Put out to pasture in a bombing range
December 17, 2004 4:56 AM   Subscribe

Slab City, CA "is not so sinister as it is a strange, forlorn quarter of America. It is a town that is not really a town, a former training grounds with nothing left but the concrete slabs where the barracks stood. [...] The land belongs to the state, but the state, like the law, does not bother, and so the Slabs have become a place to park free. More than 3,000 elderly people settle in for the winter, in a pattern that dates back at least 20 years." [NYT Reg Req]
posted by LondonYank (23 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

 
Reading this I am impressed by the way that a somewhat lawless and chaotic community such as this still exists in America, especially in California, land of golden smiles and cookie-cutter suburbia. This expose somewhat reminds me of the yearly Burning Man features that run in the NYT, Wired, and so on. The headline "Odd folk create lawless community in desert" could apply equally well to either.

Although, that being said, I don't think anyone at Burning Man ever torched another person's trailer out of revenge...
posted by LondonYank at 5:02 AM on December 17, 2004


Cool stuff! Thanks LY!

FYI, there's lots of "grapes of wrath" type places in California where grinding poverty is the rule of life.
posted by nofundy at 5:05 AM on December 17, 2004


It's a Tom Waits song come to life.
posted by Clay201 at 5:22 AM on December 17, 2004


Although, that being said, I don't think anyone at Burning Man ever torched another person's trailer out of revenge...

I'm certain that both vehicles and temporary domiciles have been set ablaze for less than that over the many tumultous years of Burning Man.

What I find most striking about Slab City is the stark economic wedge dividing even this community, especially since it's between the downtrodden men and the well-off women living off of their former husbands' benefits. It's all rich fodder for some intrepid novelist or sociologist out there.
posted by DaShiv at 5:28 AM on December 17, 2004


Reminds me of a cross between Mad Max and the RV campers at Walmart. Good post.

Light me Johnny...Light another one.
posted by phirleh at 5:29 AM on December 17, 2004


What I find most striking about Slab City is the stark economic wedge dividing even this community, especially since it's between the downtrodden men and the well-off women living off of their former husbands' benefits. It's all rich fodder for some intrepid novelist or sociologist out there.

Good point, DaShiv, and one I was thinking about long after I finished reading the piece. I love that, even out in the middle of nowhere, where everyone has rocked up in the same place totally of their own free will, there can still be this "wrong side of the tracks" tension.

I must say I am impressed with the writing on this. It's evocative without trying to sugarcoat the truth or gloss over the ugly spots by painting Slab City as some utopian model society. It's a shadow of our "normal" society, no more.
posted by LondonYank at 5:50 AM on December 17, 2004


It's all rich fodder for some intrepid novelist

excellent idea DaShiv!
posted by kamylyon at 5:52 AM on December 17, 2004


Good link...thanks.

The scary part of this is the thought that more and more of the population of this country are moving towards that lifestyle. As Social Security becomes insufficient (or dies away altogether), and fewer people are able to afford self funded retirement plans, this will become more common.

The warmer states would best be planning for this migration.

There was a post recently about the number of communities that are virtually outlawing homelessness. More gated communities, fewer social services, VA hospitals sending people away and/or not providing services, etc, etc....

Get out your camping gear, folks, we're all gonna be heading for the warm weather and geriatric tent cities!
posted by HuronBob at 6:06 AM on December 17, 2004


Will we see action when the streets of Tucson become overcrowded with homeless retirees?
posted by caddis at 7:14 AM on December 17, 2004


London: Exactly what I was thinking! It's what would happen if Burning Man was a permanent community, instead of a bunch of weird nerds taking a break from their web-design and Kinkos jobs.

And screw novels. This is a movie...hell, it's right outside of LA. Reminds me of the Val Kilmer movie "Salton Sea." Perhaps that featured a scene there?
posted by fungible at 7:42 AM on December 17, 2004


Wasn't this community mentioned in Into the Wild? I think it was one of the places Chris McCandless stayed en route to Alaska. If not, it was a community very similar to this.

Good read.
posted by SisterHavana at 8:06 AM on December 17, 2004


As I pass into my second half-century, I find getting old sucks. Enjoy it while you can.
posted by jim-of-oz at 8:31 AM on December 17, 2004


SisterHavana: Yeah, it's mentioned as an old navy base outside Niland, so it would seem this is the place.
This piece is a nice complement to krakauer's portrait. Thanks.
posted by chandy72 at 8:40 AM on December 17, 2004


Damn. I was working on this too.

Here's some more stuff.

Pictures
The official website

This is also the ragtag campground briefly adopted by Chris McCandless in Into the Wild.
posted by mudpuppie at 9:13 AM on December 17, 2004


Snow Crash.
posted by dglynn at 9:16 AM on December 17, 2004


The good folks over at DIGIHITCH.com ( a website for hitchhikers!) have their yearly meet-up at SlabCity.
posted by BrodieShadeTree at 9:49 AM on December 17, 2004


Slab City is right next to Salvation Mountain.
posted by xowie at 11:16 AM on December 17, 2004


dglynn: my thoughts exactly. let's tie all those RVs together and see if they float!
posted by car_bomb at 11:50 AM on December 17, 2004


Heh, I can tell you from personal experience that it's quite the place to visit (I was working out at a geothermal power plant about 20 miles away.)
It's a different world out there.
posted by defcom1 at 2:43 PM on December 17, 2004


Everyone talks about writing a novel or making a movie about this, but isn't this basically the vision of every dystopian vision of the future out there? I mean, the only thing that's missing is the precursor nuclear war/virus/comet impact. What only makes it more tragic is that we've managed to bring dystopian vision to reality without the aid of some cataclysm.

Of course, hell, maybe these are just the people who would never have fit in to the dotcom, blackberry, badgerbadgerbadger society anyway.

Anyone want to open a Starbucks?
posted by socratic at 3:18 PM on December 17, 2004


I want to move there.
posted by nyxxxx at 4:43 PM on December 17, 2004


Charlie LeDuff's pieces are almost always worth reading. After noticing his work in the excellent NYT series "How Race is Lived in America," I saw him speak in Berkeley, where he stole the panel and charmed most of the student audience into loving him. That said, this article seems to wear that typical LeDuff style (what an earlier commenter to this thread calls "Tom Waits") almost to the point of pretentiousness. Still, I'd say anyone interested in reporting on America that can surprise & delight could do worse than keep an eye out for his writing.
posted by Zurishaddai at 5:31 PM on December 17, 2004


May I just say I have watched this thread unfold with great relief - it was my first post to the Blue.
posted by LondonYank at 4:53 AM on December 18, 2004


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