Picking Up John Waters

Screen Shot 2012-05-26 at 2.43.21 AM copyAn advisory from the New York Times:

An advisory to readers who may be driving on this Memorial Day weekend: If, as you travel the nation’s highways, you spot a hitchhiker with a wiry build, a pencil mustache and a mischievous look in his eyes, you may not wish to pick up this person. Unless, of course, you are certain it is the cult filmmaker John Waters, thumbing his way across the country in search of material for a new book.

You probably won't actually run into Waters this weekend; he's apparently completed his trans-national trek and is resting somewhere in SanFran. He was on the road for eight days, and snagged 15 rides.

Rumors that Waters was thumbing first surfaced when Brooklyn rock band Here We Go Magic picked up the ateur on May 16th, somewhere in Ohio. The band reported their bizarre highway discovery to Twitter, and the internet — at least, the parts of the internet where people who dig Pink Flamingoes and Pecker hang out — freaked out. (See the illustration at right, by Floridian artist Joy Schilt, who drew it within 24 hours of Here We Go Magic's first tweetings.)

From the Times:

[Here We Go Magic's] members could not quite believe that they spotted him by an exit ramp.

“Half of us thought that he wasn’t John Waters, because that would be impossible, and half of us thought that he was,” said Michael Bloch, a guitarist for the band. “So we argued about it for one exit, and the only way to resolve it was to just turn around and go back.”

Though Mr. Waters jokingly compared the band to the Manson family, Mr. Bloch said they found him an enjoyable travel companion before dropping him off in Indiana.

“Just giving himself up to the winds is something that he really wants every once in a while,” Mr. Bloch said. “We all found that really inspiring and really eye-opening.”

Waters was hitching to research his upcoming book, tentatively titled Carsick. He says he was picked up by "cops, pot smokers, everybody," and that the experience was generally awesome. Including his two rides with a Republican city councilman from Maryland named Brett Bidle, who was headed to Montana to assist with Tornado relief. Bidle picked up Waters in Maryland, dropped him off in Ohio, presumably got some sleep, and then:

“I drove for 22 straight hours with no sleep, whether that was a smart thing to do or not,” Mr. Bidle said on Friday, speaking by phone from Wichita, Kan. “I was on a mission to find John Waters again.”

Mr. Waters also made arrangements for Mr. Bidle to stay at his apartment in San Francisco, where Mr. Waters arrived on Tuesday after four more hitchhiked rides.

“I thought, you know what, he wanted an adventure, too,” Mr. Waters said of Mr. Bidle. “He’s the first Republican I’d ever vote for.”

Mr. Bidle said of Mr. Waters: “We are polar opposites when it comes to our politics, religious beliefs. But that’s what I loved about the whole trip. It was two people able to agree to disagree and still move on and have a great time. I think that’s what America’s all about.”

Exactly what Waters was looking for on America's highways is unclear, but it seems to have had something to do with shearing himself of celebrity, and seeing the country from beyond the reality warp created by waking up every day as one of the world's five or ten most famous living film pioneers:

“There’s not an airport in the world I’m not recognized in,” [Waters] said. “But who thinks it’s you on the side of the street?”

About a third of the people who picked him up, Mr. Waters said, had no idea who he was and another third were convinced by his explanations (or by a Google search) that he was a personality of some renown.

And all his other benefactors, Mr. Waters admitted, had him made right away. “My mustache got me a third of the rides,” he said. “I had it working.”

(Incidentally, I'm flying to Florida to introduce Waters at Fort Lauderdale's Parker Playhouse when he swings through town with his one-man show, This Filthy World, on July 28th. If you're in SoFla, check it out.)