Carsick, this summer while he was book touring and stopped in D.C. for a conversation with Washington Post reviewer Louis Bayard at the Sixth and I Synagogue. He wore fire engine red pants and a black jacket. (Sometimes, he's worth seeing just for his fashion sense.)
Carsick recounts his adventure hitchhiking from his home in Baltimore, Maryland, to his timeshare apartment in San Francisco, California. Before telling readers what really happened on his trip, he offers two novellas that imagine the best- and worst-case scenarios. Each chapter is new ride. Only John Waters, a 63-year-old cult film director, writer, actor, and performer – who can easily afford faster, safer ways to travel – would consider making this trip in real life. The rest of us conventional types wondered Louis Bayard's very first question: What were you thinking, hitchhiking on your own these days? Noting that his "criminal friends" were the ones who were most against his idea and that made him nervous, he responds, "It's dangerous. But so is driving, and so is staying home. That's very dangerous. Nothing will ever happen to you again in your life!"
John Waters always says interesting things like this, statements that make me think and see things differently. I've been a fan since seeing Hairspray in the '80s and, of course, since he cast Johnny Depp in 1990's Cry-Baby, happy to help steer his film career in the right direction. (You can find my Johnny Kitties tribute to that movie here.) I met him once before at a book signing for his previous (fantastic) book, Role Models. When I met him this time, I told him how much I liked that book and that I was excited to read this one. He thanked me twice for both compliments. He's nice too! Can I consider us friends now?
Carsick is an entertaining, funny, quick read. The novellas offer a glimpse into John Waters's warped, wonderful imagination and introduce readers to all those people the rest of us are afraid to approach. (I always learn new things from John Waters, who in his nonjudgmental way of life, flirts with the fringe of society.) In the best-case scenario, he receives $5 million to finance his next film, experiences magic from outer space, runs into a long-lost friend, meets one of his movie-star idols, and falls in love by the time he reaches San Francisco. On his worst rides, he encounters a drunk driver, torturers, kidnappers, overzealous fans, and death. The pleasant surprise of the real rides is that everyone who picks him up is content and kind.
I finished this book feeling good about the world and the people in it, though I agree with John Waters's personal assistant, who acknowledges how his recognizable face helped move him across the country. Upon his arrival in San Francisco, she said, "if it were my unknown ass, I'd still be [hitchhiking] in West Virginia waiting for a ride." So, you may decide against trying this kind of road trip yourself and, instead, read this book to imagine what would happen if you ever dared it. With John Waters as your guide (complete with a 30-song playlist provided on the last page), I think you're safe.
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