“When I bring a guy home, he has to measure up to Kai Ryssdal,” said the brunette. “The only guy close on NPR is Jad from Radiolab.”
“When Kai Ryssdal talks about money–oh, Jesus!” said the blonde, of the host of Marketplace. She mimed a swoon.
“Kai’s gotten me through a lot,” said the brunette. “I work in the fashion industry, I spend all day with women, and at 6:30 when I get home, I need to hear a man’s voice, and I want to hear Kai Ryssdal.”
“I like Terry Gross,” said a dapper, fortyish, graying gentleman sidling up to the bar, of the host of Fresh Air. “Her voice is so sultry.”
It was last call at the sold-out Meet @ WNYC: Speed-Dating Party, at Hudson Terrace in Hell’s Kitchen. Two reporters–hereafter referred to as the gentleman Observer (G.O.) and the lady Observer (L.O.)–had come out not so much “looking for love,” in the parlance of the station’s frequently aired promos, as to “meet other fans of public radio.”
By closing time, the L.O., two years younger than the prescribed minimum female age of 32, had fled, citing her desire to escape the repeated advances of “predatory middle-aged men.” The G.O. was still at the bar, trying to keep the brunette Marketplace girl from stealing his notebook and crossing out her quotes.
“I think she likes you,” said the blonde. “You’re like kids in a schoolyard.”
The pair left him at the bar without disclosing their last names.
“I can’t stand Brian Lehrer,” said a man the G.O. encountered outside, where the air was fresh, during a cigarette break, “and I hate that guy who comes after him, with the beard [Leonard Lopate]. Too erudite. But that’s just me. I’m a management consultant, and probably the only one here.”
Indeed, neither the G.O. nor the L.O. encountered any management consultants during their speed-dating. Organized by the firm NY EasyDates, the night entailed 20 dates lasting four minutes each, all in a span not quite as long as an episode of A Prairie Home Companion. There were about 60 participants of each gender, so it was mandatory for any single WNYC listener to meet one-third of the listeners of the opposite gender and ponder loving them.
Among the G.O.’s dates were a recruiter; a publicist; an architect (“Philip Johnson is an asshole”); a former journalist turned banker (“I’m a sellout”); a medical editor (“I work at home all day, so the radio is important to me”); three lawyers (environmental, immigration, employment); a film editor; a U.N. staffer; a retail entrepreneur; a radio producer; an art historian specializing in insurance; the founder of an education nonprofit; a psychiatrist; a Web infrastructure specialist; and a graphic designer. Most seemed to him more affluent than he was, and several lived in tony neighborhoods uptown. Tickets for women, the promos declared, had sold out months in advance.
The L.O., meanwhile, found herself sitting across from someone who worked in telecommunications (“good benefits”); a medical researcher; a writer-poet “with a day job” at work on “an erotic novel about an interracial love triangle … set in Vancouver”; a trumpeter; a glassblower; a geologist; a couples therapist; a man who implied he did something for the F.B.I.; two accountants; a teacher; and a financier. A high percentage seemed to have made the trek from New Jersey on the PATH.
At the start, the L.O. reported to her assigned wicker chair, clutching a glass of white wine. She found herself energized for the actual meet-and-greet. Other women, perched on the edge of their seats, seemed alternately excited or long-suffering.
“It’s fun,” said one, “and WNYC usually brings out good people.”
“I really think we all should have just donated to the station, considering,” said another.
Then, the buzzer. A crowd that favored soothing voices and world music erupted like a racetrack on a Saturday afternoon.
It was time to be on point. Either the takeaway would be bliss or, all things considered, pretty banal: Where are you from? What do you do for a living? And who’s your favorite personality on WNYC?
The G.O.’s first date indicated that hers was Soterius Johnson (known, we hear, as “SoJo” among his colleagues). Wearing a pantsuit unironically–a sign that she was not the G.O.’s type (he would meet nonesuch, except maybe the Marketplace brunette)–she said a close second was Mr. Lehrer, though “if he comes on [at 10 a.m.], I know I’m late for work.” The G.O.’s second date surprised him by saying that she did not much listen to WNYC but preferred in the car to tune into WOR, 710 on the AM dial, “for the holistic health tips.” His third date reminded him of one of his college roommates’ ex-girlfriends. His 13th date was in fact one of his college roommates’ ex-girlfriends; she sheepishly said she was attending only after her friends had staged an intervention in her love life. She was dating too many assholes; maybe WNYC would filter those out.
The L.O. was in the meantime experiencing a rush such as she had not known since her heady undergrad days. She quickly found that she had perhaps the worst possible personality profile for speed-dating. Unwilling to hurt any prospective dates and eager to ensure a good time, she found herself ending each encounter with a “Darn! The interesting ones go so fast!” or “You never get to talk enough to the people you really like!”
Enthusiasm for the hosts ranged from the oddly zealous (“I’ll go anywhere WNYC tells me to!”) to the mild (“I’ve never even pledged! Not once!”). Unfortunately, voices tired as comfort grew, so that by the hour’s end, encounters consisted of hoarse shouting matches from which only strangled phrases like “Leonard Lopate,” “C train” and “Pan-Asian” could be gleaned. Nevertheless, the L.O. was assured by several gentlemen that they would be choosing “yes” when the time came to contact prospective partners.
The G.O. began thinking that his dates were not going well. The art historian accused him of “sitting like a journalist,” as if he were interviewing her rather than dating her. He was asking his dates too much about WNYC and not enough about themselves. He was hearing a lot about how Ira Glass is still great even if This American Life “has become way too much about money.” Plus, the G.O. was balding, and there was an unsightly growth on his forehead he really should have removed.
He never intended to see any of these women again (“it’s complicated”), but the G.O. still liked winning. The thought of the man ahead of him–always late in breaking off each four-minute romance and thus cutting into the G.O.’s time with each lass–racking up more second dates the next morning galled the G.O. So he resolved to revert to the only technique that had ever worked for him in real life: “He just,” an ex-girlfriend once said, “hits on you a lot.”
So the G.O. started paying compliments. That maroon dress made the U.N. staffer look “angelic”; had she ever met Ban Ki Moon? (“No.”) The education nonprofit founder had “beautiful eyes”; what did she think of Geoffrey Canada? (“A saint! I love him!”) Or Diane Ravitch? (“Her argument is full of holes. She’s old and cranky.”) Red hair and a blue dress are an irresistible combination, he told the woman whose favorite voice on WNYC belonged to “the lady from the BBC News who sounds like Emma Thompson,” Claire Bolderson. The pretty girl from Amherst, who told him, “You’re not going to believe this, but my favorite is Jonathan Schwartz,” he tried to amuse by launching into an impression of the DJ that he’d been working on for years.
At last the dating ended, and he repaired straight to the bar; his martini had run out around date five.
(In the morning, the G.O. checked YES for all 20 second dates. He received only one match–from the journalist turned banker who had guessed he was writing about the night and promised to help.)
The L.O. began scanning the crowd wildly for the G.O., who in this parallel universe represented a safe haven.
“Has anyone ever told you … that you’re sexy?” said a gentleman who seemed to be pushing the age limit (47) by a few years.
She ran into one of her four-minute dates. In a fit of honesty, she admitted to him that she was not at present single, and asked if she could set him up with a friend.
“That’s bullshit,” he said. “Honestly, I expected more from a WNYC listener.”