I met Johnny Skunt in September 2017 at the Wasteland Weekend post-apocalyptic festival, with photographer Myles Pritchard.
For Johnny Skunt, this isn’t a costume, and this isn’t some persona he comes up with once a year, even if his doctor still calls him Johnny Amason. “Johnny Skunt is just me,” he says. “It seemed appropriate.”
Every year, he drives Grievance—his artfully battered Ford Ranchero truck, which is covered in spikes, filled with gas masks and has a missile on the back—from Albuquerque, New Mexico, to the Californian desert for the Wasteland Weekend post-apocalyptic festival. It is, he says, “like coming home. I’ll come here every year for as long as I physically can.”
I’d gone to Wasteland Weekend, which is primarily inspired by the Mad Max movies, expecting to find people who dress up for the occasion, and put on a new persona for five days of role-play. Instead, I found lots of people like Johnny Skunt.
Back home, he still wears desert goggles, battered leather and his chunky nose ring. Grievance—which he says has taken six months of painstaking work, spread over years—is his day-to-day ride. “Trust me, there are weirder things than me in that town,” he says of Albuquerque. “And they have bigger problems than a bomb in the back of a truck.”
Trust me, there are weirder things than me in Albuquerque. And they have bigger problems than a bomb in the back of a truck.
Johnny—like many people we meet at Wasteland Weekend—works in the entertainment industry. He provides vehicles, props and costumes for movies and TV shows, from the Dusk Til Dawn series to Midnight, Texas and Breaking Bad.
He comes to Wasteland Weekend with a 30-strong tribe called the Nuke Wave Cannibals, made up of misfits from across America, but mainly New Mexico. The tribe exists outside of the festival, though this is the highlight of the year. As per their Facebook page, the group’s stated aim is “To bring the roaming hordes of desert dwellers closer to the promise of a nuclear utopia.”
But not all of the Nuke Wave Cannibals—most of whom are relaxing and larking around on the car—are quite like Johnny. Take Jessica and Daniel, aka Dammit Darryl and Marita, who met at Wasteland Weekend in 2013, and recently got married.
Out here, they’re badass outlaw bikers, on a battered ride covered with bullets. But back home in Albuquerque, they return to their lives as Jessica and Daniel. She works in a brewery, and he’s a paramedic, a job in which he has to cover up the tats. “It’s very mom and pop,” says Daniel, who has a child back home. “My colleagues would be horrified if they knew I came to the desert and did this.”
Both of them first came to Wasteland Weekend as relative outsiders, before meeting each other, and being scooped up by the Nuke Wave Cannibals. “We’ve never had a problem with people being inviting,” says Jessica. “It’s really inclusive, and there’s an ethos out here that’s all about giving.”
In his first year, Daniel made friends by turning his bike into a delivery vehicle. “It was a good conversation starter,” he recalls. “One time, this guy gave me a letter and said: Dude, this is super important. It was for a girl called Pineapple, in the Death Caps tribe, and for a long time we couldn’t find her. Eventually someone got hold of her, and it turned out the letter was a proposal. She said yes, luckily.”
As we leave Jessica and Daniel to share a cigarette, lit with a solar-powered lighter (this is the post-apocalypse, remember), Johnny Skunt offers us a beer. We don’t have anything in return—not even any caps, the bottle tops that are the currency of choice in these parts.
“I insist,” he says, passing us a few cold cans—and proving once again that the post-apocalypse is far friendlier than it first appears.