Desert Dwellers

Three outdated satellite dishes sit on property underneath powerlines, trucks’ hoods are rusted and propped open, and there are a smattering of unworking appliances. Seeing this disarray while driving to work brought back a memory from Slab City.

If you don’t know Slab City, it’s a desolate place for vagrants, the disenfranchised, and the curious, all of whom enjoy an off-the-grid lifestyle, a free camping place, and a like-minded community. Named for the slabs Marines used in World War II to build their training camp structures, the land was abandoned and returned to the state after the war.

While in Southern California, traveling in my VW Westfalia van, I visited the area on two occasions in 2012 and it’s where I met Peter.

The memory that surfaced was of my friend assisting T.K, a woman living there, with digging a large enough hole for a permanent latrine. 

TK, I can’t believe I remembered her name, had camouflaged tactical gear, a buzzed haircut, a bowie knife on her hip intimidating as Crocodile Dundees, and indifference about her that said, don’t eff with me.

I felt surprised when after the dig, she invited us into her one-room plywood and metal-roofed shack. Once inside, I sat on an apple crate and listened to her concerns that her traded-for solar batteries and panels would be stolen. Which was likely; the rate of crime in Slab City is high. 

Without agenda for the day, I shrugged an ok to watching “Semi-Pro” with Will Ferrell on a 13-inch box TV set on another crate. 

Preoccupied with my discomfort in her space, I don’t remember much about the movie. 

What led her to that place where survival and hardened ways are kings? Was it out of necessity, or did she have means she chose not to utilize? But also, what led me far from home to this untethered, survival mode-like state?

I can’t say, but if I figure it out, I’ll let you know.

Love, Jaclynn

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