Essay

The War of the Roses – or – Ryan Seacrest and the Hell of the 405

My take on the Hell that is the 405, and the unique morality journey taken with Ryan Seacrest as your radio companion.

I’m driving a rental car this week. My steed, affectionately named “Sirius” is in the shop to repair some body damage from a fender bender, however, damned if the Hyundai Accent isn’t a car I’m terrified to drive around Los Angeles because the darn thing sounds like and RC Racer more than a vehicle with an actual combustion engine.

Being in a rental comes with another unique challenge: I’m listening to the radio again. I don’t have a Bluetooth hookup to play my own music or podcasts, and it’s turned my morning commute- an hourlong affair from Torrance to West Hollywood- into something of a morality odyssey each morning.

For those not familiar with Los Angeles, you may know one thing about this city that I also knew about before moving here: the 405 is automobile purgatory. It’s the vehicular bridge into Helheim where souls of damned commutes trudge day in, day out at a 5 mph crawl to get wherever they seem to need to be. It’s a heavy handed allegory for the rat race, but that’s not all of why I’m here.

My daily trek up the 405 in this aggravating excuse for a car has been a mind-altering experience, and I have Ryan Seacrest to blame.

The War of the Roses

There may not be an Illuminati (that we can demonstrably prove exists, at any rate), but there is a cabal of Morning Radio DJs in this country that leech each others’ ideas across the land. One such brain fart was the War of the Roses. We have Andy Savage to blame for it, and since its inception in 1996, the show has been adapted by hundreds of Radio DJs.

Ryan Seacrest is responsible for LA’s iteration, Ryan’s Roses. It airs on 102.7 FM every weekday morning right at peak rush hour, and has been a fixture in his show for fourteen goddamned years.

If you’re uninitiated, the premise is simple: a host calls a target (usually male) and offers him free roses delivered to the person of their choice, free of charge. The mark, if they are guilty of infidelity, will seize the opportunity to send untraceable roses to the person they’re having an affair with. Their spouse or significant other is listening the whole time, and hears it go down, then reveals themselves. Radio drama ensues.

The Marks

I’m baffled the premise works at all to begin with- how many people don’t know there’s no such thing as a free lunch? Yet decades (22 years worth) of men across this country plod unwittingly into this trap. This isn’t a warning to them, they’re all cads and deserve what they get.

There’s a staggering number of men they find day after day to sustain this show – 14 years x 5 shows per week x 52 = 3,640 men in LA alone. The format is used across the country though, infidelity is so rampant that anytime I hear women say “men are trash” I think of this show and just nod in agreement. Can’t argue with good raw data, can you?

Beyond the fertile fields of terrible human beings to sustain the show, I thought of another fact I found difficult to negotiate with my relatively optimistic world view: that’s thousands of idiots. Not only are they cheating, but they’re so dumb that they don’t know this setup and get suspicious of the roses phone call? Even if they’d never heard of this show, they aren’t suspicious of someone having their phone number and offering them something for free?

I tried doing some research to see if Ryan Seacrest has ever been caught in the ploy, and was unsuccessful. Even if you find me one or two instances where he does get called out, the fact that he isn’t caught 4 times out 5 each week is depressing to me. I wonder if it isn’t just an LA thing, that for some reason this city convinces people that they just get and deserve free stuff to come their way out of the blue? But then I recall that this segment has been adapted across the country, and in my stupid little red car, I weep.

Ryan Virgil Seacrest

A rental car radio’s presets are kind of like the hobbies you take up when you’re dating casually and not looking for a relationship: some remain fixed, but a couple change in and out person to person. I landed on 102.7 among the six presets and decided to stick with it rather than any of the others and because I was too busy fighting my way into lane merges and focusing on not rear ending people in the stop and go to actually scan for other stations.

Why the hell am I listening to 102.7? Because every radio station is an exercise in some form of masochism. 103.5 subjects me to Delilah on the KOST, and that station is only acceptable for their monthlong block of nothing but Christmas music (I think that’s done in June). I won’t list the other stations I toggled through, but I quickly accepted that picking a morning radio DJ is a war of attrition. There is no Shangri La, you’re just picking which circle of Hell you can tolerate as beach weather as opposed to torment.

 I accept that fact in much the same way as I accept LA traffic: I cannot fight, overcome or change them, I must simply tolerate and survive. Seacrest is, despite his numerous flaws and questionable character, at least fascinating. I don’t believe he’s real. That scene in Ex Machina where Domhnall Gleeson has a near breakdown in front of his mirror trying to confirm that he’s not a robot? I can see Ryan Seacrest having the same dilemma about his own existence and just smiling at himself and leaving without cutting his arm open because robot or human, it matters not: he’s on air in five.

So, while externally I’m contesting with the challenges to my patience and safety that are LA drivers- their wanton carelessness, impatience and generally poor driving- internally to the vehicle there is Seacrest. Seacrest’s impossibly perky, sunny voice. Listen to him: there’s so much personality and yet… there is a complete dearth of humanity.

The Drama and the Dramatic Conclusion

There is a moment on the road where I hear another asshole being caught sending roses to a woman he’s cheating with, and I feel rancorous spite for the evils of which men are capable. I hear the mother of his child in tears at his infidelity and I am filled to suffocation with pity and sadness at the suffering at the hands of such evils.

The man is not denying anything, but he wants to talk to his wife off air. She is wailing. He is asking her just to confirm that they can talk.

Thus spoke Seacrest:

In that unerring effervescent, alert tone of his, he asks the man to confirm whether or not he is cheating.

This is obvious by now. Seacrest does not act for the wife, nor does he do this for the grace of attrition by shaming to the man. No, Seacrest does this for you, for us, for me.

My vision swam a little when I realized this in the car. I was stopped on Cahuenga and Tijiera, waiting for the light, and the world faded out of focus for a moment. I couldn’t focus on any single detail of it realizing Seacrest was feeding the masses. The masses of sinners and wronged alike who hungered for this one sinner, this one asshole to admit he’d been caught on air.

Why?

Because it’s catharsis in distraction. We’re in our cars. We’re on our way to work. We haven’t been called by Seacrest. We could be the sinner, or we could be the victim, but we’re still innocent because we haven’t been judged guilty by Seacrest.

We in our cars at 8 AM in LA: we’re hearing a man being duped with a paper tiger of a setup, and we’re laughing because we just a heard a man judged and sentenced. It makes the little bubble of your car feel safe, all the more comfortable- but you’re in hell too if you’re on the road anywhere in LA at that time. I look around the 405 as people’s blinkers flash for an opening that they’ll have to make because no one will ever be courteous enough to make one and it’s clear to me: we’re all in some form of Hell, Seacrest is only distracting us from one with the radio drama of another.

 

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