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Tuesday, June 24, 2014

An Evening With John Waters On Hitchhiking And Middle America

Director John Waters attends the 21st Annual Elton John AIDS Foundation Academy Awards Viewing Party at West Hollywood Park on February 24, 2013 in West Hollywood, California. (Jason Kempin/Getty Images for EJAF)

Film director John Waters has penned a book called “Carsick,” about his cross-country hitchhiking trip. (Jason Kempin/Getty Images for EJAF)

John Waters has never been afraid of taking risks. His films have depicted everything from convicted criminals to coprophagia, and he’s often been in the news for his controversial opinions.

But, though he’d often hitchhiked in his youth, there was one particular risk Waters had never taken: coast-to-coast hitchhiking. So, two years ago, the director of “Hairspray,” “Pink Flamingos” and “Cry-Baby,” then 66, fulfilled the dream — and lived to tell the tale in his new book, “Carsick.”

Waters believes there is something about the people who will stop for hitchhikers that makes them “great people.”

“Most people that have picked up hitchhikers, something has happened to them, they’ve gotten through something, and they want help a fellow man.”

“They want to help people. Most people that have picked up hitchhikers, something has happened to them, they’ve gotten through something, and they want help a fellow man.”

In a wide-ranging conversation with Here & Now’s Robin Young at the Brattle Theater for Harvard Book Store‘s event, Waters discussed the book, which begins with his wildest fantasies of what might go right or wrong, and ends with a quiet appreciation of middle America after his journey.

“I was changed because my whole life I’ve fled the middle. I get along in prison and I get along at Cannes. It’s a shopping center that I’ve got trouble with.”

Traveling through middle America placed the exuberant director squarely in that middle space. The 66-year-old gay director met a cast of characters on his trip including a 20-year-old conservative Republican city councilman who became his travel companion.

“He just was on an adventure, why not? We were such an odd couple.”

Throughout “Carsick” and across Waters’ vast work a steady theme is apparent: welcoming the absurd and embracing the outsider.

“With ‘Hairspray,’ I think I accidentally hit on something– that a fat girl then stood for every kind of outsider in every country of the world,” Water explained. Encouragingly, he’s seen a difference. “Big girls, now, I don’t see any of them that look pitiful. They’re ready to fight, they look great. It’s radically changed.”


  • John Waters, film director and author of “Carsick: John Waters Hitchhikes Across America.”

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