East Jesus and The Last Free Place in America
I’m inspired by unique locations, enough so that I like to build my Rolly Waters mystery novels around them. Border Field Blues started with a visit to Border Field State Park, the most southwestern corner of San Diego County.
I decided to build my third Rolly Waters novel around a place known as Slab City. It’s located in the heart of the Mojave desert, a hundred and forty miles east of San Diego. It’s a fascinating location because people live there without owning the land or paying rent. Anyone can stake out a spot and call it their own. There’s no power grid. There’s no running water. The temperature gets as high as 120 degrees in the summer. Still, a hearty band of off-the-grid adventurers have made this their year-round home.
Since my detective protagonist, Rolly Waters, is also a guitar player, one of the things that grabbed me while taking a look around the Slabs was the outdoor stage known as The Range. Once I heard about the concerts held here by local residents, I knew I had to get Rolly out there for some jam sessions during his next adventure.
You’ll have to wait until the book is published (September 2015 in the UK, January 2016 USA) to see how see how Rolly gets involved with the Slab City Rockers, but I’m pretty happy with how I worked Slab City, The Range, Salvation Mountain and East Jesus into the story.
Change may be afoot in the Slabs, though. Dissension is in the air. The State of California owns the land, so it could be sold to private interests. Some members of the community are trying to pre-empt any takeover by collecting money to purchase East Jesus for the arts collective. Some aren’t so happy about the idea and think there are ulterior motives involved. It will be interesting to see how it all plays out.
East Jesus is a remarkable collection of inspired folk art, built from “the discarded afterbirth of the Industrial Age”, repurposed for aesthetic enhancement.” On its own, it’s well worth a visit to the Slabs.
KPBS recently ran a couple of news stories on Slab City and East Jesus, which are embedded below.