This morning was interesting. We were totally exhausted from watching flashlights all night floating in and around the desert shrubs by our unit. When daylight hit, it seemed more peaceful. A lot of people in the Slabs who are not out enjoying community events or looking for trouble, disappear when the sun sets at 6 in the evening, and they are up and about by 6 a.m. Doug and I sat outside with a morning coffee and watched as various characters passed by our unit and made their way up the road or towards the church.
We found them as interesting as I am sure they found us. There was one guy who rode by on his bike wearing a skeleton mask. We waved and said hello but he gave no reply. Many others began to walk about…some headed for water I suppose, and some just seemed to be wandering about with their possessions in back packs. Many of them looked like they had not showered for months. Really, it was quite fascinating!
Around 8:00 a.m. Pastor Dave came by to let us know that church would start at 9:30. Church in the Slabs takes place everyday, with various group meetings every evening at 4:00. The only difference is on Sunday when they have a more traditional service that starts at 9:00. So we cleaned up, and made our way over to the large tent with the tattered tarps. There is old carpet laid on the ground, with scattered sofas, couches and chairs tucked in the shade, and in clusters outside of the tent area. The first thing we noticed as we entered is that there are the same number of dogs in attendance as there are people. Now when is the last time you went to church and your dog was welcome to tag along, play, and lounge on sofas? Kind of cool 🙂 Chicago of course was confined to the unit. We had been warned that some of the dogs there carried parvo or other infectious diseases. Case closed. Sorry Chicago.
Pastor opened up the morning service with some really great songs, and then we were introduced to the guys who had come for the service. We met Reid, Nicholas, Sean, Andrew and Connie. Connie was the only woman there and she stays by herself outside of the church listening as we went through several chapters in the book of Luke. I tried to get to know her and had even offered her a coffee earlier in the morning. She just smiled and said no thanks. This woman was a curiosity for me.
Following two hours of morning church, Nickolas asked Doug to run him into Niland to get some water. It was then we learned how the residents get water and the price they pay to have this necessity of life. Currently there is a tap in Niland and the water is free if you can get into town to fill your jugs. Rumours are floating around that Niland is going to shut off the water supply to the slabs in the near future. (I sure hope that never happens). There are a couple of people who run small businesses by filling up tanks in the back of their trucks and delivering water to residents who have money to pay for their services. Generally they charge about $25 for 30 gallons and about $60 for 100 gallons. Most people do not have tanks to hold water so they come to Pastor Dave looking to fill up their five gallon jugs or plastic bottles. Your priority each day is to find water!
After Doug returned, we spent some time and got to know a man called Andrew. He is from Wales, and has been in the Slabs for 2 years and 8 months. Leaving before the summer hits is proving to be difficult for him because he has two side kicks he would never abandon. His number one is a male brindle boxer cross, called Hercules. Next and not least, is a white collie cross called Zero. His dogs are his world. In fact when we got on the topic of dogs he made it very clear that it was considered a great honour to be adopted by a slab dog.
While you seldom see anyone without a dog or group of dogs, there are some there who really hate them and put out “hits” on the ones they do not like. Andrew’s dogs are on that list. Zero carries a scar by his eye where someone on meth took a large sharpened tent pole and rammed it into his face. He is healing now, but it is clear that for Andrew the needs of his dogs come before his own. We liked him immediately!
In the early afternoon, Andrew took Doug and I for a short walk about, and he showed us how some people live. He told us about the various communities that exist in the Slabs, and then took us over to see part of East Jesus. Now up until recently there has been an unwritten rule that Slabbers are not welcome in East Jesus. They have a private community of artists who live exceptionally well compared to anyone else. They receive government grants to continue creating art work that people come from all over the world to see. It’s really quite marvellous…. although some of the creations seems to be quite dark and haunting. Most everything, if not everything there, is made from re-purposed material they have found from the desert. I will show you some photos later.
We learned a lot that afternoon. People spoke freely about the harsh realities of life in the Slabs. Apparently there are several people in the Slabs who have been in prison, as well as people running from the law. We heard tales of murders , suicides, drug wars, meth labs, and the weapon of choice for some…….machetes. We also learned that it was common for people out there to get torched. I understand that when there is an issue over someone invading someones space or territory….. or that if there is an issue over drugs or money, people simply take it upon themselves to try and rid the slabs of unwanted people. This is done by lighting fire to their camps or homes, usually at night. It sends a clear message that someone is not welcome and it also serves as a warning to get out before they decide to really come after you. Kind of puts you in a space where your imagination starts to go, and you wonder if you in fact could be the target of someone who does not want you there. We were not too sure what to think about that.As we had said earlier, our unit was full of food and bags of goods that we wanted to pass out to the children we heard were living there. Pastor suggested we follow the school but that afternoon to find out where some of them live. At this time of year with the heat about to hit, a lot of people leave for a period of time and live where it is cooler before returning in the fall. There were, however, quiet a few children there. Some go by bus to the school in near by towns, while others are supposedly home schooled and kept out of sight in case child services comes snooping. Sure enough at about 3:00 we saw a bus headed up the road and we followed it.
When we got around the Internet Cafe, a few kids got off the bus and crossed the road headed home. We tried not to scare them as it was quiet obvious they were aware of us slowly cruising behind them. Doug thought it would be a good idea if he held back and I jumped out with the bags we had, and approach the kids to meet their parents. Fantastic idea!
The first girl I met was Casey. What a sweetie! She and her brother led us into a place called the Ponderosa. Its a camp set up with a few scattered units that her dad who goes by the name of Spyder runs as an Air B & B.
I walked through the court yard that had a massive fire-pit dug into the Slab… and the trees and buildings were decorated with fascinating things from the desert. I called for Doug to come in, and we spent some time talking to Spyder. He was thrilled that we had some things to give his kids, and then he gave us a bit of a tour and history of the business he was running. Just inside the open air building, was a small kitchen. He explained that on Tuesday nights he runs a Chili night, where people come and pay two dollars for a hot meal and then stay for a fire and jam session. Everyone is welcome unless you are there to start trouble or under the influence of hard drugs. He made it very clear that we were more than welcome to come that evening, but if he caught a whiff that we were trouble he would tie us with a rope and drag us out into the desert. Now there is a man I would not want to mess with. After the rules had been made clear, we had a great conversation. This dude was sort of cool 🙂
Spyder’s kids are awesome! They are intelligent, very well mannered and so friendly! Casey and her brother were thrilled with the gift bags and kept wanting to give me hugs. At one point Casie approached me and asked if I would be her friend. Well the answer of course was yes! She gave me the longest and tightest hug ever. I had made a new friend in a nine year old beautiful little girl 🙂
Spyder invited us to return for his home made chili that night. He sells it for $2 a bowl, and then has a bar where he sells shots for $1 or 3 beers for $2.00 It sounded great to have the chance to meet some more people, drag out my guitar and enjoy a night of jamming with others so we said we would return. And are we ever glad we did!
Just before the sun set, we made our way back to The Ponderosa, and Doug paid for his dinner which he said was awesome. Now a lot of the locals I could tell were eyeballing us… some were quiet when we entered, and others had a lot of questions as to who we were, where we came from and why we were in the Slabs. It didn’t take long for us to feel comfortable there. The magic happened when I went out to the jeep and returned with my guitar in tow. Casey sat with me all night, often with her head in my lap asking me to sing her more songs. Lol.
There were maybe 40-50 people there that night, and we all sat around a fire that was about 20 feet in length. People started to bring out instruments and in short time we had about 12 guitars, a stand up base, a woman who played the spoons, someone with a banjo and several mouth harps or harmonicas. I was in heaven! If ya had of had a wire brush with bleach you could not have wiped the smile off my face that night.
True to Spyder’s warning, someone did get out of hand, and withing moments… a mouthy nasty woman was quickly escorted off the property. We felt safe there. No need to watch our backs. We enjoyed each others music as we took turns singing, and when it was a familiar song the banjo, base, spoons and harmonies would chime in. It has been years since I have jammed with people. People we came to see as friends before we left that night.
When we returned to the Unit, once again we were haunted by the headlights drifting on and off around the unit and through out the desert around us. The ranting and raving of people whacked out on drugs was quiet unsettling. So we spent another night in the dark peering out the windows watching for trouble. In all honesty, it was me at the windows giving Doug a play by play report of what head lights were where. He dozed on the couch while I kept watch. However, when Connie’s five little dogs went off behind us, Doug would be up watching like a hawk. They became our alarm system. If the tweekers were near, they made sure everyone knew.
Before morning had come, Doug and I made a decision. We were either going to ask Spyder if we could move into his space and pay a small rent so we felt safer or we had made up our minds to leave. Ya see, we had heard stories and seen so many things that made us feel very unsafe. During the day it wasn’t so bad because you could see what was happening and who was approaching you. Night time was creepy. We still did not understand why we felt like we were suppose to be there, but surly we would not be led to a place where we felt so vulnerable and out of place. We decided that at the crack of dawn, when we saw the Pastor we were going to let him know we were going to bug out.
Chow… nice meeting ya, bye, adios…farewell, and exit stage right!
As usual…….we were quickly learning, that our plans were not necessarily His.