Saturday, February 11, 2017

I meet the Moptops


                    A certain junior high reporter takes a risk 
                        and lands the scoop of a lifetime.

“It isn’t enough to be a good writer,” Clarence Sligar routinely told his third period journalism class of 8th and 9th graders. “A top notch reporter must also be determined, persistent and curious.”

Unfortunately, Mr. Sligar didn’t mention getting a story sometimes required nerve. The willingness to take chances. And spunk.

Those lessons would be learned February 13, 1964.

For weeks we’d heard the Fab Four would be coming to Miami to appear on the Ed Sullivan Show. And for weeks, the Miami Springs Junior High newspaper staff was buzzing with ideas about how and where to try for an interview. With limited transportation options, the nearby airport seemed our best chance.

Exuding confidence and pride, Mr. Sligar went to the principal to ask that his team be allowed to leave school early that day. The plan was set: as star reporter, it would be my task to engage the Beatles in an interview when they arrived at Miami International.

Armed with permission slips from our parents and a construction paper PRESS badge, our school photographer Kenny and I set out on assignment. After a classmate’s Mom dropped us off at the airport terminal, we wove our way through groups of hapless passengers, throngs of reporters and over 7,000 fans.

Twenty minutes of inspired maneuvers delivered us through the swollen queues of Beatle admirers at the end of a carpeted corridor. A frazzled guard at the VIP gate glanced curiously at the PRESS badges pinned to our shirts, then unhooked the chain for us to pass. In the distance a logjam of frustrated teenagers hissed and booed as we left the concourse.
The cover of the Beatle interview issue
The scene outside was unnerving. Hundreds of fans dotted the airport roof; scores of others were mashed against the interior concourse glass. Each plane appearing on the skyline set off waves of screams that grew more intense as the Beatle plane tarried. Patience and good will began to melt in the hot afternoon sun.

Mercifully, a man with a foghorn announced that National Airlines flight #11 from New York had landed.  To confirm the arrival, my companion and I navigated crab-like through the crowd. Within minutes, the Beatle’s jet was less than fifty yards from where we stood.
Ordinary passengers deplaned to the hoots and cheers of the massive welcoming committee. To prolong the agony, several unknowns paused at the top of the steps to wave and throw kisses. Someone emerged in a Carnaby Street suit and pageboy wig. The restless crowd was not fooled or amused.

At last a moptop appeared in the doorway sending the entire concourse reeling with delirium.  The throng lunged forward as the four Beatles descended the silver stairway. Police meshed arm-in-arm and shoved back. Girls on the roof screeched and fell to their knees in ecstasy. Behind us the first of more than twelve windows and doors shattered.

 Beatlemania had arrived. 
The principal's office fielded calls for interviews with me
Police formed a human barricade as the Beatles sprinted quickly across the tarmac. With only an instant to make a move, I ducked beneath their outstretched arms and bolted for the idling limousine. I glanced back to see Kenny sprawled on the ground groping for his camera.

A straggling Beatle pulled his legs into the car and slammed the door. I was too late. Tears of fear and disappointment pricked the backs of my eyes.  The police I’d just outrun were now only steps away.

In despair, I grabbed the door handle and knocked furiously on the glass. Suddenly, the window slid down. Eyeing my PRESS badge, John Lennon leaned over and banished my pursuers with a wave of his hand.
The police stepped away as I pulled out my list of questions.  “How do you like America?”  I promptly forgot the answer then stumbled over my next inquiry. John answered patiently; Paul and Ringo jumped in with silly remarks and giggles. It was difficult to determine who was having the most memorable experience.

On cue, the limousine started to move and I trotted along still clutching the door handle. Before long, police barricades crumbled and the limo pulled away. John blew me a kiss. The window slid shut. The interview was over.
An Australian art gallery featured the Beatles in the US. Imagine!
Kenny rushed to my side and we hugged, not believing what had just happened. How did a risk-averse, goody two-shoes work up the gumption to get the story at any cost?

Years later it occurred to me that I couldn’t bear the thought of facing my beloved journalism teacher empty-handed.  

Back on the tarmac, a group of admirers surrounded me and asked for my autograph. At thirteen, I’d hit the big time.

When the limousine was nothing more than a speck on the horizon, fans and reporters wandered away. Turning to take one last look, I whispered John I love you.
I hope he heard me.