Three hours outside of L.A., there’s a lake. They call it the Salton Sea, and it was never supposed to be there – created by accident when the Colorado river dams burst, and it took them three years to stop the breach. When all was said and done, there lay the Salton Sea. I could harp on about it, but there’s a video on youtube that says it all:

Put this one on fullscreen, folks.

East of it lies a derelict military base. All that’s left of it are the concrete slabs on which the barracks once stood – and on those slabs, some hippies staked their claim and made their home. Slab City. It’s nothing but a spiteful desert, rife with thorns, rattlesnakes, scorpions and black widow spiders. Yet out there they live, a couple hundred people, increasing to two thousand in wintertime, when temperatures get more bearable.

I walked out there the first morning, and was greeted by menacing signs. Keep out. Fuck off. Dogs barking, people shooing me away. Not exactly a warm welcome, until I came up on the Skate Park. In fact it’s a derelict swimming pool with a car wreck in the middle, improvised ramps… But it works out all right. I was greeted by White Rabbit (no joke), a twenty-something busker, acrobat, fire juggler and martial artist, who came to live out here to ‘practise his kung-fu’, by which he meant Mastery of Self. I met Randall, a 60-something Texan who’d spent his life travelling the world, and was now working on this yellow school bus which was his new home. There was a girl who’d just spent three years in federal prison and missed her days of methamphetamine chemistry, another girl practising free love while cooking up cannabis oil, a paranoid weed dealer who miraculously found his stolen macbook, a handful of wise old bearded men, couple of meth junks, a christian named Smiley who sort of kept things running,…

By now I suspect that there’s too much to tell about Slab City. What was supposed to be a two-hour visit turned into a three-day stay at White Rabbit’s place, the Rebel Circus. There I meditated, bathed in hot springs, went swimming in a canal, got a full-hour tarot reading, practised kung-fu, and witnessed… I witnessed a different way of life. A wholly different way.

I wanted to stay there. Take care of everything by yourself, battle the desert and the elements, forge life-saving bonds, depend on one another, be wary of meth junkies,…
But as I stayed longer in the Slabs, I found that in a very real way, it could ensnare you. At noon it’s too hot to do anything much, and you’re tempted to spend the day hunting for tobacco, booze and weed. Staying productive can be tricky when it’s blazing 45° celsius all day long. And there’s the risk of getting caught up in your own bullshit.

Still, it tugs at me: the idea of going out into the desert, by yourself, and combat your inner devils. The Jesus card did come up twice during my tarot reading.