Gentrified Slab City

April 8, 2021 |

The signs of gentrification at Slab City are everywhere. The first to pop out at the hot spring are tattoos. When I moved here seven years ago, you could judge a person by his cover when his tattoos jumped at you like Ray Bradberry’s ‘Illustrated Man’ where each represented an event in a person’s life. Most of them were of prison art, martial arts, and road tales. Now during gentrification, they represent the dreams of newcomers. Today a senior with an hourglass figure inquired of mine. I described the mouse with a smile and teardrop tells of the pathos of the road; the tarantula crawled on me from a sidewalk in Brazil; and the marijuana leaf out the pen of a Hong Kong artist who didn’t have maple in his vocabulary. ‘That completes the set of fauna, flora and insect,’ I explained expecting a tumble in the weeds until she sniffed, swam off, and had judged me less than a he-man. 

Gentrification has altered Berkeley, Venice, Brooklyn and Aspen but nothing like the Slabs in the past year.  I miss the old days when spartan conditions brought out that nature in the residents. When I moved here seven years ago there were no generators, few solar, next-to-no cash, which meant no booze, no hostel or Airbnb, and the green barter was marijuana. There were no cars except my rental used to chase the bad guys who robbed my property across the bombing to the Slabs where I settled because there was no place else to go. Everyone was thirsty and looked like stick figures. 

The cause of gentrification is different from anywhere else – pandemic unemployment assistance. For one year nearly every resident in the outlaw resort has gone from penniless to become unemployed in a manner that was affected by the virus. Some reported they mow concrete Slabs from WWII that the tourists no longer visit, and only recently has the county’s biggest roadside attraction Salvation Mountain started admitting tourist with masks. Today there is $3 million and its products floating around the Slabs with a population quadrupled by COVID refugees from all corners of the nation. The reason is the one-square mile town via the internet is advertised as sneeze-free and rent-free. 

It is disease free but the signals of gentrification are like Burma-Shave. 




Signs aside, gentrification is a process of neighborhood change in a historically disinvested area due to a boon or new higher-income residents moving in. Most gentrified towns hang on and have led to the nation’s overall ‘back-to-the-city’ trend. But one warm summer and the halt of pandemic assistance will restore our historic conditions. The best the world offers is change and it’s a rare privilege to live here at this time.  


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