Though his real name is John, true to Slab City tradition, we have always known him and refer to him as Balu. Probably because he has a generous heart and that shows through with his involvement in Slab City community projects.
Balu is a “get it done” type of guy. He has a talent for gathering the troops to initiate and complete needed projects. For example, the local Hot Springs was seeping out onto the main road. He organized a bunch of Slab City resident volunteers and cleared a path through thick overgrowth, and home to rattlesnakes, to help the county avoid having to site a private land owner. The County, and the private landowner, probably don’t even know that he helped alleviate a problem of theirs.
Balu and his troop of volunteers also made the Hot Springs safer for people of disabilities by installing handrails. These hot springs are a valuable resource to alleviate the physical pain of residents and Snowbirds alike.
But wait, there’s more: Balu found a donation to set up a playground equipment near the Slab City children’s bus stop. That location was decided on by a meeting with the parents that Balu initiated.
Balu also recognized that there are visitors from all over the country and indeed the world, that show up with backpacks, on Slab City’s doorstep, ill prepared for the environment. Thus, he started a Hostel based on donations or exchange of work, to provide a safe landing spot as those visitors decide where to go next. The environment he and his camp partners (hello Bill!) created follow the tradition of Slab City residents by operating completely off-the-grid with no electricity, strict water conservation, and camp waste/trash management. It is a place where creative people can paint a wooden fence with a story…something they could never do elsewhere.
The Many Hats Balu Wears
Balu is a father that has worked cattle and sheep ranches, worked as a lineman, a railroad guy, truck driver, sold veggies on the side of the road, picked chilis with migrant workers and had 4 businesses that he started from the ground up. One of those businesses supported his love for riding Harley’s. He built and customized 21 shops and hotels for international bikers in India. In this business, from his home office in Deli, he gave tours and rented motorcycles to locals and tourists in India. He also built motorcycles and designed and built the first motorcycle that runs on veggie oil.
Balu could probably outshine that TV commercial with “the most interesting guy in the world,” except that he would never want his friends to “stay thirsty” in this harsh desert environment in Slab City.
He has had many adventures but not without mishaps.
He rode a camel across India for 6 months, then gave it to a local whose camel had died. His compassion for humanity and those in need are huge! He lived in the Amazon jungle, traveled around the world a few times, been in danger, such as almost dying a few times from bikes and finding himself stuck in a snow storm in the Himalayas.
In my travels, I got caught up in wars that had nothing to do with me, and in fact, had nothing to do with the people fighting.
And he has gotten OUT of danger. He says he has broken so many bones, but has survived and can still smile in the morning. He hunts, fishes, traps and gardens successfully. He has sailed his 36 foot Cal on the big blue ocean…SOLO!
None of this could have happened if I was not raised by the strongest and most amazing parents anybody could ask for!
Balu Arrives in Slab City
I arrived in Slab City purely by universal guide.
Balu had stopped for a rest in Quartzite, Arizona while on his way to Central America. He meet an ol’ boy named “Dolphin Dave,” a recurring, seasonal resident of Slab City, and was invited to check it out. As soon as Balu came over the hill, his eyes saw a place that looked like pure chaos. He spent the morning laughing with the locals and tourists of Slab City and was hooked.
“I think I will be here a while, and that was 2010”
He feels Slab City is a unique place on the planet. It has a potential to become a utopia of great collective minds and a place where a person can do as s/he wishes with the opportunity to build their unexplainable studio, or their architectural dream shelter without the laws of judgement from folks who conform to the outside world.
“We really need everybody you see here in the slabs to make it happen. Slab City has the right mix of creative minds from all walks of life to shine in its greatest potential. Tell me if you got it.”
Why Balu ran for an SCCGI Office
Balu is the Vice-President of SCCGI. Balu decided to join the Slab City Community Group, Inc Non-profit to try to save the Slabs from possibly being bought out. (Editor’s note: The State Lands Commission has stated that they will put this land up for a closed bid sale if the residents are not able, or unwilling to gain control of the land).
He is also the founder of Slab City Filming and Photography Guild. He recognized that world-wide media regularly comes out for stories on Slab City residents. Stories that are unique and that the media makes money off of. The Media has not in the past compensated the Residents they shine a light on and that makes the residents feel taken advantage of. After all, this is our home, and we expose ourselves when we agree to an interview. Balu helps negotiate a fair compensation for residents who open up their world to film and photography.
His Slab City projects “have all been for fun,” but for the Slab City residents, his service, and ideas add value to our lives.
You can learn more about Balu and his Slab City Hostel on FB.