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FOUR-NINE: A BAY AREA LEGEND (humour)

Copyright (C) 1993, Luigi Semenzato

When the horse show was over, I congratulated with my former girlfriend for winning and drove away in the surfmobile (erroneously called `car' by some people). To the east, the wind generators on the crests of the hills were spinning. Somewhere among those hills was the ultra-secret spot, the windiest and craziest place of them all. I had never been there, and I didn't have a map. But the afternoon was young. I reached the freeway. West was home, east was adventure. I drove east.

Deciding what exit to take was a matter of intuition. I took the wrong one. It was too far past the hills, and the road did not angle right. I drove back one exit. This seemed better. The road followed the bottom of a valley. I reached an intersection and I was out of clues. There was a bar with several really cool motorcycles outside. I parked and went in to ask.

The customers didn't look like windsurfers, so I didn't bother asking them and went directly to the bartender. `Hi, excuse me, is there a place where people windsurf around here?' One of the walls was covered with license plates. I wondered where they came from, but I didn't ask.

`There is a reservoir' the woman said. `Turn left here, then take the first left, then turn left at the stop sign, then another left, and then you'll find a sign and you turn left there.' My head begun to spin. One of these days I'll found my own religion. I will teach the faithfuls that to be at peace with the universe one must achieve rotational balance. The stress that makes our lives miserable comes from turning more times in one direction than the other, thus twisting our cosmic link with the Supreme Being. The faithfuls will unravel by spinning a lot during service. They will crash to the floor light-headed and born-again, then we will all go to the beach for a shredding session. I have it in the blood: I know it.

All around me, the wind generators were a forest from the dream of a mad science-fiction writer. Tall or short, lined up in neat rows or randomly placed, their stems were solid pipes or hundreds of small beams bolted together. Most had propellers, some had funny blades whose aerodynamics defied intuition. I turned left, left, left, left, and finally saw the sign. I drove up a narrow road. The reservoir was small but had many arms. Was this the place? There was no wind. I drove around and found two surfmobiles, a hatchback and a pickup. Their owners sat in folding chairs in the shadow of the pickup shell. They were drinking beer. `Hi' I said. `Do you guys windsurf here?'

`When there is wind' the older one replied. He had a white moustache and a sad smile.

`And do you get wind often?'

`Oh, sometimes.' The other guy smiled knowingly.

It wasn't working. I had to gain their trust, join the pack. But how? In a flash, I knew. In a strange and mysterious way, I was already one of them. I uttered the words: `Do you guys know a fellow named Henrik? He is German. I think he used to come here a lot.'

The white moustache trembled. `You know Four-Nine?'

`Yes, I know Henrik. But I haven't talked to him in a while.' It was true. I had spoken to him once on the phone, trying to organize a joint expedition; but he was too busy with his helicopter lessons. Then he had gone back to Germany; and the last time we exchanged e-mail, before he disappeared, he was in Scotland. These details could wait. Their turn now.

`That fellow was really something! You know, we would be all sitting here, waiting for the wind, nothing to say, and he would arrive: and all of a sudden we would be joking, laughing, having a lot of fun. He was really something. How do you know him?'

`Mostly through electronic mail. There is a windsurfing group, do you know about it?'

`No, no... good old Four-Nine. He was really something.'

`I can send him a message from you, if you'd like it.'

`Oh, sure. Tell him the Mayor says hello.'

`Are you the Mayor?'

`Yes, I am the Mayor of this place' he said proudly.

`And when does the wind come up, Mayor?'

The ice was broken. `Sometimes earlier, sometimes later. It's hard to predict. Once it starts, it blows until after sunset. And it BLOWS! Man, does it blow! We get lots of three-oh and three-five days. It's survival sailing out there. See that channel?'

An arm of the reservoir disappeared around a low hill. `Yes.'

`If you go too deep inside, you can't come back. When it blows, the pumps start. The channel gets a four miles per hour current, and little wind. You are stuck. You must go to the shore and walk.'

`I see. What pumps?'

`The acqueduct starts here. But Four-Nine never got in trouble. He was too good. Do you know why we called him Four-Nine?'

`Why?' I knew, but I wanted to hear it from them.

`Because that's all he rigged! He would arrive and we would be rigging our three-ohs and our three-fives and we would ask him: So what are you rigging today, Henrik? And he would say: A four-nine. And we would all laugh, and we would be in a really good mood. But then he could actually sail it. He was good. It's survival sailing, I tell you.'

More people arrived, and I was introduced as `a friend of Four-Nine.' They offered me drinks and peanuts. They explained how the wind was coming at a funny angle that day, and perhaps it wasn't going to blow: and they pointed to two large generators, one on each side of the narrow lake, whose blades weren't moving. `See them propellers, the big ones? They start automatically when the wind is above twenty miles per hour. If they are not spinning, rig big, or don't rig at all.'

`Can you tell if there is wind without coming all the way here?'

`Not really. You can only make a good guess. A fellow who works for the electric company comes here when the windmills generate so and so megawatts, or more. But even that is not always reliable.'

`And where is the closest telephone?'

`There is a bar a few miles from here, near the freeway.'

`Oh yes, I know that bar.' A small guy had rigged a six-oh on the lawn. People looked at their watches and were beginning to leave. The six-oh sailor went in the water. He planed in the gusts. It just wasn't happening. Soon I was alone on the shore, and for a while I watched the sailor pump, plane, jibe, pump, plane, jibe, never a mistake. But the large windmills still weren't moving. I left with a single regret. I had forgotten to ask the Mayor a very important question: did Four-Nine own a smaller sail? I wonder if I'll ever know.

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