Slab City, CA
Slab City is a squatter community on the site of a former military base in the Southern California desert, east of the Salton Sea near the little town of Niland. Aging asphalt roads and concrete slabs are the only reminders of its past. For decades, as many as 3,000 RVers have wintered at Slab City, and 100 or so tough out the searing summer temperatures. If you’ve seen the movie Into the Wild, you’ve seen Slab City.
What fascinates me about Slab City isn’t just the free rent. It’s that a strange assortment of people have come together in a harsh environment, with no utilities and virtually no structure, and implemented a wide array of social institutions without benefit of government or budget. Despite an obvious setup for law-breaking behavior and a population in constant flux, most Slabbers carry on convivial traditions year after year. They have their own rules (“be kind, but stay out of other people’s business”), services (waste disposal and water supply for a small fee), businesses (Solar Works for affordable photovoltaics), salvage-based artwork and social clubs. The population encompasses a wide range of financial circumstances, ages, styles of dress and bathing behaviors (though there are few school-age children).