In his new book Carsick: John Waters Hitchhikes Across America (Farrar, Straus and Giroux), John Waters details his experience hitchhiking from Baltimore to San Francisco while offering up delirious, wildly exaggerated best and worst case scenarios of what could have happened.

Here we discuss his career in writing and film, gay bookstores, a porno Walmart, and some of the people he met along his journey, including a 20-year-old guy dubbed “The Corvette Kid.”

Do you feel like you’re underrated as a wordsmith in general?

No! Not at all. I write all my movies, my spoken word shows, I’ve written everything I ever done. I’ve been writing for fifty years. So no, I think I’ve been very fairly received.

How does this book differ from your previous ones?

Well it’s fiction for the first time, two-thirds of it are fiction. They are fictional tales of me imagining the best rides and the worst rides, which I’ve never done before. All my movies are fiction so in a way I have done fiction but always in a script form. And then the real part was a true adventure, I’ve never done travel writing—which, in a weird way, it is.

I really loved the structuring of the two different scenarios.

I tried to imagine the best and the worst case scenario. My one assistant said, “I couldn’t tell the difference between the best and the worst.” You know, my best might not be hers. Being in a bank robbery with a guy who’s an exhibitionist might not be everybody’s favorite thing. I didn’t have to really do it—I just had to imagine it. Isn’t that what fantasies are? You should never fulfill all your fantasies or you won’t have anything left!

What about the ordering of the sections?

I knew the best should be first, and then crash…down. I could have never written either of those fictional chapters if I had already hitchhiked for real, so the truth had to be last.

But the order of the people that were best and worst? Well, I knew the worst section was going to end with me being murdered, because that is the worst thing that could happen, I guess, and the best, I knew I should fall in love.

Did you journal during the real parts of the book? There’s so many vivid details.

What I did each day as soon as I got out of the car, I took out my little pocket tape recorder and I just said everything I remembered. I didn’t do that in person. I never looked at my phone, or my Blackberry, or my emails or anything when I was in a car, which would be the height of hitchhiking rudeness! Get in the car and running my business, you know? And no one ever plays the radio either, even though I have—in the best and the worst—I imagine a whole playlist of all different, very obscure hitchhiking songs that you can go online and download yourself and pay for. To me, no one ever had the radio on, when people hitchhike they don’t have the radio on. No one listens to the radio together with a hitchhiker.

I was going to ask you about music and specifically your rides—one ride with the singer Connie Francis and another with the band Here We Go Magic.

Well Connie Francis is imagined, of course, fictitiously, and Here We Go Magic was a true band that did pick me up. Two of them were in the audience I had recently at a Barnes and Noble, which was great, because I got to introduce audience members to people that picked me up!

Here We Go Magic picked me up after I had been waiting so long. I felt like they saved my life. It was really fun to be with showbiz people and they kind of tweeted the story. They had every right to, I said, go ahead, and it went viral, I think they were shocked, they were looking at their phones as we were driving along thinking, “Oh my God!” But they were lovely. I even left my glasses in their car and when they went to do their next gig, somebody brought them back to the next city I was in, at night. That’s really beyond the duty of someone picking you up hitchhiking.

I’ve met Connie Francis once in a record store in the East Village, that one, what was it called? That great CD store I really miss that only had showtunes and soundtrack albums, I’m just going blank on the name of it but it’s no longer there. But she was in there. So I am a fan of Connie Francis, I imagined her in a very fictitious kind of situation, but I wish all that had all been true.

In one of the best case scenarios, I particularly loved the” Yetta” chapter where you are picked up by a charming, peculiar older woman who runs a store of half-used, expired household items and pharmaceuticals. 

Yes, that’s the most sentimental. If there’s a sentimental chapter in the book, it’s certainly that.

If I run into somebody that I know I know and I can’t figure out who it is and it’s actually someone that I thought was dead that isn’t. And don’t we all kind of wish that would happen to us with some of our dead friends? I mean, I dream about a few of my dead friends, especially people that were in my movies, and it would just really kind of exciting if that happened, that you ran into somebody and there was a good reason for it and this person is still alive.

That’s true. I was a little afraid about using the word “wistful”—but there’s kind of a wistful feel to the book, especially towards the end with the real section, to me. It was almost like a side I haven’t really seen before from you.

I’m really revealing what it’s like to be a little bit desperate…to be on the road and not knowing what’s going to happen but secretly proud of myself that I actually pulled this off. This stunt, really. I think my street cred will go up. I was 66 years old and I hitchhiked by myself across this country. I guess I have to be in OK physical health, I got through it.

As I get older I feel lucky. I said in the book all my dreams came true years ago, this is all gravy. There’s a lot of people I miss that aren’t here and everything, but [I’m not nostalgic]. I always think the next day is going to be more exciting.  I’m never the kind of person who says, “We had more fun when we were young.” Hackers are having just as much as fun as yippies had.

In the real section, one person who picked you up, the Corvette Kid, is described as a “twenty-year-old sandy-haired Republican town councilman” and is one of the central figures in the book. Describe your bond with him.​

Yeah, he came to my last Christmas party. He stayed three more days in San Francisco, we went out to dinner, we went shopping. I remember he was giving a hometown interview and I heard him in the other in the room say to the interviewee, “Oh you know we’ve just been shopping…” I said, “You know what that sounds like?” And he would just go, “Oh” and just start laughing because it was completely innocent.

But it was a bromance. It wasn’t sexual; it was fun—we just had an adventure together. And I understood that people would raise their eyebrows when I’d check into a hotel—we had separate rooms—with a 20-year-old boy. And swingers tried to pick us up at one place, tried to hook up with us which we really found funny. So it was all an adventure and I totally understand why that kid came back after 48 hours at 80 miles an hour to try to catch up with me, because he really wanted more adventure! It was the beginning of summer. Why not have an adventure?

He didn’t even know who I was. He was anything but a groupie. He had never heard of me. Even when I told him about my movies he had never heard of them. You know, he Googled me, which is not a good thing to do! What comes up are alarming things sometimes, at least to parents and people who don’t really know you.

Have any other drivers reached back out to you?

Some of them, I didn’t even know their names or how to reach them. The ones I spent the most time, we did get to the point where we traded information.

No gay people picked me up, I don’t think. That surprised me. I mean, you never know. But as far as I could see, not one gay person picked me up.

I had a lot of hetero bears pick me up that don’t even know what bears are and they looked like the ideal of what some gay bears want to be! So that was confusing only to me.

Did anyone change perceptions you may have had?

Sure. I wrote one of the worst fictional things I could imagine, which was an insane pet rescuer that’s really out of her mind and scary, and then this Kansas couple who picked me up were pet rescuers and they could not have been more the opposite and nice so I felt bad that I initially created a fictional pet rescuer in such a negative way. But I think that chapter is funny. It’s maybe the most disgusting chapter in the book.

Yes. There’s a lot of bodily fluids in the second act.

Tapeworms. I’ve always feared them. And goiters, that’s another chapter.

You mentioned some American staples you went to for the first time, like Walmart.

Yeah, I’d never been to Walmart. My favorite, though, was the arch in St. Louis. It is beautiful… I think it is the best public monument in the country.

Walmart….I had never been in one and my sister used to give me so much grief about it, “You are such a snob that you won’t go in there.” Well I’m not really a snob because I go to way lower places than Walmart, believe me. But I eventually went there because I lost my scissors to trim my mustache, so really my identity was fading away as my mustache got bushy and looked like the Baltimore weatherman.

Oh no.

John Waters

John Waters

So I went in a Walmart and my first thought was how big it was. The place was huge! There’s supermarkets in there. But I want someone to wait on me. I shop for one person. I’m not the right customer for Walmart. You go there to shop in bulk and stuff. I don’t care if it costs a little bit more to get one little portion because I don’t waste anything. And I could never find one person that worked there to ever ask anything. But it was at a military base so it was filled with soldiers so it was the porno Walmart. It felt like a Bobby Garcia film, who I wrote about in Role Models, the Marine porn guy, I felt like I was on the set of one of his movies.

So it was an especially good Walmart.

It was! There were really cute soldiers. But none of them would really make eye contact with me.

I have a friend who wanted to ask if you have any tips on how not to be a boring person.

How not to be a boring person? Well, read all the time! Read every newspaper, know what’s going on. I’ve always had little patience for people who have no idea what’s going on in the world. I’d say read five newspapers a day and you’re never boring.

Actually, I used to work at Oscar Wilde Bookshop and I remember you coming in.

You know, the last time I went in there was right before it closed and I should have known it was closing because the only customers was myself and Edward Albee and I didn’t buy anything and I felt terrible. No wonder it closed! But I loved that bookshop. Matter of fact the bookmark I use is still the Oscar Wilde Bookshop bookmark. I loved it in there. I miss that bookshop. But you know technically, I guess that’s progress. Eventually there will be no gay bookshops and there will be no gay sections. I don’t want Carsick back in the gay section near True Crime by the lavatory, I want it up front with the non-fiction bestsellers! So I don’t get why there’s a gay section. It’s like having a black section. Well I guess they have them, too. But I find that weirdly insulting.

What about the film industry? Where are you at with that now?

I think I’m certainly not at the top of it (laughs). Maybe I’m between pictures forever. But that’s OK even if that is true. I’ve made sixteen movies; they’re readily available; they’re all over the world. I have spoken. [laughs] But at the same time I had a meeting about a TV show in LA last week, I’ve had meetings about Fruitcake, the movie I want to make, so who knows? Anything could happen, but I always have to have other ways to tell stories so I write books.

In a way, I thought this book was almost like experiencing one of your movies.

It was like a movie. The best and worst chapters are very much like my older movies I think.

So it’s kind of like four things in one, it is three books and a movie…

Three books and a movie, yeah, and a reality show!

 

Photo credit: Greg Gorman


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  • Lou Kief

5 Responses to “John Waters : On Being Boring, Porno Walmarts, and Hitchhiking Across America”

  1. […] Literary features an interview with John Waters, who has a new book out now. The book is Carsick: John Waters Hitchhikes Across […]


  2. seeley 20 June 2014 at 5:16 PM #

    hurrah–i needed this laugh!
    also, i worked at cody’s books in berkeley, recall in 2000 him suddenly whisking in to gracefully help himself to a piece of the free gift wrap paper we had to wrap purchases with…he didn’t buy at the store that day, just wanted nice paper to wrap elsewhere, but i gave it to him, b/c he was smooth and john waters! such are our moments of proximity to fame…


  3. […] But until I get a chance to do so, I am enjoying the HELL out of the interviews he is giving to promote it such as this one with Lambda Literary. […]


  4. Steven Kerry 22 June 2014 at 2:26 PM #

    John is right about bookstores that still have a “GLBTQ section” (I swear there are more caps every year, right?). The store I go to is wonderful, but every time I go it seems that this section is shrinking, the literary last throes. I periodically check on my own work which they are nice enough to stock. Once it was in the general fiction section; another time it was in the GLBTQ section but they had the three parts (it’s a trilogy) on different shelves so I did a little discrete re-arranging. Unless I am imagining it, there are authors that keep rearranging the display of their books for maximum visibility; it’s an odd little insect-like competition for shelf space, lol. On my last visit they had a copy next to a compilation called Butt Magazine with a lovely rump on the cover. I thought that was most considerate of them. Thanks for an entertaining interview; perfect Sunday morning reading!


  5. […] Nuevo libro de John Waters […]



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