John Waters Gets Carsick, Hitchhikes Across America for New Book

John Waters is out to shock again, this time with Carsick, a book chronicling his eight-day hitchhiking trek along Route 70, from Baltimore to San Francisco

Photo by Shauta Marsh

When I was young, I hitchhiked a lot,” says John Waters. “But never that far. I drove cross-country five times. I thought that might be a good book, but what would that be like? So I fantasized about the good, the bad and what I was going to do.”

In a Skype session from his home in Baltimore (Spoiler alert: he doesn’t get kidnapped or killed on his hitchhiking travels), Waters spoke with Frontiers about how he came to write Carsick. He often hitchhikes in Provincetown, and “got into it, even inviting dates to go hitchhiking.” He adds with a laugh, “Those were my training wheels.”

His real experiences, recounted in the book, were “all good,” he says. “It was an optimistic journey. There was not one bad person. They were all kind and helpful. One woman wouldn’t leave until she gave me money. She thought I was a homeless man!

While many people Waters encountered on the road did not recognize the filmmaker behind Pink Flamingos and Hairspray—though some folks, like the band Here We Go Magic, did—Waters was amused that some drivers knew him only from his appearance in the D-grade horror film Seed of Chucky.

Waters says, “The celebrity I have, the only ones who recognize you are the ones you want to.” Still, Waters had several moments where he hoped using his celebrity would help him get a ride.

“As soon as I was out there not getting a ride, I was flashing my mustache,” he admits. “You’ll do anything to get a ride. You’ll get in a car with anybody.”

What irks him, however, are people who treat him poorly but then act nice when they realize who he is. “That pisses me off. If celebrity changes it, I distrust that person.”

Yet Carsick includes an interesting episode where Waters’ own value system collapsed while hitchhiking. The author had an encounter at a rest stop where he met a woman who treated him, he says, “like a beggar and with contempt, and then changed into a groupie.”

He misjudged her, too, noting, “A middle-aged woman with no teeth, doing road service. I thought she was on work release. She was a regular employee. She was the least likely fan.”

The woman ultimately helped Waters get a ride with the “Renegade Builders,” a couple traveling to build housing for frackers. “You do what you have to do to get to the next place,” he says.

Read Frontiers' first look excerpt of Carsick here.  

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