For most people in America, access to running water, sewage treatment, and electricity are a given. But for those who can’t afford a home, want to live outside modern society, or just need an escape from the snow every winter, Slab City might be an attractive place to call home. Located about 190 miles southeast of Los Angeles and built on an abandoned military base, Slab City has become a tourist destination and a residential community.
Far from being one of the most beautiful cities in the world or even the United States, Slab City has its own unique appeal for those who live there and call themselves Slabbers. It takes a certain kind of person to be willing to endure 120-degree days in summer, live miles from the nearest grocery store, and get by without running water. People do it, however, and many of them are proud of their self-reliance and endurance. What’s it like to live there? Many have ventured to find out, from journalists like LA Weekly's Paul Rogers to curious travelers looking to see if the community's unique charms are what they're looking for. According to those visitors and the residents themselves, one's impression of Slab City all depends on how you approach calling it home.
They’re Welcoming To Visitors - So Long As You’re Friendly To Them
Although the residents of Slab City are a diverse group, their desire to live outside conventional society gives them something in common. While working on a Slab City project, photographer Donovan Wylie noticed, “There are clearly people there who don’t want to be found.” However, many other Slabbers willingly live as a community. "Overall it's a really welcoming and open community; probably the friendliest community I've ever met. There is a bit of social stratification, like some people look down on the younger residents who party a bit too much," explained Redditor /u/futuredeserthermit after several Slab City visits.
Despite one person's claim to have been "hunted" by residents of Slab City, visitors often find Slabbers to be welcoming to outsiders. One tourist passing through was surprised to learn, "They were open, friendly and proud of their little community that consisted of numerous books, a few trailers, a handful of human beings and about as many dogs." Redditor /u/Tired_Thumb believes the Slab City experience depends on how one approaches it, writing, "If you want to meet friendly people, be friendly. If you want to meet jerks, be a jerk.”
There’s Internet, A Library, And A Skate Park
When they’re not working on projects for art or survival, Slabbers can find other things around Slab City to occupy their time. An internet cafe consisting of a wireless router in a tent gives people access to the outside world. Slab City also has a skate park that includes a drained swimming pool, a pirate radio station, a church, and a library where Slabbers can check out DVDs, books, magazines, and games.
Despite these attempts to mimic a real town, life in Slab City can be slow. Slabber Tallulah Kidd told LA Weekly: “It got very monotonous, draining. There's a few little events and stuff, but it does get boring.” For some Slabbers, however, boredom isn’t a bad thing, as fellow Slabber Gram noted, ”Boredom is way better than crazy drama.”
With No Sanitation, Hygiene Can Be Difficult
Since Slab City is off-grid and not officially a town, there is no electricity, running water, or sanitation services like sewage treatment or trash removal. When visitors arrive, they often notice the amount of garbage piled up. “When I went there was lots of trash from pre-packaged foods such as chips, Cup-O-Noodles, etc.,” remembered Redditor /u/bad-decisions-101. Another visitor expressed disappointment with the area, writing, “At first sight, it is quite an ugly place. Something like a massive RV park in low season, full of garbage and without anyone taking care of it. You don‘t really see any people, it’s empty, and looks sad.”
Potable water needs to be shipped in from neighboring towns. “The problem with the ground water here is it is VERY salty. Not to mention the rest of the contaminants you'll find,” explained Redditor /u/RabbitSide. Due to the water's salinity, keeping oneself clean can sometimes be difficult; however, Slab City offers a communal cold shower. Although there are also nearby irrigation canals, people are technically prohibited from entering due to dangerous and potentially fatal currents. The area’s natural hot springs might be tempting, but may also be dangerous. Redditor /u/futuredeserthermit warns, “I was told some bodies were found there in the past, and the water may be contaminated.”
The Range Hosts Live Shows And An Annual Prom
The Range, an open-stage venue in the middle of Slab City, provides a platform for anyone to perform. “At night it comes to life, with mostly local artists performing, but also the odd well-known band here and there,” one visitor wrote. “It was the small audience around being super supportive of whoever dared to go up on that stage and perform. You drink your beer, you smoke your stuff and you cheer.”
The Range also hosts Slab City’s annual prom, a yearly party that is open to everyone. After attending one year, photographer Peter Bohler remembered, “I think for a lot of the older people, the prom is a fun party marking the end of winter. A lot of people take off because it starts getting really hot, so they throw a big party to mark the end of another year out in the slabs. I got the impression that it was a chance for people to be a little bit elegant. There are ironic or tongue-in-cheek aspects to it, but at the same time they’re living outside and they don’t ever get the chance to dress up. So I think it’s also that people are excited to look nice for once.”