The Guest Room
Musings, Memories & Epiphanies Inspired by Place
Slab City USA
In a world like this one, only the random makes sense.
A sweet couple dropped me off on “main” street in Niland, CA, USA and pointed in the direction of Slab City. With a smile and a hug I said my good byes and headed out. The road was thick with warm, well-worn sand. I walked barefoot; enjoying the soothing massage the sand gave my arches.
I had prayed to fate, and to a saint of hitchhiking earlier in the day. “Dear Alex Supertramp, please send me a hippy van that will take me to the ‘Slabs’ and show me something new, amen”. I sometimes do this, and every time it seems to work out for me. I’m not a religious person, but honestly when you’re waiting on the road side by yourself, praying becomes an entertaining activity.
In Niland I had just watched a train crawl by when a hippy van pulled up and offered me a ride. The miniature, steel-grey van wasn’t as vibrant on the outside as I had wished, but on the inside the vibrations of love shone everywhere, in colors, in magnets, in sheets, in slogans for “peace” and “love” and in the deep suntanned skin and ivory half-moon smile of the driver. She had a relaxed, cheerful aura about her. Her old life was behind her, her new life was ahead. She had quit her job, and was preparing to backpack Central America, but first, like me, she wanted to see the “Slabs”.
Our first stop, about two miles after the town, and one mile before the slabs was Salvation Mountain. I have been to dozens of the United Nations World Heritage Sites that dot the globe. Each is unique, beautiful, ancient and a symbol of humanities past. Salvation Mountain is just as unique, just as beautiful and if the sands do not erode away this amazing place, then one day, it too will be a world heritage site.
It took 28 years to build this tribute to love. The hard work is layered onto the sand. Coat after coat of paint, so thick and firm, that Salvation Mountain has become a platform, an interactive rainbow you can touch, you can feel, you can walk over. “Love” is the theme here, there are a few religious slogans like “God is love” but these messages are not to proselytize. Instead, as the caretaker informed me they are to “announce love”, and display it in the most pure and unadulterated way that the artist knew.
I find “love” here not most in the writing or sculptures of the word love, but in the visual symphony. It’s in the inviting colors that sprint up the slopes, hurdle over one another, and splash together. Red, green, purple, and yellow, all void of contrast, streams of blue and white, running into a sea of rainbows. Pink and cyan, brown and grey, all building into trees of progress. An LSD trip you can touch. Inside the mountain there are multiple man-made caves of paint and stone. The most spectacular one, which is also the biggest, hosts a forest of trees built from old logs and all the many colors of the rainbow. The experience of this place is well worth the multi-day hitchhike I made to and from Slab City.
The artist behind Salvation Mountain is in a nursing home, too old to continue his work. Others continue for him, after all it was never a solo project, it was always a group project because love cannot be had with one, love is a group activity.
After Salvation Mountain I left my new hippy friend and found an old hippy friend of mine, one who I hadn’t seen for more than a year, not since I had hosted him in a world away, in another life time, back in Cambodia. We reminisced, shared new stories, made future plans, and laughed into the evening.
He was the kind of guy who explores the world, explores life with no real direction. The kind of guy that others will see and think he’s crazy. I was like that, I thought he was crazy and his life confused me until the day I followed in his footsteps and explored the world.
He had been here before. He had stayed for months and had even met his wife in the Slabs. He showed me around, to the endless sea of RV’s occupied by snowbirds (older people who flee the cold northern winter for the warm southern desert days), to the scatter shape of ruins from older RV’s, school busses and trailers now called home by many, to the Slabs, and debris left over from when Slab City was a military base.
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