In what has to be one of my more bizarre travel experiences, one time I was asked to hold some marijuana at LAX so a drug-sniffing dog could be tested.
Or, was I the one being tested?
In the summer of 1994 I decided to go back to the States for a week to visit my mom who lived in Dallas at the time. It had been one of the hottest summers on record in Korea (until 2004) and when it came time for our summer break at the Language Institute I was teaching at, I was really looking forward to getting out of Seoul for a week and heading back to the States.
Back then Thai Airways still had a direct flight from Seoul to Los Angeles and as a frequent flier on the airline there was no question which airline I would take to get back to the States. I had been flying on Thai for the past year when I went to Thailand and other than the superb in-flight service; Thai offered (at least back then) some of the cheaper airfares in Asia.
Of course, summers in Korea can be a little hectic with more and more Koreans opting for overseas travel during the summer months (in recent years it has gotten more hectic), which often means that flights are overbooked. While waiting for my flight to depart at Kimpo (then the international airport in Korea) I heard an announcement for me to report to the Thai ground staff. I expected to be bumped off the flight or some other problem, but instead I was informed that I was being bumped up to business class. Sweet. I couldn’t ask for a better time to be bumped up to business class especially on a long flight to the States. My seat on the Boeing 747 was right next to the exit so when we arrived in Los Angeles I was one of the first people off the plane.I got through immigration almost immediately and went to the baggage carousel to wait for my bags. So there I was, just standing there waiting when a U.S. Customs Agent comes up to me.
“Excuse me,” he says, “I was wondering if you could do us a favor?”
“Sure,” I say.
“We’re training one of our new drug-sniffing dogs and we would appreciate it if you could help us out.”
“No problem. What would you like for me to do?”
The Customs Agent then proceeded to pull out a small plastic bag containing a small amount of marijuana.
“We would like for you to put this in your back pocket and when the dog is brought around to sniff the bags if it detects the marijuana in your pocket it will just sit down behind you,” he explained.
Fair enough, I thought. I took small bag of marijuana and put in my back pocket. It never even crossed my mind that what I was doing could be dangerous.
I had been the only person at the baggage carousel while the Customs Agent asked me to do this big favor, but by now other passengers from my flight had made their way to the carousel. When the luggage finally started to appear on the carousel, I noticed out of the corner of my eye another Customs Agent walking the drug-sniffing dog around the passengers waiting for their luggage.
Sure enough, when the dog reached me and got a scent of the marijuana in my back pocket, it immediately sat down behind me.
There were a few people watching the dog move through the crowd around the baggage carousel and when they noticed it stop and then sit down behind me, many of them stared and pointed at me. They probably thought they were witnessing a drug bust.
The Customs Agent who had approached me initially came back and thanked me for helping out.
“My pleasure,” I said as I handed him the plastic bag of marijuana.
To this day, I have never been able to figure out why I was singled out from the rest of the passengers to help test their drug-sniffing dog. I suppose it could have been anyone, but because I was the first one waiting for my luggage, I was the most likely choice.
On the other hand, maybe I fit the profile of a drug smuggler with my disheveled appearance and long hair not to mention that the flight had originated from Thailand. (Four years later, on a Delta flight from Seoul to Portland I was red flagged for a full luggage search when the customs agents noticed that I had been in Thailand a few months earlier. I still had a disheveled appearance and the tattoos couldn’t have hurt.)
The day I got to hold some marijuana at LAX was definitely one of my more bizarre travel stories.