Sunday, March 01, 2009

Beatlick Travel Reports #19-21: Slab City to the Salton Sea

Report #19 (Feb 26, 2009 1:37 PM)

Well into our visit at the Slabs I wonder at the conversations around the firepits at the Oasis Club and Michael Bright’s trailer. There’s the big-hearted laugh of Bill, the Slab’s biggest promoter and resident of twenty years, and the mischievousness and sprightliness of Sterling the playwright. Jim quotes Shakespeare and discusses Civil War generals. John shows slide shows of his artwork on a laptop. The discussions fluctuate between the Fascism of Bill Gates and William Randolph Hearst to movies.

“Who was the female in ‘The Third Man’ with Joseph Cotton and Orsen Wells?” asks Michael B. Beatlick Joe is in heaven with all these film buffs and he waxes philosophical long into the night.

About the fifth day we begin to notice some aromas associated with excrement and ever-present hum of generators. I begin to worry that we hadn’t dug our own holes deep enough. But a little stroll convinced me the aroma was on the wind. I don’t know if it is the cows five miles out or the Slabs. Most of these big rigs are self contained but some of the smaller set ups and the locals just dig holes.

It was a bonding experience over at Michael B.’s firepit as the wind wafted across his recently filled hole and we all maneuvered to get upwind of the creosote-soaked firewood.

There’s a big party also over at one of the big abandoned tanks. A young cyclist moved into a giant tank and turned it into a comfortable home. He hosts biking festivals apparently and the “Midnight Riders” out of L.A. have been arriving all weekend. I happened to be cleaning a big skillet over at the community kitchen when a young man in spandex and bleached blond hair, weighing in at about 120 pounds, asked me with the inquisitiveness of an investigative journalist, “What is this place all about? Do you live here all the time?” There’s a big party at the “Range” tonight and they’re all invited.

Over at the Range the campers and RVs started lining up before sunset. On the big slab and stage area dozens of old chairs, couches, theater seats, and barco loungers of all states of disrepair were arranged theater style to seat at least fifty people.

The sign said “All dogs must be leashed” but no one bothered and as usual, the dogs behaved admirably. The bikers showed up in costumes they apparently ride around L.A. in. One male wore a bunny costume complete with enormous ears, there were tinsel boas around one guy’s neck and most were adorned in iridescent rings that glow in the dark. All the better to be seen by oncoming traffic I assume.

There were hot dogs for a dollar, burritos for two, and some cookies made from somebody’s legal pot prescription. I waited all night for Michael B. to show up with the free beer that requires a dollar donation but he never showed up in his beer cooler go cart.

The community feeling here is palpable. I like Deiter especially. He is German, drives an old Bluebird school bus with “Cool Bus” written on the front, and a peace sign in the back. For all the world he looks like Las Crucen poet Dick Thomas in blond braids!

A few solo acts opened for “Drop 7,” an awesome local band named after the drops in the old canal around Slab City. The first couple up danced ballroom style like Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. He was extremely clean cut for the Slabs with a black-and-white Fedora and black-and-white shoes (are those spats?) which almost reached the spot lights of recycled paint cans as he kicked his right leg into the air and over his head. He was dancing with a red head in high-heeled red boots. They were no spring chickens but they danced like kids all night.

The slender woman with the long grey hair and lithe body who was asked to dance the most and did a beautiful job of it didn't have a tooth in her head. The creosote logs burned bright in the trash bins all around the dance floor. The marijuana cookies kicked in on a lucky few in the bike club and the night was full of limbo dancers.

Great fun at the Range. I scored big the next morning at the Swap Meet in Niland. I hitchhiked into town. At the swap I found gas canisters! – four for $5.50 – an outrageous steal. I nabbed them fast. Then I found a potato masher, I left mine in Albuquerque I guess, and an allen wrench to tighten up the back window.

We also found the hot springs or hot pond as it sometimes called, with a clay bottom. That makes it a bit murky and I declined to jump in this day, but next time.

Travel Report #20 (Feb 28, 2009 1:01 PM)

There’s a growing community around our little VW as the big rigs keep pulling in. I noticed a lady giving her husband a haircut yesterday. I wonder if she has set the same course I have.

I don’t like to see Joe in his scraggly now graying beard. And the more he looks like an old codger the more he acts like an old codger. I like Joe “elegant.” But he doesn’t enjoy shaving – especially every day – and he will intentionally do a patchy job.

So I have taken it upon myself to shave him myself about twice a week. We have real fun. I get a lot of hot steamy washrags and steam up his whiskers. I use a lot of shaving cream. It’s important to make the razor glide easily over the whiskers and get a smooth shave. Sometimes I have to keep going back and forth. I never knew how hard it was for a man to shave. I feel bad about the times I criticized him.

Now this leads me to another thought. When I was little, around six, I had a doll I named Bobby. He had red pajamas and I played with him all day and dreamed about him all night. In my dreams I would play with his brown curly hair. Now in reality Bobby was all plastic but at night he had soft brown curls. I would fuss over him in so many ways and I can remember the closeness and contentment I experience with that doll in my dreams.

That is the exact feeling of joy and peace I feel these days with Joe. It’s a feeling and a dream I have recaptured from my childhood. I don’t know what it means but even in my maturity as a struggling single parent I dreamed about him.

In the dream I saw the image of someone I would love. He had curly brown hair, a few acne scars, and soulful brown eyes. So my soul knew Joe long before I did.

All this would be impossible without him. Joe paid for the van and all the modifications. He bought the tires and the equipment for the trip. We are playing house just like two children in the van and he gives me all the strength and love I need. The man of my dreams.

Report #21 (Feb 28, 2009 1:07 PM)

Hundreds of white pelicans float on the Salton Sea. It’s Tuesday morning, yesterday was Mother’s birthday – she would have been 97 today. We left the Slabs on Monday, said goodbye to Michael Bright and all of our new friends in Slab City amid promises to return soon, to relocate here at this fee-area recreation site.

Honestly I think they have had better days. There were nowhere near 5,000 people on the Slabs and I think it is definitely the high season now for Slabbers. Those are the kinds of numbers I read about in magazine and newspaper articles. Many of these people look pretty desperate now and it saddens me, because I found true friends there.

I really like Carol W. She gave me a ride into Niland as she pulled out of town in her modest camper. She has the most marvelous laugh – aaah-ha-ha-ha. She has returned for the first time in five years and she tells me about a much more pristine Slab City than what is apparent today.

Now a widow she has been traveling around in her camper with her little dog for twelve years now. She raised seven children. She said her husband was in show business, first radio and then television. They lived in New Jersey where her husband commuted to the Big Apple and then moved on to California where they lived in Malibu Beach during the 60s. She’s a Canadian originally and returned there when her children became teenagers.

And like me I guess she isn’t on best terms with all her children so she inspires me because she is living a great life despite her children. “Well, if they don’t need me I don’t need them. Aaaaah-ha-ha-ha-ha!”

Here at the campground for almost thirty dollars we got a great seaside view, cold showers because they are heated by solar panel, electricity and a water spigot. I got out my big white bucket and got a few clothes washed just before the rain set in.

We strung our electric cords outside, one for the heater and one to charge batteries and play the boom box and DVD. The clothes are hung all over the inside of the van. The rain has set in.

On Tuesday it was daylight by 6:30 a.m. I like that. And it looks like the clouds are moving on. I am reclining on my bed, drinking decaf coffee and looking out the window, past the beach to the pelicans and the sea. I can’t get the Slabs off my mind. I worry about them like family.

Happy Trails
Beatlick Pamela

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