"THAT THING IS FUCKING AWESOME!" the man screamed as he pointed at my folding bike. My reply of "Um...thanks." seemed completely inadequate given the man's vehemence. "I'LL TRADE YOU SOMETHING FOR IT!" the man yelled in a voice that was still inappropriately loud. Taken back by his offer, my mind was slow to produce a polite refusal. The guy pounced on the silence and blurted out "I'LL TRADE YOU MY WEED FOR IT!" as he held up a mason jar full of something green. I quickly came to two conclusions. First, if I knew how to sell weed, that would be a hell of a deal because that much pot was worth a lot more than my folding bike. Second, the man was completely stoned and wouldn't make that offer otherwise because that much pot was worth a lot more than my folding bike. I explained to the man the he had made a gracious offer but that there was a random drug testing program at my work and I couldn't risk getting fired. For a second, the enthusiasm drained from the man's face but it quickly returned. "WHAT ABOUT LSD? I HAVE SOME LSD IN MY TRAILER, THEY DON"T TEST FOR THAT!" The man spun back towards his trailer. "No wait! I can't trade the bike, there are other places I have to take it" The man hardly turned to acknowledge and sulked slowly back to his trailer. In most places, this exchange might have been a little strange but this wasn't most places, it was Slab City.
Slab City artwork made from recycled materials
This truck was Leonard's first residence in Slab City with Salvation Mountain in the background
One of the many residences in Slab CityI arrived in Slab City just as the sun was breaking the horizon. I rode my bike up the dirt road and a man stepped out of his trailer completely naked. He walked ten steps and began urinating onto the sand. As I passed, he raised his hand high into the air and yelled "Howdy Neighbor!"
Most of the people I met in Slab City, welcomed me with open arms. One of my favorites was a young musician named Neil who described The Slabs as his winter home. The first time I saw Neil, he was walking down the road. With his thick beard and long black hair, I couldn't help but think he looked like Jesus with a lambskin coat. "Hey man, there are a few of us up the the hill there. We're going to jam, you want to join us?" I accepted the offer and walked with Neil to meet the others. There was a girl with fiery red hair and an accordion, a skinny guy with a harmonica and Neil with his guitar. I sat down on a log and waited for the music to start when Neil handed me some maracas. "Here man, you're percussion!" I told Neil that there had been a misunderstanding. "I thought I was just going to listen to you guys jam, I can't even hold a beat!" Neil laughed and assured me it was easy. We started up and Neil soon realized I wasn't being modest. "Hey man, It's easy, just watch my foot. Shake them every time it hits the dirt." That helped a little. Neil had a fanatical love for music, the kind you need to make it anywhere in the music industry and I'm certain that if I'm ever able to say I once met someone famous, there is a good chance it might be Neil. Here is one of his music videos that was filmed at Slab City.
Neil Mallick Photo: Erin Audry
On the way out of Slab City, I ran into a man named Cuervo and his mule Rock-n-Roll. For a small donation, he offered to let me sit on the mule. It was an offer I couldn't refuse. I told Cuervo that I was thinking about heading down south to Mexico but I was concerned about safety and the drug cartels. Cuervo explained that he spends much of his time riding back and forth in the Mexican desert and that I had nothing to worry about. He told me that he had even worked for the cartels smuggling marijuana into the U.S. with Rock-n-Roll. "You won't have any problems with the cartels, they always treated me well." he said.
Cuervo with his mule Rock-n-Roll
As I've traveled around the world, I've realized that my initial impression of a place is usually completely different from my final impression. How strange it was then that my first and final impressions of Slab City were exactly the same. I couldn't help but think that Slab City had to be the most magical shit hole on the face of the earth! It was a place where absolutely anything and absolutely nothing could happen at any moment.