He’s Not Just Another Motormouth
Public access television is crowded with the libidinous chatter of sex priestesses and the monotonous drivel of wanna-be Regis Philbins. But on occasional Saturdays, Kenny Morse breaks this idiocy with his alter ego, Mr. Traffic, a fast-talking showman who knows more than seems healthy about the rules of the road.
He is hard to miss, his manic monologues and hokey sets knocking even the most adept channel surfer off balance. His “Ask Mr. Traffic” is among the most popular public access cable television shows in Los Angeles County, drawing a few thousand motorheads each time it airs, usually on Saturday afternoons.
The phone lines are jammed minutes into the half-hour show, their lights twinkling in furious cadence. All want the ear and the advice of Morse, a flamboyant former actor who landed by accident in the traffic safety racket eight years ago and fell in love.
Morse still longs for big-time glitz. But if he ever made it on stage at the Oscars he’d probably warn folks to buckle up for the drive home.
“I’ll go to the opening of an envelope if I can promote traffic safety,” said Morse, 41, who by day works as a traffic school instructor. “I am flagrantly self-promotional.”
His spartan set at the Century Cable studios in Santa Monica includes a prominent display of a recent award for best cable call-in show. “It looks nice,” he explained. He puts out his own newsletter full of traffic tips.
Despite all the hype, Morse’s Mr. Traffic knows his stuff. On a live show recently, Morse--nattily dressed in black suit, blue shirt and no tie--breezily answered questions from callers ranging from what to do about an undeserved parking ticket to whether tinted windows are legal.
Morse’s 4-year-old show is a hammy, intelligent tour through the hinterlands of the 975-page California Vehicle Code.
He sometimes seems to have read every page. In his four years on the air, he claims to have been stumped by a caller’s question only once: A caller wanted to know if it was possible to declare bankruptcy to escape paying a traffic ticket.
According to Morse, who subsequently researched the topic, the answer is yes, but he would not recommend it.
Morse is all show, but his message is all business: Driving in Southern California can be tricky, so be careful. Sometimes he seems almost too sincere to be sincere, but his passion for safe driving is apparent. He jokes with his callers but never talks down to them.
Why else would someone spend years boning up not only on California’s traffic laws but on those of other states and other countries as well? “I have to know more than anybody else,” Morse said.
It shows. His first call on a recent show is from Jared, who hit the car in front of him during a sneeze. “What’s the modus operandi for sneezing on the freeway?” Jared asked.
“Tailgating is the No. 1 cause of accidents,” Morse said, explaining to Jared that it was not his sneeze but his proximity to the other vehicle that got him in trouble. “You should have had enough space in front of you.”
Another call came from Joe, who had not been ticketed in years but then got popped for cutting off a police car. “Does this sound familiar?” Morse asked, turning on the siren of a toy police car on his desk.
Sadly, it did, Joe confessed. But he wanted to know why his fine was so high. “Because the state is broke,” Morse responded, urging angry motorists to vote out of office politicians who try to balance their budgets on the backs of drivers.
Bob wanted to know why his girlfriend was pulled over for driving with tinted windows. “That is a cop magnet,” Morse explained. “Take it off, it ain’t legal.”
(It is legal in Arizona, Morse noted later.)
Dan complained about a parking ticket he got in San Francisco for not parking with his tires turned toward the curb. “It wasn’t very fair,” Dan began.
“Fair?” Morse interrupted. “Your mother told you life was fair?” He then explained that Dan should pay the ticket because he should have obeyed the law.
Traffic safety was not the vocation Morse dreamed about as a kid. He was born for show business.
He worked in production at 20th Century Fox, but was “between jobs” when a friend suggested he teach comedy traffic school for some extra cash. He did. It suited him.
His students took to calling him Mr. Traffic. The name stuck. He, in turn, began addressing his students as Mr. and Ms. Violator.
Mr. Traffic hit the airwaves with appearances on local radio and television shows, but none wanted him as a regular feature. So he started his own show on public access.
The audience is small, made up mostly of channel grazers who meander through the airwaves in search of something to watch. Morse believes he has about three seconds to lure them in.
To do it, his desk is littered with children’s toys. A helicopter. An ambulance. A Highway Patrol cruiser. A traffic light that blinks red, yellow and green. “Glitz,” he explains.
And though he has more experience with stoplights than spotlights, Mr. Traffic has found his niche. “I have a cult following,” he said. He gets recognized in grocery stores.
He practices what he preaches too. He drives 61 m.p.h. on the freeways, the fastest he says it is safe to drive and not get a ticket. His last ticket was years ago.
His last traffic accident?
“Last week,” he concedes, explaining that someone rear-ended his Honda Civic, knocking it into the car in front of him. “It shows that even Mr. Traffic is not immune.”