The Slab City Series–#2 Meet the Slabs

Scot, Jerry, and Lance--the bunker

I camped on the outskirts of Slab City, across the road from Salvation Mountain and just down from what looked like an earth-berm house with “Jesus Lives” emblazoned across the front. I had driven through the Slabs. It was confusing. I didn’t know the lay of the land, and I couldn’t figure out where to park, so I headed back to the desert for some breathing space. Jesus Lives seemed safe.

Later, as I walked over to meet the neighbors, I realized this was no earth-berm house but an

 

tin can wind generator

abandoned bunker. Trash and bits of fiberglass insulation were strewn around the place. Scot (one t) and Jerry were hanging out. Jerry lived on the other side of the bunker. Scot was making what he called a wind generator with split tin cans taped to a bicycle rim and jammed into a car generator.

“All you need are seven revolutions per minute,” he said. Since he had painted the impressive Jesus Lives mural on the front of the bunker with nothing but salvaged paint, I gave him the benefit of the doubt on the generator contraption.

“Lock up your stuff,” was their advice to me.

Over the course of the days that followed, I wandered around Slab City, talked to some people, and got to know my neighbors better. Jerry stopped by to show me the hot springs, a clothes-optional, high-traffic pool. Scot gave me a little walking tour through town.

There was Bike Mike (assembles, fixes, and sells this vital form of transportation), Junkyard Joe (“He’s

concerts every Saturday night

 totally nuts, but he’s one of my best friends.”). Builder Bob started the Range years ago and arranges concerts there every Saturday night. (“Once the lights go out, you can’t see how trashy the place is.”)

Everyone has a nickname at the Slabs, so a conversation might go like this: “Tell Spoon that Pigeon got her stuff.” “Moth lives in the cistern on the hill.” I never figured out if Cuervo was the guy’s name or his drink of choice, but I knew he lives in the third bunker over and has a horse, a mule, two dogs (one is half wolf, I heard), and a red truck.

Peggy's library in the palo verde trees

The library that Peggy maintained until her death in 2003 is in a peaceful bower of palo verde trees. The place seemed forlorn, but the books were still neatly shelved. Lynn runs the Oasis Club (as a volunteer), which is the Slab City hangout. Coffee: 50 cents or free for members; a cheap meal twice a week.

Individual enterprise is alive and well. If the sun can recharge it, cook it, heat it, or move it, the Sun Works can build it. “He usually has a turkey cooking in his solar oven,” said Scot.

Another guy has a water-delivery business. He’ll set

the Sun Works

you up with a 25-gallon water tank for $45 and fill it every month for $15.

Despite survival’s daily demands, art flourishes at the Slabs. Car art, fancy outhouses, and decorated trailers are everywhere. But nothing can touch Container Charlie’s place, called East Jesus because it’s east of Salvation Mountain. Container Charlie began decorating the shipping container he was living in, so the story goes, and didn’t know when to quit. Now his chunk of the Slabs is the final resting place for homeless gallery installations, most of which would never feel comfortable in a house anyway. The effect is like wandering around in a Bosch painting.  

Container Charlie's opus

I stumbled through East Jesus, dazed and amazed, encountering more weirdness than I could properly absorb. Then, when I thought things could get no more bizarre, I heard the sound of a violin wafting from behind a wall of wine bottles. In an appropriately funky and cluttered performance space a blue-haired girl was playing the violin, a red-haired guy was on piano, and Flip was on guitar and vocals. They were working on their rendition of a Tom Waits song, “Come on up to the House.”

Well the moon is broken/and the sky is cracked. The only things that you can see/is all that you lack. Come on up to the house.

Come on up to the house/Come on up to the house. The world is not my home/I’m just passin’ thru. Come on up to the house.

Does life seem nasty, brutish, and short/Come on up to the house. The seas are stormy/And you can’t find no port. Come on up to the house.

It was sensory overload. I left all sniffy and weepy.

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14 Responses to The Slab City Series–#2 Meet the Slabs

  1. Betty 17 January, 2013 at 10:51 pm #

    Does anyone know the woman that was called “Half Pint”? Or Rusty/Red? Have information for both. He left there, I am guessing, about 2008.

    Half Pint might be in Montana.

  2. Roy | cruisesurfingz 10 May, 2011 at 4:52 pm #

    Wow, sounds like something out of Burning Man.

  3. Chris Marek 27 April, 2011 at 4:57 am #

    Planning on moving to Slab City in a few years- great article here. :)

    • Kate 27 April, 2011 at 3:57 pm #

      You’re moving to Slab City!? Wow. It’s not exactly a destination spot. Pretty much clears out in the summer. Give me details (on my “contact” page) Good luck.

      • Chris Marek 27 April, 2011 at 5:09 pm #

        Yes, I plan to… I’ll send you an e-mail today.

        I’m already pricing out 25′ to 30′ fully self-contained house trailers and class-A motorhomes, solar panels and diesel generators…

  4. Terry Day 30 March, 2011 at 11:36 pm #

    I wanted to clarify that the gentleman who runs the range (and built it) is Builder Bill. He also is one of the main founders of the Oasis Club.

  5. Julia pulia 11 March, 2011 at 12:36 pm #

    SO I’ve officially decided that I am totally traveling with you this summer instead of being a “responsible adult”.

    • Kate 19 March, 2011 at 7:13 pm #

      Can you do/become both?

  6. cary carlson 6 March, 2011 at 9:56 am #

    The slabs have changed – major “development” – since our visit of 35 years ago. Colorful and quite crazy. Perfect place for people with that very different lifestyle. Cary

  7. Sandy Christensen 4 March, 2011 at 8:32 pm #

    Oh my goodness, Kate, I am so enjoying “The Slabs” through your eyes and your colorful and prolific account of events. Your interpretation of what you see is like a movie to me… love it! I can imagine The Lord smiling while the brightly coiffed orchestra musicians at East Jesus were singing and playing their (no doubt original) music creation. Thanks Kate Onward!!

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