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A Cabbage Patch Doll for Urbanites

Among the personal protection devices arriving in the wake of recent carjackings is Safe-T-Man, a life-size rag doll for drivers fearful of traveling alone.

Safe-T-Man’s creator, self-help book publisher Harbor House of Summerland, Calif., has sold about 10,000 of the $99 dummies through mail-order since June, mostly to people who want to create the illusion that they are not alone in their cars. The dummies are available in two skin tones and two age ranges (over or under 35). Coming soon: a $150 dummy with a remote-control alarm.

A spokesman for the California Highway Patrol cautioned that the dummies are no substitute for vigilance, particularly since they look fake at close range. The CHP also warned against using Safe-T-Man to ride in car-pool lanes: Drivers who do so are subject to being ticketed.

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Surf Stuff Up: The “beach lifestyle” industry is closing the books on summer, reporting a 10% gain in sales of equipment: surfboards, skateboards and beach volleyballs.

The Corona del Mar-based Surf Industry Manufacturers Assn. said beach volleyballs--made of leather treated to take the wear and tear of sand--scored the greatest sales gains, up 60% from last year. The industry said beach volleyball got a boost after the U.S. men’s and women’s volleyball teams won bronze medals in the 1992 Olympics. Cable channels such as ESPN and Prime Ticket now feature beach volleyball tournaments.

Apparently, beach enthusiasts are content to wear last year’s duds. The industry group reports beach clothing sales were unchanged from 1992.

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Shopping Is Dropping: Parents nationwide plan to spend an average of $265 to outfit each child for school this year, 4.5% less than in 1992, a survey shows. Parents in the West will spend even less, about $241 per child.

Don’t weep for these kids, though. According to the MasterCard International survey, most teen-agers have the money to buy what Mom won’t. Thanks to baby-sitting, hamburger flipping and newspaper routes, teen-agers take in an average of $40 a week.

What’s more, three-quarters of the nation’s teens get a weekly allowance, averaging $13.65. Teens growing up in the West enjoy the fattest weekly allowances, averaging $15.62. Weekly allowances are skimpiest in the Northeast, averaging $9.78.

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Road Hogs: The cost of owning and operating a luxury car is more than twice that of a subcompact car, the management relocation firm Runzheimer International reports.

Annual ownership and operating costs for a Lincoln Town Car or a Mercedes 300E average $12,884, compared to $6,330 for a Ford Escort or Chevy Cavalier, Runzheimer said.

Operating costs include fuel, oil, tires and maintenance, while ownership costs include financing, insurance, license and registration, taxes and depreciation. Costs are based on cars in service for three years or 60,000 miles.

The same costs average $6,934 for a compact car, $7,480 for an intermediate car and $8,462 for a full-size car.

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Reading Reward: Children receiving Subway coupons for completing a summer reading program are learning to read the fine print.

Children who read a certain number of library books are rewarded with what looks like a coupon for a Subway Kid’s Pak: a small sandwich, a cookie, a drink and a toy. But a closer look turns up fine print noting that the coupon is good only for a 4-inch-diameter sandwich.

An employee at the Arcadia Subway restaurant redeeming the coupon couldn’t explain why it says “Kid’s Pak,” and referred questions to a district office, where we left messages on an answering machine.

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Parents who redeem a coupon and buy the drink and cookie separately instead of buying the Kid’s Pak will save 61 cents. But they will also have to deal with a child who doesn’t get the toy included in the pack: a plastic dinosaur packaged with a “Land of the Lost” comic.


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