I'm a big fan of John Waters, both his films and his books. I love his quirky sense of humor and bizarre characters. His stories are completely outrageous.
As much as I enjoy his fiction, I was even more intrigued by the premise for his latest book, Carsick: John Waters Hitchhikes Across America. In this new mostly non-fiction book, Waters' documents his journey as he hitchhikes from his home in Baltimore to his home in Maryland. Naturally, I wondered if life would imitate his art and if he would be picked up by anyone resembling one of his crazy characters.
Carsick: John Waters Hitchhikes Across America, isn't strictly non-fiction. In the prologue Waters mentions John Steinbeck's Travels with Charley: In Search of America, which was published in the 60's and passed off as non-fiction. However, it turned out that Steinbeck had fabricated his entire journey. Waters' does actually get out there and hitchhike, but the first half of the book is dedicated to his imaginary journey that he wrote prior to setting off on the real adventure.
The imaginary journey is ambitious. It's broken up into two sections, first the imaginary best-case-scenario trip and second, his imagined trip from hell. The characters in both situations are similar, like something ripped from his stories. Since his creations are such colorful characters, I expected Waters' version of hell to be rides with dull people. What could be worse than boring? No, the bad rides are hyper versions of the craziest people from his imagination. It's as if Waters is being tortured by his own creations. It's Waters at his most horrific.
Although extremely creative and often humorous, the fictitious journey section failed to completely hold my interest. I read several other books, while I was trying to get through the first half of this book. I just couldn't read it in large chunks. However, once I made it to the real journey, I read it straight through. The non-fiction stole the show.
What made the non-fiction so compelling was Waters venerability. Sure, he brought credit cards and a phone. If he had ever been in real trouble, he had the means to get out of it. He made this clear. He wasn't going to be completely nuts in the name of getting a story. However, he still had fears and discomforts. He spent a lot of time out in the elements and although all of the drivers were harmless, a few had barely concealed checkered pasts. Occasionally he was recognized by a fan, but often people had no idea who they were picking up and sometimes didn't believe that he was a famous filmmaker. He came close, but he never bailed on the project.
What really touched me about his travels, was the overriding theme of kindness and decent people that he met on the road. More than once, people tried to give him money, because they thought the he was in need. One woman even refused to take no for an answer and he had to find a way to pay-it-forward.
This creative endeavor was very much in line with the quality about Waters work that endears me to him. The characters that he creates, good/bad, no matter how outlandish have this quality of living their authentic selves in a out and proud way. I felt like Waters highlighted the people that picked him up in a similar fashion. For the most part, no one that was too much of a "Character" picked him up...there was a ministers wife, a mayor, a police officer...fairly ordinary people that would not find their way into a Waters movie. However, with each chapter he gave these people their due and I liked the way that Waters interacted with them, even though some of them clearly had disparate social and political ideals. Waters connected with each person in a meaningful way.
I'd pick up Waters if I saw him on the side of the road and like many of his friends, I was relieved when he made it safely to his destination!
Just for fun, here are a couple of pictures tom when I met Waters in 2011 at UCLA. He signed my copy of Role Models.