HOW OUT OF YOUR MIND would you go if you picked up John Waters hitchhiking? I WOULD LOSE MY BANANAS. I'd lay some slavish praise at the feet of the cult icon who directed some of the greatest films of all time (Pink Flamingos, Cry-Baby), wrote some of the most entertaining books ever (Shock Value, Role Models), and curated the planet's funniest holiday album (A John Waters Christmas), which, much to my family's chagrin, I sing along to ("Here comes fatty with his sack of shit") at unholy volumes every Christmas. The man is a national treasure. A national treasure you might find with his thumb out on the highway.
A few years ago, when I spoke with Baltimore's pride as a preview for his one-man holiday show at the Aladdin ["A Filthy Little Xmas," Theater, Dec 4, 2013], he mentioned that he'd hitchhiked across the country. And now, Waters' travel memoir, Carsick: John Waters Hitchhikes Across America, chronicles that fateful trip. Does it seem redundant to proclaim it delightful? Well, tough titties, because it is. While it never reaches the charming anecdotal heights of Shock Value, or plumbs the depths of the director's curiosity like Role Models, Carsick is 100 percent classic Waters, full of sparkling wit and disgusting aplomb.
Peppered with funny bits about his fondness for hitchhiking as a young man (with Patty Hearst! "'He made me do it,' Patty deadpanned" to a driver who picked them up), Carsick is surprisingly candid about some of Waters' most deep-seated fears. "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?" These fears also include, but are not limited to: recycling zealots, heroin hags, infected DIY tattoos, unplanned bowel evacuations, and losing his mustache pencil. Waters imagines these terrible obstacles he might face on the open road in hysterical detail before he sets out across the country. They are the worst-case scenarios.
Prior to worst, though, are the best-case situations, and if you're a real flat tire, you'll have a hard time telling the difference between the two. Waters fantasizes about thumbing rides from hipster carnies, a surprisingly alive Edith Massey from Pink Flamingos, Connie Francis in a limo, and a horny demolition derby driver. As they say, one woman's trash is another John Waters' dream ride.
The final third of Carsick is devoted to Waters' actual trip down 70 West, holding up his cardboard signs ("I'm Not Psycho") in the rain and heat, fighting long stretches of boredom and panic when no one will pick him up, and worse, when no one recognizes him when they do. While nothing as dramatic as getting a ride with a popper-popping sheriff happens, John's real-life shenanigans are just as fun to read as the fiction. The whole trip is a mid-life crisis for the then-66-year-old, and he knows it, but we can all benefit from his trash-loving, genteel-mannered adventure. It's exactly what America needs—John Waters in every car on the road, telling colorful stories about Divine, Baltimore, and singing assholes as payment for rides.