'Bob Levey speaking."

"Bob, have you ever wondered what Washington will look like in 2084?"

"Is that you again, David? Listen, man, I told you the last time. Your Voice of Doom act just doesn't make it. It's a bomb, baby. As in hydrogen. So knock it off and let me get some work done, will ya?"

"Bob, this isn't David. This is Lenny from Silver Spring. And I'm serious. Have you ever thought 100 years into the future?"

"Sorry, Lenny. Gee, you sure sounded like David. Do I look 100 years into the future? Only when I'm wondering if I'll ever pay off my mortgage. Other than that, Lenny, I have enough trouble getting a good, strong read on next month."

"But, Bob, I think you should think about 2084. Because where are we going to put everybody then? I mean, 20 years ago, Prince George's County was tobacco plants and cows. Now it's completely built up. You don't think we're going to go back to tobacco and cows in 2084, do you?"

"No, but I certainly think that by then, we'll figure out a way to absorb growth better than we do now. What I mean is, we can't afford to continue sprawling, because sooner or later, there isn't going to be anyplace to sprawl. So rather than assuming that southern Pennsylvania will become a suburb, or that people will be commuting from 75 miles away in West Virginia, I think we should provide better organization, and reorganization, of the communities we already have. Which means regional government."

"Regional government? Across two states and one federal district? You really think politicians are capable of that?"

"Sure, because it'll be a necessity. Take transportation. There'll probably be four or five million people living here in 2084, twice what we have now. If we want an efficient transportation system, we're going to have to key our development to subway stations. What good is it going to do us to build stations in a pasture at say, Shady Grove, if we have to wait an hour to get into the parking lot? But if we can roll out of bed in an apartment house and walk to the subway . . . ."

"I really agree with you, Bob. All our planning seems to assume that we'll always have cars, and that we'll always be dependent on them."

"Has to change, Lenny. And it will. As soon as people start being late to work four mornings out of five because the Beltway is at a dead stop, they'll discover public transportation. What choice will they have?"

"Maybe they'll move to North Dakota."

"Hey, they could do that now. But the opposite is happening. This is still a thriving community. You go to Boston or Cleveland, you can smell the mustiness, the economic death. Here, you get off the Beltway in Tyson's Corner, it's like a new corner of Disneyland: Prosperityland. There's BioThisnics. BioThatnics. And everyone's got a new car with a $750 radio in it."

"Yes, but can everybody afford $750 radios?"

"Of course not, Lenny, and that casts a big shadow across my notion of 2084. I think regional government will allow us to plan this metropolitan area in all the right ways. But will the haves share with the have-nots? Will a Fairfax County yuppie share his tax dollars with a busboy from Adams-Morgan? What if the 'old money' in Montgomery County doesn't feel like making common cause with a young town house subdivision in Burke? That's what could make 2084 a mess."

"One more thing, Bob, and I'm going to let you go. Do you think there'll still be newspapers in Washington in 2084?"

"Better be, Lenny. I plan to be entering my second childhood around then. If typing for a living was good enough for my first childhood . . . ."