Slab City prom brings romance to 'middle of nowhere'
Mateo Montaño dances with Rachel Erickson during the Slab City Prom on Saturday night. (CHELCEY ADAMI PHOTO / March 30, 2013)
There was even a wayward guest passed out near the stage area.
However, some Slab City prom-goers arrived on mules instead of in limos, guests ranged in age from 2 to 80-something years old, and in between lace and chiffon dresses, one couple inexplicably dressed as vampires Saturday night.
“There’s nothing like it. It’s a place where people, oddballs and real people come and share a night,” Slabs resident Neil Mallich said. “It’s almost like a family thing. Might sound corny or pretentious, but prom is right here for us.”
The eclectic event is held on The Range, a stage and dance floor spot in Slab City, a community just outside Niland frequently dubbed as “the last free place in America.”
There, a small mixed community mostly of snowbirds, artists, homeless, and those just escaping society, make their home, and over this past weekend, prom.
The idea for prom began 10 years ago by Slabs resident Robin and a friend. Since “all these people here are either snowbirds or poor folk,” the pair gathered up prom dresses and suits from thrift stores and began coaxing people into wearing them for the night.
“Some were really nice suits. They tend to walk off,” Robin said. “You wouldn’t think it, but the guys out here all want to have a suit in their closet.”
Most prom-goers Saturday came dressed to impress, and those who came unprepared could borrow a dress or tie for the evening.
“There’s always tourists, and we want everyone to feel pretty,” Robin said.
It’s nice to give people a “second chance” for a prom experience since not everyone gets it in high school, she explained.
“The pressure is off, everyone knows who they’re going home with,” she said while laughing. “And it’s fun to get dressed up once in a while, even at our age, it’s fun to put on some chiffon and sparkles.”
A Slabs resident known as Dreamcatcher said it was her second Slab City Prom.
“I never had a prom and never looked like a fairy little princess,” she said. “It’s good friends, fabulous styles in the total middle of nowhere. Even in the middle of the toilet bowl of California, we can gussy it up.”
Slab City Prom attire included some very hairy men in dresses, full ball gowns, tutus, underwear, capes, floor-length coats, and even a Tinkerbell costume worn by Elizabeth Andrews, 2.
Earl and Cookie Anderson were crowned this year’s prom king and queen to the applause of roughly 100 people.
“It feels great,” Cookie said. “I’m just going to continue to love all these people, they’re my family. It’s family out here. People don’t believe the sense of community out here. It’s wonderful.”
Appropriately themed “Under the Stars,” prom-goers danced the night away cheek-to-cheek under a bright desert sky on the open air stage filled with couches and fold-up chairs. Some danced with their dates while others danced with dogs, or themselves.
Musicians such as Builder Bill and Jimi Austin James played everything from Slab City original song about life in the Slabs to classics.
Dogs and children routinely ran in between Slab City residents and visitors from places such as Germany, San Diego and Oregon.
It was the first time for traveling bloggers Brian and Leigh Easterling to go to Slab City Prom.
“We want to come every year,” Brian said. “It’s just seeing all the people. We didn’t know what to expect so this is incredible.”
Prom-goers visibly relaxed throughout the night as some sipped on wine bottles, smoke wafted through the air, and musicians played on.
When a missing hat was returned on stage immediately after being reported lost, the crowd began chanting “honesty!” and hugging. Rumors of various “after parties” began circulating between different groups who paired off into the night.
Rio Warner and Manuel Vasquez of Los Angeles actually attended their high school senior prom together and came to the Slab City Prom after hearing about it while driving around the area.
“It’s amazing,” Vasquez said. “Everyone is so accepting and so (expletive) cool. They’re the coolest people. So much better than our first prom.”
Staff Writer Chelcey Adami can be reached at 760-337-3452 or firstname.lastname@example.org