Arts & Entertainment
4 min

The hitchhiker’s guide to weird America

On the road with John Waters in his new book, Carsick

John Waters’s new book, Carsick, a mix of fiction and reality, is a wacky journey across the US in multiple cars. Credit: -

Like Blanche DuBois before him, John Waters must depend on the kindness of strangers in his latest book, Carsick, which chronicles the infamous film director’s imagined and real-life hitchhiking adventures from his hometown of Baltimore to his apartment in San Francisco. Sissydude chatted with Waters about his quirky creation.

Sissydude: Why did you choose the three-part route [the “Good Ride”/“Bad Ride” novellas and the factual “Real Ride”] for Carsick?

John Waters: Well, I’ve always written fiction, but never without it being a movie script. In a way I wanted to let my imagination run wild . . . of what could be the best possible drama and adventures I could have and the worst horrible things that could happen. And then just do it. The only thing you can never imagine is the tedium of waiting for a ride. So, I did write the “Good Ride”/“Bad Ride” parts of the book before I left. I always knew I wanted to do this. I wanted the best, the worst and the truth. What’s the difference? How close do they come? I always think the best and the worst about everything and then do it for real. That’s kind of how I live my life.

I can’t imagine the tedium of waiting for a ride.

Waiting was tedious. When you’re standing there and it’s day two and no one picks you up for so long you begin to think, “How long is this going to take?” And then you go in your motel room that night and look at your map and realize, “Oh my god, it’s day three. Look at this map; look how much further I have to go.”

Some of my favourite stories in the book are in “Good Ride.” I especially love the Edith Massey story [Massey appeared in many of Waters’s films]. I really want to visit that crazy fictional store of hers. Was it a cathartic thing for you to write?

I dream of Edith a lot. I keep having a recurring dream of her. And I don’t usually have recurring dreams. That’s where that came from. I kept dreaming that I’d run into her and that she was alive. If she were alive and hiding out day to day, what would she be doing? I think her story is very, very believable.

I also love the Lucas story. I totally have trucker/demolition-derby-dude action fantasies.

I covered a demolition derby once, like 25 years ago. I was in a car but not giving a handjob.

I love this line: “I sneak a look over and consider a blowjob, but even I know giving head in the middle of a demolition derby is risky . . . and besides, I don’t know Lucas that well yet.”

I wanted the sex to be funny.

And the dark stories — I found them hard to read. I was kind of uncomfortable with them. The true-crimes stuff, the public poo problems.

Diarrhea, that is the worst fear. That would be terrible. I think the most disgusting chapter is the animal rescue one. She’s got a tapeworm coming out of her mouth. The cats are puking. True hell.

So what was it like killing yourself?

Well, it was fun. Victims of serial killers, they’re mostly young girls. And there was a gay one who killed gay guys — not [Jeffrey] Dahmer. I forget his name. So I thought, Is there a serial killer that I would be his type? So that’s why I made up one who only kills cult film directors.

On your real rides, you seemed to be pleasantly surprised by all the generous strangers who picked you up.

It was touching to me.

One thing that was really weird and quite lovely — “The Corvette Kid.” He followed you and picked you up twice!

He’s a kid. He knew it was an adventure. It was the beginning of the summer. Why not! What kid wouldn’t do that? A road trip was a completely new experience. You know, I think he just wanted someone new to talk to — a new friend. I liked him and it was funny. We were an odd couple. 

Are you still friends? Do you still talk or hang out?

He stayed for about three days at my place after I got back to San Francisco. We went out to eat. We did everything. He came to my Christmas party. Yeah, I’ve seen him a couple of times.

Have you kept in touch with anyone else?

The Kansas City couple came to my Baltimore society party with their gay son; the ex-Marine woman had a baby recently and named it partly after me; the preacher’s wife, she met my mother — the ones I stayed in the car the longest. I haven’t heard from the Frackers.

I loved all the females in your life helping you out — your sisters and your assistants.

I came to them whining all the time, telling them I might have to drink my own urine. I know they were thinking, “We told you not to do it, stupid.” They were very relieved when it was over.

Were you relieved when it was over, or did you kind of want to go back?

No. But when I finally got home to San Francisco and thought about taking a bus and a few times took a cab, I thought, “You bourgeois pig.” You know, what are you doing in a cab, you sissy? So, it was weird to not hitchhike. I had a driver to the airport, first-class ticket and then a driver to come to New York and receive the [Council of Fashion Designers of America] Fashion Awards for Johnny Depp and Rei Kawakubo. So I got back to the way I would prefer to travel.

Did you learn anything from this experience at all?

I learned that, 66 years old — still dare yourself to do something, take an adventure. Bring your street cred up. I learned what I always believed: that people will try to help you. The kinds of people that pick up hitchhikers are the kind of people I like. They take chances. They want to meet new people. They like to improvise. They like to hear stories and they like to tell stories.