I’m not too sure about the guy in line in front of me at Rite Aid.
Dressed all in black, dusty, with a studded vest and collar, knee-high boots and hair reliving the punk era, he seems to be adjusting his armor.
I say, “Hi.”
He returns the greeting with a super friendly smile. There are five people ahead of us; we strike up a conversation.
“Is that car with the battering rams and gun mount yours?”
“Yes,” he grins.
I venture on, “So…?”
“I’m here for Wasteland Weekend,” he answers.
He asks if I am familiar with the movie “Mad Max.” He explained that a temporary city had been built in the desert of our city, complete with a Thunderdome, to mimic the post-apocalyptic world of “Mad Max.”
This September marks a decade of Wasteland Weekend in our desert in and around California City. Last year 4,000 attended. Unlike most other desert parties, car shows or music concerts (and Wasteland is all three), this one requires all attendees to be in costume (even staff members and journalists). The idea is to create a full-immersion effect, making festivalgoers feel like they’re inside a “Mad Max”-style movie for five days.
“We’re going to pull out all the stops for our 10th year celebration,” explains Wasteland co-founder and event director Jared Butler. “It’s amazing that we’ve been able to have this home-grown post-apocalyptic fantasy world last this long. It took a lot of hard work and dedication by our whole community and we want to celebrate that.”
The event has sold out five years in a row and another sellout is certain for this year as well. The organizers have limited growth intentionally.
Butler explains: “Wasteland is run by a small staff and an army of volunteers. We want those volunteers to grow their skills with the event, so that our staffing and infrastructure never get overwhelmed by the size of the population.”
The other benefit is cited by the event’s art Director and Chief of Operations Adam Chilson.
“When we grow at a reasonable pace, it means veteran attendees always outnumber the newcomers,” Chilson said. “It helps the event keep the feeling of being one big returning family.”
Many in Kern County may not know about this event, though it has been covered by the Wall Street Journal, LA Weekly, ABC News in Australia, Maxim, the Guardian UK, France 24, Jay Leno’s Garage and others.
Over the years, I have looked forward to September and the arrival of some the nicest people that visit our town. I’ve met oncologists, mechanics, stockbrokers, models, engineers, moms, nurses and real estate agents. When you are at Wasteland, you shed all labels, leave the rat race behind and socialize on a level playing field. Don’t let the outfits and the cars, which are extensions of “the look,” fool you.
Alexia Svejda is the president of the California City Chamber of Commerce.