Read Carsick: John Waters Hitchhikes Across America Online
Authors: John Waters
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TO MY SISTERS, KATHY AND TRISH,
AND IN MEMORY OF MY BROTHER, STEVE
GOOD RIDE NUMBER FOUR: OFFICER LADDIE
GOOD RIDE NUMBER SIX: CRAWFORD
GOOD RIDE NUMBER SEVEN: READY WHIP
GOOD RIDE NUMBER EIGHT: BUSTER
GOOD RIDE NUMBER NINE: BERNICE
GOOD RIDE NUMBER ELEVEN: SPACE CADET
GOOD RIDE NUMBER TWELVE: A STAR
GOOD RIDE NUMBER THIRTEEN: DELMONT
BAD RIDE NUMBER SEVEN: BUSTED IN KANSAS
BAD RIDE NUMBER EIGHT: BLOSSOM
BAD RIDE NUMBER NINE: CAPTAIN JACK
BAD RIDE NUMBER ELEVEN: HOGWASH
BAD RIDE NUMBER TWELVE: WARREN AND TARANTULA
BAD RIDE NUMBER THIRTEEN: RANDY PACKARD
REAL RIDE NUMBER ONE: DAY CARE
REAL RIDE NUMBER TWO: MINISTER’S WIFE
REAL RIDE NUMBER THREE: GLEN THE FARMER
REAL RIDE NUMBER FIVE: THE CORVETTE KID
REAL RIDE NUMBER SEVEN: MALE NURSE
REAL RIDE NUMBER EIGHT: COAL MINER
REAL RIDE NUMBER NINE: HERE WE GO MAGIC
REAL RIDE NUMBER ELEVEN: VIETNAM VET
REAL RIDE NUMBER TWELVE: TRUCKER
REAL RIDE NUMBER THIRTEEN: RENEGADE BUILDERS
REAL RIDE NUMBER FOURTEEN: MAYOR
REAL RIDE NUMBER FIFTEEN: KITTY AND JUPITER
REAL RIDE NUMBER SIXTEEN: WALMART GUY
REAL RIDE NUMBER SEVENTEEN: KANSAS COUPLE
REAL RIDE NUMBER EIGHTEEN: CORVETTE KID AGAIN
REAL RIDE NUMBER NINETEEN: RESTAURANT OWNER AND WIFE
REAL RIDE NUMBER TWENTY: RELUCTANT HEIR
REAL RIDE NUMBER TWENTY-ONE: CRAIGSLIST PAUL
PROLOGUE: 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
comfortable 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.
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.
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
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
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
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?
I am afraid just the way the
Black Like Me
man was. But of different things. Like bad drivers. I’m amazed every person driving their car isn’t killed every day. Riding along at high speeds in lanes just a few feet from each other. Texting, talking on the phone behind the wheel. Or just plain driving while stupid! Nobody is really a safe driver. I worry my own involuntary backseat driving will cause problems for anyone who picks me up. Will cries of “Slow down!” or slamming imaginary brakes from the passenger side cause bad will with my host drivers? I’m never in the front seat of a car if I’m not behind the wheel except when I take taxis in Australia, because I read the drivers there think you’re snooty if you get in the back. Where I live in Baltimore, if you got in the front of the cab, they’d think you were robbing them and probably shoot you.
I’ve had a good history with hitchhiking. It’s hard to imagine today, but in the early sixties my parents expected me to hitchhike home every day from high school. All the kids did. The roads were filled with preppy teenage boys, lacrosse sticks over their shoulders and their thumbs out. I’m sure just as many serial killers were behind the wheel then as now, but you never heard about them. Nobody warned us of the dangers of hitchhiking. Evil definitely did
seem to be lurking.
Of course perverts were out there, and I hitchhiked every day with a hard-on hoping one would pick me up and give me a blow job. Many did. On this trip, I guess I’ll still technically be horny while hitchhiking, but I may be carrying a Viagra in my pocket instead of an erection. Is all hitchhiking gay? Aren’t truck stops and Levi’s-clad tough-guy hitchhikers staples of porn movies? My planned route is I-70 West, and if I’m lucky enough to get a ride going that way, I’ll be able to find out if there really is such a place as the Kansas City Trucking Company—or was that just the title of a fictitious garage in that classic gay film directed by Joe Gage? I saw the real El Paso Wrecking Corp. on my drive from El Paso to Marfa, Texas, and almost drove off the road remembering this sequel. If there really is such a place, maybe I can get dropped off there and make friends.