One community lot sits at the far end of Case’s new neighborhood, perched at the edge of the bay, overlooking what would be a breathtaking view, if the sky weren’t orange and the water weren’t ochre. Well, it still is breathtaking, but in the choking, lung-burning, eye-watering kind of way. Case wishes his eyes would water from beauty, not from toxins in the air.
At any rate, it’s an odd type of community center–a combination dump, recycling center, and tech-innovator hub. Mostly it’s a dump, with a few cool gadgets, Case decides.
It’s where Tina Tinker hangs out. I like her. Case seems to like her, too. She’s all kinds of cool. Well, you know, geekiness is the coolest. At this point in game-play, I haven’t yet realized that the social bar at the top of the screen, that provides the name and age of the person, as well as their mood and their relationship bar with your Sim, also shows who their spouse is, when they’re married. I guess this is so that we can avoid accidental affairs. Turns out Tina is an Evergreen Harbor premade, married to Yasemin.
But I don’t know this at this point, and I’m thinking she’s pretty awesome, and wouldn’t it be wonderful if Case liked her, too?
Case is too miserable from the way his lungs burn and his skin itches and his eyes water, with all this pollution, to even know how he might feel about anybody. It’s all he can do to even talk to someone without breaking out in cursing.
“I can see you’re upset,” Tina tells him. “Have you tried breathing? Big breath in…”
Case just glares at her. It’s the breathing that’s the problem, in this crap-hole.
Bess Sterling, feeling chipper as usual, is there, too. I haven’t yet discovered that she, too, is an Evergreen Harbor premade, living with her boyfriend, Jules Rico. At this point in game-play, everybody is somebody who could end up being more than a family friend, who might end up being the mother (or second father, if Case is gay and we adopt) of the heir and spare.
Case doesn’t care one way or the other. There’s just not much capacity to care about anything when you’re miserable, and Case is miserable.
Until the next morning.
When he wakes up to rain pouring down from clear blue sky.
Let’s not worry, for the moment, about the rain coming from a cloudless sky (the weather report did predict “mysterious weather”), but…. what happened to the smog?
What happened to my plans for a gritty, let’s-solve-this-problem story? What about my plans for a slow change to the environment that might occur over the span of generations, not overnight?
Turns out that, in Evergreen Harbor, three solar panels and one dew-collector are enough to move the environmental footprint from Industrial to Neutral.
On Monday morning (one Sim-day into the game), the sky is indeed blue.
And it is beautiful.
So, how do I handle this in my story? I grew up just north of the Bay Area in the 1960s and 70s, and that orange-gray skyline over the bay is something we sometimes saw in Oakland, California. That lung-burning air, contributing California’s “beautiful sunsets”, settled over the area whenever the wind stalled out.
But if the wind blew right, from the Pacific, it could blow the murky air east. Even in my childhood, days of poor air quality were interspersed with crystal skies.
When I returned to the Bay Area a few years ago, I had dreaded the pollution–but I was delighted and surprised to find that the air was so clear. California’s emission regulations worked. I felt excited to discover the environment had improved in the decades since I’d lived there as a child.
Last spring, during the shut-downs in March and April, within two weeks the air here in my desert town was the clearest air I’d ever breathed–even more pure than the mountain air of the Sierras of my childhood. It was so pure that it hurt to breathe it–but it hurt in a good way, like it was more pure than my system was used to, and breathing it, deeply, was filling me with something that my genes remembered, from pre-Industrial times. My eyes watered from the beauty, too–I could look at the mountains as if they were close enough to touch.
The air is clear now, too, though not as clear as it was last spring. And, considering what our air was like during the months when wildfires ravaged the West, seems miraculous. There were days this summer when we couldn’t be outside, due to the smoke in the air. The sun cast eerie orange light, as orange as the air quality indicator for our region.
But now the air is clear and I could reach out and touch the mountains.
So how do I handle this in the story? Let’s say that maybe six months have passed, rather than one Sim-day. Let’s say that six months before Case’s assignment sent him here, the government passed emissions regulations that applied to local industry, and the city passed regulations banning neighborhood traffic. Maybe in the story we’ll deal with some of the economic fallout from this. Certainly, it seems that all the industries in this neighborhood have shutdown. It has a post-Industrial feel to it.
That’s a good thing for Case, who’s happy grilling his veggie burgers on his off-grid lot. (Hey, Case, that grill is putting out some smoke, dude. Aren’t you concerned about burning carbon fuel?)
And Faye Harris also doesn’t seem to mind.
“It’s a beautiful afternoon, isn’t it, Case?” Never mind that the rain is falling from a cloudless sky.
“It seems pretty sudden, but I’m not complaining,” Case says. “The jet stream may be whacked, but it still blows, strong enough to clear out all that gunk, once we stop putting it back into the atmosphere.”
Faye grows thoughtful, gazing out over Case’s shoulder. She’s lived here long enough to see the region go through changes. Her own neighborhood, Grims Quarry, lies upwind of Port Promise. It’s been green since she and her family moved here. In fact, the activists in her part of town were behind the local restrictions on traffic and industry. This was what they wanted, to clean up the environment, make it livable for people and critters.
“And birds,” Faye says.
“What’s that?” Case asks.
“Oh,” says Faye, “sorry. I was just thinking that now Port Promise might become livable for birds, too.”