John Waters, the man known for giving us such quirky films as Hairspray, Pink Flamingos, Polyester and others, has done it again with the publication of his fourth book, Carsick: John Waters Hitchhikes Across America.
Armed with his wit, a pencil-thin mustache and a cardboard sign that read, “I’m Not Psycho,” Waters hitchhiked from his hometown in Baltimore to San Francisco, braving lonely highways and risky drivers to celebrate America’s weird, surprising and generous citizenry in his new book.
Waters will be at the Free Library of Philadelphia’s Author Events series on June 13 at 7:30 p.m. to discuss his adventures.
“I decided to write this book because I just love writing. I’m a storyteller, in my books, my films, my standup shows. So this was just the next story I wanted to tell. I wanted to take on an adventure and make my life a little less safe and a little more adventurous.”
And did he get what he bargained for?
“Absolutely,” Waters said. “Before I took off, I had envisioned some dangerous scenarios, but staying home can be dangerous, too. However, in the end, I met some great people and had a wonderful time, although I understand that what was a fun adventure for me might not be for everyone else.”
Waters said the hardest thing he faced in his nine-day adventure was getting a ride.
“I stood on the side of the road once for 10 hours, which was pure torture. No one stopped, and I thought I might have to go back to the motel, if there even was one at the exit I found myself. One night, I even contemplated sleeping in the woods. I thought that would be good for the book but not necessarily for a 66-year-old man, which I was at the time.”
Eventually, Waters did get a ride, as well as every day thereafter. And what he learned was that, “The people who pick you up are generally people who have been through something, they’ve survived something. People who pick up hitchhikers want to talk. They like people and they like giving people a second chance.”
And in being picked up, Waters, now 68, said he learned lots of things he never knew before.
“For instance, I never talked to a coal miner before, and so I found out what it was like to work in a coal mine. I talked to a farmer who told me that hay could spontaneously combust, and how much pigs love M&M’s.”
And there were others, including an indie band on tour, a young Republican in a Corvette, a cop and more, many of whom thought he was a hobo and offered him money.
“Sometimes, when I told them I didn’t need their money and was actually a film director, I’m sure they thought I had delusions of grandeur, but they were all kind and very generous.”
Today, looking back, Waters said that after the 3,000-mile trek, he realizes that, if he had to do it again, he could.
“But there’s no reason to. There’s no sequel to this book. But I do know that if I ever got stuck somewhere, I could always hitchhike.”
With so much going on in his life, Waters said he is never bored.
“I can sit in an airport and just watch all the people. I’m basically a nosy person. When I think of what else I could have been in my life, I think I probably could have been a journalist or a defense lawyer or a psychologist or a priest. Maybe even an evangelist. That’s pretty close to show business anyway, isn’t it?” ••
John Waters will appear on Friday, June 13, at 7:30 p.m. at the Free Library of Philadelphia branch at 1901 Vine St. Tickets are $15, or $7 for students. Call 215-567-4341.