Rollin' With Zach
Zach's Blog: The Z True Hollywood Story
Posted: Mon 12/19/2011 08:00 PM
For many of you, my story began with an audition video where I pitched the idea for a travel show for people who never thought they could travel and told the world that I have something called cerebral palsy, which I believe to be the sexiest of the palsies. Then I was championed by the Internet, John Mayer and Oprah and went on a journey that would lead to me winning my own show, “Rollin’ with Zach.” It’s a travel show in which I see the country, do amazing things, and face challenges with optimism and humor. It’s kind of like a Cinderella story, except instead of a glass slipper, there’s a gigantic wheelchair, and instead of a fairy Godmother, there’s an Oprah that sees potential in me. In many ways, this part of my life has been like a fairytale, but for me, my story began long before most people knew who I was.
Los Angeles is a city full of storytellers. Whether its filmmakers, TV personalities, photographers, or journalists, people in the Entertainment Industry can take a moment in time and give it a new life based on imagination, conjecture, and interpretation. They can take a single image or sound bite and change the course of someone’s life for better or worse. We can either believe these stories or take them with a grain of salt. If I were to believe everything I’ve seen on TV about Los Angeles, I would think that Hollywood was a place inhabited only by famous people, people who want to be famous, people who are famous for no reason, and housewives who are famous for being horrible. While some of that is true, Los Angeles is also a city that goes much deeper than that. It has many creative, kind, caring people doing incredible things. My trip there gave me many remarkable experiences, but none were so enlightening as the simple act of making a milkshake.
I’m extremely touched by all the comments I’ve read saying that people are inspired by what I’m doing and are happy to finally see someone with a disability on television. I never expected that type of overwhelming response and I think it’s because I view my story somewhat differently. To me it goes something like this:
A kid who always wanted to become a filmmaker and comedian had two very supportive parents and a great family and made videos his whole life, then went to college and met some amazing friends and produced sketches and television shows and then finally came up with an idea that people responded to. Through preparation, a little luck, and the graciousness of others, he was able to succeed.
Over the past year and a half, I’ve been given a new perspective on my own life and what my journey has meant to people. This may come as a shock to some, but I never really considered my disability to be a huge part of my story; a footnote at most. I’ve always considered myself to be an artist. When people talk about me overcoming my disability, it’s kind of confusing because I never felt I really had that much to overcome. I’ve been so blessed in so many respects; a good education, a good family, and the means to express myself freely. These are gifts that many people are never given. I’ve had physical challenges and some emotional ones as a result of my CP, but I was born with this condition and so it’s been part of me since I’ve been here on Earth and I’ve never heard of anyone having to overcome themselves.
The worst prejudice I’ve faced as a result of CP is pity. When people see the wheelchair and the way that I move, they automatically make up a story that’s worth pitying. I don’t get angry when people treat me differently or perceive me as someone in need of charity. On several occasions, as I was going to school at the University of Texas at Austin, homeless people on the sidewalk would attempt to give me money or trinkets that they had because seeing the wheelchair, to them, meant that I was more in need than they were. I wasn’t upset when this happened because although on the surface it’s disrespectful and dismissive to assume that just because someone can’t walk, they can’t provide for themselves. But on the other hand, this also shows us that even people who seemingly have nothing, still want to help someone. I realize that no matter what, I will always be faced with people who think that having to use a wheelchair is the worst thing in the universe.
When I came to Los Angeles, I didn’t know if I would fit in at all. I mean, I know I have subtle hints of Clooney suaveness and McConaughey shirtlessness, but other than that, I never considered myself the Hollywood type. I did, however, always consider myself to be the milkshake type. When I learned that I would be getting my own milkshake named after me at “Millions of Milkshakes” I was beyond ecstatic. Desserts are my second language and to me, this was an honor that would be right up there with winning an Oscar, an Emmy, or a Juno Award (especially since I’m not Canadian). This was my first day of shooting the first episode of “Rollin’ with Zach.” I’d already lost my voice shouting on the “Price is Right” and now was getting a red carpet rollout for the “Handi-cappuccino” shake. In a day of many firsts, it was also my first exposure to the paparazzi. I would say that in this day and age, the paparazzi are probably our most efficient (albeit intermediately accurate) storytellers. So to have my first day of filming be documented not only by my crew, but also forty other photographers was both exhilarating and intimidating.
The people at “Millions of Milkshakes” were amazingly supportive and very patient with me as I found my groove as a host. Even if they didn’t know who I was, the paparazzi snapped away and shouted enthusiastically. And the flashes on the camera phones flickered constantly in a frenzy as questions were hurled at me, one on top of the other. But there are two elements to this story that were lost in the chaos of the moment. One was that my two friends from “Your Own Show” (Kristina Kuzmic and Ryan O’Connor) had come to support me. The other, I think, was that getting this milkshake was a genuine honor for me that was the culmination of years of practice. I’d spent the weeks prior planning out this milkshake with my best dessert buddy in Austin. She’d gone to the store, gotten all the ingredients and actually made it beforehand. So this milkshake was a representation of how far I’d come and of our friendship. But when I made it, I understood for that hour, what it was like to be somebody constantly in the spotlight; equally thrilling and exhausting. I was somebody who had not only won his own show, but had gotten his own milkshake. This was a true success story.
As I went back to the hotel that night, I was exhausted but I was also very proud. Then my friend showed me a video that one of the amateur paparazzo had taken on his camera phone and posted on youtube. He was on his way out to my launch and said, “I’m going to film this kid at ‘Millions of Milkshakes.’ I have no idea who he is but it’s a really sad story.”
It dawned on me that no matter what I achieved in life, even if I was filming my own television show and having the greatest milkshake ever named after me, that I would still be a sad story to people who chose to see it that way. Then I realized that it’s really up to you what your story is, whether it’s a story of triumph or defeat, humor or tragedy. I can’t tell you where my story will go, but so far it’s been a sweet one and it’s only getting started. If I could choose to tell it in my own words it would go like this:
This is the story of Zach Anner, a man who wanted to change the way that people see the world and each other. And so he did...