INTRO: In this episode of Bizarre Travel Tales, we’ll explore why chest size matters; that what happens in Pamplona, bleeds in Pamplona; and what happens when Japanese airport security plants a big bag of pot in your luggage.
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FRONT BUMPER: Bizarre Travel Tales revels in the strange, wild and weird side of the planet and the people who roam around it. Got a strange tale to tell from the road, send it to us at InappropriateTraveler(AT)gmail.com and we might read your story in an upcoming episode. Find us at Apple podcasts and Spotify under the Inappropriate Traveler label and don’t forget to hit Subscribe.
WORLD’S LARGEST CHEST OF DRAWERS
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If there are devout worshipers in the religion of furniture, they probably pray five times a day in the general direction of High Point, North Carolina. Because the vast majority of the industry in this community is making items that you sit on, eat off of, and store your clothes in, the city claims the title “Home Furnishings Capital of the World.” It’s unclear if any other “home furnishings hotspot” has tried to (ahem) unseat them, although it probably wouldn’t matter because High Point already trademarked the title.
As further proof of their claim (and an answer to the question “Where do you store 6-foot-long socks?”), High Point is also home to the world’s largest chest of drawers. The free-standing structure was raised in 1926 to draw attention to the community’s main industry.
Depending on who you ask, it is somewhere between 29 and 41 feet tall. According to reliable and thoroughly fact-checked sources, the 19th century-style dresser is 30 feet, 32 feet, 36 feet, 40 feet or 3 ½ stories tall, although the inside is only one story. A search for “largest chest of drawers” at Guinness World Records came up with “Largest Hand-Knitted Sweater,” “Largest Ballet Tutu” and “Largest Bra,” so at least now we know what gets stored in the largest chest of drawers.
Over the years, the space inside has been used as a showroom, meeting place, party venue and for storage, the Charlotte Observer reported, and when it was first built, it was a welcome office known as “The Bureau of Information.” A pair of oversized socks hangs from one of the drawers, although that makes us wonder “Who changes High Point’s dirty socks?”
To even further prove the claim to greatness in the world of tables, sofas and rocking chairs (the largest of which is in either Missouri or Illinois), High Point is also the home to the world’s largest furniture store (also trademarked), Furnitureland South. The store is 1.3 million square feet, is known as the “Walt Disney World of Furniture” and, for good measure, there’s an 85-foot-tall dresser out front known as the “the largest highboy chest of drawers in the world.”
Wait, you say, there’s another chest of drawers double the height of the World’s Largest Chest of Drawers? Yes, but fans of the latter are quick to point out that Furnitureland South’s dresser is part of the building facade and not free-standing, and that one is a chest of drawers and the other is a highboy chest of drawers. What’s the difference, you say?
We don’t know either, but we’re certainly not going to ask someone in High Point, North Carolina. It might be blasphemy.
KARMA OF THE BULLS
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The trick to understanding the running of the bulls for the annual San Fermin festival in Spain is that on one side you have a pack of really stupid animals, incapable or rational thought, charging through the cobblestone streets of Pamplona. On the other side, you have the bulls.
Whether it was fate, karma, coincidence or Mother Nature, something was definitely at work at the 2014 running when one of the 1,300-pound Victoriano del Rio bulls managed to track down, gore and nearly kill “Buffalo” Bill Hillmann, a Chicago resident and frequent participant for the run. He also happens to be the co-author of the book “Fiesta: How to Survive the Bulls of Pamplona.”
Hillmann was gored in his right thigh, although the horn missed his artery and bone, according to the Los Angeles Times. He did undergo surgery for the wound, which makes us wonder if he should have written a follow-up book about emergency rooms in Pamplona.
Four years later, Hillman told Reuters: “The most important tip anyone could ever … give you on the running of the bulls, is: don’t run, don’t do it, it’s not worth it, you can die, you can get seriously injured for life.” A quote that’s probably not on the jacket for the latest edition of his book.
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Japan has never been vague about how unhappy it is with travelers who try to bring illegal recreational drugs into the country. Just ask Paul McCartney.
So in May 2008, when a visitor who had just arrived through Narita International Airport, opened his luggage at the hotel and found 5 ounces of marijuana, a few things probably went through his mind. The thought that Japanese customs officials were the ones who put it there probably was not one of them.
It turns out that a customs officer put the pot in the passenger’s bag as a test for the airport’s drug-sniffing dogs. Maybe they had test anxiety that day, but the dogs failed. Spectacularly. And the customs officer forgot which bag he spiked. None of this would have been a problem if the officer had stuck to protocol, according to airport officials, which is to use a “training suitcase” and see if the dogs pick up the scent.
Japan Today reported that the 38-year-old customs officer was quoted as saying: “I knew that using passengers’ bags is prohibited, but I did it because I wanted to improve the sniffer dog’s ability. The dogs have always been able to find it before… I became overconfident that it would work.”
Actually, the guy had a point. The so-called “training bag” probably reeked of pot for having carried it so many times, and it didn’t smell like a week’s worth of sweaty, grubby laundry, so picking it out of the crowd would have been a snap for the dogs. A normal bag? Not so much.
Eventually, the unintentional drug-mule visitor called police and they returned the wayward ganja to red-faced airport authorities. It’s not clear from the reporting at the time if the returned pot was the same weight, or whether the mini bar in the visitor’s hotel room was ravaged.
Maybe the problem with the dogs had to do with the quantity, because when Sir Paul McCartney tried to bring a half pound of pot through the same airport in 1980, he ended up spending 9 days of the “concert tour” at the Tokyo Narcotics Detention Center. Then he was deported, despite his completely sincere pleas that he intended to smoke the entire half pound himself, and that it was not for distribution.
“We were about to fly to Japan and I knew I wouldn’t be able to get anything to smoke over there,” McCartney said in 2004, according to History.com. “This stuff was too good to flush down the toilet, so I thought I’d take it with me.”
And for that, Japanese officials gave Sir Paul a ticket to ride. Right out of the country.
END BUMPER: The Bizarre Travel Tales podcast is part of the Inappropriate Traveler Podcast Network. Find this and other podcasts at InappropriateTraveler.com, and on social media at @DeathByJetlag. Enjoy the flight.
(Writing, recording and engineering: Spud Hilton. Photos and illustrations: Spud Hilton. Site and its contents are property of the Inappropriate Traveler Podcast Network and Spud Hilton.)