taking up paragraphs and paragraphs. It's a fascinating family legacy, the likes of which, once read or seen, will leave you wanting more.
There have been numerous documentaries, newsreels, and write-ups
over nearly 7 decades of his famous grandfather, Eli Hedley
(also known as "The Original Beachcomber"). Eli turned the flotsom and jetsom that washed up along the west coast into a million dollar business back in the 30's. He was also the owner of The Island Trade Store in Disneyland's Adventureland back when Disney invited small, independent businesses to lease space inside the park and sell their wares. You just had to buy little "Disneyland" stickers (from Disney, of course) to put on the stuff you sold, pay your rental fees, and give a percentage of your sales to Walt. Eli's little place, directly across from the Jungle Cruise and in the shade of the Tahitian Terrace, operated for nearly a decade before Walt realized how much money he could be making on selling tourist stuff himself and decided not to renew independent leases. But, that's another story. This one's about Eli's grandson Ben.
Ben's a character. The first time I met him a few years ago, he came into the shop with his wife and two boys to see Wes. I didn't realize that I was in the presence of California royalty. No, not that snooty, Hollywood crap. But true, meaningful history. Wes, being a sort of "kindred spirit" in that he also has a colorful, adventurous family that made history
along the same lines as Ben's family (See "Truman Bailey; Polynesian Venture) and both ending up with a sort of "pseudo-polynesian" livelihood, filled me in on Ben. He's self-effacing, he doesn't go looking for attention, attention finds him. He makes magic with thatch, bamboo, and a nailgun, and loves his family, ciggies, and Budweiser. Bamboo Ben "builds stuff". But not just ANY stuff. He builds tiki stuff. He has turned ordinary rooms, businesses, and homes into wonderlands of bamboo'ed and thatched delights all from a tiny little shop that is "Open by Appointment or by Chance". If you want a pirate ship in your backyard, or you need a completely enclosed tiki bar built over a weekend for a movie set, or you want to turn your office into the interior of Disney's Enchanted Tiki Room, well Ben's your man. And even if the "jungle" look isn't your thing, consider that the likes of Pixar, Trader Vic's, Don the Beachcomber, Jimmy Buffett, NUMEROUS clubs and restaurants, have all been high profile clients, there's so much more to Ben and his family than meets the eye. I liked him the minute I met him and yet we had barely exchanged but a few words.
One day last year, he came into the store looking for some crushed bamboo panels. Before he left, I asked him to sign my copy of an issue of Tiki Magazine
(Yes Jeff, there IS a Tiki Magazine!) where he was the featured artist and his picture (a la Norman Rockwell's self-portrait) graced the cover
. He instantly blushed, and looked down at his feet. I handed him the magazine and a Sharpie. He stood there, at the counter, for a good five minutes, struggling over what to write. He said.."I hate this shit. I never know what to write." I said, "Ben, just write your name. That's fine with me." A minute or so later, he smiled and handed back the magazine. He had written, "Aloha Pua, don't smoke! Bamboo Ben." I laughed. He laughed. It was perfect.
So Sunday, Ben had a "Nooner". A parking lot party at his little shop in Huntington Beach. It started at, yes that's right, noon. Tiki vendors of all sorts, artists, musicians, and to top it all off, a gigantic bar in the shape of a tiki..The Ku Bar, created by tiki artist and hot rod afficianado "Notch". Here's some pics so you get the idea..
Along with a heapload of other well-wishers, we visited with Ben for a minute in his beautiful newly-built tiki bar, Hale Ohe'(House of Bamboo...what else would it be called?) I felt honored to give him a pa'akai pomaika'i (blessing of salt) I made. I know in my heart it made my mom, dad, and Uncle Tatu smile from the heavens. We hurried over to hand off a pan of L&L Mac Salad to Ben's beautiful wife Vicki (better known as "Mrs. Bamboo" in the tiki world). She was everywhere all the time, making sure everyone had everything they needed, and always with a smile.
That feeling of being in the presence of greatness swept over me again at having the opportunity to talk story with Ben's mother Ba, and his Aunty Mare (whose book "How Daddy Became A Beachcomber", I had just finished reading). Through my kids, I've had the chance to meet quite a few "celebrities". But I will tell you that never have I felt as charmed or overwhelmed as I did when I talked to these two lovely women about their magical lives. Charlie kinda had to drag me away from them so that other people could have a chance to speak with them. I felt a little guilty for playing "hog-cheese" with their time. That guilt lasted a minute, because they were just as excited to tell me about their friend Pua Kealoha, who they would enjoy luaus with "back in the day" at their magical childhood home in the cove. In Hawaiian culture, it is the tellings of the kupuna that the generations down the line cherish. I have been brought up at the feet of ohana elders, listening with fervent hunger to their tales. By the same token, my kids loved to sit at the feet of their grandparents and listen to their stories and experiences. It is these that enrich our lives. I could have sat, with reverence, at the feet of these lovely ladies and listened to them talk all day. I felt enriched and more intoxicated by Ba and Mare Hedley than what I could have achieved on an entire barrel of rum. Good thing too, 'cuz, well we'll get to that.
Charlie and I wandered from booth to booth, me; collecting hugs, he; drooling over mugs and art, until we got to the gigantic Ku Bar. Always at the ready these days, I couldn't settle for a red plastic cup like all the other natives, so I pulled two "Haleiwa Joe's" cups out of my purse and put them up on the bar. Come to find that people were stopping us left and right and asking where we got them and if we were selling them. I laughed. It's funny, I go to Haleiwa Joe's every time I go home and have one (or MANY) of their Mai Tais and bring an HJ "Slice of Paradise"
cup home with me. I've got a cupboard full because I can't bring myself to throw away that little pocket of "beach" that's encased in the bottom of the cup. It would be like throwing away a piece of home, so to speak. So as un-tiki as those little beauties might be, people loved 'em. Who'dathunk it? I coulda been rich! Rich I tell ya! Ahem...okay maybe not.
Anyway, I had hoped for some fruity, umbrella-laden libation, but we were informed by the man behind the Ku (Notch) that all that was on tap was a keg of Kona. Yikes! Beer for Pua? Why is there no rum? Eh, you do what you gotta do. It's "work" after all. I'll take a couple for the team. Fill'er up Notch! Sacrifices must be made, and as we all know, I'm hardly a virgin. A beer virgin that is ::wink::.
P.S. - Mahalos to the Bamboo Ben Ohana and all the Tiki Ohana from whom I swiped these photos! :)