21st Century Hitchhiking

The moral of Carsick, by John Waters, seems to be this: Real life is neither better nor worse than you imagine – it’s just different.

Carsick is the story of the hitchhiking trip John Waters took from his home in Baltimore to his apartment in San Francisco, along Interstate 70. It’s divided into three sections. The first two are fiction, and the third is non-fiction.

I liked Carsick, with some reservations. I found myself annoyed with both the “best that can happen” and the “worst that can happen” sections, and anxious to get through them – not because of the stories, and not because of the way they were written, but simply because they weren’t why I put the book on hold at the library. I wanted to read about what happened when John Waters hitchhiked from Baltimore to San Francisco. I wasn’t in the mindset to read his fiction.

In the “best that can happen” section, drivers recognize John Waters and reward him with sex, drugs, and movie financing.

In the “worst that can happen” section, drivers recognize John Waters and punish him with kidnapping, assault, and murder.

In the “what really happened” section, there are positives and negatives to the adventure, and people give him rides because there are good people in the world. He meets kind and generous people from all social strata.

The thing that surprised me about the true story – and, in hindsight, I’m not sure why this should surprise me – is that this is a story of hitchhiking in the 21st century. John Waters’ staff gives him a GPS tracker so they can monitor his progress, or lack of it. He carries a Blackberry. He’s in constant contact with his staff, who can arrange rides if he gets stranded. At one point, he emails a previous ride for another ride. This is not Steinbeck or Kerouac.

It takes thirteen “best” rides to get from Baltimore to San Francisco, thirteen “worst” rides, and twenty-one “real” rides. Without the fictional sections, Carsick would be a short book.

Because of his commitment to stay on I-70, and hitchhike at rest stops and on-ramps, this is not a travelogue of unique and unusual roadside attractions. It is a story of stays at Holiday Inn, Days Inn, and La Quinta Inn, and of meals at McDonalds, Taco Bell, and Outback Steakhouse.

And, in true 21st century fashion, when I read about the ride he got from the band Here We Go Magic and he describes the photos taken in their van that the band posted on social media, I, of course, took my first opportunity to search for those photos online. (Yes, it is a true story.)

Once I got into “what really happened”, I enjoyed Carsick a lot.

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