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Gates pulled over on <i>The Road Ahead</i>

Benny has wheels.

Benny has wheels.

Sounds innocent, doesn't it? But you don't know this Benny, Vermel's "I'm sixteen and the world is my oyster" compadre. Suffice it to say that the concepts "Benny" and "car" bring to mind "Thelma" and "Louise" or even "armed" and "dangerous." Anyway, Butch and Sundance are going for a "ride" tonight, so I expect to be jostled awake around midnight with word that Lombard Street's hairpin turns have been straightened by two kids in a large object moving at high speeds. Why can't the two try Muni, like the rest of us chumps?

But there may yet be hope for Vermel and Benny, because the rambunctious young road warriors can still grow up to be billionaires--a fact driven home recently to stunned viewers watching the evening news on KOB-TV in Albuquerque, New Mexico. One of its stories featured an actual mug shot of Microsoft CEO Bill Gates taken in 1977, when the mogul-to-be was stopped by police for a "minor traffic infraction."

The photo, fished out of Albuquerque police files, has Bill smiling through a scraggly veneer of facial hair that might seem more appropriate on a young Steve Jobs. But it's Gates all right, which gives me hope that if Vermel and Benny are out in the car getting some air like Steve McQueen on the streets of San Francisco, they could still grow up to be respectable monopolists in their own right. Thank you, Wild Bill.

BTW, bonus points if you correctly guessed that KOB-TV is an NBC affiliate, but don't look for the offending Polaroid to appear on MSNBC anytime soon. After all, you don't seen CNN doing retrospectives on Ted Turner's wild days at Brown, do you?

While the Gates of infractions past may have been little more than road-ahead kill on desert highways way back when, in China these days he is the highway. Exhibit A: The China tourism Web site, physically located in beautiful downtown Hong Kong but dutifully spreading the gospel of the Middle Kingdom worldwide. Be sure, however, not to venture to this site with Netscape's Navigator. If you do, your browser will dramatically crash. Rather, visit the site with Microsoft's Internet Explorer, and you'll not only be able to view the site but also see a button at the bottom that reads: "You'd better use Microsoft Internet Explorer."

Now, before you email Janet Reno, you might also be interested to know that this recommendation does not appear on the English version of the site. While chock-full of other fascinating translations--"Absorb Foreign Capital," "Breakdown of China's Tourism Receipts," and "Hot Line Telephones Most in Use"--one gets the feeling that the polite request to embrace Redmond's browser is no accident. Faithful readers will recall that this is not the first time we've discerned potentially sinister connections between the ultimate capitalist and his Communist cohorts, but this incident surely ratchets up the boldness watermark.

Memo to Jim Barksdale: Try a preemptive strike with India's tourism site, whereby it could put up something that says, "Use Netscape Navigator, you ignorant hound!" before Gates gets there with his copywriters. But you'd better move fast: Whether it's barreling through town or spanning the globe, Bill simply can't drive 55. I've got one foot on the brake and one on the gas, and I'm going to leave my left blinker on until you pull over and send me some rumors.