Friday, August 14, 2009

Woodstock, Sort Of.......

©2009 by LeeZard

Millions of people will tell you they were at Woodstock in 1969. Only about half-a-million are telling the truth. I am one of them.

I was a young (22) Washington, D.C.-based correspondent for a fledgling radio network operated by Metromedia. At the time, Metromedia was the single largest owner of non-network (ABC, CBS & NBC) affiliated radio and TV stations in the country. In those days, by the way, the FCC allowed only a maximum ownership of seven AMs, seven FMs and seven TV stations by a single company.

Everyone had heard of this Rock & Roll festival near the small town of Bethel in upstate New York but nobody was prepared for the historic event it would become. On Friday August 15, 1969 I flew to New York City to attend a friend’s Saturday night wedding. At about 6 a.m. Saturday morning the phone rang at my parents’ house (where I was staying). It was my boss in D.C.

“It’s a disaster up at that Rock thing in New York – 20-mile long traffic jams; nobody can get near the place by car. There’s a plane scheduled to take off from LaGuardia at 9:30 to bring volunteer doctors up there. I don’t care how you do it; get your ass on that plane.”

Luckily I had my trusty standard reporter’s issue Sony TC 110 cassette recorder with me (Don’t leave home with out it!). All I needed was a way on the plane. Necessity, as they say, is the mother of invention. I quickly devised a plan.

Also on the luck side, my uncle owned a biochemistry lab and, he had one of those little black doctor’s bags. He used it to carry around some of his instruments. The bag also was the exact size to hold my recorder. Voila! After a quick explanation, Uncle Bob kindly lent me his precious bag. Donning an older suit still in my former bedroom closet, I grabbed a cab to LaGuardia Airport as “Dr. Somerstein.”

I had no trouble locating – and talking my way aboard – the plane. Nobody would dare question a guy in a suit carrying the little black bag. Our ride was a reliable old DC 3 two-engine job. Configured to seat about 30, the plane was a bit more than half full. We took off shortly after 9:30, heading north into a dark grey sky with building thunderheads off in the distance.

Our destination, we learned, would be Monticello – ten miles from the festival site on the farm owned by Max Yasgur. From there, we’d be flown in by helicopter; the only way to get there.

As we flew north, the sky got darker and darker and, the air got choppier – much choppier. The sturdy little DC 3 was flopping around like a feather in the wind. More than one MD had his head in the handy little bag in the seat pockets. It was scary. Nonetheless, we arrived safely at Monticello and Dr. Somestein raced to the front of the line to grab the first helicopter.

The choppers were also being used to shuttle in the performers scheduled to play. I did make the first trip and my riding companions turned out to be Canned Heat, whose hit “Goin’ Up the Country” opened the Woodstock movie. Thankfully, the helicopter trip was far smoother than the plane ride.

Upstate New York is very lush and green, whether it’s the thick forests of the Adirondack Mountains or the rolling farmlands of Sullivan County. I was enjoying the view from several hundred feet in the air when I looked down and saw the green pastureland interrupted by a huge black mass off in the distance. As we neared it became apparent the black mass was people, hundreds of thousands of people – The Woodstock Music & Art Fair (The official name).

We landed at the rear of the concert site and near the emergency medical tents. The crowd was so large I could barely see the stage, except for the tall rigs holding the lights and speakers. It was still relatively early in the day so the speakers were silent. It was an awesome scene nonetheless.

Also near the tents was a large bank of pay phones, our only communication with the outside world in that pre-wireless era. I took my place in one line and waited my turn to phone D.C. to proudly announce my accomplishment of making it to Woodstock. I was pumped; I was the youngest member of the staff and this was my first BIG story. It was not to be.

It turned out that Metromedia’s New York City station; the venerable and legendary WNEW-AM already had two reporters working the concert. I was assigned to do a few reports on the emergency medical set-up and then, to leave Yasgur’s Farm (WHAT!!!????) and interview the residents on the surrounding farms. That was it. Get the interviews, go home (I did have that infernal wedding Saturday night).

Yes, I was one of the 500,000 people who actually made it to Woodstock. I am probably the only one who never heard a lick of music.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Out There?

©2009 by LeeZard

Hang on to your antennae; LeeZard is going UFO. I wasn’t going to write about this but then I saw a story in the Seattle Times, “Crop circles lure visitors to Wilbur, Wash.” ( and I had to hit the keyboard.

I don’t want to get into the crop circle debate but it brought to mind something LeeZard observed last week in the sky over Lake Kathleen in unincorporated King County, WA. Wende (TWBGF!) lives on a beautiful 1.25-acre property along the shores of Lake Kathleen and, as we often do on clear summer nights, we were sitting on the deck enjoying our after-dinner lattes and cigars. When I’m away from urban light pollution, I like to gaze at the night sky and look for shooting stars or man-made satellites. Sometimes, I just stare and wonder what/who is out there? For LeeZard, it is a calming and humbling experience.

I was lying stretched out on the wicker couch with my head in Wende’s lap (aaaahhhhh) when I noticed something odd. “Wende,” I said, “check this out.”

Above us and to the west there was a point of light – that’s the only way to describe it – moving south-to-north and it struck me as odd in a couple of ways. Firstly, it appeared to be moving at a great rate of speed and, it was at a very, very high altitude. Wende, who is well-versed on all things aviation, observed, “it’s probably a military flight.”

“Hmmm,” said I, “with my limited expertise, that’s still awfully high up for military.” And, for the moment, that was that.
(NOTE: The photo to the right is NOT an accurate representation of what I saw but, it is close. The point of light I saw was not quite as bright)

A few moments later, though, it was back, this time retracing its flight from north-to-south. I again called it to Wende’s attention and we both watched until it disappeared in the distance. “I’m no expert,” I said, ‘but that’s no military flight pattern I’ve heard of.”

TWBGF nodded in agreement and went into the house for something. But, LeeZard was now entranced. I stayed outside and continued to lay on the couch staring upward. About ten minutes later it reappeared behind me and to the east but again flying north-to-south. Sure enough, a few moments later, it retraced its route south-to-north. YOIKS!

Now, every star in the sky was beginning to move (in my mind’s eye) as I waited for what I was certain would be another viewing. I blinked a few times to clear my brain and waited – and waited. “Wende!” I shouted. “Come out here, NOW!!”

For a third time, the point of light appeared overhead, flying its original path to the west, north-to-south and, a bit later, south-to-north. Then it disappeared, apparently for the last time; I waited another half-hour with no more sightings.

This morning, as I was writing this, I called Wende and asked her how she would characterize what we saw. “I don’t know,” she said slowly. “I just don’t know. I want to say it was erratic bit it wasn’t; it was flying a deliberate pattern. It was too high for a plane. It was just….this high flying….light.”

I didn’t even consider calling any “official” agency to report what we saw; we all know how that ends up. But, I still wonder. What was it? Who/what is out there?