Monday, September 16, 2013

And Then There Was Slab City

And then there was Slab City. I have visited Slab City 3 times. Well, make that four. The first time was for a few hours with my son. The visit was only a few hours because Slab City is not a place for kids. Even though I see plenty of them when I visit. I have had three real visits where I stayed for the weekend and each one left me with a very different taste in my mouth. The first visit left my mouth tasting like a cat had just pooped in it. The second visit tasted the same, only it was very hot poop. It was a summer visit which I do not recommend any time. The heat is oppressive and overbearing with no relief whatsoever. My third visit...the one I just got back from...tasted bittersweet like dark chocolate with way too much cocoa in it...I chewed it and let it go down like I do with all chocolate...but the aftertaste was the best part.

My first visit to Slab City was a show. It was a show for an outsider It was a put on for the observer who wanted to see how these people lived. They have tourists who wander out. They were even in a movie. Why would they not be in a movie. The place is odd and quircky and filled with characters that you would most likely a movie. If you don't believe me, then I dare you to go out and see for yourself. It is scary how much these people fit into a script somewhere. I say this because Slab City, and the people who live there, have the quality of being perfectly odd in every way. The longer I hung around, and the more people I met, the more I started looking for the cameras and the directors of the show. The junk was placed just so. The stage that they sing on at night was perfect with it's strings of light and hand painted signs. And yes....they have a stage where people get up sing and dance on the weekends. Slab City is an old abandoned military base. All of the residents are squatters. Most, only stay during the winter...and a brave few stay all year. In all my visits, the characters that I have met are calculated even if they are not. They seem to be real people living their lives and trying to escape whatever it is they are escaping from...but one of them wears a pirate outfit, and another leather boots and bandanna, while one guy rarely wears a shirt and has a little leather pouch that hangs from his neck at all times. There is a man who rides around on a motorized ice chest full of beer stopping only to have another beer and sing. There was trash everywhere. I mean lots of trash. Old refrigerators and engine blocks and buckets of paint. The landscape is barren and nasty aside from the small amount of buildings that have been built. And even these are still pretty barren looking. They have a library and a kitchen area. Both of which are maintained communally. On my first visit they showed me around. They showed me the library and they showed me the canal. I got to meet a small cast of characters that would make any writer drool and any photographer salivate. Near the swimming hole...a cement canal from the Colorado river...I met a not so subtle transvestite with dark tanned skin and a bikini...He had one tooth in the front of his mouth. And for all these characters there were real people living real lives in an abondoned waste land that the government neither cares about nor wants.

The “city” is an interesting and eclectic group of people and dwellings. On my second visit I spent most of my time driving around alone looking for pictures and looking at what the residents had built. This visit was very different than the first. There was a small blue church trailer with a cross beckoning to the traveler in need. Off one little trail was a small library full of old paperbacks and donated books. In front of the library was a small gated area where someone had welded together a large iron peace sign that sat crooked on the desert dirt. And there was concrete everywhere...broken foundations and cracked bunkers and huge broken chunks laying dead in the heat. And on all these was spray paint and color and markings from those that came before. Between all the concrete and city dwellings were the homes of the residents. They were odd and strange and obtuse in their situation among the broken slabs and strewn garbage. There were buses that had been parked thirty years ago and never moved again. There were a lot of buses. Trailers than were unhitched and never hitched to anything else again...and the trailers were rusted and hole filled and full of overflowing toilets and men who live in urine soaked linoleum lined bedrooms...with little pictures of naked women cut out of magazines from 1978. But there were new vans and shiny double wides in the front main street full of Americans who wanted to live in the last free place...that wanted to disappear and be lost from their patriotic brothers and be free of plumbing and toilets and electricity and running water...and bills and people who collect bills. And these new homes that weren't burned out buses and stinky old trailers and ratty camper shells attached to rusted hunks of 1970's trucks...these new homes on the range had satellites and motorcycles out front and dogs chained to the desert floor. The owners had guns. And they carried their guns. And nobody cared at all what they carried or how they carried them. Because this was the last free place and they were going to be free among the trash and the deserted desert dwellings of ancient soldiers squatting. I drove among concrete and the bunkers that were long and rounded...these bunkers that were built into the dirt that were never taken from the base. At one time they houses soldiers and guns and machinery and other things that were productive during the second great war. The bunkers still rise from the desert floor calling anyone to drive to them and peek into the dark shadows behind their broken doors and find out just how much room there was to store the metal and the casings and the boxes of spare parts for the massive machines of war that were plodding through Europe. Little bunkers...the baby bunkers are there too and I drove by them and wondered what they had been used for sixty years prior. The little bunkers had wood flaps attached to the doors now and nothing could be seen of the thousands of gas masks and canisters of gas for them to be married to....the gas for training and the gas for using. And this sweet little marriage of problem and solution sat stacked together in a baby bunker that was never torn down or knocked over on this massive military base. Gun turrets and bunkers and massive circular cement cisterns all taken over by the ravages of graffiti and free living Americans who took this land back from the government and made it home again to the free and the brave...home to the soldiers who left here with no place to go home to. This base closed but the slabs remained...the foundations of freedom...the concrete foundations of a hospital and a library and housing for the men who once trained here...learned here...lived here. But the slabs never left. They only cracked and warped in the intense heat....these great war foundations for trailers and buses and double wide, wood paneled dwellings of freedom. I drove through this broken down place of freedom seekers and I was sad. This was how land was used and resources were squandered. And the base closed and the people squatted and huddled around the land to be sheltered from their fellow Americans and free to do whatever anyone else could do. I smiled and wondered if they knew how free they were to build a library anywhere or build a church in their hometown. Living in a broken down camper is a right that every American has, even the ones that aren't living on this base. The people were free and this wasn't the last free place. It wasn't even a free place. It was a place. It was a place with a lot of trash on it because there were no trash collectors. And nobody wants to collect the trash among the bunkers and the places where guns used to hide. I drove by the green waters of the Colorado river running in a large cement wash. There were residents swimming in the cool waters and the water rushed down stream to the next state and the next state after that where the cement waterway became narrow and more narrow. The water here was pure and deep and clear and I could even see a few fish swim by deep below the floating feet of the residents who lived for free on this abandoned base of military freedom. This mighty cement river cut through this great city of slabs to carry water to those that were less free and thirsted for more water for their great American harvest of crops that would be sold in far away places or not sold in any places at all. The residents waved as they floated in the free flowing water and laughed with each other as their clothes sat naked in the hot sun with empty pockets and freshly torn holes.

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