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Dispatches Quick Takes

Quick Takes

( STR/AFP/Getty Images)

Mostly cloudy

It’s not hard to see how pollution is making life hard in one gritty Chinese city. In fact, it’s hard to see anything else. Officials in Harbin in northeast China shut down the city on Oct. 20 in response to a thick cloud of smog that settled low over the city and diminished visibility to just 30 feet. China’s official news agency blamed the smog on a variety of factors, from farmers burning their fields outside the city to the switching-on of the city’s coal-powered heating system. Hospitals in the area reported a dramatic uptick in patients admitted for respiratory illness as the smog persisted for days.

Cold storage

Not all Environmental Protection Agency cleanup efforts halted during October’s 16-day federal government shutdown. EPA chief Gina McCarthy directed employees who remained on the payroll during the budget impasse to spend their time cleaning up a different sort of hazardous waste site: the EPA office fridge. According to an email sent during the shutdown, McCarthy said EPA essential personnel were rifling through office fridges and tossing out all perishable items. According to the agency chief, government workers even found a 16-year-old can of soup in the fridge of a Chicago EPA office.

Texas shake

There have been bacon milkshakes. There have been beer milkshakes. And on Nov. 3, there was the best of both worlds. Patrons of the Texas Motor Speedway outside of Dallas who came for the Texas 500 NASCAR race had the opportunity to pick up the bacon beer milkshake from one of the raceway’s concession stands. Known as the Shake’n Bacon Brew, concessioners mixed 6 ounces of Blue Bell vanilla ice cream, 2 ounces of candied bacon, and half a bottle of Rahr & Sons Ugly Pug Black Lager to create the porky desert. Of course, customers for whom the concoction was not enough were able to add whipped cream and bacon bits on top.

Lovely reminder

More than 60 years after penning a love letter to his future wife, Allen Tully’s letter finally has arrived. On Oct. 9, Tully, an 84-year-old from Omaha, Neb., pulled a strange letter from his mailbox. It was written in his own hand, but carried a July 23, 1950, postmark. Furthermore, it was apparently sent from Savannah, Ga.—a place where Tully briefly resided while serving in the Army. Inside the envelope, Tully found a letter he had written to his then girlfriend, Betsey Lieber, now his wife of 58 years. But neither can understand how the love letter made it to their mailbox after 63 years in transit. The address listed on the envelope is nowhere near where the couple currently resides. And the post office says it didn’t deliver the missive. But Tully seems unconcerned by the mystery. For the couple, the letter rekindles the love that has endured for more than half a century.

Pounds of prevention

An Iowa dentist sick of fixing cavities brought on by Halloween candy splurges has now decided to put her money where her mouth is. In October, West Des Moines dentist Steffany Mohan announced plans to conduct a candy buy-back program before and after Halloween. The dentist said she would be giving $1 for every 1 pound of unopened candy turned in to her office on Nov. 4. Mohan said she plans to wrap the unopened candy and send it to American soldiers overseas.

Quite a carp

Most people might recoil in horror, but for Keith Williams, his 134-pound carp is a thing of beauty. Williams hooked the massive fish while vacationing in Thailand last month. The United Kingdom native said he had a premonition that it would be a good day to fish—especially considering it was his birthday. So the 56-year-old traveler took rod and reel to the waters near the Gillham fishing resort in Krabi, Thailand. Once he hooked the beast, it took Williams 25 minutes to reel in the giant Siamese carp. Better still: Once the International Game Fish Association confirms the weight, Williams will own the record for largest carp ever caught.

Problem customer

Not all shoppers are welcome at Walmart, at least not ones that may try to eat other shoppers. A 6-foot-long alligator decided to loiter outside the Apopka, Fla., Walmart on Oct. 20, getting close enough to the store to make the automatic doors open and close. Store employees locked the doors while customers made their way to the front to get a glimpse of the gator. “It was a nice size gator, just chillin’,” shopper Robin Watkins told WKMG Local 6. “It was neat. It was neat to see. But I’m glad they locked the doors for safety because I do have my child with me.” The alligator left for a nearby lake before a trapper could arrive. Earlier in October a large deer made it into a Subway shop inside the Walmart in Goldsboro, N.C. The 8-point buck wandered in the shop for an hour and knocked over chairs before animal control officials gave it a tranquilizer shot and removed it.

Fixing a bug

Many Toyota owners may get a recall notice soon, but they may not want to know why. Spider infestations have caused carmaker Toyota to recall 870,000 late-model Camrys, Venzas, and Avalons. Toyota executives say air-conditioning drainage tubes in each of the three models have become a prime biome for tiny spiders to set up shop. According to company officials, infesting spiders that build webs inside the small tube could cause a blockage that in turn would force water to drip elsewhere in the car—the airbag control module, for instance. The company has been dealing with complaints of spontaneously firing airbags, and subsequent investigation has fingered spiders as the culprit.

Paw power

A controversial proposal by Los Angeles officials has some Angelinos wondering whether they will ever get rid of their feral cat problems. New rules proposed by L.A. Animal Services director Brenda Barnette, would give feral cats some semblance of property rights. Under current law, homeowners have the right to remove from their property any animal that uses the yard as a bathroom or causes damages. Under Barnette’s proposal, the City of Los Angeles would strip homeowners of that power, recognizing a cat’s right to do its business with impunity wherever it likes.