NEWS- Inside story: Madam Hook reveals secrets of 2008

All year long, an array of charismatic characters come through the doors of the Hook's offices, but none inspire quite the same excitement as one annual visitor whose December pilgrimage to the Downtown Mall has become something of a tradition. This year, worried that other duties might be keeping her away, our editorial staff could hardly contain their glee when Madam Hook swirled into the office, indigo robes billowing around her, her hair a silver cloud, scarlet nails tapping her cloudy crystal ball.

"My darlings!" she cried. "Come to me! I have seen the future, and you must listen closely!"

Listen closely we did, and the news brought tears, cheers, and even a few jeers.

Before we enlighten our breathless audience, however, we must review Madam Hook's predictions for 2007. Was the dear soul prescient or putting us on?

"I smell...  diesel," Madam Hook said mysteriously last year– and she told us that olfactory premonitions are very rare and unusually auspicious. She attributed the acrid odor to the imminent opening of the new Downtown Transit Center, which she said would open for business by January and receive kudos in a national magazine by year's end. 

Well, the transit center did open at long last, just as Madam Hook predicted! But not in January: the grand opening celebration happened on March 26. Madam Hook says there's no accounting for the crystal ball's internal clock. "It may have been on moonlight saving's time," she suggests, which would explain the discrepancy. 

•"I see young people in houses," mused the Madam, explaining that the once red-hot housing market would stay cool, with median home prices remaining stable for the first time in years, and making it a good time for first-time homeownership.

Did she say the market will "stay cool"? It actually seems downright frosty these days, what with a nearly nine-month supply of houses for sale and average days on the market lingering at over 90 days. Still, who are we to argue with a psychic? Median prices have remained stable, according to real estate analyst Jim Duncan, who confirms the Madam was correct about two other things as well: desperate sellers are gnashing their teeth, and with interest rates at a two-year low, it does seem to be a fantabulous time to buy.

"I'm hearing something about 'Born in the USA'" Madam Hook mumbled last winter, apparently perplexed. 

How does she do it?! Fully a year ago, in December, Madam Hook knew Bruce Springsteen was coming, and just this month The Boss announced he'll stop in Charlottesville on his 2008 tour! That one certainly will hush any psychic skeptics out there!

We're going to give Madam Hook a 75 percent accuracy rating– not too shabby considering she's plucking predictions out of the thin air of her crystal ball.  So again banking on her astute ability to conjecture, without further ado, here are the Madam's predictions for 2008.

•"I see ground," says Madam Hook, "but no ground breaking." In other words, the cagey clairvoyant says, none of the massive projects announced in the past year or two (she names Biscuit Run and Albemarle Place specifically) will get under way in 2008. 

"But wait!" she adds. "I am seeing water. Water splashing. And letters... Y? And is that an M? Oh, drat! There are two more letters, but I can't make them out!" Although the marvelous crystal ball clouded over, Hook staffers hinted that the last two letters might be a C and an A. And if she'd peered into the mist a little longer, she might have made out the words "in McIntire Park."

•"It's blue, all blue!" cries the seer, "even bluer than my robes!" Is she still talking about water? Pools? Nope. "I'm talking about Virginia come November," says the Madam, who insists that the Commonwealth, once firmly red in national elections, will make the switch in the Presidential election and go with the Democratic candidate.

•"I see laughing children in Italy!" Chuckling with delight at images of cavorting youngsters, the sage soothsayer cries, "Those are our babies! They've gone on their exchange program after all!" Here we come, Poggio a Caiano!

Madam Hook gathered her robes about her, kissed  cheeks, and wiped a few tears from her eyes. "Another visit over so quickly," she said sadly. But at the sight of Hook staffers' crestfallen faces and quivering lower lips, each of them desperately hoping for just a few more predictive tidbits, she relented. "Oh, all right, my prettys. For you, I shall muster one final prediction." Thank goodness she did, because the last news was the best of all.

•Thanks to his rousing reception at the Charlottesville Pavilion in the fall, after his election as U.S. President in November, Barack Obama sets up his own "Kennebunkport"-style vacation compound in Belmont, just down the street from Spudnuts, where he slip in for a coffee and an apple twist and safely sneak the cigarettes he's supposed to have foresworn.

•Following several high-profile incidents of alleged police mistreatment of citizens in crosswalks, Charlottesville Police Chief Tim Longo sends his entire force for "sensitivity" training, after which all the officers, led by Longo, hold hands in a circle at the Mall's Central Place, wearing peace medallions over their uniforms and singing "Kumbaya."

•To make up for the statue of Lewis and Clark subjugating a kneeling Sacagawea at the corner of Ridge/McIntire and West Main, the city selects a "teepee city" design for the Water Street parking lots with a looming 20-foot statue of Sacagawea protecting a cowering Lewis and Clark. 

•Commending the inviting atmosphere and more-than-ample seating/sleeping space at new and improved McGuffey Park, City Council hosts Homeless Luncheons every weekday in front of the Park's mysterious weeping waterwall. "You see?" they say. "Everyone's welcome!"