Operation Illusive Unicorn

Thanks to all the hardy folks who showed up, it was a hell of a party. (Photo by Walt.)

Here's how and why the whole cancellation deal went down. The past two years we haven't bothered with a permit for Slab City. If you've been there, you can guess why. It's a do-it-yourself environment that is billed as "The Last Free Place in America". We've asked our friends who live there (and run the stage) about permits from day one and been told that they've never been required, movies have been shot there, plenty of massive parties, music every weekend, it's all good, c'mon down! So, in the spirit of the place, and with precedent set, that's how we planned it again this year.

Last year LEO from several agencies lined up at the end of the area and would do a small show of force once in a while to make sure everyone was aware that they were there. Makes sense, it's public land, there were a lot of people and obviously a lot of drinking and whatnot going on, so it's logical that the cops want to check it out and let their presence be known. A few guys got rolled up for not wearing a helmet or carrying a fixed-blade, typical stuff but hardly a police state or abuse of any kind.

Apparently this year, after reading about it on the internet, the Imperial County Sheriff decided to check and see if we had pulled a permit. Of course we hadn't. After chewing on it for a day or two the county decided to send a cease and desist letter which we received on Thursday, one day before the event. I got an email version of it Wednesday while we were out there setting things up on site and coordinating where the $1000 worth of rented portable toilets were going, etc.

Needless to say we tried every angle, the Occupy Slab City idea, what if we cancel bands, can I come down and file for an emergency permit, etc. The permit process takes at least 30 days so there was no getting that, obviously something everyone on the other side was aware of. After trying every logical and illogical angle with the super polite County Council we were told, "no matter what you call it, no matter what changes you make, any assembly you are involved in will be will result in you being held responsible for civil and criminal actions."

Our various contacts within local agencies (yes, you might be surprised how many cops we have as friends and customers) let us know that overtime had been approved for the first time in a long time and that there was a good possibility that we wouldn't even be allowed into Slab City. The last thing we wanted to do was parade in there like nothing was going on and surprise all our friends and customers when the man says "Nope, turn around" or "Let's inspect that motorcycle, son". This isn't a movie and we aren't outlaws, so we did the next best thing and cancelled the official event.

We tried to salvage what we could of the event for people who took valuable time off work and rode through freezing rain to have a good time. We got the word out through every channel possible that the SCR3 had been cancelled and even rode over to Slab City on Saturday and retrieved two poor souls who didn't get the memo and escorted them to the new camp. In the end, I think the new location was actually better than the slabs, and we're gonna look into doing something legal there next year.

While we didn't organize or publish anything about the new location (still in Imperial County) a battalion of riders toughed it out and showed up to the informal campout. Wild weather and zero organized activities, bands, etc turned into camping in the desert with friends and that was totally fine with us. Both nights were fun and we had a good ride around the Salton Sea on Saturday. The Rangers at the new site made their presence known but were otherwise cool as far as I've been told. They wouldn't allow bands, but we knew that and had cancelled ours in advance.

The bottom line? We should have purchased the required permits and will look into doing it legit next year. I do think the Sheriff overreacted and that it could have been handled a lot differently on their end. The funniest thing about the whole weekend was how many cops and rangers talked about the Coctagon to various riders. The fact that some chief had to brief his men about a bunch of kooks who ride to the desert and then beat each other with wiffle ball bats is hilarious. One even recognized our friend Shawn's Canadian flag helmet from the video.

BTW, we've got a ton of patches, shirts, etc that we will put up for sale on the Chop Cult store later in the week since obviously we didn't sell them this weekend.

Our sincere apologies to anyone who didn't hear about the change and might have gotten left out in the cold. Thanks again to the people who stuck it out and had fun despite the last minute fire drill.

You may have heard about Charlie the Nomad and his girl's crash. We're glad they lived through a rough one, and wish them the speediest recovery possible.


samshow said...

Thank you for your continued efforts to put on a great event. I'm glad that I found the new spot, and the Illusive Unicorn. My hat is off to you folks for turning an otherwise crappy series of events into a grandiose desert party. I certainly look forward to next year!!!

Sporty13 said...

Thanks to the Biltwell guys for rescuing me and Charlie's buddy (sorry for forgetting your name already) from the slabs on Saturday. Already knowing the event had been canceled I rode up Saturday solo in hopes that I would find the party. I had a blast. Everything went perfect as far I'm concerned. I'm already looking to next year.

shawn - Imperial House said...

Good on you Bill and the rest of the Biltwell crew! Solid decision making in the face of adversity. Solid. Be great!

Jack Shit said...

I've said it before and I'll say it again! You guys made the absolute right move in your decision. Rather than allowing everyone to ride in to an ambush! This was a classy move, any way you slice it or dice it! See you at your next event!