Oh, so now you show up

News flash: One of John Warren's racing pigeons has returned! Isn't that what it's supposed to do? Yes. Except in this case the bird, whose name is Billy, failed to complete a flight from northern France to Warren's home in Liverpool, England. Instead, it ended up 3,000 miles off course, where Staten Island, N.Y., resident (and fellow racing enthusiast) Joseph Ida found it among his own flock. The best guess is that Billy traveled most of the way aboard a cargo ship on which it landed for a rest. Oh, the flight home? That was courtesy of British Airways.

It's a bit loose in the heel

Shaquille O'Neal, the giant basketball star of the Los Angeles Lakers, probably isn't acquainted with Pearl Shoes of Lahore, Pakistan. But maybe he should be. Why? Because the latter has just won an entry in the Guinness Book of World Records for history's largest sandal. At 12 feet, 9 inches long by 4 feet, 8 inches wide, it's bigger than even Shaq would need. But if Pearl can make one that big it surely can make a pair to fit his size-22 feet.

Ranking the top-selling retailers of 2002

Despite the economic travails of 2002, some of the more inventive US retailers thrived, according to the Triversity Top 100 Retailers ranking released last week by Stores magazine, the publication of the National Retail Federation (NRF).

Holding 26 of the Top 100 spots - retailers were ranked by sales - supermarkets formed the single largest sector. In response to the competition that No. 1 Wal-Mart ($246.5 billion in sales) has brought to the grocery segment, supermarkets have expanded their nonfood offerings, becoming mini-supercenters.

"The best retailers understand that to remain competitive they must continually reinvent themselves, and we've seen some great creativity this year," said Rick Gallagher, Stores publisher and NRF vice president. "Most retailers have realized the need to reevaluate their merchandising, their marketing, and everything in between."

Below are the Top 10 finishers. For a complete list, and more details, go to

1. Wal-Mart

2. Home Depot

3. Kroger

4. Target

5. Sears, Roebuck, and Co.

6. Costco

7. Albertson's

8. Safeway

9. JC Penney

10. Kmart

Mexico makes 2003 the Bug's last year

Only true Volkswagen aficionados might be aware that the original Bug, from which the current New Beetle evolved, is still in production south of the United States border.

It won't be for long. On the market for more than 50 years, the world's last Bug will roll off an assembly line in Puebla, Mexico, sometime this summer.

In recent years, most of the old-style Bugs have been staying in Mexico, where they see wide use in taxi fleets (photo, right). The popular, easy-to-maintain vehicle has not been legal for import to the United States for several years.

Its Mexican demise began in 1994, when a series of free-trade and investment agreements allowed a host of cheap subcompacts to invade Mexican dealerships. At prices similar to a new bug's $6,500 tag, they offered more safety, horsepower, and room. By early 2003, sales of the Bug had fallen to less than one-quarter of their former level.

Ranking world's cities that are hardest on your wallet

Heads up, all who shudder at the thought of shelling out $40 for not much more than a hamburger at a New York restaurant: The Big Apple ranks only 10th in the latest survey of the most expensive cities around the globe. Los Angeles? It was No. 22. Chicago was No. 25. Asian cities dominate the 2003 list by Mercer Human Resource Consulting, which advises companies on cost of living allowances for expatriate workers. The 10 most expensive cities, and their respective rankings in 2002:

1. Tokyo (3)
2. Moscow (2)
3. Osaka, Japan (6)
4. Hong Kong (1)
5. Beijing (4)
6. Geneva (28)
7. London (10)
8. Seoul, South Korea (9)
9. Zurich, Switzerland (32)
10. New York (7) - Associated Press

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