FUNNY BUSINESS: The World of Tomorrow hovers, prepares to land

August 20, 2007

It's a hovercraft, the M200G from the fine folks at Moller International of Davis, Calif. It has eight rotary engines that create enough oomph to lift the thing about 10 feet in the air, just high enough to zoom over traffic and crack your head on a stoplight. Which, let's face it, would add a much-needed element of comedy to the average morning commute.

But anyway, about the car: It's about time. I've been waiting for this thing since I was about nine years old.

You see, I grew up in the era of science and mechanics magazines with regular features about The World Of Tomorrow, usually as imagined by the public relations departments of auto, aerospace and oil companies.

They were illustrated with drawings of what looked like an Eisenhower-era family living the Utopian Life in the Not-Too-Distant Future: Mom basting the roast in her nuclear kitchen while Dad putters with the plutonium-powered flying car, wearing a space helmet AND smoking a pipe. Meanwhile, Bud, Sis and Rags, their planet-hopping cocker spaniel, frolic in the anti-gravity rumpus room with the extra-large Hi-Fi Interplanetary Two-Way Television Set.

Fool that I was, I thought they actually knew what they were writing about. Between that, a steady diet of comic books, and the vision of a Space Age Wonderland as portrayed each week on "The Jetsons," I was pretty sure that by now we'd have:

The aforementioned flying cars, which would bear a strong resemblance to 1959 DeSoto Firedomes.

Personal jet packs-just the thing for zooming off to school, scout meetings and nifty teen sock hops.

Colonies on the moon. And Mars. And Venus. And under the oceans. Welcome to New Indianapolis, the first human living station on Pluto (which was still a planet back then.)

Peas like softballs, carrots as big as baseball bats, grapes the size of footballs, strawberries the size of basketballs, watermelons big as Volkswagens ... and that's just the produce aisle. How about a slab of ribs so big it tips your car onto its side. Granted, that's an image from the Flintstones, but we can Jetson it up by making it a flying car, OK?

(Flying) cars with ... are you ready? ... record players built right into the dashboard. Yes! Record players, so you could bring along your treasured Dicky Doo and The Don'ts 45s when going to visit Grandma at Jupiter. No, not the planet. Jupiter, Fla.

Plates you don't have to wash. You just run them under hot water and they dissolve right down the sink, thus freeing the Space Age Housefrau from dishpan hands, and giving her more time to make Cosmic Cole Slaw from a cabbage the size of a weather balloon.

Jane Jetson Food-A-Rack-A-Sackle machines, where you just push a button and a meal appears on the table. Sort of like a vending machine, only without the nacho cheese Stryrofoam chips.

Well, you get the picture. Basically, the so-called futurists writing the magazine pieces were talking about 1950s life moved ahead 75 years or so. Their futurism was heavily laced with presentism.

Which gets us back to the flying car. At present, you can only get one a couple of years in the future. They're still in the prototype stage.

When they do roll out, one will cost you a cool $90,000. It will have a top speed of about 50 miles per hour (no warp drive) and in that hour will burn 40 gallons of fuel (gasoline, or ethanol and water-no plutonium power just yet). It'll come pretty much stripped, too, so you'll have to add your own aftermarket phasers and photon torpedoes.

If it happens. It may well be in our futures, just like they predicted in the magazines, but it looks like we're still a long way from giant vegetables and jet packs, so don't hold your breath.

Let's face it, about the only thing those magazines DID get right was the big-TV thing. Oh, and computers. They predicted those, too. The magazines all said that one day, our homes would be equipped with computers...

The size of boxcars.

Redmond is an author, columnist and speaker, and a consultant on business writing and workplace issues. His column appears monthly. You can reach him at mredmond@ibj.com.
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