Book Passage in Corte Madera was packed last Saturday night with standing room only. John Waters was there promoting his latest book Carsick: John Waters Hitchhikes across America. This movie director, actor, writer, and beloved subversive decided at 66 years old to see what it would be like to hitch his way from Baltimore to San Francisco.
Just about everyone who knew him thought it was a bad idea, but he had the time because he was “between movies”—an expression that he explains is what you call it when you can’t get anyone to fund your current film project—and he admitted it may have been his version of a mid-life crisis.
So he packed a small bag, made a sign, and hit the road. His assistant insisted that he take some good socks in case of bad weather and got a pair for him at a store he referred to as “Ray,” which we finally figured out was REI. (My guess is that John is not the outdoorsy type.)
He had pretty good luck getting rides and people were nice to him. Among those who picked him up were a minister’s wife, a rock band, and an elected official. Some took him a few miles, and one took him all the way across Kansas. About a third of the people who picked him up knew who he was, but many hadn’t heard of him or didn’t believe that he was really the director of Hairspray and Pink Flamingoes. Having worked with Johnny Depp, he was sure someone would ask him what the movie star was like, but nobody did. He said that most of them wanted to talk, and he was happy to listen.
He did get caught in the rain and recommends ponchos over umbrellas. (It’s hard to hold an umbrella and a sign at the same time.) And he once spent ten hours riding on a glove compartment in between two seats. But he made it to San Francisco in 21 rides in nine days. Shortly after he arrived, he had to fly back to the East Coast for a fashion event. He commented that he was comfortable both hitchhiking and flying in private jets, but what he couldn’t stand was coach.
His book is an interesting mix of fiction and nonfiction. He begins with tales of what he imagines would be the best and worst hitchhiking experiences before he recounts his actual adventures on the road.
I was lucky to be third in line to get my book signed, so I saw the staff preparing the signing area. They made sure he had two permanent markers, which is standard issue at these readings. But when he saw them, he said he needed a ballpoint pen, so an employee went foraging for one. Just a tiny bit of trivia.
It occurred to me that John was taking a journey similar to Dan Hoyle’s—they both travelled long distances collecting stories. Of course John hitched across America primarily to gather material for a book (and probably so he could say he’d done it!), while Dan studied people to recreate on stage. But they both heard a lot of stories, and now they’re sharing them with us.