Thanks a Lot, John Waters: June 6, 2014

I met John Waters in an elevator at the Lawrence Arts Center.  He was visiting as part of the William S. Burrroughs retrospective and had just given a lively and very raunchy talk.  I told him a little bit about the Lawrence OnBoard project and asked him to autograph one of my business cards.  Thanks for the autograph, John Waters.

Waters just published a book, Carsick, about his hitchhiking tour across America.  I haven’t had a chance to read it yet, but I’ve heard several interviews, including one on National Public Radio’s Morning Edition. Even though the hitchhiking was a publicity stunt, Waters was very honest about the drivers who picked him up.  They were friendly, helpful and pretty much normal people.  That’s been my experience all along, backed up by numerous studies, so it’s nice to hear it echoed by a celebrity.  Thanks for affirming human nature, John Waters.

Of course he wouldn’t be John Waters if he didn’t put a kinky spin on the story.  The NPR interviewer asked if he was hoping for a hook-up:

“I was open to the idea. Everyone should be open to the idea of sex when they walk out of their house, I think. You don’t have to ever do it, but it makes life way more interesting if you fantasize and look at people and imagine their sex life and everything. I think that’s healthy. … I’m in that mindset as I walk out of the house every day.”

Unfortunately, I was listening to this interview on my way to test out a new location for Lawrence OnBoard- now Carma Hop.  While I held up my sign, I started thinking “Darn it, I hope nobody else heard that interview.  What if they think I’m looking for some action?  How embarrassing.”  Then, when a man in a panel van stopped and offered a ride, suddenly I felt a new and completely unwarranted level of alarm. “Did he hear that interview?  Is that what he thinks this is all about?”  Yeah, thanks a lot, John Waters.

Fortunately, I’ve had a lot of experience getting in cars with strangers, so I hopped in anyway, and sure enough, the driver was gentlemanly and a good conversationalist.  He pumps over $100 in gas every week into his van and was excited about the idea of sharing rides, either through Roadside Ridesharing, or with the Carma Carpool app.

John Waters is 66 years old and saw the rise and fall of hitchhiking.  He still imagines it the same way many people do- a sketchy undertaking done only by serious adventurers and the desperate underclass of people who can’t afford a car.   But attitudes like his are not helpful if we want to change the conversation.  It’s imperative that we share our resources, especially our cars and the fuel that goes into them.  If a roadside approach is the best way to get there, then let’s embrace it and do all we can to make it safe, easy, reliable and maybe even a little bit boring.

My hope is that Waters’ adventure only serves to reinforce my point- that people are generally good, and asking for a ride is most likely to simply get you home.  A great outcome if you’re an ordinary commuter, but not so great if you’re a famous Hollywood director.  If Carsick helps spark a debate about our unthinking assumptions about riding with strangers, and that we need to start sharing rides, then I will say with sincerity and not a hint of sarcasm, “Thanks a lot, John Waters”.