Favorite Travel Quotes

"Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts."
-- Mark Twain
Innocents Abroad

"Stop worrying about the potholes in the road and celebrate the journey." -- Fitzhugh Mullan

"A good traveler has no fixed plans and is not intent on arriving." -- Lao Tzu

The Slabs — For Some, It’s All In What You Make It

©Bert Gildart: During the Saturday night dance at the Slabs in southwestern California, which is nestled between a half-submerged wasteland of derelict buses and vehicles known as Bombay Beach and an environmental catastrophe known as the Salton Sea, Janie and I were paid an immense compliment. “You all,” said Solar Mike, “are Slabbers.”

The compliment followed a rousing song played by a band that might have performed here when “Alexander Supertramp,” the young man featured in the book and movie Into the Wild… lived here. He was befriended by Leonard Knight, the man who has spent the last 20 years of his life building Salvation Mountain. Last year I wrote about him in one of my blogs and was glad to see that although the torrential rains of last week slowed him down it didn’t destroy him.


Leonard Knight, architect of Salvation Mountain whom I interviewed last year.


Solar Mike paid us the complement after his splendid accompaniment on his harmonica with a local band. Upward would go his head when the band struck high notes and then down — when the band launched in some blues. And while he played, Janie and I danced, and immediately after his last performance he came over. “Wow,” he said. “You all dance like Slabbers. You’d fit right in.”


No question, we were having a ball, and Mike was laughing, but the fact of the matter is that Slab City caters to folks from virtually every conceivable style of life you can imagine. For some it is the end of the road. Here’s where a large number of people come to park their run-down RVs at absolutely no cost. They have no other place to go, and all they need here are a few solar panels and a shovel to scoop out a big “gopher” hole.


CLICK TO SEE LARGER VERSION AND EXTENDED CAPTIONS. L to R: Slab City library, Christopher, Saturday night dance, “Solar Mike,” Don examining library books.

When the “gopher hole” is filled “residents” cover it and then the sun bakes out the odor. Several of the occupants include two sisters (now 91 and 92), and for them this is certainly the end of the road.  Still  they seem to love their life as it is.   Many fit into a similar category and it even includes a few PhDs who must have taken a wrong turn somewhere in another life.

Not everyone, of course, is at wit’s end, and Solar Mike is certainly not one of them. About 20 years ago Mike departed the state of Washington where he’d been employed as a social worker. Recognizing a need, Mike settled in with his Motorhome, began adding solar panels (they now number about 40) to his own evolving structure and began accepting business. Today, that business has garnered him a reputation as the Guru of everything that can be operated by solar power.


For us this is a repeat visit. Last year we made the two hour drive from Pegleg (where we’re still based) and had Mike install a single solar panel which wasn’t quite enough. This time we sat down with Mike and reviewed our actual usage, which we had not adequately described previously. Mike concluded that we needed a three stage charger rather than the factory installed one. We also needed another panel and yet another battery. Though Airstream builds a good unit, we believe they equip their units for those who primarily want to stay in RV parks. That’s not us. Essentially, we stay in national parks and in out-of-the-way places — places that offer but few amenities.


And, so, after one month with us at Pegleg, Don and Nancy depart, leaving after an exhilarating weekend in the Slabs. (Note our new solar panels.)


After assessing our needs, Mike then turned the work over to several of his employees. One was a man named Christopher who had become an astute observer on life. He believes that Janie and I are better off in our Airstream than fifty percent of the rest of the world, and as we thought about it concluded he is probably right. Here in the Slabs, the analogy was appropriate, as a number of the people here are destitute.


Yet another person whose life has impacted this eclectic community was the librarian who passed away about seven years ago at age 57. Her name was Peggy Sadlik and if you visit the library you’ll see her grave marker on the north side of the library, buried beneath a slab of concrete. She preferred to be called Rosalie and she began the library about 1995 by adding a few books to a shack build by a local character known as Goldman. Originally she stipulated that if you took a book you left a book, but now, because the library has grown, if you see something you like you can simply take it. The library is open 24 hours a day, but you’ll need a flashlight if you visit at night.

We spent three days at the Slabs and have to say we enjoyed it once again. We enjoyed the notion that there are still some places in the U.S. where you can pretty much do as you will. Of course there’s a down side, but if you can handle the problems that must arise from time to time then you can carve out a respected niche, one so respected that when such a man tells you that you could be a Slabber… why you believe you’re among the chosen.



*Lessons From Yaquitepec


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