John Waters on Friendly Bikers and Skeevy Shrimpers

"The Pope Of Trash" tells us about his cross-country hitch-hiking road trip, and preferring bikers to shrimpers.

This week we invited none other than the mischievous, bad-taste-celebrating John Waters to answer our listeners questions about being polite.

John’s a chronicler of off-color behavior; his gloriously trashy, no-budget cult films — many shot in his hometown of Baltimore and often starring his late friend Divine — made him an indie cinema legend. His biggest film hit, “Hairspray,” turned into the Broadway musical blockbuster of the same name. He’s known for making, collecting, and commenting on contemporary art. And, most relevant to our purposes today, he is a bestselling author. His new book has a fairly self-explanatory subtitle — it’s called “Carsick: John Waters Hitchhikes Across America.”


Rico Gagliano:  John, we couldn’t be happier to have you here.

John Waters: Thank you so much, thank you. And I didn’t have to hitchhike to the radio studio, so I’m happy too.

Rico Gagliano: That’s great.

John Waters: As bourgeois as I sound.

Brendan Francis Newnam: Yeah, we did send a horse and buggy to pick you up.

John Waters: No, that would be embarrassing, that would be embarrassing. That would be bad camp, I couldn’t think of anything worse; especially since I’m not Pennsylvania Dutch.

Brendan Francis Newnam: So, in the introduction to this book you recall your youth, when you claim you not only regularly hitchhiked home from school, you were expected to do so. What kind of Dickensian world did you grow up in, that you didn’t have school buses?

John Waters: I went to private school, and all the Catholic and private school kids all hitchhiked home, with their Lacrosse sticks over their shoulder. It was not thought of as weird. Every parent expected their kid to hitchhike home. I dunno, it wasn’t thought of as bad — even though the same perverts picked you up; the parents just didn’t know that!

Brendan Francis Newnam: You could defend yourself with your Lacrosse stick.

John Waters: Well, you could say “no,” or “yes.” Often I said “no”… occasionally, I said “yes,” depending on how school went that day, what the anxiety level was like. I was in high school!

Rico Gagliano: Holy-moley.  Well, in contrast, basically this book paints a pretty heartwarming picture of America, I would say. People are almost universally helpful to you as you hitchhike from Baltimore to San Francisco. How does that jibe with what you expected?

John Waters: Well, they were all kind, and went out of their way. Most of them thought I was a homeless man, and tried to help me — they were trying to help people. I think if you pick up a hitchhiker, it instantly makes you a better person.

Brendan Francis Newnam: Did you expect that? I don’t think that most people think hitchhiking is going to be even mildly safe, much less a pleasant experience.

John Waters: Well, it wasn’t always pleasant, believe me. Standing by the road for ten hours was a new kind of agony, believe me, of tedium. But I have always believed in the basic goodness of people, I can get along with most kinds of people… and I always said that if I had a really dangerous ride, I was gonna say, “Well you know, this is a reality show, and a satellite is filming us right now.” That probably would have worked, actually…

Brendan Francis Newnam: “There’re drones!”

John Waters: …But I never had to say that. I never had to say that once.

Rico Gagliano: Well, some of the people that picked you up knew that you were John Waters, and in a way, the book ends up being rumination on fame and the benefits thereof. Did you get a better idea of how famous you actually are during this trip?

John Waters: Not really, because people would say that they would drive by me and think, “that was John Waters,” and then think “No, it isn’t. Why would he be standing here on this entrance ramp with a sign in Indianapolis?! Why would that be him?” Most people, I don’t know if they knew who I was or not, but I would tell them, and then they were okay about it. They would say, “Oh, that’s interesting,” but they didn’t care that much, really.

Rico Gagliano: A lot of people didn’t believe you.

John Waters: Yeah, some just thought I was crazy, like I’d said I was Mick Jagger, basically.

Rico Gagliano: I like that you said that everyone thought you were homeless. You have an impeccable mustache for a homeless guy.

John Waters: Yeah, but you can’t see a mustache — I have a thin mustache, it’s hard to see even when you’re sitting across from me — but going 70 mph past me on an entrance ramp, you can’t see my mustache! And it was raining, I had on a slicker, a baseball hat that said “Scum of the Earth” — which I shouldn’t have worn — but you couldn’t read that either!

Rico Gagliano: I was reading that in the book — I’m like, “Why would you pick that cap of all caps?”

Brendan Francis Newnam: Because he’s John Waters!

John Waters: No, because it fit me! I look terrible in a baseball hat, and I don’t have lots of baseball hats. What do you think, I have a Ravens hat? I don’t.

Rico Gagliano: All right, well you made it across America despite the hat, and on this show that qualifies you to answer our listener’s etiquette questions.

John Waters: Yeah, I believe I am. Yeah; I was taught good manners.

Rico Gagliano: Are you ready for these?

John Waters: Certainly.

Ride-Beggars Cannot Be Choosers

Brendan Francis Newnam: All right. Our first question comes from Jerod in Hollywood California, and Jerod writes:

“When picked up as a hitchhiker, is it proper to request things like a restroom stop, that the temperature of the vehicle be adjusted, windows rolled down, etc?  Or is it bad form to request such things?”

John Waters: Well, if you’re an experienced hitchhiker, you eliminate before leaving in the morning. I think it’s incredibly rude to keep saying, “Could you pull over again? I have to pee.” So I didn’t drink 30 cups of coffee before I left, believe me. You learn that early — you’re paranoid to eat anything, because you don’t know where you’re ever going to be able to really stop.

So the answer to that is, yeah, it is rude. And you can never say “slow down” — backseat driving is rude — unless your life is in danger, which never happened to me. It was always comfortable. I was so glad to be in the car, I would have ridden in the trunk.

Brendan Francis Newnam: All right, there you go, Jerod. So, basically, it is rude to ask these things. Just be happy you have a ride.

Rico Gagliano: And, you probably will be, according to John.

John Waters: Beggars can’t be choosers is sort of true.

Several Very Good Reasons to Keep One’s Shoes On

Rico Gagliano: Here’s something from David in Fort Collins, Colorado. David writes:

“Now that we’re in the warm weather season, I notice some people slipping off their sandals and placing bare feet on objects other than the floor in public settings: airplane seats, coffee shop furniture, etc. Can you provide some guidance on the proper manners with regards to bare feet in public?”

John Waters: Well, if you have your shoes off, remember, there’s “shrimpers” that have foot fetishes, and they’re always thinking dirty about your feet. So, wherever you are, you don’t realize that you’re shrimper bait.

Another thing: I would never… I see people in the plane walk into the bathroom with bare feet.  Where you know you miss — it’s on the floor some. So, you’re basically walking through a lake of urine. So, I think it’s a bad idea, yeah.

Rico Gagliano: So, just never take your shoes off in public, much less place them on anything.

John Waters: Well, unless you’re a shrimper!  Unless you’re looking for a date, or unless you want to go in the men’s room or the ladies room and get shrimped on the airplane, maybe.

Brendan Francis Newnam: So, John, do you get emails that update you on ‘shrimpers’ and subcultures just so you’re up on them?

John Waters: No, but I know shrimpers. There’s whole books about shrimpers. Shrimping is a fairly normal thing to do once

Brendan Francis Newnam: I just didn’t know it was called “shrimping.”

John Waters: You’ve never shrimped anybody?

Brendan Francis Newnam: Not that I know of.

John Waters: Well, you maybe want to try it. It’s safe! Can’t get pregnant.

Brendan Francis Newnam: Wow.

Making Friends with Motorcyclists

Rico Gagliano: Here’s something from J.R. in Los Angeles:

“On long stretches of road, I’ll often be driving near big groups of motorcyclists. Sometimes they zoom around me and swarm in a way that’s annoying, and kind of dangerous. The last think I’d want to do is get ornery with a posse of motor bikers, but someone should say something, right? John?”

John Waters: I’d just yell to ‘em, and say, “Hi, come on over!”

Rico Gagliano: You like bikers?

John Waters: I like bikers, and they always like me too. I always get along with bikers. I think they’re kind of fun — I like the ones that are in the groups that are so dangerous that you’re not allowed to say the name out loud unless you’re one of them.

Brendan Francis Newnam: But if they do swarm you, that could be frightening in traffic.

John Waters: I would be flattered!

Brendan Francis Newnam: You’re all for it.

John Waters: If they swarm my car, I would be waving! “Hi, whatcha doing? Pull over!”

Rico Gagliano: Invite them along. Invite them in as part as your life.

Brendan Francis Newnam: Some people like feet, some people like bikers.

John Waters: Some people like both!

The Glamorous Life of a Kid from Baltimore

Brendan Francis Newnam: All right, we have our last question — it’s a question we ask all of our etiquette guests — and the question, and I can’t wait to hear this, is:

“What is the most memorable get-together you’ve ever been to? Details please?”

John Waters: I think the most glamorous was I was on the jury at the Cannes Film Festival, and Jean Moreau, the French actress, was the head of it.  And just hanging out with her for two weeks was the most glamorous thing in my life.  I used to just whisper in her ear every night, “More free food,” which would make her laugh. Oh, it was great! It was great.

Rico Gagliano: Did you ever think, in those situations, you know — you’re a kid from Baltimore…

John Waters: Yeah! I’d think, “Wow, this is a long way from Lutherville, Maryland.” It just means you can do anything you want. My advice to all young people is: A ‘no’ is free. Keep asking for what you want, and have no pride.

Rico Gagliano: There you go.

John Waters: And you’ll get there.

Brendan Francis Newnam: All right. A final bit of advice from John Waters. John, thanks for telling our audience how to behave.

John Waters: Thank you. And I hope they listen.