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Associated Press/Photo by Erich Schlegel

Quick Takes

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Issue: "Bright or rotten idea?," Oct. 5, 2013

The price of liberty

Tired of taking off your shoes, ziplocking your liquids, and checking your dignity at the head of every airport security line? Transportation Security Administration officials say that getting that dignity back is possible—but it will cost you $85. On Sept. 10, the TSA announced it was expanding the PreCheck system, a voluntary program where airline travelers may consent to fingerprinting, background checks, and an $85 charge in exchange for the luxury of bypassing long security checkpoints at airports. Previously available only to frequent fliers, PreCheck’s expanded rollout is getting mixed reviews. For one, the expedited lanes are in only 40 airports across the country. But even in those airports, the speed lanes are only available in select terminals.

Mass meltdown

Having nothing else to call it, school officials in Amherst, Mass., announced they were temporarily closing six schools for “weather-related building issues” on Sept. 12. The actual reason: slippery floors. After hearing about 22 falls across the district the day before, officials with the Amherst Regional School District staged a shutdown. According to the school district, the floors became slippery when high temperatures melted the floor wax, creating a slippery film up and down school hallways.

Free flying

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A glitch in United Airlines’ computer system had the carrier on Sept. 12 offering round-trip tickets for truly rock-bottom prices. Houston resident Maura Leahy managed to be shopping for a ticket to Washington during the glitch. “It was $5 round-trip, no fees, nothing,” she said. “This is nuts.” Some customers even reported $0 round-trip offers. The day after the error, a United spokesman said the company was considering honoring the cheap fares.

Long journey

Cast away and lost at sea for more than a century, a message in a bottle has found its way into another human’s hands. The message, found by Steve Thurber on Sept. 9 as he was walking along a beach on Canada’s Pacific Coast, dates back to 1906. Thurber refrained from opening the mystery bottle for fear of damaging the letter. But he was able to read enough of it through the glass bottle to learn that the note was composed by Earl Willard and tossed into the Pacific Ocean during a sea passage from San Francisco to Bellingham, Wash., in September 1906.

Park police

Pittsburgh City Councilwoman Theresa Kail-Smith told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review that 14 of her constituents have been ticketed up to $1,000 each for parking violations. Their crime: They parked on their own driveways. According to Councilman Corey O’Conner, the city’s Bureau of Building Inspection is in charge of enforcing an ordinance that requires all would-be front driveway parkers to obtain a variance and permit from the city at a cost of $225. A BBI spokesman said its code enforcement officers do not enforce the ordinance unless they receive a complaint, and they first issue a warning. But a spate of complaints has a few city council representatives pushing for a change in the law. “It’s ridiculous,” Pittsburgher Eileen Freedman told the Tribune-Review, “and it doesn’t make our city look very smart.”

Getting his goat, I

What’s the most you would pay for a goat? If your answer is less than $3.47 million, then you would have been out of a recent bidding war in Saudi Arabia. According to local press accounts in the Okaz newspaper, a Saudi businessman plunked down 12 million Saudi riyals (or $3.47 million) for one unique goat. The account, which includes a picture of the check, indicated the goat was part of a rare breed and enjoyed unique features.

Getting his goat, II

Police officers in Gresham, Ore., received a stern warning when they arrived at a home on Aug. 22 to remove a goat from the rooftop. “That goat will charge you,” a neighbor told police. “That goat only respects one man.” Heeding the warning, police waited for that man—the goat’s owner—to return home and fetch his 35-pound animal off the rooftop. Officers suspect the goat got on the roof by climbing a ramp in the backyard of the house.

Land rush 

For a cool $120,000, Marc Helie of The Hamptons in Long Island picked up a nice piece of beachfront property last May. But he may have a hard time building on it. According to county records, the property is nearly 1,900 feet long but only 1 foot wide. Details of the transaction were released on Sept. 4. The sale arose from a bidding war when Suffolk County put the strip of land up for auction last spring. The land runs from a beachside highway all the way to the Atlantic Ocean, and the county offered it for $10 to each of the six people whose land adjoined the strip. When two landowners responded, the county set up the auction. No one in the county’s property office expected much money for the land. “But you know what water’s worth,” county property manager Wayne R. Thompson told Newsday. “You can say, ‘Oh, yes, I have a right of way to the water.’”

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