We were walking through the heart of Slab City when we saw a young woman standing alone beside the dirt road. The air simmered as she stood beneath a black umbrella. At her feet, a massive duffle bag slumped in the dirt.
“Where are you going?” I shouted, walking nearer and wiping away the sweat.
“To the gas station. I’m waiting for a ride. It could be a few hours before someone comes by.”
I turned back to Laura, who shrugged. I turned back to the young woman. “Want a ride?”
For most of my life I’ve been told that hitchhikers are dangerous and I should never pick them up. I took that information for granted until a few years ago when Laura and I ended up trying to hitchhike while in Germany. No one picked us up, but we had more success a few years later in rural England and Wales, where kindly locals twice gave us rides.
Those rides opened my eyes. In one case an elderly couple picked us up, along with my sister, and waited while all three of us piled into their tiny car with our backpacks. After a day of hiking through the country side we were sweaty and muddy, but this couple shared stories, tips, and a standing invitation to visit them in the future.
My own experiences opened my eyes; after years of never really considering hitchhiking, I eventually realized that it was one of those things for which fear and an overabundance of caution had drowned out good judgment and adventure.
There are practical advantages to hitchhiking. It requires no advance planning, for example, and it’s free. Yes, there is an element of risk, but if you exercise a reasonable amount of caution the risk is probably a lot lower than people might have led you to believe. I have also only hitchhiked or pick up hitchhikers while traveling either with a partner or in a small group, which seems like perhaps a good rule of thumb.
Which brings me back to Slab City, the famous squatter community near the Salton Sea.
The young woman’s name was Domino. Almost as soon as she said it, she added that it was indeed her given name — a comment that was perhaps prompted by both its unusualness as well a propensity for nicknames among those on the edge of civilization. During the ride to the gas station, she told us about another nearby arts community, her boyfriend, the surprising complexities of Slab City, and an array of other topics.
It was a short ride — probably only 10 minutes or so — but in that time I learned more about life in Slab City that I ever might have from just reading books and Wikipedia pages. And that probably never would have happened if Domino wasn’t getting a ride.
— Jim Dalrymple II