I’m not entirely sure how I first became aware of cult director John Waters. No doubt his uniquely gorgeous face has appeared in front of most people’s eyes at some point, but can you imagine seeing him hitch-hiking at the side of a highway? Could you be sure enough it was really him that you would be tempted to pick him up?
This is the concept of John Waters’ 2014 book, Carsick. Waters, a seasoned hitch-hiker, sets himself the bonkers goal of trying to thumb a series of lifts from Baltimore to San Francisco, a journey which is almost 3000 miles long. And given Waters is in his late sixties, this treacherous and uncertain folly could legitimately see him off (although, the fact that he wrote the book is a pretty big clue as to whether that speculation is accurate).
I was a huge fan of Waters’ previous book, Role Models (which includes the immortal quote: “If you go home with somebody, and they don’t have book, don’t fuck ’em!”), as well as his one-man show, This Filthy World, so I was extremely excited to read Waters’ latest adventure. However, I was surprised to learn that Waters’ account of his mad journey takes up only a small part of this book. The first two sections of Carsick involve Waters speculating the best and worst-case scenarios of the trip, before he embarks on the journey. However, I don’t know how genuine this is. I suspect that the actual journey didn’t give Waters as much material as he expected, so he had to revisit the project and come up with a way of expanding it. I could be wrong, but that’s the impression I got.
I’m more a fan of Waters’ autobiographical work that his creative output, so I found the first two sections a little disappointing. In typical Waters form, it contains a lot of crude, far-fetched, and highly sexual fantasies, which while mildly enjoyable, wear thin pretty quickly. The part that stick out most vividly of the “worst” section, is when he imagines an encounter with an Annie Wilkes-esque fan, who only speaks to Waters in lines of dialogue from his own movies.
Although, there is a very sweet part in the “best” section, where Waters imagines he is picked up by his deceased friend Edith Massey. His love for his lost friend really comes across in the audiobook, as Waters’ voice is rich with emotion at the mere concept of seeing his dear companion one last time.
As predicted, the account of the real journey is the highlight of the book. Although given his previous chapters of speculation, the rides are comparatively “normal”. He strikes up a friendship with a young man he names “The Corvette Kid”; he hitches a ride in the tour bus of a band called Here We Go Magic, creating a media storm; and he spends a lot of time in awful hotels. But all the while, Waters’ unique and wonderful voice makes the reader enjoy the ride. If, like me, you could listen to Waters talk about his life for hours on end, I would skip right to the final section, and maybe come back to the fictional part if you feel so inclined. But there’s no substitute for Waters’ unflinching descriptions of the mundane and miserable.
I loaned this audiobook from Livermore Public Library through the fantastic Overdrive app. I highly recommend that you sign up through your local library.