Portland’s famously unknown statue! Fixing ATMs in Antarctica!

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<SFX: ticking and bell>

This week we’re introducing the John Flinn Geo Quiz. Each episode I’ll ask a question about a geographic, geologic or cultural oddity, supplied by John Flinn, former longtime travel editor of the San Francisco Chronicle. This is new quiz content, created for the Bizarre Travel Tales podcast and not related to the Hearst Corporation or its affiliates.

In this episode, the question is: What nation’s passports are held by the 7,000 residents of the islands of St. Pierre and Miquelon in Canada’s Gulf of St. Lawrence?

Stick around for the answer later in the episode. 


<SFX: “Dude, Where’s My Car”>

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that at Munich’s annual Oktoberfest celebration, where revelers consume as much as 7.5 million liters (almost 2 million U.S. gallons) of beer, one of the most popular spots is the Lost & Found office.

The office even issues an annual report detailing how many lost items were turned in during the two-week event, along with a few statistics and a list of the oddities that people left behind. In 2011, for instance, the Lost & Found for Oktoberfest took in 520 wallets, 425 keys, 390 mobile phones, a pair of crutches, a Viking helmet, and a set of teeth. 

The 2013 list included 840 identification cards, 460 purses and 350 items of clothing, as well as two matching wedding rings, a Segway, a fishing rod and a pet dachshund named “Wasti.” And a set of teeth. In 2010, revelers misplaced, among other things, a leather whip, a live rabbit, a tuba, a ship in a bottle and, yes, more teeth. Officials say they get teeth every year, possibly a result of serving so much roast oxen. 

In 2013, an Italian man lost something during Oktoberfest that was not turned into the Lost & Found office. His car. 

Technically, he didn’t lose it AT Oktoberfest. That was the problem. And, technically, he didn’t so much lose the car as he forgot where it was parked. For five weeks.

The 40-year-old man, known only as Andreas, told media at the time that he parked his silver VW Golf on a side street near a tram station “somewhere east of Munich.” When it was time to leave, he couldn’t remember the name of the tram stop or the street. After spending a couple days looking, he went home to Italy, but made three trips back to Munich — which, it should be said, is 120 square miles — to look for the vehicle, eventually hanging posters offering 200 euros for any help finding it. Presumably, he also wandered the streets asking “Geck, wo ist mein auto?” or “Dude, where’s my car?”

Eventually, the local tabloid Abendzeitung ran a story on the man’s plight and readers spotted the vehicle — right where he left it 5 weeks earlier. He told the newspaper: he was “absolutely thrilled.”

Munich authorities were less surprised by the situation. A police spokesman told the Abendzeitung:  QUOTE We get this sort of thing all the time.”


<SFX: Mountain top wind>

There are plenty of travel experiences that qualify as adventures, but not many adventures come from the often routine world of business travel. Unless, of course, your job is to travel to fix ATMs in Antarctica.

About 840 miles from the South Pole is McMurdo Station, the logistical hub of the U.S. Antarctic Program — and, frankly, a town unto itself. To serve the 1,300 workers, business operators and scientists who are isolated there for months, there is a store, a barber shop, and bars and eateries. And it turns out that most transactions are, well, cold, hard cash. Really cold.

Which explains why there are ATMs in Antarctica. Wells Fargo ATMs. 

But since Wells Fargo doesn’t service its automated teller machines, it’s up to senior customer engineer Brian Sonnleitner of the NCR corporation, an enterprise technology company that runs point-of-sale software and hardware for restaurants, retailers and banks. Sonnleitner takes extreme weather gear and a tool bag every couple of years to maintain the ATMs at the McMurdo Station, according to the company’s website. A few workers at the station are trained to fix minor problems such as paper jams.

“They absolutely appreciate having those ATMs,” said Sonnleitner. “I go over every nut, bolt and sensor. I test everything to make sure I’m leaving it in tip-top shape for the next two years.”

But what about refilling the ATMs? It’s not like an armored Brinks truck can pull up every week. Fortunately, McMurdo is a closed-circuit economy. Workers get wages via direct deposit, they take the money out of the ATMs to use at the businesses within the station, the cash cycles back through the station’s finance office, which, essentially, stuffs it back in the ATMs.

When Sonnleitner installed new machines in 2011, it was a big deal for locals who probably don’t have a lot of outside entertainment. “I was the talk of the station,” he said. “Everybody was so excited, saying, ‘We’re getting the new ATMs.’”

What about the potential for robbery or burglary from the ATMs? Probably not a concern. There’s only so far a getaway car can go, and the closest place to spend the money is 2,400 miles away.

 In New Zealand.


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The islands of St. Pierre and Miquelon are the last remnants of New France in North America, and their residents are French citizens. The islands were a geopolitical punching bag for a couple hundred years between England, France, and the United States. The colony became a French Overseas Territory in 1946. St. Pierre, incidentally, is the site of the only guillotine execution in North America. A convicted murderer named Joseph Neel was beheaded in 1888. A guillotine is still there, I’ve seen it myself, although there’s some question if it’s THE guillotine. If you visit, bring euros. Unlike the UK, it’s still in the EU.


<SFX: money jingling>

The second largest hammered-copper statue in the United States is in downtown Portland, but there’s a good chance you have no idea what it looks like. You’d probably recognize the largest one — it’s the Statue of Liberty.

But the second largest is a 65-ton, 36-foot statue of a woman armed with a trident, crouching on a perch of the Portland Building on Southwest Fifth Avenue. She is Portlandia. The sculpture, unveiled in 1985 by artist Raymond Kaskey, is based on the woman who’s been on the city’s seal since 1878, but for that image she was identified only as the Queen of Commerce. It’s unclear why she needs a trident to buy and sell goods, but that’s not important right now. 

So why isn’t this imposing, powerful icon of Portland more well-known? Why isn’t it a ubiquitous symbol of the city and of civic pride? Because the artist owns exclusive rights to any image of this piece of public art, and he protects them religiously. Seriously? Oh yeah. The third sentence in Kaskey’s bio on Wikipedia is: “​​Kaskey has threatened lawsuits against those who use portrayals of his work for commercial purposes.”

It all started in 1984 when the Metropolitan Arts Commission in Portland voted to allow artists to retain the copyrights to their publicly purchased artwork, according to online magazine Willamette Week. So even though Kaskey was paid a reported $330,000 in public and private funds, he still gets to say who can profit from any image of the Portlandia statue.

A local craft brewery put the image on one of its beer labels, then had to negotiate with Kaskey for an undisclosed amount of cash. In 2003, local artist Amos Latteier proposed a project in which locals could “Be Portlandia” by posing for photos in the general vicinity of the statue. Even that had to be haggled with Kaskey, who made Latteier sign a document saying he would not profit from the project. 

The TV show “Portlandia” had to hammer out a deal to use the statue in the credits, and guarantee it would not be made fun of in the show. You won’t see her on T-shirts, key chains or city guides. Unless of course the money is good enough, I suppose. (It’s worth noting that if the crouching figure were standing, she would be about 50 feet tall, which makes me wonder why Hollywood studio Allied Artists never sued Kaskey for infringing on the 1958 film “Attack of the 50-foot Woman.”)

Keep in mind that the installation of Portlandia predates by 25 years the start of photo-sharing platform Instagram, so there was no way Kaskey could have foreseen the nearly absolute trampling of image copyrights in the era of social media. Yes, there are many photos of the statue on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter, including by influencers who are profiting from the images. (Just type in “Portlandia statue,” but you didn’t hear that from me.)

In an odd twist, Instagram’s terms of use state that the user (you) grants Instagram a “non-exclusive, fully paid and royalty-free, transferable, sub-licensable, worldwide license to use their content.” So if I take a photo of Portlandia and post it, Instagram has the rights to put that image on T-shirts and keychains. 

Kaskey could try to sue the social networks. Yeah, good luck with that.