John Waters’ Hitchhiking Tips, Tricks, And Pointers

6.3.2014

By Alex Panisch

The legendary film director tells us how to hitch a ride

After years and years of urban legends, slasher flicks, and sensationalized local news stories, many of us wouldn’t dream of getting into a stranger’s car for a ride. Hitchhiking, we think, is a surefire way to end up in six different garbage bags. Au Contraire says film legend John Waters. The Pink Flamingos director has been hitching rides since he was a kid and does it still to this day. His latest book, Carsick, chronicles his journey hitching rides from Baltimore to San Francisco. When I spoke with John, he gave me some pointers: 

1. It’s kind of a date. “The number one rule of hitchhiking,” says Waters, “is to keep talking to the people who pick you up and, in a weird way, to entertain them. They like confiding in someone. It’s always a little bit of a date, no matter if it’s gay or straight. It’s because you’re in a small, small space for a long period, with a complete stranger.”

2. Know who you’re talking to. “If a nun picks me up, I am certainly not going to talk about rimming. It just depends; you’ve got to gear your talk to who picks you up. And you don’t want to ever go too far, you have to test their limits.”  

3. Even if they pick you up, they may still be suspicious. “A woman picked me up in the beginning, she was lovely. But she kept her sister on speakerphone with her the whole time – I don’t blame her! And then she said to me ‘Are you gay?’ and I go ‘yeah’ and she says ‘Oh good!’ And I thought ‘Why would she say good?!’ That doesn’t mean that I couldn’t be a rapist.”

4. There’s a type of person who picks up a hitcher. “People that have recovered form something. People that like people. People who want an adventure themselves. People that are inclusive, that are noisy, that are excited that they’ve not playing by the rules. And sometimes, people that just want to help people, a lot of people though I was a homeless man.”

5. Making a sign is key. “I learned that some signs work and some don’t. What didn’t work was humor. People laughed if they didn’t stop. What works is a sign that’s direct but not too far away. Not 2,000 miles, not 3,000 miles – 1,000 miles? Maybe. Not too far, cause people just laugh. They think ‘Oh, sure.’ You might as well have a sign that says ‘Cuba’ if you are hitchhiking to San Francisco and you are from Maryland.”

6. Know a good ride. “They should be going at least 500 miles and past the city or if not before the city, because then you get local [ride]. They like to talk, but they don’t just talk about themselves, they want to hear what you have to say.”

7. Keep your credit cards on you. “I almost spent the night in the woods, one night. So, yeah, it was – I didn’t have a backup. I mean, I did – I had money and I had a credit card. In the woods, I could’ve hired a helicopter. But I didn’t do that.”

8. Wear sunscreen and cover the parts you wouldn’t think to. “I was standing there for 10 hours and the wind in Kansas was ripping my sign – my knuckles were almost bleeding from the sun – because it was the only place I didn’t put sun block on and when you hold a sign your knuckles get burned.”

9. Always offer to pitch-in for gas. “Most people fought me to pay for it, but the people that really needed it finally said okay. Some wouldn’t take it, but I offered. But they never asked. And they were shocked when I offered."

10. Everyone should hitchhike. “It’ll restore your faith in humanity.” 

Carsick is out today on Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Tags: Art & Books
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