My first night at Slab City was a Saturday, and my friends wanted to go to The Range for the evening to listen to some live music. As with all property at The Slabs, this piece of land was claimed by someone and then turned into whatever that person wanted it to be. In this case, a musician wanted to create a place where Slabbers could get together to meet each other and play music or express other talents (I think it was mostly so he could meet women).
There is a little snack bar at The Range that also sells drinks, but not the alcoholic kind. Even at The Slabs, the law makes itself known on occasion. On this night, my friends and I decided to get a tailgate ride to The Range, never for one second thinking that we could get in trouble. We were just four middle-aged, ordinary folks, feeling like kids again while eating dust on the tailgate of a truck that was crawling down a very bumpy road. When we pulled up to The Range we saw several police cars, and one of the officers approached us to ask what we were doing. He pointed out that we were still on a county road and we were breaking the law. Fortunately, all he did was give us a warning, and the four of us slunk off, giggling and feeling like naughty teenagers.
The music at The Range was mixed but was mostly rock music and on this night we were also entertained by a belly dancer. A woman with wings attached to her back danced on her own, and at times children played on the dance floor. People brought their own drinks, funny cigarettes passed around, and I imagine other drugs too, though I didn’t actually witness that personally. It was loud, and noisy, but people were friendly and gracious. We took our own chairs, but there was plenty of seating available in the form of old couches and seats lined up in rows. People hopped over them to gain access to their chosen spot. Everyone was friendly, but there was a moment where we all got a little nervous when I very drunk man in the row behind us decided to show his gun off. His friends tried to take it away from him when they realized it was loaded. Whoa! Moments like this really make a person realize they are alive. They finally convinced him to put his gun away in his bag, and he settled down. Not too long after that, we returned to our vehicles at The LOWs.
Hover over images to see what they are:
Clubs and Homes
I went for many walks around Slab City (always with someone), and I found it fascinating. There is a mutual respect for a person’s property here. The rules are simple, you choose a piece of land, put a border around it with whatever you can find (old tires, bottles, wooden slabs etc.), and then build whatever kind of home you want to within that boundary. Once you have a border, people will respect your property and keep out of it as long as you respect them. Some homes were simply salvaged tents, surrounded by trash and a person burning the trash for warmth in the cooler hours, it’s toxic fumes no doubt adding to the poor health of the resident and those all around. (This kind of smell was fairly prevalent at The Slabs, and I often found myself trying not to breathe in the fumes, but it’s hard not to). Other homes were more complex. Some people had gone to great trouble to make homes from wooden slabs and palm fronds, with fences, nice gardens, privacy screens and more. Some looked like compounds, and then just a couple of doors down there would be a new looking trailer covered in solar panels.
There were clubs such as the LOWS (Loners On Wheels), The Oasis Club, The Gentleman’s Club, The Range, and places like The Internet Café, a Library, and a Church. Below is The Cannibal Club, the sign reads Members Only, All Others Will be Eaten. I have no idea what they were about, I stayed away…
The Oasis Club became my morning coffee spot. Although one is supposed to be a member and pay an annual fee, they were very relaxed about it. I simply made a donation each morning for coffee, and on Sundays, they had a big breakfast for a small fee. I loved sitting around with my friends and joining in conversations with other Slab City visitors and Snow Birds and of course the Slab City residents. The conversations were very varied. One could be talking about how many fleas there are in a carpet one minute, and in the next sentence be discussing The Universe with a Professor who’d grown tired of Society, and just had to get away from the rat race for a while. Everyone was friendly and pleasant, and the more they got to know you, the more relaxed they became. One evening the club had a campfire, and people took turns playing music and singing. It was a very pleasant way to pass an evening.
While I was at Slab City (I had planned to stay for only two days, but ended up staying for ten), I didn’t see any arguments or violence of any kind. There seemed to be a mutual respect for one another. Anyone who was willing to come here and check it out had to be pretty cool right? However, they did have some problems one year when a group of trouble causers decided to invade The Slabs. Apparently, they were rowdy and rude, and somewhat violent. This caused a lot of problems for the normally peace-loving residents, and because they don’t have their own law enforcement, and don’t want violence in their community, they had to figure out a way to get rid of these bad pennies themselves. The solution was to mock them and make fun of them or just ignore them as though they didn’t exist, all residents who came into contact with them stuck together and did this, and eventually, the rowdy gang left. No guns, no weapons, no violence, no beatings, shootings, killings or stabbings. Peace was returned in a non-violent way.
Slab City residents seem to stick together and help each other out. Water can be delivered, electricity mostly comes from solar, there is a trash collection service but no sewer or septic, so people get very creative with their off-the-grid toilets. There is even a taxi service, though the driver won’t let you in his vehicle if you aren’t reasonably clean. There are some hot springs on the property, where you can bathe if you wish. I didn’t have the opportunity to visit the hot springs or the shower; maybe next time, if I can pluck up the courage. The tiny town of Niland is a few miles down the road. It has a restaurant or two, and a small grocery store.
The Pet Cemetery
I found two of these while exploring, this is one of them.
My Camping Spot
Some of my friends have stayed at Slab City before, and Randy (40-Years a Nomad) suggested that we camp in the area by The LOWS Club, which stands for Loners On Wheels. This area is made up mostly of retirees in motor homes, and some of them are huge Class C’s, worth $250,000 to $400,000. The area has been cleaned of all trash, and residents keep an eye out for each other. We each found a spot a reasonable distance from each other and parked, put out our chairs, and called it home for a while.
In my first post about Slab City, I mentioned that there is an army proving ground nearby, and sometimes we sipped on our 3:2 beers while watching jets drop bombs in the distance. When they flew low over The Slabs the ground would shake and I would have to plug my ears with my fingers, and it would be easy to imagine you were in a war zone. If that wasn’t bad enough, there was another rather unpleasant thing we had to tolerate on occasion while camping here, and that was the stench from the feedlot that was just south of Niland by a few miles. I had never driven by a feedlot of this magnitude before, and the stench of the place was enough to turn my tummy, and I’ve got a tough stomach. On certain days, when the wind was blowing in our direction, I found it hard to taste my food, the stench was so prevalent I could taste it over everything else. Fortunately, in my ten days this only happened three times, and only for a few hours each time, I don’t think I could have taken anymore.
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Here is a link to a beautifully written piece about Slab City on Mother Earth News. Far more elegant writing than I’m in the mood for right now, I recommend you read it: Design for Life; Slab City Where Freedom is Still Free. (I’m just ready to move on with my posts t this point, and I’m sure you’re all with me on this one).
Another well-written piece can be read here: At Home at the Other End of the Rainbow.
Bombay Beach and The Salton Sea
Bombay Beach and The Salton Sea is a few miles north of Slab City, and one has to pass through a Border Patrol on the way. Bombay Beach used to be a resort, but it turned into an apocalyptic wasteland when the sea became polluted with pesticides and wastewater. It is now considered The Worst Place to Live in America. We went there for Taco Night at The American Legion Club. To understand what happened in Bombay Beach and how The Salton Sea became so polluted, I’ll direct you to this article: Salton Sea: From Relaxing Resort to Skeleton Filled Wasteland by Ella Morton. It’s interesting stuff, especially if you’re interested in environmental issues.
That’s Randy Vining in the foreground, if you click on the link in his name, you can listen to a sample of his poetry in video format. Poetry with titles such as Generators, The Conspiracists and Why We Keep Pets. The pet video was filmed at Slab City by Hollywood Bob, of MoveableCondo.com.
Anyhow, that’s all for now…maybe one day I’ll return to this post and improve upon it, but I think you get the idea.
In summary, I actually enjoyed my time at Slab City, and I would certainly go again if I was joining friends, but I wouldn’t go on my own. It’s a unique experience, and one certainly has to go there with an open mind and peace in your heart. If you go with too many pre-conceived ideas about it, you won’t get the full experience. You may fail to see the beauty in this place, and amid all the ugliness and trash, there is beauty. There is beauty in the spirit of the people, there is beauty in the tiny rocks someone took the trouble to place around and protect a tree. There is beauty in the artwork and in the sunsets, and the obvious pride some have put into their homes, even though it may have been built from trash. There is love and kindness and sharing, there is understanding and forgiveness. The feeling is of freedom, freedom from the rules of society and the fear it loves to instill in us.
If you go, go with an open mind…in fact, go everywhere with an open mind, and truly experience this amazing world we live in.
Until next time…Savor the Journey,
Roxy ~ A Nomad for Nature