On the morning after Walter’s death, when we called Good Sam for a tow, we didn’t really know whether Walter would end up in the desert, someone’s backyard, or a junkyard. We preferred the desert over the other choices, for in the desert, the bus wouldn’t be crushed and become part of some enormous inert heap of metal waste. Instead, it would become a memory with a physical correlative, a monument to the stories we’ve created on the bus. The desert seemed a fitting place. In the desert memories are left to deteriorate against only time, (when they’re made of steel and fiberglass) the elements, and (when they’re as inhabitable as Walter is) the occasional human resident.
Good Sam needed a destination, so we gave them an address in Niland where the squatter’s haven Slab City is located. One of few free campgrounds in the US that tolerates permanent boondocking, Slab City is located on a retired military training base called Camp Dunlap in the desert between the Chocolate Mountains, a military bombing range, and the Salton Sea.
(Last year around this time, our first goal was to visit the slabs, but we missed the turn and ended up in Bombay and stayed for a couple of months. When we finally left Bombay we stopped by the slabs for a few hours. I had a conversation with a man named Victor who got his news from talk radio. He told me Obama thought there were 57 states [somehow this meant Obama’s presidency would ensure an Arab world takeover] and that I was the first liberal he’d ever met. So it goes.)
With the tow truck drawing nearer to the bus, Seth, Taylor, Kentridge and I jumped in the Sneads’ new Mercedes and drove toward the Salton Sea and Slab City where we would attempt to find a suitable place for Walter to spend the end of days, not knowing exactly what to expect. We drove around following leads from the library to the church to the Oasis Club where many of the oldtimers hang out. By some twist of fortune, we found our way to Container Charlie, Slab City’s preeminent art enthusiast and aspiring curator.
That was two weeks ago. Tomorrow we will push Walter into the desert grave we dug with our bare hands (with help from shovels and pick axes) in the back of Charlie’s camp. Charlie has graciously accepted our gifts of various second-hand belongings including our forty-foot mobile home (which will only be slightly inconvenient once we bury it at a slant). We’ve invited some folks from Slab City and our dear friends from Bombay Beach to a wake followed by a final collaborative effort to lay Walter to rest.
DIGGING WALTER’S GRAVE: DAY 1
DIGGING WALTER’S GRAVE: DAY 5
When the wind blows in the desert it whips up dust like plumes of smoke, reducing visibility to a few hundred yards and sometimes feet, and though you can’t always see the thousands of tiny particles flying at your face, you can feel them collecting on your skin and know you’re breathing them in: the dust of plant matter, minerals, human waste, trash, the detritus of the bombs the military has dropped every night for decades now in the mountains to the east. Out here the dust blows everything past and present into great swirls that will blow on into the future against one another until they become infinitesimally small.
I imagine Walter a decade from now. As long as Charlie’s here, he’ll be taken care of. But Charlie too may feel life pulling him away. In that case, I hope Walter doesn’t become a meth lab, or get towed and crushed by whoever oversees this land. I hope he’s right where tomorrow we’ll leave him. At any rate, I’m sure he’ll have a few stories to tell.
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