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CELEBRATE! : Orange County's First 100 Years : A VISION OF THE FUTURE : 'OH SEE'

May 21, 1989|KIM STANLEY ROBINSON

Ramona flew a lot. Often, Kevin would hear a voice from above, and, looking up, he would see her in her little solo craft. Now he was beside her, and it felt as if anything were possible, anything at all.

At the glider port on Fairhaven, Kevin Claiborne and Ramona Sanchez prepped her family's two-person flyer, a Northrop Condor, and then hooked it to the takeoff sling. When they were safely strapped in Ramona freed the sling, and with a jerk they were hauled down the runway, pedaling like mad. Ramona pulled back on the flaps, the sling uncoupled, they shot up into the air and then caught the breeze and rushed higher, like a kite pulled into the wind by an enthusiastic runner. They yelled out loud and pedaled hard, pushing the little plane upward with every stroke. The flyer's huge prop whirred rapidly in front of them, but two-seaters were not as efficient as one-seaters, and they had to grind as if racing to get the craft up to 200 feet, where the afternoon sea breeze caught the wide wings and lifted them.

Ramona turned them into the breeze with a gull's swoop. They were flying under their own power, fulfilling the ancient dream of Daedalus. Around them in the air were other air bikes, curving in the course of invisible traffic lanes. They relaxed the pace of their pedaling, settled into a long-distance rhythm and swooped through the sky over Orange County.

Hard work. It was one of the weird glories of their time that the highest technologies were producing artifacts that demanded more intense physical labor than ever before, as in the case of human-powered flight, which required extreme efforts from even the best endurance athletes. But once such flight was possible, who could resist it?

Not Ramona Sanchez; she flew a lot. Often while working on rooftops, Kevin would hear a voice from above, and looking up he would see her in her little solo craft, a Hughes Dragonfly, making a cyclist's whir and waving down like a sweaty air spirit. Now he was beside her, and she said, "Let's go to Newport and look at the waves."

They soared and dipped in the onshore wind. From time to time, Kevin glanced at Ramona's legs, working in tandem next to his. Her thighs were longer than his, her quads bigger and better defined.

Kevin shook his head, surprised by the dreamlike intensity of his vision, by how well he could see her. They had been friends all their lives, but now that Ramona and her partner, Alfredo Blair, had broken up, Ramona was a single woman. It was remarkable what a change that made in Kevin's perception of her.

He glanced down at the Newport Freeway, crowded as usual. Seen from above, the four bike lanes were a motley collection of helmets, backs and pumping knees over spidery lines of metal and rubber. The two car lanes were seamed down the middle by silvery guidance tracks over which the little rental cars hummed--blue roof, red roof, blue roof--moving faster than the big trolleys lumbering along the center divider, but slower than the quickest cyclists.

At each on-ramp to the freeway, there was a crowd where people were checking out cars from the depots and waiting to slot onto the tracks. Radical traffic congestion had made Orange County one of the first areas in the nation to use this system: trolley lines down freeway center dividers; public cars rented and driven station to station on computer-guided track systems, and two-for-one matching bike lanes, with rental bikes at every trolley stop. The inconvenience of the rental cars and the flatness of Orange County's coastal plain had eventually made bicycles the transport mode of choice.

As they cut curves in the air, keeping an eye out for the other flyers dotting the clouds, they passed over buildings Kevin had worked on. A house reflecting sunlight from a roof of cloud-gel, which shifted from white to clear depending on temperature; garages renovated to cottages; warehouses set under parks; offices afloat on ponds; a bell tower. His work, tucked here and there in the trees. It was fun to see it, to point it out, to remember the challenge of the task met and dealt with.

Kevin was what people called a "bioarchitect," and most of his work involved rebuilding and retrofitting the miserable condo boxes built before the turn of the century. Using new materials and designs, it was possible to make the average house or apartment complex almost completely self-sufficient in terms of energy and even food--each household a little farm, in effect.

Ramona laughed to hear him talk. "It must be nice to see your whole resume like this."

"Yeah," he said, suddenly embarrassed. He had been rattling on.

She was looking at him with a smile.

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