Dispatches > Quick Takes
Illustration by Krieg Barrie

Quick Takes

Oddball occurences

Issue: "Ghost streets," Feb. 27, 2010

Cutlery caper

One Pennsylvania thief may want to consider upgrading his weapon next time he plans a heist. According to police in Hempfield Township, Pa., Gino Conti entered a Shell gas station and attempted to rob the cash register brandishing only a fork. When the clerk revealed the register was empty, police say Conti settled for a box of cigarettes and fled on foot. Police captured the 31-year-old a short while later and charged him with robbery and simple assault.

Counting the cost

After three months, Newsday could only coax 35 paying customers. "I heard you say 35 people," said a Newsday reporter questioning publisher Terry Jimenez about how many people had signed up to pay for unfettered access to the newspaper's website. The figure seemed amazingly low for the Long Island-based newspaper that still boasts a daily print readership of nearly 400,000. Last year, Newsday embarked on a redesign and relaunch of its website that cost the company about $4 million. The 35 customers who are willing to pay $5 a week for unlimited access to the site's content have generated about $9,000 for the paper-less than a quarter of 1 percent of the redesign cost.

Giving their all

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It may not have been the biggest donation toward relief efforts in Haiti, but the contributions made by clients of the Guilford Avenue Shelter in Baltimore certainly made a big impression. That's because Guilford Avenue is a homeless shelter. After a prayer meeting led by lay pastor Tim Herty of Grace Fellowship Church in nearby Timonium, homeless clients of the shelter scraped together $14.64 in crumpled bills and dirty coins to make a donation for relief efforts in Haiti. A representative put the donations in an envelope and delivered it downtown to the Red Cross. "We were all weepy-eyed" when the donations arrived, Red Cross volunteer coordinator Bobbie Jones said.

Pricey fish

What's the best tuna? The owners of a Tokyo sushi market and a Hong Kong restaurant must have thought it was a 512-pound bluefin tuna at the Tsukiji fish market in Tokyo. Together they bought and shared the giant fish last month, paying $177,000 for the honor. Their catch, however, was not the highest-priced tuna ever sold at the Tsukiji market: In 2001 a 440-pound tuna sold for $220,000.

Winter overload

The town of Cary, N.C., was all set for a Jan. 30 "winter wonderland" festival. Town officials even planned to truck in 30 tons of snow to create a winter atmosphere at a local park. But then the actual winter got in the way. The storm that hit the Southeast at the end of last month covered Cary in snow and prompted the town to cancel its annual winter event. "A controlled snow is something you can plan for," town official Tracey Filomena told the Raleigh News & Observer. "You can't plan on Mother Nature."

Not a people person

Suffolk County (N.Y.) authorities say they caught a woman who had a fully clothed mannequin in her car's passenger seat as she drove on the Long Island Expressway. The problem: She was in a carpool lane that requires a living, breathing passenger and was trying to trick police with the mannequin. The 61-year-old motorist now faces a $135 fine. She probably would have gotten away with her deception except for something that made a sheriff's deputy suspicious as the car passed by him: The "passenger" was wearing sunglasses and had the visor down-on an overcast day. "At first glance this may seem humorous," said Sheriff Vincent DeMarco, "but it is not a joking matter when you drive off with a ticket."

Paying in pain

Along with medical devices, Austrian ambulances are also now equipped with credit card scanners. And the emergency workers want you to pay prior to treatment. Austrian officials told the AFP news services that the policy is a response to foreign tourists who use emergency services and then leave the country without paying their bills. A German tourist injured while skiing in the Alps learned of the policy firsthand. "During the ambulance ride, the crew started pushing buttons and then they said: 'Sorry, but we have to charge you 230 euros now,'" he reportedly told a local radio program. "They were obviously very embarrassed."

Penny protest

The long, long wait is over for Janet Maitland. The Livermore, Calif., woman has finally resolved a decade-long, 14-cent dispute with her phone company. Over 10 years ago, Maitland put $5 on a TTI phone card she purchased through Costco. When she stopped using the account, she noticed she still had $0.14 left. So Maitland began calling customer service trying to get her phone company to pay back the one dime and four pennies left on her account. "It is 14 cents, but it is my 14 cents, and they were after me for 2 cents. They sent me a bill for 2 cents, they expected their money," Maitland told a local television station. Finally, after years of pestering, Maitland opened her mail to discover a check written to her in the amount of 14 cents.

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