Slab City, Navy Town

Into the Wild, Staring Emile Hirsch

Being active-duty Navy, I am far from a hipppie. My hair is short, like 3/8ths of an inch. (Correction: 7/16th. On the long side.) I don’t use the word groovy. I believe in personal responsibility. I shower daily and don’t wear tie-dye or smoke anything exotic.

I saw a movie once when I was deployed and it stands as the entertainment highlight (albeit with few other choices) of that deployment. And the movie could have been a hippie’s dream.

The flick was “Into the Wild” about some kooky kid who gives up society to go live in the wilderness. He dies in the throes of an Alaskan winter, unprepared. Alone. Christopher McCandless (an ironic name, considering his fate) was the misguided soul and I liked the movie for its poetic nature shots. I was in the Middle East and seeing trees, anything green, was a relief.

One scene had Christopher out near the Salton Sea, in an area known as Slab City. Interestingly enough, the location is garnering quite a bit of press due to the suffering real estate market. The slabs are leftover from a Navy base and a Marine Corps training area:

Slab City or The Slabs is a camp in the Colorado Desert in southeastern California, used by recreational vehicle owners and squatters from across North America.

Slab City Christian Center

It takes its name from the concrete slabs and pylons that remain from the abandoned World War II Marine barracks Camp Dunlap there. A group of servicemen remained after the base closed, and the place has been inhabited ever since, although the number of residents has declined since the mid 1980s.

One last note on hippies, I respect folks who want to return to the land. Who lead productive lives. Who work. There were probably well-meaning hippies in the nascent part of hippiedom. But the whole phenomenon is tarred with the non-showering, druggy, lazy brush by the clinger-ons.

Returning to the Land?

That said, I am tolerant, to a point, and have never started any beefs with anyone over lifestyle choices. Just don’t ask me my opinion or get in my face. You live over there, I’ll live over here.

Around the corner from Slab City, if there are corners in the desert, is a SEAL training facility for SEAL Team One. Camp Billy Machen:

Radarman Second Class Billy W. Machen, a 28 year old sailor from Dallas, Texas, was acting as point man. Coming to a clearing in the jungle growth, RD2 Machen halted the unit and moved ahead into the opening to reconnoiter.

As he paused and searched the surrounding area, he suddenly spotted several Viet Cong (VC) guerillas. Rather than retreating and seeking cover, Machen initiated fire and attacked the enemy unit, forcing them to trigger their ambush prematurely.

The resulting hail of fire from both banks of the river alerted his fellow SEALs to the danger and allowed them to take cover, return fire, and engage to suppress the VC attack. Machen, however, was killed in the initial fusillade.

Some folks have set up websites praising Christopher McCandless. As if his lack of action is commendable. They call his journey heroic. Me, I got other heroes. Like Petty Officer Billy W. Machen. A life of service to country versus a life of avoidance and refusal to accept personal responsibility. I don’t doubt that Chris was a nice guy, but Billy is the one to be respected, admired, praised. . .

23 thoughts on “Slab City, Navy Town”

  1. No one could have said it better, Navy One…and today, I have the same feeling you do about Christopher McCandless and all his so-called ‘good intentions’..if that can be said…in terms of entertainment, I feel much the same every time I watch a MASH rerun and realize the sentiments were never genuine and remain a bunch of idealized leftist all ends up being extremely disappointing….I imagine this movie will be equally unfulfilling…k

  2. Growing up in Northern NM, I was always horrified at hippies and worked hard not to be one. As I have gotten older, I find that being a country girl is very much what others would say is a hippie. I’m probably a lot “geener” than most so called hippies or liberals. I have lots of friends who live off the grid or as close as they can – people who do not want to be dependent of the government. These people are very much conservatives. So why do we think that a hippie is a liberal?
    Here is a link that probably says it better than I.

    Part of “Easy Rider” was filmed in Taos,NM, at a “hippie commune” back in the 60’s where some trust-funders bought up some sage-brush on the mesa. The Hispanic locals hated the hippies. Come winter the hippies were ill-prepared for the cold and snow. They built a big tee-pee for everyone to live in. In trying to keep warm the tee-pee caught on fire and burned to the ground – thanks to the very slow fire department – reminds me of your movie. There is nothing wrong with wanting to live in the wild, but being stupid is another thang.

  3. McCandless (and also Timothy Treadwell) were laughing-stocks up here. McC wandered into one of the most lush, verdant and abundant foodsource forests in Alaska, where he died of starvation & hypothermia. Treadwell, who believed that grizzly bears were “misunderstood” friends, was eaten by a grizzly while camped on a game trail.

    We have no patience with those who refuse to learn & adapt, which brings me back to the hippies. If they simplify, pare down, and live off the land, more power to them. Otherwise? What you said.

  4. When I first read about Christopher my first thoughts were he was a dumb ass … unprepared and reckless. Much like the Occupiers today. He greatly underestimated the Alaskan experience. That is not Hero material, nor is it smart or brave. Just stupid.

  5. Kris: It was a sad movie, but since I had nothing outdoors to look at it, I loved it. If I saw it now, it would probably annoy me.
    Lou: RIght, I remember Zombie posting that up earlier. Good graphic.
    Rev: Treadwell, that clown. “The bear is eating me, help!”
    CP: Unprepared is right. . .

  6. I have spent a lot of time living with nature and it’s fine, but I give daily thanks to the civilization that produced the tools, equipment and knowledge that enabled me to enjoy and survive it easily. Nature just is. Civilization is an achievement. It is this that is full of wonder and enables us to enjoy wild.

    I have come to admire men like Frank Lloyd Wright, and to regard people like Chris McCandless as simply unintelligent misfits. Nature processes them in the natural course of existence. I commend Chris’ example to those who reject the works of mankind and the beneficence of civilization.

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