As the dense fog swirling in the crystal ball begins to clear, I peer down at Monterey County. "This is Monterey County of the year 2008," hisses the craggy Madame Olga, waving a bony hand over the ball and staring into me with her one good eye. "Behold the future."

At first glance, little seems changed. Same land contours, same highways, except, what''s that? Highway 101 seems different--ah, I see, it''s the Prunedale Bypass. They finally built it, I guess. Boy, it sure looks crowded with traffic. So does the old 101, and most of the other highways also seem unusually congested, with the southbound lanes of 101 an apparent parking lot.

In the southern hemisphere of the ball, nearly obscured by gridlocked traffic at Carmel Valley Road and Highway 1, I can see a white-haired Paola Berthoin and the top of Noel Mapstead''s trademark hat. The "Save Hatton Canyon" signs they''re waving prove that neither they nor CalTrans have blinked in the last decade.

"What time of day is this image?" I ask Madame Olga.

"Late afternoon on a weekday," she purrs, flashing a mostly toothless smile, understanding what I understand, that Monterey County has become a bedroom community for the still-expanding Silicon Valley.

I turn my eyes away from her mocking gaze and back to the ball, scanning the horizon, searching for Fort Ord. Where is it? I see Seaside, and Marina, and Fort Ord should be in the middle, but, wait...They''ve grown right over the old military base and into one another, the march of progress leaving nothing in its wake but subdivisions and strip malls. Oh, the humanity!

"Oh, spirit, is this the vision of what must be?" I beg in my best Dickensian voice, but she just cackles, so I move on.

Hey, there''s California State University Monterey Bay, and it actually looks like a real university. Boy, there''s a change. And a big university it is: grand clocktower, gym-like lecture halls, thousands of students roaming the campus like ants, a fraternity row in the area now filled with unexploded bombs.

I scan the scene further, looking for clues to the future. Everything looks a little more dense and polished, and the cities all a little bigger, but I find my bird''s eye view limiting. I must know more than what I can see from above.

"You want to know more than you can see?" Olga asks, grinning at her mind-reading abilities. With a wave of her hand, the ball clouds over, clearing into a swirling array of faces and icons like a dollar sign, a car, a fish, a newspaper, a ball, a water faucet and whatnot.

Madame Olga, ever one to keep up with technology, has the latest touch-ball feature on her portal to the future. She demonstrates, placing a spindly finger on the face of Leon Panetta.

Suddenly, the ball changes, and there''s Leon, in a ceremony with a hand on the Bible, taking an oath, the distinct notes of "Hail to the Chief" coming from the ball. I search the ball for a speaker but find none as the image swirls into new choices.

"OK, I''ll try," and I touch the fish, which transforms into a big ocean research facility on the coast near the former Fort Ord, with young people in T-shirts reading "MBEST" scurrying about, then a newspaper shoots in from the side and shatters the image, its headline filling the screen: "World''s Largest Ocean Research Facility Opens In Monterey."

I click arrows on the sides of the ball and fly through some more ocean-related futurism: Monterey Bay Aquarium opens submarine thrill ride, sea lions once again protected after government decides pinniped predation problem better than pinniped extinction, scuba diving allowed in Monterey Bay only by permit after undersea population exceeds that on land, National Ocean Czar Sam Farr forced to resign after shark-fin soup scandal.

"Cool ball," I compliment the madam, starting to test its design limits with a few rapid fire choices. The ball...and Tiger Woods drains a putt to win the 2008 Pebble Beach Pro-Am, with a frail-looking Bill Murray still shticking it up in the background.

Water faucet...and I see the Nov. 2008 ballot, with some new water company I''ve never heard of trying to win voter approval for a dam on the Carmel River, with a ballot argument against the project by Congressman James "Green Bud" Ogle, the man who spearheaded the federal government''s legalization of marijuana in 2004.

The little farmer icon opens up the 2008 Crop Report, with the strawberry industry almost completely replaced by wine grapes, the county''s number one crop. Handcuffs...Salinas forced to turn Steinbeck Center into a jail annex after passing an ordinance banning young Latinos from ever appearing in public, a law upheld by a California Supreme Court filled with appointees by former governor Dan Lungren.

Finally, I tentatively reach out and touch the newspaper icon. Whew, it''s good to see Coast Weekly is still plugging away as an independent voice, especially because the Californian and Monterey Herald are now owned by the same company, as is every daily newspaper in the country: Scripps-Knight-Gannett-Mirror.

Then, I see it, Olga''s lips curling into a devious smile, her eye probing my reactions, before quickly wiping the incriminating expression from her face as she realizes I''m studying her.

"Oooollllllllllga," I query, as if reprimanding a child, "are you pulling my leg?"

Amused with herself, Olga grins her toothless grin: "Most of what you''ve seen will be." Then, she is gone, only her haunting cackle remaining as she disappears from sight in a tiny wisp of smoke.

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