Sunday, November 28, 2010

Wisdom from the Desert

     Happy Giving Thanks Day!  Given that it costs nearly $600 to fly back and forth between LA and Pittsburgh around Thanksgiving, and given my monthly income of $400, I decided to spend Turkey Day with a bunch of hippies in the desert. 
The RVs and trailers of Slab City
     Logical, right?
     Maybe not.  But enlightening nonetheless.  The idea was born from my dear friend Amy, who had to do her final photo project during the holiday week and had heard about this hippie community living close to the Salton Sea in a place known to outsiders as Slab City and to residents affectionately as The Slabs.  The slabs consists of old concrete... slabs... apparently left over from a World War II military testing site.  The concrete serves many functions now - as stages, as a place to park an RV, or as a place to set up a community kitchen and serve a Thanksgiving banquet.
The library at Slab City
     We met a whole host of characters, and, I have to say, I felt like I had walked into a very bizarre indie film.  You can't write half the stuff these people said to us.  I was quite fond of a man who looked like he had walked off the set of Lawrence of Arabia.  He towered over everyone else (must have been close to 6'5") and wore a headdress type fabrication made out of something that looked like old pillowcases.  He rode in quite majestically on a donkey, and a pack mule followed shortly behind.  I, of course, jumped at the opportunity to ride the donkey whose name I found out was Rock and Roll.  As I sat atop Rock and Roll, I asked Lawrence about how and why he came to Slab City.  It seems he had spent the majority of his adult life riding horses around the United States, going from place to place.  Evidently he rode one right across the Mexican border and back without ever stopping at a crossing.  As he was getting older (my best guess was late 50s or early 60s), he decided that it was time to try to find a home, to settle down and do some homesteading, as he called it. 
One of the trailers in The Slabs
     It dawned on me later that I had finally met my very own American Don Quixote.  Here I thought my own life would take a rather quixotic turn upon moving to the Gold Coast, and it seems that I found Don Quixote in the desert - on a donkey, no less.  He invited us to come back and ride with him around Christmas.  I might well take him up on that offer. 
     As we were about to leave, we went on the round of goodbyes, and were held up by a woman called Mama Lizzie.  She's been living at Slab City for the past 8 years (most people just pass through for a few months here and there), probably has a diagnosable mental disorder and if not definitely has a drug induced disorder, and she decided that we should hear her life story before departing.  We couldn't leave the desert without some wisdom.  As she was babbling on and on about where she came from and how she came to live in the middle of nowhere, she said something that, again, you just can't write.  "Most people came out to the desert to die," she said, "but I came out here to live."

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