Making Waves: Memories from wild, beautiful Puna

Sometimes I put down the remote and my West Hawaii newspaper and think back on my old days in Puna and have to laugh; so many characters.

There was Wino Dave, a scraggly skeleton of a guy with greasy black hair. He lived his whole life stretched out under a palm tree near Kaimu Bay. His only possessions were a sleeping bag and a dirty old pillow. He had a very simple lifestyle.


Each morning he would wake up, walk across the street to Walter’s Store and find someone to trade $10 in food stamps for $10 in cash, a normal financial transaction in Puna. He then hitch-hiked up to Cash and Carry Market in Pahoa.

There he would purchase two bottles of Boones Farm red wine and hitchhike back to his palm tree. He would sit contently and drink the two bottles of wine and fall asleep.

The next morning he would repeat the process. He did this every day for years. Not surprisingly, Wino Dave was passed over by Who’s Who of America and the Nobel Prize.

There were more ambitious people in Puna at the time. One of them was a hippie girl who worked at Cash and Carry. I called her the check-out girl.

She was a checker and had no idea what she was doing. How she lasted so long at the job is a marvel of insane proportions.

You would walk up to her checkstand with your groceries and she would happily punch the keys on the cash register, without even looking what she was ringing up. A loaf of bread would be $3 one day, and $5 the next. Each customer was charged whatever she happened to blindly punch in at the cash register. No one seemed to care.

It says something about Puna that she worked for months before anyone noticed. Punatics were not very good with money — or food stamps for that matter.

Puna was the Wild West. Put cowboy hats on the hippies and Pahoa was Dodge City, funky as could be.

You’ve seen Pahoa, sagging wood storefronts, wooden sidewalks — there are even metal rings on the street where old-timers would tie up their horses. Pahoa is one of the last towns in Hawaii with real soul. They should preserve it for all time.

On Saturday night it was the Old West. Saloons on the main street glowing brightly, with loud voices ringing in the air, people stumbling down the rickety sidewalks, and on the corner was Luquin’s Mexican Restaurant.

You’d walk in the door and you were in Old Mexico; they even had a mariachi who would sing at the tables. He was dressed like a Mexican cowboy, big white sombrero, and he wore a silver six-shooter in a holster, a real one. Only in Puna.

Then there was Emile Naeole; she was a trip. A happy Hawaiian lady with flowers in her hair. She was elected to the council and threw pencils at people who spoke at meetings.

There were other characters like the guy that walked around in white sheets and a staff who thought he was Jesus, and a lady who walked down the Red Road in a trance, wearing nothing but her long blond hair.

Puna was another world.

Now I must return to present-day Kona, all grown up now with everything so normal.


But I like to drift back to the good old days when things were from another world, different and wild with a flare only Puna could offer. Aloha.

Dennis Gregory writes a bimonthly column for West Hawaii Today and welcomes your comments at