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John Waters' 'Carsick': A First Look Excerpt

John Waters is out to shock us all once again, this time with Carsick, his new book chronicling an eight-day hitchhiking trek west along Route 70, from his home in Baltimore to his San Francisco apartment. Frontiers recently spoke with Waters, who recounted his experiences along the journey ("There was not one bad person. They were all kind and helpful.") and his sordid history with hitchhiking from a young age ("Those were my training wheels").

Before you run out to purchase Waters' new work, available today, we share this first look at Carsick: John Waters Hitchhikes Across America.

Photo by Greg Gorman

Going My Way?

I haven’t felt this excited or scared for a long time. Maybe ever. I just signed a book deal resulting from the shortest pitch ever. I, John Waters, will hitchhike alone from the front of my Baltimore house to my co-op apartment in San Francisco and see what happens. Simple, huh?

Am I fucking nuts? Brigid Berlin, Andy Warhol’s most dangerous and glamorous sixties superstar, recently said to me, “How can I be bad at seventy?” She’s got a point. I mean, yes, I’m “between pictures,” as they say in Hollywood, but long ago I realized, as a so-called cult- film director, not only did I need a Plan B that was just as important to me as moviemaking, I needed a Plan C, D, and E. But Plan H, for “hitchhike”? I’m sixty-six years old, for chrissake.

“Why would a man who has worked so hard his whole life to reach the level of comfort you have, put yourself in such an uncomfortable position?” Marianne Boesky, my New York art dealer, asked me when I told her of my “undercover travel adventure,” as the publishers were calling my new book in trade announcements. A onetime actor in my early films who had a recent homeless past was even more alarmed when I hinted that I might do a hitchhiking book. “You’ll never get a ride,” he warned, telling me he had tried hitchhiking himself out of necessity in Florida last year. “No one picks up hitchhikers these days,” he griped with disgust. “No one!”

Even successful hipsters seemed shocked when I confided my plans. “Nice knowing you,” a California photographer buddy muttered with a laugh over dinner when he realized he wouldn’t see me again until after my hobo-homo journey was scheduled to be completed. God, I wondered grandiosely, would I be like JFK on those recently released secret White House tapes, where he was heard planning his first day back from Dallas before anyone knew he’d be assassinated, commenting on what a “tough day” that would be. If he only knew.

What am I trying to prove here? I mean, I’m not bored. An ex-convict woman I recently met claimed her criminal past was not a result of a bad childhood but just because she “wanted an adventure.” I do, too. Kicks. But hasn’t writing and directing fifteen movies and penning six books made me feel complete? My career dreams already came true years ago and what I do now is all gravy. Shouldn’t I be retiring rather than sticking out my thumb? Retiring to what, though? Insanity?

Will I be safe? I know serial killers routinely pick up hitchhikers and murder them, but aren’t the victims, unfortunately, usually young female hookers? Yeah, yeah, I know about Herb Baumeister, “the I-70 Strangler,” who choked at least sixteen gay men to death, but he picked them up in gay bars, not on exit ramps of truck stops. Yet I must admit even truckers I know are fairly nuts. One of them must have raised a few of my neighbors’ eyebrows when he came over to visit and parked his eighteen wheeler right on the small, quiet residential street in front of my house, taking up half the block. He’s funny and sexy and straight but a real freak and likes to horrify me with his stories from the road. How he travels, high on speed, picking up teenage runaways and screwing them in the back of the truck or driving full speed ahead in the night, carrying a bag of someone else’s clean urine prepared for any random drug tests as he masturbates into a sock. He laughs when he admits sometimes illegally dumping huge loads of gravel in the middle of an unsuspecting suburbanite’s lawn if he knows he’s overloaded and a weigh station is coming up that will be open. Suppose someone like this guy picks me up?

Can I really give up the rigid scheduling I’m so used to in real life? Me? The ultimate control freak who plans, weeks ahead, the day I can irresponsibly eat candy? Sure, I’ve got all my interstate routes planned out for the trip and I think I know how many truck stops there are and how far apart they are, but so what? Will I really get out of the car if my ride strays from my route but is still headed west? I keep thinking beggars can be choosers, but I have to open my mind to the possibility I may be wrong. 

We are all bums, a radical left-wing poster boasted on the wall of my bedroom in my parents’ house in the sixties. I remember the rage this particular slogan caused in my father. A bum. The worst thing you could be in his book. Now that he is, sadly, gone, can I finally become one? A vagabond? A freeloader? Is it possible to be a vagrant when you own three homes and rent another place in Provincetown for the summer? Will this book end up as a new spin on that now dated but incredibly influential 1961 nonfiction book Black Like Me, where the white author, John Howard Griffin, hitched and rode buses through the South disguised as a black man to see how it feels to be discriminated against?

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