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Veggies and a little banter

Jim Hill of Grants Pass sells produce from the back of his truck, rain or shine, if it's not too cold, at the corner of Vilas Road and Highway 62. Hill likes to talk about his days as a boxer.

Ex-boxer enjoys selling produce

WHITE CITY - Jim Hill doesn't mind a little rain.

He doesn't even object to the wind whipping his face.

But if it rains, blows and it's real cold, then I'm outa here, says Hill, 55, a Grants Pass resident who makes a living selling produce out of the back of his older model Ford pickup truck.

Naw, I'm not going to fight all three elements, he says. That's too much.

Not that Hill is afraid of a fight. A former professional boxer, he has a nose that looks like a collapsed ski jump, his knuckles are flattened from throwing too many punches, his eyelids droop from receiving too many blows.

But I love being out here, love talking to folks, he says of the work he has been doing for seven years. I do like people.

While he talks, a steady stream of customers pulls along the roadside stand he operates -- weather permitting -- at the corner of Vilas Road and Highway 62 Tuesdays through Saturdays.

Hill buys the produce wholesale, then relies on his bantering sales approach to sell it at a slight profit.

Ma'am, I got cantaloupe so fresh it'll giggle when you take a bite out of it, he tells one elderly lady.

Thank you, young man, he yells to a white-haired gent walking away with artichokes.

During the brief lulls in business, Hill likes to talk about the days when he fought in the ring.

Won the Golden Gloves in Iowa in `66, he says. Fought light heavyweight. I weighed 161 pounds. Guys outweighed me 15 to 20 pounds but I whupped 'em.

From Iowa he went south to Miami Beach to train with Angelo Dundee, who was also training a fellow named Cassius Clay, he says. Clay later changed his named to Muhammad Ali.

That's when Ali was working out with Jimmy Ellis, he says. Ali was the nicest guy. That reminds me of my fifth pro fight when I fought Lou Howard, who had 15 knockouts, one loss and a draw.

I knocked him down three times in the first round. Second round, I'm going to go out like a tiger. My trainer says, `Jimmy, watch out. This guy has a bad right hand.' I say, `He's a bum.' I ran out. He hit me with his right. Down I went.

But Hill, who stops to yell, Please don't squeeze the produce! to a customer, says he got up and won the fight in the fifth round.

The next day, the paper they had a big article on me and only a small one on Ali, he says. He comes in and says to me, `What do you think you're doing? I'm the greatest, and you get this big story.' Hill laughs at the memory.

Ali will always be the greatest, he says.

A onetime butcher, Hill says he began selling produce out of the back of his truck because he wanted to work outside and be his own boss.

The former boxer's life has been a little rocky at times. He talks openly about his past, about changing his name from Davidson to Hill when he was adopted, about prison.

Yeah, I've been in jail, he says. Five years and three years. One was an assault. I got mad and broke a guy's jaw pretty bad. The other was for stealing some jewelry.

I got drunk a few times, and got in a few scrapes because I hadn't learned how to act yet, he adds. But I respect the law enforcement guys. They got a tough job.

As a youth, Hill also spent time in reform school in California.

I learned what goes around comes around, he says. But things are going pretty good now.

His customers agree.

He treats you right, says Medford resident Debra Shellhorn. I'm kind of a vegetable prude. I like his stuff.

And he has a wonderful personality, adds Central Point resident Geraldine Smiley, who dropped by to pick up some asparagus and tomatoes.

He treats everybody special, says Eagle Point resident Linda Whisenhunt, a regular customer who stopped by to pick up some artichokes.

With another lull in business, Hill brings the conversation back to the ring.

I worked out with guys like Irish Wayne Thornton down in Fresno when I was a kid, he says. They wouldn't hit me too hard because they knew if you whup a young fighter too much it'll ruin `em.

Cleveland `The Cat' Williams, he taught me how to throw a left jab in Houston, he adds. Taught me how to throw it, bring it off the shoulder.

With that, he makes a couple of quick jabs with his left, all of which comes within a whisker of his listener's unbroken nose.

Buddy, I still got my jab, too, he says.

But he was grinning.

Those are a buck and a quarter, he yells in answer to a customer's question.

Then it's back to boxing.

Did I tell you about my first pro fight against a guy named Skip Johnson? he asks.

Well, me and Mr. Johnson, we went toe to toe, he says. We banged each other so hard that first round that my head was ringing. But I went out there and got him in the second round. First win.

Hill says he gave up his gloves when he was 28.

If I hadn't quit, I'd be punch drunk today, he says. My knuckles have all been broken, my nose has been broken, my jaw broken. But I did love boxing.

Someday, when foul weather drives him indoors, he figures he'll write a book about his life.

But I like this fine now, he says.

(Call reporter Paul Fattig at 776-4496 or e-mail him at: .)

Veggies and a little banter