Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Samuel & Slab City

He sat at home working. Slaving for his family over a stack of law books and a PC. A lawyer doing what lawyers do...billing people in 6 minute increments....while taking breaks every now and then to look for random shit online. Slab City. Homeless people in the middle of a wasteland full of dead fish and Salton Sea. Call Lon.

Friends are in your life for many reasons. Today, Brian's reason for being my friend came in the form of a tired friendly call between massive amounts of work.

The phone rang at 8:32 PM on Saturday night. Brian had the weirdness of thought to call me after finding a Google satellite image of slab city. I'm good with having friends like that. I'm also good with the fact that Brian found this on his own while looking around Salton Sea on Google satellite...for no other reason than curiosity.

“Sammy, come here.” Samuel popped into the bedroom...almost literally. His brother was gone for a sleepover and they both needed separate time this weekend. Two brothers, born 320 days apart, together all day...they bug each other a lot. The day apart was good.

“Dad, what's Slab City?”

“It's this place in the desert where anyone can go and just squat...live for free. The government doesn't bother them and they don't bother anyone else....looks cool.”

“Yeah it does.” Which was followed by a subtly excited face.

The words came out, “Sam, do you want to go to Slab City?” And once you let that cat out of the bag...it ain't going back in. Some cats grin for a reason and some just grin because that's the how they are.

They grabbed a pan of crumb cake. Yes, an actual pan of warm crumb cake that was baked in the oven only hours before. The following food was also added: A family sized bag of Doritos, two cold fast food chicken sandwiches, a plastic bag of apples, and some gum. Also to be added, was a bunch of blankets and pillows in the back of a mini-van...on top of a Swedish foam mattress. Provisions and a hearty vessel...with two bald tires and a front seat that's broken in half...Hearty but skids easily and gives driver sore upper back.

The drive was an interesting thing. Samuel was 13 and in the first year of acne and awkward. What do most kids do during that year...they think about sex. More in particular...most boys do...and they do it a lot.

They talked about sex as two friends would...casually. More in particular...as two boys would. He got to talk to his son as a friend while still interjecting all the good fatherly bits when needed; he got to have his dad cake and eat the friend part too. This conversation included inches and curves and sweaty girls and magazines under the bed and two girls doing awful things with a single cup...which both boys in this silver van found to be equally disgusting. They laughed about the douchey guys at school and talked about the girls who fell for such douchbaggery...and how to avoid both of these types of people at all costs.

There was a discussion about lubricant.

There is a beach on the Salton Sea called Bombay Beach. There is a little bar near Bombay beach. It's the kind of bar with dollars stapled to the walls and a middle age mother of three tending bar. It was windy and warm and the door to the bar was open wide. Samuel sat in the car while his dad found out that they were right on “the beach” and that photographers loved going to a spot right up the street. A stranger taking a break from his beer pointed the way.

They camped .8 miles from that bar...on the water surrounded by chunks of rusted concrete encrusted iron re bar. And half destroyed homes built in 1955. With pillars of piers, long broken down, extending from the lifeless water. They would sleep in the van after exploring with a flashlight and finding 17 dead fish, lots of broken wood, and a nice place to take pictures in the dark.

The moon set on the water and my camera sat nested on a pillow on top of a rock. . While Brian had the wisdom to call me, he didn't have the wisdom to remember what he did with my tripod. Taking pictures at night can be hard even with a tripod but without one there was no choice but to improvise. Take a large plastic metal detector case and place it on top of pillow...place all this on some damp dirt covered rocks...in the wind. Balance camera, hit the shutter and be still. We talked.

We talked about things while Sam walked around poking in the dirt with a flashlight and a stick...at dead fish. And it was good while I took pictures. He came and sat next to me in the dark with my camera sitting on it's little balanced pile. He put his legs up to his chest and just sat there next to me looking at the reflection of the moon on the water. He didn't move when he said it, “This is neat.” And when the camera lens closed on the long exposure I thought...yeah...this is pretty neat.

There was a compulsion to drive the second he opened his eyes. The van was very comfortable to sleep in but the second he woke up he wanted to get out of the warm bed and start driving. Samuel sat on a car sized chunk of concrete eating an apple and looking a the sad remains of a moonlight view. Daylight was hard on this place. They both wanted to start driving.

24 miles to Slab City. 24 of the most depressing miles you will ever drive. Straight as an arrow, with lots of gentle ups and downs through a wasteland of power lines, train tracks, dead fish, salty mud, and the occasional dirt farm. And they talked about how funky this place looked...and lifeless. And how fast they were driving through this funky place to get to another, even funkier, place.

Lost. On a straight road that goes directly to an abandoned military base....we couldn't find it.
There are still gas stations that have solid metal cut outs of 7-Up bottles hanging from the awning and half paved gravel where you stop to fill up your tank. They parked at one of these sorts of stations to talk to someone who would work at this sort of station. In particular, to ask this person where Slab City may be...and to go potty.

The small convenience store that was attached to this old gas station was manned by a lady that can only be described as stoic. “Hi. How are you this morning?”

“....” stoic stare.

“Umm..Do you have a bathroom?”

“...” same stare with a move to walk past me outside and go to the rear of the building. She points and walks back in.

“Thank You!”
The gas station bathroom contained 3 empty 40 Ounce bottles of something, a broken toilet seat, and no toilet paper.

“Excuse me, Um, do you have any toilet paper.”

“....” as she opens the door to get a large roll of TP, her balding husband looked at me between watching the store security monitors and eating a frozen burrito...at 9am.

Without a word, she walked out to the bathroom and installed the mammoth roll of toilet paper. As she walked past him, she didn't look at him at all.

Finishing his business, he came back to the front door. “Can you tell me where Slab City is?” She was forced to speak.

“Four miles up the road and make a right on Main street. Cross over the railroad tracks and follow the bend in the road for about 3 miles. You can't miss it.”

We missed it. Four miles back up the road was nothing but wheat as far as the eye could see. We pulled off the main road and onto a bumpy dirt path. Sam didn't want to have his picture taken but the wheat called to me and I wanted to see him standing among the golden stalks. I took the picture and we went back to the car to figure out where Slab City was hiding. Right before we pulled away I noticed a farm hand working and figured I would ask him where it was. No English. No Habla. Just hard work under a hard sun. He pointed back down the road we had just come from and then went back to his labor. Before I walked away I knew enough hand gestures to ask him for a picture. And the proud American farm hand stood still for me before going back to digging a ditch for the foreign wheat farmer who worked the land.

My Sammy Outside Slab City Somewhere

The American Dream

 And We Talked

A Guitar Playing Slabber

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