We are now camped at Slab City, a sixty year old illegal-yet-tolerated squatters camp in the Colorado Desert in southeastern California. The cross-section of humanity that lives here is wide. Most “slabbers” derive their income from government checks (SSI and Social Security), but there are others out here in RVs that could be traded in for a small mansion.
My first impression on rolling in was that this place is reminiscent of Burning Man. It has streets, social clubs, hot springs, a library, and quirky people with names like Gizmo Joe and Builder Bill. Structure somehow emerges from nothing, and the only rule is one of respect. Free space abounds, and people are friendly and non-judgmental. As a sign here puts it, this really is “the last free place on Earth.” I told Ayo that I wanted to come for a full winter.
And then reality started to set in. A lot of people here are addicts or former addicts, and many Slabbers are here to escape the law. People here don’t have very much, and some say that theft has started to become an issue – particularly during the winter season when Slab City’s population explodes. Among some of the people we’ve hung out with, petty arguments tend to break out frequently, and there’s a good share of “all corporations and governments are evil” philosophy around.
That doesn’t make Slab City a bad place, it just makes it a place with ups and downs like any other. I think that I might enjoy spending some more time here, but Slab City isn’t for everybody. We’ve met great people, bathed in a canal, borrowed books from the library, seen genius reappropriations of junk, and heard spooky stories told around a campfire. We’ve watched military helicopters refueling midair and have heard artillery fire from the Chocolate Mountains Aerial Gunnery Range next door.
In case you can’t tell, I’m ambivalent. There are people here that keep me on edge (and that keep other people here on edge), but there’s something fun about being able to choose yourself a free plot of land to do with as you wish and stay on as long as you want to be a part of this fringe community.
*I couldn’t find any solid information on internet access at the Slabs. For the curious, here it is: Verizon works fine for phone calls, with temperamental 3G service. No Sprint service at all. The guys who run The Oasis Club have satellite internet available. You’ll need to negotiate with them, but their members pay $5 per month for a high speed connection.
posted by yair