MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- An attempt to auction off the state of West Virginia drew 56 bids and nearly enough promised dollars to fill the state's projected budget hole before eBay learned of the joke.
By Tuesday evening, with five days to go in the sale of item number 2372779353, "Entire State of West Virginia," bidders had bumped the ante up to just $1 short of $100 million.
"As an eBay consumer myself ... that's a heck of a bargain!" joked Amy Shuler Goodwin, spokeswoman for Gov. Bob Wise, who's projecting a $120 million deficit for fiscal 2005.
The seller, identified only as "fishstuffnthings," did not immediately respond to e-mails late Tuesday. Nor did "nosnam1488," who was the high bidder.
Within minutes, the auction was unplugged and the state was "no longer available."
"Obviously, this buyer doesn't have the goods to sell," said Chris Donlay, spokesman for the San Jose, Calif.-based online auction company.
But for "fishstuffnthings," it was fun while it lasted, despite some misspellings:
"I, as emperor of West Virginia, have been appointed as steward of this sale," he wrote. "You are bidding on the ENTIRE STATE of West Virginia. Please note that this auction does not come with governing rites, nor the inhabitants of said property. You also may not change the state flag, bird, or so on. This is merely for bragging rights, or to hang a sign in your garage that says, 'I own West Virginia.' Also please note, you will have every right to succeed from the union, but that has been tried in the past without much success. I am also willing to relinquish the seat of 'Emperor' FOR FREE!"
* * * *
ADEL, Ga. -- It's cold-blooded and lives a dark, lonely life, but now the Georgia rattlesnake has a friend.
Herpetologist Chet Powell hopes to convince sponsors of one of Georgia's last two rattlesnake roundups that they can have a successful community fund-raiser without pulling snakes out of the wild.
Powell will give an educational presentation on captive snakes native to Georgia, including the Eastern diamondback rattler, and exotic snakes, such as pythons, at the 44th annual Rattlesnake Roundup in the small southwestern Georgia town of Whigham on Jan. 31.
Rattlesnake roundups face increasing criticism from animal rights groups that contend the snake hunts are environmentally damaging and cruel, especially if the snakes are roused from their burrows with gasoline fumes. The captured snakes are killed for their hides and meat.
Eastern diamondbacks are among about 300 species, including endangered indigo snakes, rabbits, skunks and frogs, that live in burrows made by Georgia's state reptile, the gopher tortoise.
Georgia used to have three similar events, but the town of Fitzgerald switched in 2000 to a Chicken Festival, honoring the wild Burmese fowl that have found a home in that community.
* * * *
FAIRFAX, Va. -- No one ever confused the Fairfax County jail with a motel, but they now have something in common. Both require you to pay to stay.
Fairfax Sheriff Stan Barry announced Tuesday that effective immediately, prisoners at the adult detention center are paying $1 a day to help defray the cost of their keep.
The money will be deducted from individual accounts established when inmates are brought to the jail. Any cash they have on them is placed into their account, and can be used for such things as haircuts, which cost $5. There is also a jail commissary that sells snacks.
Prisoners who come in without money, and do not get any from relatives or friends, will not be penalized.
"We have not implemented a policy to collect that yet, although we are looking at alternatives down the road to collecting delinquent accounts," said 1st Lt. Tyler Corey of the Sheriff's Office.
A state law that took effect last year allows sheriffs and jail superintendents to charge inmates a fee of no more than $1 a day "to defray the costs associated with the prisoners' keep." Corey said Virginia Beach began a similar program in July.
* * * *
GREENSBURG, Pa. -- A pair of trailblazers will try to break a record for crossing Alaska's Iditarod trail - on foot.
Tim Hewitt and Tom Jarding are preparing for the annual "Iditasport Impossible" race that runs the same 1,100-mile course as the better-known Iditarod dog sled race.
Three years ago, they trudged the course in 26 days, 20 hours and 14 minutes, beating the old record by two full weeks. The following year, Italy's Roberto Ghidoni broke their record with 22 days, 6 hours and 6 minutes.
"It's the toughest race in the world," Hewitt said. "They went 15 years with no one completing the race on foot. In fact, there are more people who have walked on the moon than have completed this on foot."
Racers from across the world will follow the route on mountain bike, skis or running shoes, towing sleds with equipment that will keep them alive in the Alaskan wilderness. The annual human-powered race will start a week ahead of the dog sled race next month.
Jarding, a 48-year-old mail carrier, and Hewitt, a 49-year-old employment attorney, crossed all 27 check points, making them two of only four people to finish the race in 2001. The other two rode mountain bikes.