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An excerpt from Tourism as Voyeurism
Hi friend! I am really happy you’re here with me.
This is the excerpt of a longer piece I’m working on regarding the Salton Sea, Bombay Beach, and Tourism as Voyeurism. You can expect to see this integrated into the piece later on down the road. I hadn’t actually expected it to be so long so….here ya go!
When I camped near the Salton Sea, California in 2018, I was in a motorhome and paid the nightly fee of seven or eight dollars each day I stayed. It was the least expensive campground we ever stayed at in California. It was ten miles in any direction from nothing, 15 miles to the nearest store.
There, the flies rose from the ground as soon as the sun hit and they hung heavy in the salt air that smelled of sulfuric fish guts. When the sun passed over the horizon, the flies set too and I could sit outside unbothered watching the sky turn purples and pinks.
Each evening shortly after sunset, a man pulled up to the campground in a worn minivan. The driver wore a comically large dirt-stained cowboy hat that fit like a glove, cowboy boots, and dark denim. A weathered old man: thin almost to the point of being gaunt. He could have been a sun-drenched 60 or may have been as old as he looked.
He’d park across from us on the gravel street, or a spot or two down, but never visit the pay station. He’d use the restrooms that only had cold water, and he’d light a small fire in one of the shared fire pits, using only a fraction of the large concrete pit. I waved once and he nodded back.
And every night after the fire died, the cowboy opened the back of his minivan, make something to eat that didn’t require cooking, and crawled into the van. At 8:15 every morning, he’d freshen up in the bathroom, then drive away, never having stopped at the honor system pay station. Within ten minutes, the park ranger would mosey down to our campground from the station a few miles up. One day, it was no more than three minutes after the man left that the ranger came checking vehicles for paid tags.
Here’s an important thing to know about the Salton Sea: it is very close to Slab City. This community is a squatter’s zone and isn’t policed by any traditional laws. There are established neighborhoods, from snowbird RVers to full-time Slabbers. Anyone can live there, free of charge, no questions asked. This man chose not to, and instead every night he arrived at a quiet campground, and every morning he left before being charged the seven dollar fee.
The man left no trace and was quiet. The Cowboy. I think of him often. I wonder if the park ranger ever caught him.
I’m not religious, but I grew up in a Christian household. My dad took the reins as a preacher when our small church pastor had a mental breakdown, but at some point, every one of the five members of my immediate family decided religion wasn’t for us. But religion is funny. It has a way of integrating into your life in unexpected ways. For me, prayer is habitual.
So, in true Sasha-form, I made up a story of that Cowboy. I doubt any of the facts of my story were true, but I held him in my heart like a prayer, safe like I could hold him in my hands like a tiny hamster. I asked for a blessing for him. That he would find peace, and feel safe. And I say blessings — prayers, whatever you call them — often about people I see. A blessing for comfort, for love, for someone to understand them. And I know this sounds insane. I do. But that cowboy, with his two cigarettes a night, I want the best for him. And I hope he’s well.
Thanks for traveling with me,