Slab City, California (Traveled Feb. 2013)

Slab City is an abandoned Marine Corps base that has been taken over by squatters.  The demographic runs the gamut from hippies to meth addicts to a solar panel dealer and a Tiki bar proprietor.

I’m writing this from Slab City, my first night here.  I’ve been taken in by the East Jesus artist colony, which is 5 guys who appreciate guns, snakes, campfires, and “free” living.  The sculpture garden features a wide array of art made from all manner of junk.  Frank, the leader, gives me a tour in which he demonstrates an encyclopedic knowledge of each piece.  He says they “control” 5 acres to the west and I can camp anywhere in that area.  I set up near the center of the colony instead, behind an old shack and about 20 yards inside the EJ border fence made of old tires.  There is a “clothing optional” shooting range at the bottom of the 15-foot deep dry wash.  We all sat around a fire and ate dinner which was cooked in their kitchen stove — stir fry and focaccia bread.  They have a gas grill, electric, wifi, showers, and toilets here, unique in the slabs.  A sticker on the kitchen wall reads, “What would Jesus Bomb?”  A quote from dinner conversation was, “In rust we trust, and if it don’t rust, burn it” — which is what we did with our dinner plates.  The Chocolate Mountains Aerial Gunnery Range is close by, and we heard some jets earlier today.

Mopar, an older gentleman who specializes in “community relations” with the rest of the slabs, describes Slab City as “The Land of Misfit Toys” — meaning the people who live here. The youngest resident, Drew, is spending 2 hours daily learning to play the guitar by ear — no books or instructor.  The logic is that he will either learn to play it, or learn that he can’t.  When I mentioned it to Mopar, he agreed that an instructional book might be helpful, and said he would “put out a feeler” to the rest of the slabs.

The next morning I walked to the canal at 7 am just to stretch my legs, and it happened the Marine Harrier jets were starting bombing practice.  I climbed a hill and had a great view.  The jets flew in two at a time with a high decibel, low-pitch roar that made my ears feel as if they almost, not quite, needed earplugs. The Harriers came in low and fast, diving in to release their bombs and then pulling the nose level before making a series of hard turns left and right, practicing evasion of anti-aircraft defenses.  The second jet in the formation would often make these extreme evasive maneuvers before releasing his bombs, if I observed correctly — seemingly to provide a cover of distraction for the first jet as it released its bombs, then the first jet seemed to cover for the second.  All of this was done at high speed and apparent altitudes of a couple hundred to a thousand feet.  I could clearly see the nose, body, wings, and tail of the jets during the maneuvers.

After each bomb run came 6-9 ground- shaking explosions that made a low-pitched, raspy noise in the eardrums.  The explosions came in rapid succession similar to setting off a string of firecrackers.  Then there was a tall cloud of black, brown, and grey smoke.  I could not see the targets or the explosions because they were behind hills.  I believe I observed 4 separate sorties before heading back to East Jesus for breakfast.  This was an exciting, educational show.  Frank, the East Jesus leader, said such training exercises happen about once a week.


About Jerry
Working in Corporate America for many years, I wanted to break free of the office walls for a bit and explore the world. Having put the pieces in place, I am first exploring the USA by road. Colleagues and friends expressed interest in my travels, giving rise to Office Escape. It is my honor to share my adventures.

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