I discovered the Fountain of Youth on my first extended road trip in the Avion. I’d celebrated New Year’s 2017 on the road, but it was just a weekend jaunt to an RV park near Lake Berryessa. I’d won a drawing at CamperWorld for a free stay and that seemed like an auspicious way to break in the Avion.
Now it was February of 2017 and I was freezing my ass off in Nevada City. It was time for a serious snowbird getaway. So I headed south to visit an old friend in Palm Desert for a few days. From there, I had every intention of staying for a few weeks at Slab City, an off-grid compound/community built on the site of a former military base outside Niland, California, a few miles east of the Salton Sea. The military had abandoned the site decades ago, leaving nothing behind but the slabs of the former buildings. It was now public land and had become home to a large community of squatters. According to my Google research, the residents had built a kind of accidental intentional community with a library and internet cafe, gathering spaces for music and performance. Drawing on a quasi-anarchist ethos, they called Slab City the “last free place on earth.”
I was convinced — well, hopeful anyway — that I’d find my people there. I rolled through Slab City with high expectations — all of them dashed. Instead of a vibrant alternative community, I saw only a barren landscape dotted with rusted out campers and tents, a sort of shanty town of patched together shelters and a pervasive air of griminess and desolation. There were few people around. Driving in I passed a teenaged boy on a bicycle, balancing a plastic jug of water on each handlebar and a few skinny stray dogs. Once in Slab City, I just rolled through, never even stopping, taking in ramshackle trailers, piles of junk and garbage, pyramids of abandoned tires. I looked for the library, the community center but if they were there they were hidden in the forlorn camouflage of trash and abandonment.
The whole place felt hinky to me. I’d later talk to others who’d felt the same way and learned that in recent years Slab City had been overrun by meth and a kind of predatory lawlessness.
Moving on from Slab City, I found a landing place in the local snowbird scene: a pair of RV parks just north of Niland, populated by American and Canadian retirees. I stayed a few nights at Bashford’s, then tried out the Fountain of Youth just down the road. Both RV parks boast swimming pools and mineral springs as well as the kind of amenities I’d learn were common to many RV parks across America: nice bathrooms with hot showers, a decent laundry room, a game room and/or lending library. The mineral springs at Bashford’s were absolutely to die for — deep sunken outdoor tubs big enough for two and steaming hot. The individual tubs at the Fountain of Youth were literally that — single claw-footed bathtubs, very charming but just not as hot or soothing. Still, the FOY has multiple outdoor jacuzzi-style mineral springs, and also boasts a little grocery store, a cafe, and even a twice-weekly farmers market.
Hello! Call me bourgeois, but that is what I was looking for.
I went back to the FOY that November, hunkering down for 40 days and 40 nights before heading to Baja for two months. I swam laps in the saltwater pool every day, working my way up from 20 to 40 and then 50 on my last day there. I did my own solo yoga-qi gong practice every morning beside the pool. This time I really tried to take advantage of the social scene – and let me tell you, there is a vibrant social scene at the FOY.
Many of the snowbirds here are regulars; some have been coming every winter for thirty years or more. I met dozens of seniors who inspired me with their lust for life. They throw themselves into the whirlwind here, bopping from activity to activity. There is a small gym, bocce ball courts, ping pong, a wide array of community classes (crafts, quilting, Spanish, line dancing, singing, yoga, etc), clubs for water volleyball, poker, hiking and more, religious services, a barber shop and beauty salon. They They organize talent shows, dances, concerts, flea markets, movie nights. At Freddy’s Cafe, Monday is taco night and Thursday is karaoke and pizza night, and both are standing room only.
Mid-life nomads like me are in the minority, but I made some really good friends among them, including Ela and Jerzy, who pulled in a few days after me in a repurposed yellow school bus. Ah, surely they were my people! I immediately went over and introduced myself, and indeed, they became my BFFs. We spent many hilarious evenings together, eating GF meals and drinking amazing margaritas. I taught them how to play Hearts and they introduced me to “Rick and Morty” (because they were living large with a full screen TV hooked up in the bus!).
I’m back now for my 3rd stay at the Fountain of Youth. Fi and I rolled in on Saturday, and Connie, a petite redhead who works the guardhouse, totally remembered us and greeted us warmly. “You’re in a different neighborhood this year,” she said, directing us to an open spot amid the permanent trailers, single-wides with gardens and tool sheds. It’s a different vibe from the nomad zone, more settled, less convivial, but it’s quiet and plenty close to the pools and restrooms.
After we got parked and plugged in, Fi and I took a quick lap around to reacquaint ourselves with the FOY. Fi loves nothing more than a nice patch of grass to do her business but the landscape here is a dry mix of sand and pebbles, completely grass-free. In the past it’s taken her several days (or longer) to get used to the terrain, holding out in hopes of finding some business-friendly grass; this time, she settled in immediately, whizzing and pooping on any ole patch of dirt.
With all of Fi’s needs met, it was my turn. I settled her back in the Avion with all the windows cranked — omg, it’s been months since I’ve been able to open windows and let a warm breeze drift through the Avion! Then I headed to my favorite saltwater pool for laps and lounging.
Oh yeah, this is definitely my happy place.
Yesterday, lounging poolside with a book, I chatted with a lovely old geezer in a cowboy hat who reminded me of LBJ; he took one look at my pale skin and commented that I clearly didn’t get outside enough over the summer. “I was on the road all summer,” I replied. “I’ll catch up soon enough.”
And that’s exactly what I intend to do. Not work on my tan — though I think my body will be super happy to soak up some vitamin D. My main intention right now is to catch up on my internal rhythms, my creative productivity. I had a crazy summer on the road — an amazing experience but also physically and emotionally draining, and the three months I spent in Nevada City were also filled with activity and business, with reconnecting with old friends and colleagues as well as kindling new work opportunities. Oh, and a massive push on a new fiction project: I wrote 56,000+ words for NaNoWriMo in November.
I’m ready for some down time. I’m ready to refill the well.
And, as my Baja hermana Lori likes to say: I can’t wait to see what happens next.