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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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  • it_disqus

    Yes! “White trash” and the synonym “redneck” are just as insulting at the “N” word.

    • Steev

      Nope (disagree).
      Both describe behavior& attitude, not race.
      Find both 2B appropriate to sum up louts, kneejerks, and bigots.
      Most are nature-abusing and drive like Huns. OK?

      • it_disqus

        Wow. “Both describe behavior& attitude, not race.” White trash doesn’t involve race? “White” trash? Redneck is derived from the poor whites who had to work the fields and thus were red on the back of their necks. “Find both 2B appropriate to sum up louts, kneejerks, and bigots” So you can prejudge people and define them? I won’t even bother with the last comment. You and the ones who gave you a thumbs up are racist.

        • Steev

          a well-tuned, but irrelevant ‘rant’.
          this is Y Rush and Co. are popular, they arm all the naysayers with the perfect squelch. Turn the teacup on it’s head….EXXXCuuuuse meeee

    • Steev

      regret that I rose to your bait.
      Y not just use ‘yahoos’, “po’ folk”, hillbillys’ etc.?
      && Y are U bringing up this “red herring” here?
      This is so dwarfed by the slavery/reparations debate.
      Just got back from diverse, green, beautiful Plumas Co., CA where I saw tossed tires, motorcycle ditches in the creek, meth lab toss-offs.

    • Steev

      to neonazi’s

  • South Dakota farmgrrl

    I love John Waters. Back in the 1980s, my boss back would close down the office when he got a letter from John – and promptly call all his friends, reading the letter verbatim. Slow work days were spent watching his movies. Oh, how I miss those days!

    • S David H de Lorge

      Dear farmgrrl, I missed the button. Please see my reply to you in comment above.

  • S David H de Lorge

    Now that’s the South Dakota I remember…. I dream of!

    • TinaKumley

      As a South Dakotan, I want to stress we have wide open distances between places.I saw a hitchhiker going west as I drove to a nearby town east. I had to return home and then go back to the nearby town later in the day. The hitchhiker was still making his way toward the west in the direction of my town. I got one of my new bottles of water and set it with a five dollar bill under it for him to get a little ways down the road and felt he would make it since he was two miles away or so from my town. Did not see a water bottle or him carrying anything that day. It was a twenty so mile walk and I knew he was likely to be in trouble. If you are going to hitchhike, carry water.

      • S David H de Lorge

        Absolutely. It was very kind of you. And, for those who don’t know, simply well informed, prudent, and smart.

  • http://www.harvard.com Harvard Book Store

    Thank you, Robin Young, for joining us and John Waters last week! Those interested can find signed copies of CARSICK in our store or online here: http://www.harvard.com/book/carsick_john_waters_hitchhikes_across_america_signed/

  • Steev

    While I’m no fan of his movies, John Waters is quite the erudite guest. I lived in Berkeley so I am familiar with his popularity.
    Wondering if he/interviewer are aware that US 50 parallels his journey’s route, and in Sacramento a large (official) green sign states “Ocean City, MD 2980 miles” (or so). How about a return trip?This route passes through the “loneliest road in America”-Hwy. 50 in central and eastern Nevada.

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