In combat boots and satin thongs, the burlesque girls of the apocalypse celebrate the end of the world deep in the merciless dust of the Mojave Desert.
Welcome to Wastelands Weekend, an annual gathering for “cosplay” — dressing up to the layman — where fans of the Mad Max film franchise flock from all over the continent. Whether via plague, nuclear war or spiders from Mars, the death throes of humanity are not supposed to be fun — but try telling that to these festival goers.
Once a year, Wasteland City rises from the arid badlands of the northern Antelope Valley, a two-hour drive north from Los Angeles, to host the largest post-apocalyptic themed festival in the world. This is the seventh year for the Wastelands Weekend, which was first held in 2010.
Joseph Hileman, 52, a security supervisor from Concord, near San Francisco, was persuaded to come along to the adults-only party by his son.
“I used to do medieval fighting, but I got too old for that and I thought, ‘I’d love to this — I’ll probably be the oldest person here, but I’ll have a good time.’” he said. “It’s chance to get away from the regular rat race life and have fun.”
Hileman is one of more than 2,000 desk jockeys who leave their day jobs to live out their fantasies as road warriors seeing in the collapse of civilization.
Imagine San Diego Comic-Con, but for fans of Mad Max and the Fallout video games, who are not too fussy about pristine restrooms. That is Wastelands Weekend.
It is not just the facilities that dress down for the occasion. Attendees are required to fit in, which means a lot of torn leather, studs, grungy vests and goggles for protection from duststorms.
There is no dress code for the vehicles, but every year a fleet of Mad Max-style junkyard monsters turn up, mounted with gun turrets or armed with metal spikes. Elaborate sets are meant to replicate a post-apocalyptic world while live bands, DJs and combat and stunt performers carry on into the small hours.
For sports fans, the organizers stage a football-like game called “jugger,” which uses a dog’s skull for a ball, inspired by the dystopian 1989 Rutger Hauer movie The Blood of Heroes. The game is part of a diverse collection of sideshows that has built up over the years, from bounty hunting games, a fire-spinning area and bonfire dance pit to those gyrating burlesque girls.
Every settlement, no matter how iniquitous, needs its moral compass, of course, and Wasteland City is no different. A 39-year-old man who insists his name is Jonathan Christ has come from Portland, Oregon, dressed in a priest’s black shirt and white collar.
“I’m the Wastelands preacher. I’m telling everyone God is dead because of our arrogance,” he volunteers chirpily.
However, the township, which might be beyond spiritual salvation, has a casino where a church might have been put up as a last defense against damnation.
And where there is a casino in the desert, an Elvis impersonator is never far behind.
While most would-be Elvises play The King during his rockabilly years or “fat period,” Mike Lemay has come as post-apocalyptic Presley, pimping his sequined jumpsuit with nuclear scorches and a charred scarf.
The 34-year-old Web developer from Los Angeles has been giving the costume more touches of grunge every year since his first Wastelands, when he embarrassed himself by turning up in pristine white.
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