Mad Minute

BANGKOK (AP) — Taxi fleets in Thailand are giving new meaning to the term “rooftop garden,” as they utilize the roofs of cabs idled by the coronavirus crisis to serve as small vegetable plots.

Workers from two taxi cooperatives assembled the miniature gardens this week using black plastic garbage bags stretched across bamboo frames. On top, they added soil in which a variety of crops, including tomatoes, cucumbers and string beans, were planted.

The result looks more like an eye-grabbing art installation than a car park, and that’s partly the point: to draw attention to the plight of taxi drivers and operators who have been badly hit by coronavirus lockdown measures.

The Ratchapruk and Bovorn Taxi cooperatives now have just 500 cars left plying Bangkok’s streets, with 2,500 sitting idle at a number of city sites, according to 54-year-old executive Thapakorn Assawalertkul.

With the capital’s streets deathly quiet until recently, there’s been too much competition for too few fares, resulting in a fall in drivers’ incomes. Many now can’t afford the daily payments on the vehicles, even after the charge was halved to 300 baht ($9.09), Thapakorn said. So they have walked away, leaving the cars in long, silent rows.

Some drivers surrendered their cars and returned to their homes in rural areas when the pandemic first hit last year because they were so scared, he said. More gave up and returned their cars during the second wave.

“Some left their cars at places like gas stations and called us to pick the cars up,” he recalled.

With new surges of the virus this year, the cooperatives were “completely knocked out,” as thousands of cars were given up by their drivers, he said.

Thailand’s new infections have ranged just under 15,000 in recent days after peaking above 23,400 in mid-August. The government hopes the country is easing out of this wave, which has been the deadliest so far, accounting for 97% of Thailand’s total cases and more than 99% of its deaths. In total, Thailand has confirmed 1.4 million cases and over 14,000 deaths.

The situation has left the taxi companies in financial peril, struggling to repay loans on the purchase of their fleets. Ratchapruk and Bovorn cooperatives owe around 2 billion baht ($60.8 million), Thapakorn said. The government has so far not offered any direct financial support.

“If we don’t have help soon, we will be in real trouble,” he told The Associated Press on Thursday.

The taxi-top gardens don’t offer an alternative revenue stream. The cooperatives staff, who were asked to take salary cuts, are now taking turns tending the newly-made gardens.

“The vegetable garden is both an act of protest and a way to feed my staff during this tough time,” said Thapakorn. “Thailand went through political turmoil for many years, and a great flood in 2011, but business was never this terrible.”


LAS VEGAS (AP) — Las Vegas police found 30 boa constrictors in a home and then determined that nothing was amiss.

Investigators came across the snakes Tuesday during an unspecified law enforcement investigation and promptly called Clark County Animal Control, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported.

The county agency responded "and determined the possession of the animals was not criminal," police spokesman Larry Hadfield said in an email.

County spokesman Dan Kulin said local laws don't prohibit having dozens of boa constrictors in a residence.

"However, for practical purposes there would be a limit on the number of animals that someone could adequately care for," Kulin said in an email. "For any legally owned animal the owner must provide clean water and food, a clean area or cage, the animal(s) must be kept in an appropriate area, and if confined to a cage the animal must be confined in a safe manner. Failure to provide a safe and clean living space could lead to animal cruelty charges."

The boa constrictors were in "in appropriate cages" so no action was taken, Kulin said.


BOSTON (AP) — Boston's famous Skinny House has sold for a nice fat price.

The home in the city's North End hit the market in August for $1.2 million, and the deal was closed Thursday for $1.25 million, according to Zillow.

The home "received multiple offers and went under agreement for over list price in less than one week," real estate agency CL Properties posted on Facebook.

The four-story home built in 1862, according to a plaque on the facade, is about 1,165 square feet (108 square meters) — even though it is about 10 feet (3 meters) wide at its widest point and narrows in the back to about 9.25 feet (2.8 meters).

It has two bedrooms and one bathroom and includes a private deck with a view of Boston Harbor. The home does not have a front door. Instead, residents enter through a side door.

It was last sold in 2017 for $900,000.

It is also known as the Spite House, according to the plaque. According to local lore, two brothers inherited some land. When one of them joined the Army, the other built a large house that took up most of the land. When the soldier brother returned, he built the Skinny House to block his brother's view and sunlight.


(FOX) Rather than take a car or an RV, this couple decided to road trip in a converted hearse.

Shannon Orr, 24, and Iain Cameron, 31, from Warrington, U.K., drove across Scotland's North Coast 500 in their 1998 Volvo 960 Hearse with their two dogs, Billy and Peanut, according to SWNS.

The hearse got the couple so much attention on their trip that they nicknamed it "The Grim Sleeper" and even started an Instagram account for it, the news agency reported.

Orr told SWNS she and Cameron were originally going to camp through the North Coast 500, but when they came across the advertisement for the hearse online, they changed their mind.

"We saw it on Facebook and had to get it, because it was something neither of us had seen before," Orr told SWNS.

According to SWNS, the couple paid $4,826 (£3,500) for the already-converted hearse.

"We didn't do any of the conversion," Orr said. "We bought it already converted, so we can't claim anything for that sadly."

"All we have added up to now is the Halloween figures on the dash, the ducks on the wing mirrors and the skeletons on the front and back," Orr added.

She told SWNS that even though it's a hearse, it drives just like a normal car – though it does stick out of parking spaces.

"I think with it being a hearse, it puts people off due to its previous passengers," Orr said. "But it just works so well as a camper if you can get past that part."

Orr and Cameron plan to use their hearse for "all our future road trips," Orr said. Though, she added they're still planning their next destination.

"I'm sure it'll attract a lot of attention where ever we go," Orr said.


ROCHESTER, N.Y. (AP) — Cabbage Patch Kids, the rosy-cheeked dolls that left store shelves picked clean during the first big holiday toy craze, are up for a spot in the National Toy Hall of Fame, part of a finalist group announced Wednesday that also includes garden-variety sand and the toy fire engine.

Also among finalists being considered for a November induction are five competitive games: Battleship, Risk, The Settlers of Catan, Mahjong and billiards, as well as the piñata, American Girl Dolls, Masters of the Universe and Fisher-Price Corn Popper.

The 2021 finalists were pulled from the thousands of nominations the National Toy Hall of Fame receives each year. Anyone can nominate a toy and a panel of experts, along with input from the public, votes in the three to be inducted. The 74 previous honorees have run the gamut from the simplest cardboard box and stick to the the groundbreaking Atari 2600 Game System and universally known Checkers, Crayola crayons and marbles.

To be inducted, toys must have withstood tests of time and memory, changed play or toy design and fostered learning, creativity or discovery.

All of the 2021 finalists have “greatly influenced the world of play,” said Christopher Bensch, vice president for collections at the hall, which is located inside The Strong National Museum of Play in Rochester, New York.

“These 12 toys represent the wide scope of playthings—from one of the most universal playthings in the world like sand to a game-changing board game like Risk to the popular adult game of billiards,” Bensch said.

Fans are invited to vote for their favorites as part of a “Player’s Choice” ballot that closes Sept. 22.

The three toys that receive the most public votes will be submitted as one ballot to be counted with the 22 other top-three ballots submitted by the National Selection Advisory Committee, effectively making the public one member of the committee.

The winners will be inducted Nov. 4.

About this year’s nominees:

- American Girl Dolls: Created in 1986 by educator and newscaster Pleasant Rowland, each doll comes with a narrative that reflects an era of American history.

- Battleship: Originally played with paper and pencil, Milton Bradley’s 1967 plastic adaptation popularized the two-person strategy game. It was among the first board games to be computerized in 1979.

- Billiards: Commonly known as pool in the United States, the game evolved from earlier European outdoor games and became popular in the 1800s.

- Cabbage Patch Kids: The dolls, each unique, were launched in 1979. Complete with adoption papers, they were the must-have holiday toy of 1983, paving the way for Tickle Me Elmo, Beanie Babies, and Furby that followed.

- Fisher-Price Corn Popper: Introduced in 1957, the push-toy got toddlers walking, mesmerized by bright flying balls and the popping sound.

- Mahjong: The gambling card game originated in China became popular in the United States in the 1920s.

- Masters of the Universe: He-Man, She-Ra and the line’s other action figures became popular through Mattel’s use of comic books and television, including the cartoon series He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, from 1983 to 1985.

- Piñata: The treat-filled paper mache object is commonly associated with Mexican culture but may date back to early 13th-century China.

- Risk: The strategy board game first published in the United States in 1959 challenges players to control armies and conquer the world.

- Sand: The substance is perhaps the most universal and oldest toy in the world, according to the National Toy Hall of Fame.

- The Settlers of Catan: The cooperative board game now called “Catan” was first published in Germany. Players representing settlers establish a settlement on an island by spending resources, which are earned through trade and rolls of the dice.

- Toy fire engine: Materials, design and technology have evolved but the appeal has remained.


Sept. 20 (UPI) -- A pair of sheep got loose from their pen in Texas and led animal care officers on a foot chase that at one point ended up on a busy highway.

The city of San Antonio Animal Care Services said in a Facebook post that officers responded multiple calls Sunday about two loose sheep grazing in a field next to the Texas 151 highway.

The post said the sheep became "spooked" when the officers approached them and fled toward an access road. The officers were able to form "human walls" to guide the sheep away from the road, but the animals hopped over a nearby retaining wall and ended up on the highway.

The San Antonio Police Department blocked westbound traffic on the highway to allow the animal care officers to guide the sheep out of the roadway.

"After a little more coaxing, our would be shepherds corralled the sheep in our fenced courtyard," animal services said.

The post said the sheep were reunited with their owners and were not showing any signs of injury or stress from their time on the loose.


Sept. 20 (UPI) -- Drought conditions in a Utah reservoir led to the revealing of an unusual piece of the state's history -- the remnants of a ghost town.

Utah State Parks said Rockport Reservoir, situated at Rockport State Park in Summit County, has receded to 26% capacity, leading remnants of the town of Rockport to emerge from the water for the first time in years.

"It was really interesting to be standing at an overlook for the reservoir and to see faint traces of foundations of old homes and a road all below where the water would normally be," Devon Dewey, a Utah drone photographer who visited the reservoir, told KSL-TV.

Dewey said the remnants of the former town are clearer from an aerial point of view.

"The whole area is pretty flat and uniform, so even though the foundations are old and mostly gone, you can still see them clearly if you know where to look," he said. "Using a drone to get a higher perspective helped to see where structures once stood over 70 years ago."

Utah State Parks said Rockport was settled in 1860, and never quite topped 200 residents before the area was abandoned in the early 1950s for the Wanship Dam project, which created the reservoir.

Rockport Reservoir's low water levels led officials to close the boat ramp for the summer, and only small boats and personal watercraft are being allowed on the water.


Sept. 17 (UPI) -- Residents of a small Colorado town are pleading for the return of a stolen phone booth that served as the centerpiece of a public park for decades.

Cope residents Vickie Cecil and Lanny Payne said the phone booth was a major landmark in the town of about 56 people for some 50 years.

The booth, in its functioning years, originally sat outside of a Conoco gas station, but later became an ornamental feature of Memorial Park when the station closed.

The residents said the booth didn't have phone service, but often drew travelers who would pose for photos.

"We never hooked it up because the cost is -- well, like you say, everybody's got their cell phones today," Payne, president of the Cope Recreation Club, told KUSA-TV.

Residents said the theft has been reported to the Washington County Sheriff's Office.

"It was just kind of a novelty. It's just sad that somebody would, you know, take our little phone booth," Payne said. "We thought that was a significant piece of our town history."


Sept. 20 (UPI) -- A 15-year-old dog that went missing from his owner's Florida home was reunited with the woman nearly a year later when she spotted his photo on an animal rescue's social media page.

Lisa Raulerson said she was living in a West Palm Beach cottage in October 2020 when her 15-year-old dog, Sparky, escaped through a gate that mistakenly had been left open.

"Before we noticed it, he was gone," Raulerson told WPTV.

She said the family began to fear after a couple weeks that Sparky no longer was alive.

"We pretty much figured he passed away," Raulerson said. "It was sad because he was part of us and we talked about him every day."

Raulerson said there was no sign of her longtime pet until she recently spotted a familiar canine on Sunshine State Westie Rescue's Facebook page.

The rescue said Sparky had been brought to a shelter as a stray and the rescue had stepped in to prevent the dog from being euthanized. Officials said Sparky had a microchip, but the chip was not registered, so they couldn't get information about his owner.

Raulerson and Sparky were reunited 331 days after the dog's escape.


Sept. 17 (UPI) -- Sheriff's deputies in Florida said it took some "teamwork by land, air and sea" to stop a runaway boat off the coast of a popular beach.

The Pinellas County Sheriff's Office said in a Facebook post that deputies responded to calls about a "subject in the water" off Pass A Grill Beach and they arrived to find a man had been thrown from his boat about a half mile from shore, and the vehicle was now speeding through the water without any occupants.

Deputies were able to safely bring the man back to shore, and set about using "teamwork by land, air and sea" to secure the boat.

"Utilizing their training, marine deputies were able to match the speed of the runaway vessel, board it and regain control," the post said

The sheriff's office said the incident should serve as a reminder to wear a flotation device while boating and utilize a cut-off switch, or "kill cord," to ensure the boat's engine stops when the driver is thrown overboard.