Brett Bidle, Frederick County town councilman, tea party supporter and devout Methodist, is John Waters' new BFF.
That old saying about politics making strange bedfellows? Apparently, politics has nothing on hitchhiking. Back in mid-May, Bidle, a 20-year-old college student and first-term member of the Myersville Town Council, picked up a guy on the side of the road. It was Waters, Baltimore's most unregenerate bad boy, the movie director who's given sleaze a good name.
Turns out Waters (who declined to be interviewed for this article) was hitchhiking cross-country with plans to write a book about his experiences. Bidle, who didn't believe it was Waters at first and knew hardly anything about him anyway, ended up driving him to Ohio.
A week later, Bidle had the key to Waters' San Francisco apartment and was posting photos on Facebook of the view from its balcony. He was telling the New York Times about what a cool guy Waters is and about how driving I-70 with him in the passenger seat was the chance of a lifetime. And he's made it possible to put the words "John Waters" and "tea party" in the same sentence without being ironic or sarcastic.
"That's what was so intriguing about the trip," said Bidle, now safely back in Myersville after spending a week in Joplin, Mo., helping with tornado relief efforts there. "Our values and principles may not align, but we still had a great time and enjoyed ourselves."
People who know Bidle don't seem surprised — that he picked up a hitchhiker, or that he's become fast friends with a man who's his polar opposite, at least philosophically. Bidle, they say, makes friends easily, welcomes new experiences. Perhaps at 20, they suggest indulgently, he's too young to know any better. Picking up a hitchhiker in this day and age …
"You can imagine, as parents, his mother and I weren't pleased with that," said his father, Dale Bidle, who works as a salesman for a Chevy Chase building materials supplier. "We were very concerned with what goes on in today's society — it's not a necessary risk you should be taking. We tried to tell him that. But being 20 years old and having a mind of his own, he took it upon himself to do that exploit anyway."
Republican state Del. Kelly Schulz, who's worked with the young councilman on political campaigns and in their jobs as legislators, agreed, saying, "I am so totally not surprised that he was able to spark up a conversation, ask some smart questions.
"I am a mother of a 22- and a 19-year-old myself," she added, "so my first thought was, 'Brett, what are you doing, picking up a hitchhiker?' But then I put my motherness aside and said, 'If you're going to do adventurous things, you're going to do them while you're young.' It sounds like it turned out quite well."
Waters seemed to enjoy the experience as well. He told the New York Times: "I thought, you know what, he wanted an adventure, too. He's the first Republican I'd ever vote for."
And to think it all started because Bidle had a guilty conscience.
"Two weeks before I saw John, there was a hitchhiker on the side of the road, right where he was standing," Bidle said. "I didn't pick him up, and I just felt so guilty. I vowed that the next person I see, I'm going to pick up. And it just happened to be John Waters."
Bidle actually picked up Waters twice, both times on rather spur-of-the-moment decisions. The first time, he was heading to Subway for lunch when he spied what he thought was a homeless man thumbing a ride. "It was pouring down rain, so I felt bad for him," Bidle recalled. "I pulled over and just rolled down my window and asked where he needed to go, and he said 'San Francisco.' I was like, 'Come on in, I'll take you as far as I can go.'"
He ended up driving Waters to Ohio, then headed back to Myersville. About a week later, while reprising a trip to Joplin he had made last summer to help out with relief efforts, Bidle began hearing from his erstwhile traveling companion. Joplin, he decided, would have to wait.
"John kind of was texting me and emailing me as I was making my way out to Joplin," Bidle said. "He said he had gotten a ride to Denver that day, so I just decided to kind of surpass Joplin. I drove for 22 straight hours. … I just passed Joplin and kept on going, kind of extended my trip by a week to see what I could do. I didn't even know if I was going to find John Waters again."
He did, and ended up driving Waters as far west as Truckee, Calif. From there, Waters set out on his own — but not before handing the keys to his San Francisco apartment to Bidle and offering a tour of the city if he stopped by.
Bidle took him up on the offer. "I drove to San Francisco, made my way to his apartment, made myself at home. An hour later, he shows up, knocking on his door. I could hear him in the hallway, just laughing, saying 'Brett, are you in there?' For the next two days, I stayed in San Francisco. He showed me great views, great restaurants. We had a great time."
Bidle has a recent history of doing the unexpected, beginning when, as an 18-year-old community college student, he decided to run for a seat on the five-member Town Council in Myersville. The town of about 1,800 people sits off I-70, midway between Frederick and Hagerstown. Only three people filed for the three contested seats, so of course, Bidle won. He became the youngest council member in the town's 107-year history.
"Politics intrigued me from the beginning," said Bidle, who is pursuing a degree in business administration at West Virginia's Shepherd University. "I was just talking to some of my neighbors and community leaders in Myersville about the issues, and I knew there was the potential for a seat to be open in the election. I just really wanted to have a voice in our local government."
Bidle describes himself as conservative. "I best resonate with the tea party movement," he said. "I may not be as far right as some of the tea party members, but I would definitely consider myself a person of the tea party movement."
Not surprisingly, those political views didn't mesh with Waters'. That led to led to some heated discussions between the travelers, Bidle acknowledged.
"Yeah, that was probably one of the hot topics," he said. "He was even asked to come speak at an Occupy Wall Street protest. I understood where he was coming from, being a liberal. I'm probably not going to change his mind. We just discussed what the tea party was about, what the Occupy movement was about, and we just moved on. There wasn't any arguing or anything."
There wasn't any changing of minds, either; another hot topic, Bidle conceded, was the upcoming presidential election. But he does plan to act on at least one of his new friend's suggestions.
"I still haven't seen any of his movies," Bidle said. "He wants me to watch 'Hairspray.' I do plan on watching one or two of them, but I don't know which ones yet."