He planned to take a short cruise... maybe even a three-hour tour. But when Richard Van Pham began his day-trip from Long Beach, Calif., to Catalina in his 26-foot sailboat, he didn't plan to be gone, oh, about four months.

Soon after the 62-year-old's departure, a storm broke his mast, knocked out his motor, and killed his two-way radio. He drifted... and drifted... and drifted. A U.S. warship finally fished a tanned, famished Van Pham out of the Pacific almost 275 miles southwest of Costa Rica. He lost 40 pounds but was in relatively good health, surviving on a steady diet of seagulls, turtles, and fish.

His plight gives us hope. Sure, the market's been drifting south. But maybe, just maybe, someone will spot it off the coast of Central America, reel it in, and take up a collection for its flight home.

The Motley Fool 50, snacking on Nestlé Turtles and Pepperidge Farm Goldfish, rose 1% today.

In today's Motley Fool Take:

America's Hangover

Earlier this week, Deutsche Securities downgraded Constellation Brands(NYSE: STZ), a producer, marketer, and distributor of alcoholic beverages. Analyst Marc Greenberg said he was convinced that consumer demand was softening, especially in the wine segment. He also expressed concern that such conditions might not allow for a later planned price increase for the company's Corona beer. That caused Constellation to drop about 15%.

Instead of confirming Greenberg's opinion, however, the company issued a rather upbeat earnings report after the bell yesterday. Not only did it meet second-quarter estimates of $0.53 a share (a 15% increase over the prior-year period), it also said it was still on track to achieve third-quarter and full-year targets.

Although it's sticking with its guidance, Constellation is not exactly disputing Greenberg's assertion of slowing consumer demand. It will be interesting to suck down the conference call later, but in the meantime, we can check on the company's cash conversion cycle (CCC), which is a measure of how quickly a business converts its own expenditures back into cash. The thinking here is that if demand is softening, the CCC will rise as inventory sits in the stores longer.

For the three months ended Aug. 31, Constellation's CCC was at 154 days, compared to 151 days for the same period in 2001. (If that seems like a high number, remember that wine and spirits makers can't just sell their product the day they produce it. A lot of inventory is tied up in the aging process.) That slight increase, along with the fact that days inventory outstanding -- the number of days it takes to turn over inventory -- climbed a bit from 137 to 139 days, tell us Greenberg may be on to something.

These numbers aren't enough, in and of themselves, to confirm a significant drop in demand, but we'll definitely keep a close eye on them over the next few quarters.

Quote of Note

"The rich is the one that rules over those of little means, and the borrower is servant to the lender." -- Book of Proverbs, 22:7

Big Mac, Big Problems

You can't miss the place. Just off Broadway, down 42nd Street, the country's largest McDonald's(NYSE: MCD) opened yesterday. But it's not your typical Mickey D's.

From the Belshaw mini-donut machine churning out bite-sized snacks to the sea of plasma screens airing nostalgic Coke(NYSE: KO), McDonald's, and Disney(NYSE: DIS) drivel, it's a theatrical tribute themed to its location.

Animal activists will be glad to know Cats aren't on the menu, while shareholders are waiting for The Producers. With its stock at a seven-year low and the company in corporate disarray, watching a bold franchisee go big, with the theater marquee aglow to show for it, might not be in McDonald's best interest.

And can you blame the skeptics? Investors have been calling for the company to lay low on its expansion strategy until it gets its existing collection of more than 30,000 restaurants in order.

Last week, we proposed 10 ways to save the world's largest retail food chain. With tongue planted firmly in burger-smeared cheek, here are five new menu suggestions for the struggling concept.

1. Not-So-Happy-Meal -- Complete with a McDonald's stock certificate as a toy premium.

2. McFat Fries -- Forget those reduced-fat fries. Serve with new, tangy lard dipping sauce.

3. The Macbeth Burger -- Bloodied so rare it just won't wash off.

4. Whopper -- Hey, maybe Burger King just won't notice, with its ownership change and all.

5. Grimace Mystery Meat -- Dye it purple. Nobody knows what a Grimace is, anyway.

Actually, McDonald's will eventually get it right. The obvious joke to be made -- after spending years cleaning up 42nd Street, New York City lets this happen -- isn't fair to McDonald's. Years ago, the company was the toast of the town. The globetrotter with fat margins and long drive-through lines. Success is not entirely out of reach. But until then, it will have to admit it has come to "Miss" a lot of things, Saigon included.

Discussion Board of the Day: McDonald's

Does McDonald's deserve a break today? The Golden Arches have become an easy target, but how much of that is earned? Is it finally time to buy into the struggling fast food giant? All this and more -- in the McDonald's discussion board. Only on Fool.com.

Call Your Boss a Fool!

Think you know more about this finance stuff than we do? Believe you might as well work here, given all your comments and analyses? Good! We're looking for a couple of smarty-pants Fools to join our team as writer/analysts. Head on over to jobs.fool.com, and see the listings under Editorial. Show us what you can do, and we might just agree with you!

Got Debt? Get Busy

Prepare to face your debt demons. Really, it's not that hard to do. For instance, it's less painful than trying on bathing suits under the harsh glare of fluorescent lighting.

At the Mall of America.

The day after Thanksgiving.

In a dressing room where the latch doesn't work.

OK, you get it. Facing the debt demons is one of life's more unpleasant tasks. But trust us, it's worth it. And the euphoria you'll feel as you watch your debt dwindle each month will far exceed any high brought on by the most flattering bathing suit -- even one in your favorite color. And marked 50% off. That, we promise.

The first step to getting out of debt is to get it all down on paper. Write down everything that you owe -- to whom, how much, and at what interest rate. (Use our free Get Out of Debt downloadable workbook to help you keep track.) This may be the most startling list you ever make, but it's a necessary first step.

Once you've written it all down, it's time to plan your attack. You don't want to throw yourself at a mountain of bad debt without preparation. A scattershot approach will lead to frustration, or worse -- a slide back into old charging habits. For a rundown of ways to go on the offensive, use our free How To Get Out of Debt Guide. And check out our new Credit Center, if you have outstanding credit card balances to manage.

As you lay the foundation for your debt repayment plan, be mindful of your must-pay obligations (food, rent -- not cable TV or daily happy hours). Job loss, a short- or long-term disability, a family illness, or a really, really bad haircut (scratch that last one) can throw off your plan. You don't want to trade a few bad debts for other bad debts.

Now let's get busy and start paying.

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Quick Takes

M&T Bank Corp. (NYSE: MTB) agreed to buy Allied Irish Bank's(NYSE: AIB) Allfirst operations for $3.1 billion in stock and cash. Based in Baltimore, Md., Allfirst is a 262-branch U.S. bank struck by trading losses and one employee's high-profile fraud over the last year. The deal will form the 18th biggest U.S. bank, with $49 billion in assets and over 700 branches in seven states. The financial media have made much of the fact that Berkshire Hathaway(NYSE: BRK.A) is a 7% shareholder of M&T, and Bloomberg took the opportunity to catalog Berkshire purchases this year. Frankly, the deification of Warren Buffett is out of control. When a company of which Berkshire owns 7% buys another, it's about those two companies, not Buffett, and not Berkshire.

Disney (NYSE: DIS) exec Paul Pressler will join Gap(NYSE: GPS) as CEO and president. Pressler first ran Disney Stores, and then the theme and resort-parks division, during his 15 years with Mickey. Gap's longtime-head Millard Drexler in May said he'd step down when a successor was found. Pressler leaves one debt-laden company for another, whose same-store sales have fallen every month for the past 28 -- fall into the Gap!

Health insurer Aetna(NYSE: AET) announced another 2,750 job cuts today, about 9% of its workforce, on top of 4,400 already in progress. After losing money in 2001, the company has produced two profitable quarters this year, boosting its stock 19%. But losing Microsoft's(Nasdaq: MSFT) business this month can't be good for the rest of the year.

Chipzilla Intel(Nasdaq: INTC) is reportedly in talks with Japan's Elpida Memory to manufacture future high-end computer memory (DRAM). Intel has been frustrated with previous investments in Micron Technology(NYSE: MU) to encourage production of memory compatible with Intel's roadmap for logic chips, and it may not be comfortable with a DRAM market today dominated by three players -- Micron, Samsung, and Infineon(NYSE: IFX). Motley Fool Community members speculate further about Big Chips' reasons.

Gardners on TV

Catch a cameo appearance by our favorite founding Fools on NETworth, a high-energy special one-hour PBS television program that shows how easy it is to manage your personal finances with a little help from the Web. Find a station and broadcast time near you.

And Finally...

Today on Fool.com: The Fool unveils its new Credit Center.... The Drip examines two big brands -- will IBM and Mickey D's bounce back?... Tom Jacobs gambles with biotech... Employee protection is the key to restoring trust in the market.... In Fool's School, what happens to a company's owners when it goes public?... An insider's take to schools: public, private, and home.... And in Hot Topics, is it time to get out of the market?

Contributors:
Bob Bobala, Robert Brokamp, Tom Jacobs, LouAnn Lofton, Bill Mann, Selena Maranjian, Rex Moore, Rick Munarriz, Jackie Ross, Reggie Santiago, Dayana Yochim