John Waters hitchhikes America in 'Carsick'

John Waters, author of "Carsick: John Waters Hitchhikes John Waters, author of "Carsick: John Waters Hitchhikes Across America" (FSG, June 2014). Photo Credit: Greg Gorman

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REVIEW

CARSICK: John Waters Hitchhikes Across America, by John Waters. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 322 pp., $26.

You may have heard something about 68-year-old Baltimore film director John Waters ("Pink Flamingos," "Hairspray") hitchhiking across the country in 2012. The tweets and Facebook posts of those who picked him up went viral, and by the time he reached San Francisco, the trip had been covered by The New York Times.

The prologue to "Carsick" explains the inspiration for Waters' "hobo-homo journey" -- "Hasn't writing and directing fifteen movies and penning six books made me feel complete?" he wonders. "Go ahead, John," he urges himself after due consideration, "jump off the cliff."

Before he ever left the house, he'd written two-thirds of the book: novellas titled "The Best That Could Happen" and "The Worst That Could Happen." Both are crazy, nasty and pornographic, with moments of true hilarity -- just like a John Waters movie.

The Best trips include visits to a demolition derby, a depraved carnival, poppers and Jujyfruits, sex with aliens and a ride from Connie Francis.

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The Worst trip -- well, it wasn't easy to distinguish between the Best and the Worst, as Waters' typist said to him.

Bad Ride Number Ten is from a vigilante animal rescuer named Bristol. "A dead dog is in the backseat, and the rest of the vehicle is loaded with cages filled with snarling canines in all states of ill health." I mention this because it is one of the few passages that might be quoted in a family newspaper.

But here's the thing -- the third part of the book, the memoir he wrote when he got home from the actual trip, is so endearing that you should buy the book, anyway. The John Waters we meet here is sweet, funny, fastidious, a little old and frail but also very brave and determined. He is delighted to meet his many fans, is just as nice to people who don't recognize him and turns out to be sort of a prude.

One of his first rides is a young man from Maryland who stays in touch and ends up driving out West to make sure the end of John's trip goes more smoothly. When The Kid tells John he's given his cell number to a trio of trashy people "who appear to have stepped straight out of one of my screenplays," Waters is horrified. "God knows what they have in mind....'Come on, Kid, we're leaving.'"

Probably the third part of "Carsick'' couldn't have been published as a book on its own, but it turns out to be worth the price of admission.

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