Name: Peter Sagal
Home: Chicago, Illinois
Occupation: Host, NPR’s Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me!
Most people don’t know this, but I spent the summer of 1985 as an intern at the late—and hopefully lamented—Cycle magazine. I made quite a splash there, mainly for my incompetence. I almost killed myself a few times, but it was a great summer.
This year is the 225th anniversary of the ratification of the Constitution. I signed up to be the on-camera host of Constitution USA, a PBS program premiering in May, which features me traveling around the country and talking to people about what the Constitution means today. Early in the development, one of the producers found an old bio that said I once worked at a motorcycle magazine. It was his idea for me to ride this motorcycle around the country. What the bio didn’t say, however, was that I had let my license lapse years ago.
That’s how I went from riding nothing for almost 20 years to cruising around the country on a brand-new Harley-Davidson Road King. And that’s another thing—a Harley-Davidson! The ‘80s were a dark time for Harley-Davidson, and contempt would not be too strong a word for the Cycle staff’s attitude toward Harleys back then. But things have changed so much in 20 years. This is such a great motorcycle. That’s a good thing, because I wasn’t going to ride around America talking about the Constitution on a Honda or a Ducati.
The motorcycle opened so many doors. If you call up a very serious Harvard law professor, who worked in the Obama Administration, and ask him to talk about the Constitution, he says, “A lot of people want to talk to me about the Constitution.” If you call him up and say, “Peter Sagal is going to put you on the back of a Harley-Davidson, ride you across the Golden Gate Bridge, then stop at Golden Gate Park to discuss government investment in public infrastructure.” The professor says, “I’m in.”
I also rode Rick Beeman—probably the greatest living expert on the Constitutional Convention—back and forth in front of Constitution Hall, and he had just as much to say about his life on motorcycles as he did about the Constitution. Everybody loved the motorcycle, no matter what side of the political divide they were on. That was universal. Look for Constitution USA on PBS May 7.