Eating Up John Waters’ ‘Car Sick’


I have always adored road narratives. From Jack Kerouac’s jazz, grass and angst-infused cross-country trek or Dr. Hunter S. Thompson blazing through Barstow, there is just something so essentially American, nostalgic and honest about setting out in a car or hitchhiking with a bunch of possibly dangerous, drug-addled delinquents. Luckily, we can now add our preeminent filth elder John Waters to that list of road tales, sticking his thumb out on the side of the road for literature in his new book Carsick: John Waters Hitchhikes Across America.

Unsurprisingly, I have been breathlessly anticipating Carsick since I first heard about his hitchhiking adventures in 2012. In fact, Marion and I were desperately trying to leave New York to give him a lift. We even planned our own memoir about our Waters experience: “Finding Waters.”

Sadly, we were forced to resign ourselves to merely waiting for the book and now we’ve got it. As Waters begins Carsick, “I haven’t felt this excited or scared for a long time. Maybe ever” (3). Me neither, John, me neither.

Of course, this being Filthy Dreams, where we unabashedly worship at the alter of Waters, I cannot give Carsick anything other than a dementedly gushing review. Another holy text to add to my collection of Waters’ illuminated filth manuscripts such as Role Models, Shock Value and Crackpot, it’s impossible for me to even feign objectivity. And as fellow fans, I am going about this review assuming you will be obsessively reading Carsick yourselves. Therefore, I’m going to hold back on divulging any lengthy details.

Waters introduces his hitchhiking memoir by asking himself, “What am I trying to prove?” (4). I think we’re all wondering the same thing, John but we’re glad you did. A lifetime enthusiast of hitchhiking and the trash culture surrounding it (he still hitchhikes in Provincetown), Waters describes his early love of hitchhiking, particularly his admiration for the perverts.

As Waters explains, “Of course perverts were out there, and I hitchhiked every day with a hard-on hoping one would pick me up and give me a blow job. Many did. On this trip, I’ll still technically be horny while hitchhiking but I may be carrying a Viagra in my pocket instead of an erection. Is all hitchhiking gay? Aren’t truck stops and Levi’s-clad tough-guy hitchhikers staples of porn movies?” (6).

Running with his perverted fantasies of hitchhiking, Waters divides Carsick into three sections: The Best That Could Happen, The Worst That Could Happen and The Real Thing. The first two sections mark Waters’ reentry into fiction and boy, is it ever a return to form. Both “The Best” and “The Worst” contain some of the most raucously raunchy material I’ve read from Waters since his early films.

Speaking of films, in many respects, these first fictional chapters are very cinematic, vividly detailing his expected absurdly abject experiences. Reading these sections, I couldn’t help but imagine their respective film versions. I picture Johnny Knoxville playing Lucas, the deranged demolition derby driver, and even better, that little shit Justin Bieber resurrecting his film career as Crawford, the helium-huffing, Chipmunk-screeching junkyard singer.

What marks the difference between “The Best” and “The Worst” you ask? Well, not much. Both sections are utterly disturbing and Waters reports that his assistant Susan admitted, “it was hard for her to ‘tell the difference…’” (321). The “Worst” seems to only be distinguished through a preponderance of bodily fluids and medical problems from a goiter to a hastily carved, infected tattoo reading “I AM AN ASSHOLE AND PROUD OF IT.”

Despite the grotesque glee of the first fictional parts of Carsick, the dose of reality in “The Real Thing” is certainly no disappointment. Waters sets out from his home in Baltimore, hitchhiking his way to San Francisco. Naturally being the 21st century, Waters struggled getting rides. I guess “Stranger Danger” does apply to a director who is famous for penning lines like “Kill everyone now! Condone first degree murder! Advocate cannibalism! Eat shit! Filth are my politics! Filth is my life!”  I’m sure his sign reading “I AM NOT PSYCHO” may not have helped either. Isn’t that just what a psycho would say?

Between dingy motel rooms to his first trip to Walmart (welcome to the club, John), Waters’ hitchhiking odyssey was also almost shockingly heart-warming and oddly sentimental, reflecting the kind, open drivers who picked up Waters. Many of them even had no idea who he was.

Perhaps the best part of his real roadtrip was his unexpected bro-mantic relationship with a young Republican he calls Corvette Kid. Reappearing throughout the trip whether via e-mail or in person, Corvette Kid, despite not being a Waters superfan, becomes a close and almost sweetly loyal companion to Waters. Even though I have no idea where Corvette Kid is now, I do enjoy imagining him falling into the Dreamland daze, donning drag and devouring dog shit. Ho hum…a girl can dream.

The road narrative for us believers in trash, Carsick even provides readers with a companion playlist made up of all the songs Waters references in the book. Thankfully some other Waters weirdo made a playlist on Spotify, which we’ve obviously linked for your listening pleasure, dear readers. Why I’ve been listening to the playlist for weeks fantasizing about my own road adventures, whipping myself into an unbalanced frenzy while playing Leon Payne’s “I Am a Lone Wolf.” Just try to listen to it without jumping in your car, flooring the gas and screaming “AHOOOO!”

In fact, that’s just what we’re going to do. After reading Carsick, we have been so worked up into an unhinged, fanatical state that we’re hopping in a car and zooming our way on a road trip in a few weeks. Yes, this review has also turned into an announcement for an upcoming Filthy Dreams series “Filthy Dreams| On Location.” Marion and I, the intrepid co-founders, in a blaze of Waters-obsessed glory and possibly blind stupidity, are going to make our own ill-advised odyssey to the filth mecca of New Orleans.

So tune in and stay tuned…



After publishing my gushingly adoring review for Carsick, the nice people at Macmillan reached out to us (yes, I know, I was shocked too, dear readers. Apparently we have readers that aren’t just facedown in poppers while on their twentieth re-watch of Female Trouble) to provide us with a lovely preview of the Carsick audiobook, narrated by none other than the Prince of Puke, the Baron of Bad Taste, the Sultan of Sleaze and, of course, the Pope of Trash himself, John Waters. So speaking of poppers, here, for your listening pleasure, is the fourth chapter in Waters’ section “The Best That Could Happen”: Officer Laddie, the Liquid Gold-sniffing policeman with an unhinged love of musicals.

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