I’m not gonna lie. Paula Zahn’s spectacularly good looking. But in the prime of her career, when she anchored several network news programs, she was a supermodel-esque hottie. You thought so, too. Easily one of the most beautiful people on TV and hands-down the most beautiful news anchor. Very talented, too, I should add. Not just a talking head.
She was co- anchoring the CBS Morning show when, one summer in the mid 90s, CBS decided they’d broadcast live from Milwaukee for a day. They were going to set Paula up on a stage outside by Milwaukee’s lakefront and showcase our glorious city for the world. Since Milwaukee is HD’s hometown, they wanted to include our bikes in their coverage, so a producer called and asked if someone could bring down a camera-ready bike along with some “cute biker clothes” (cringe…) for Paula to wear. I thought I might like to see Ms. Zahn up close so I said I’d do it myself (always one to take a bullet for the team). I asked perpetually over-worked MotorClothes goddess Karen Davidson to personally select a few wardrobe options, which she was only too happy to do.
So I arrive the next morning at the make-shift studio on a gorgeous new Fat Boy with a box full of clothes bungeed to the seat and rack. Paula’s in her trailer getting ready for her closing segment and the wardrobe person asks me for the clothes. A minute later, from behind the dressing curtain, I sense that everyone’s in a panic and I hear anger and a lot of yelling. The wardrobe gal comes out, grabs me (hard!) by the arm, and says, “Paula’s zipper is stuck and we can’t get it up or down!” I enter the dressing area and here’s Paula, with uber-tight black leather HD pants on, wrestling with the zipper that got stuck on a cute little bow on her, uh, undergarments. So I meet Paula Zahn by seeing her, in a tizzy, grabbing my hand, putting it on her zipper and saying “Pull as hard as you can! We’re live in less than two minutes!”
So now I’ve got a white-knuckle grip on the zipper. To try to lighten the tension, I mouth that it’s, uh, nice to meet her. I pull down so hard that she’s literally being yanked over top of me. At that moment, a lightbulb went off in my head and I begged, “Please. God. Somebody take a picture of this!” And both Paula and her wardrobe lady give me a look that says they’re clearly not amused and that a photo op will not be forthcoming. Finally it pops and the zipper comes down. In a flash, she drops her pants (well hello!), makes the necessary adjustments and yanks them back up (There’s no modesty in showbiz, a lesson I’d learned as a pup.) Before I thought to offer her some assistance in putting on a bustier, she made clear that she didn’t want to wear it and instead opted for a sleeved top and a leather jacket, which she yanked on in seconds. (The line of men who don’t want to see Paula in a fringed leather bra is likely a very short one.)
Next, a couple of guys from the crew burst in and they’re in full-blown panic mode. “We have less than 45 seconds to air! Hurry!” We run outside and the chief says, “Push that bike over here under the lights,” which of course I do and while I’m moving it into perfect position under the lights, a make-up gal starts slapping pancake stuff on my face and I say, “Uh, I’m not supposed to be in the picture!” Paula runs out, jumps on the back of the bike and wraps her arms around my chest (schwing!). A sound guy is trying like crazy to get a microphone pinned to my jacket, but is having trouble because the leather’s so thick. The producer says, “Forget the mic! Five seconds!” Everyone scurries out of the way, the light comes on, I stare directly into a huge monitor and there’s Harry Smith live and in-color, back in New York, and he’s asking Paula questions about the bike and H-D. She’s doing fine, reciting stuff from the cheat-sheet I’d faxed the day before and I’m just sitting there nodding, looking like everybody’s sorta-slow cousin. And then she asks me a question! But I know I don’t have a mic on, so I don’t know what to do. Should I bend over and talk into the microphone that’s hidden in her cleavage? Oh god. What to do? So I fumbled horribly, gulped, shook my head and mumbled, “Yup.”
And then she said, “C’mon! Let’s go for a ride! Fire this baby up!” And I’m thinking, “How can we go for a ride when you’re tethered to that mic wire?” But she reached back, unsnapped the wire and off we went, nice and slow. She yelled in my ear, “C’mon! Go faster!” So I hammered it and we took a few spins around the parking lot, which looked and sounded great on TV. (For the record: When you look in your rearview and see Paula Zahn’s face? That stays with a fella.) In the time-honored manner of all first time Harley riders, she let out the obligatory huge yaa-hooo! So it’s pretty clear that by now she’s completely digging me, especially since our sorta intimate encounter earlier. So I bring her around, back to her trailer. The show’s done. Everyone’s packing up in double-time. I square up my feet on the ground, tap Paula on her leathered (perfect) left thigh to let her know it’s safe to get up and she dismounts, says bye-bye, walks into the trailer (and out of my life) and that’s it. No thanks for the memories. No here’s my number. No re-living the old times. Harumph. I let her keep the clothes, which I’m sure found their way to a crew person.
So I’m riding back to HD feeling worried that I’m about to take a severe ribbing for my on-camera microphone debacle. My worries were well-founded. I wasn’t back at my desk for 10 seconds before so-called friends were piling into my office aping, “Gulp gulp! Yup!” They’d watched it, taped it, and showed everybody to great comedic effect. How nice. But the last laugh will always be mine because I saw heaven that morning.
Paula, if you’re out there, I’d like a do-over.