4. "Blue Sky Rebellion" Chapters 4-5

Dear Reader,

In February, I posted the opening chapters of “Blue Sky Rebellion”, my debut novel which will be published this summer. Set in the near future with America wracked by climate change, economic inequality, terrorism and a toxic political culture, the first three chapters introduced you to some of the novel's main characters: protagonist Nick Cline, an aimless young man struggling to find his identity as the privileged son of high achieving parents; his father Alex Cline, the Mayor of Sacramento; Pamela Huang, the young Senator from California widely expected to win the presidential election; and Ronald Stone, the billionaire con man and Texas oilman who conspires with Russia to hijack the election and expand his power and family fortune. The day after the election, the country wakes up to the shocking news that Stone has upset Huang after the dubious disqualification of thousands of Democratic votes in Florida.

In Chapter 4, A Tale of Two Nations, Mayor Cline has a conversation with the Republican Mayor of Suisun City aboard the high speed train heading back to Sacramento where it is revealed that more than any time in history since the Civil War, America has divided into two warring nations pitting blue against red states, urban vs. rural, rich vs. poor, fundamentalist religions vs. science, climate change believers vs. deniers, women's rights supporters vs. antagonists, gun control advocates vs. the NRA, the rule of law vs. autocracy, and so on down the line. Global climate, technological, economic and socioeconomic factors have magnified and transformed these political differences into increasingly stark economic and environmental disparities between regions of the country. The red states' economies have lagged behind the blue states as their short-sighted leaders double down on oil instead of shifting to renewable energy and electric cars and adapting to climate change. Alex asks his colleague to try to talk sense into President Stone and his fellow Republicans.

In Chapter 5, The Hangover, Alex tries to relax later that week with his family and close friends at Lake Tahoe, but his trip is cut short when Pamela Huang asks him to lead the legal team challenging the Florida vote that turned the election.

Please enjoy these latest chapters from this fast-paced novel inspired by political works such as “The Manchurian Candidate”, “The Man in the High Castle”, “Primary Colors” and the Norwegian Netflix series “Occupied". Let me know what you think about what I've written, and most important, if you'd like to read more.

 

“Blue Sky Rebellion”

Chapter 4. A Tale of Two Nations

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.”
Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities

By the time Ana and Alex took the elevator up to the brunch buffet at the Marine’s Memorial Club, it was already ten o’clock. The monitor in the lounge area was tuned to Fox News reporter Blair Overton trumpeting, “In breaking news, Ronald Stone has won Florida by 3,000 votes, tipping Florida’s electoral votes in favor of the Republican candidate and knotting the electoral college tally at 269 votes apiece, the first tie in modern history. More after this commercial message from our sponsors.”

Most of the other networks held off on declaring the outcome, particularly because of the mysterious chain of events coming out of Florida. While awaiting more definitive news out of Florida, the pundits on CNN and MSNBC News filled the air time speculating about what would happen if the final electoral vote, in fact, ended in a tie.

All the pundits agreed that a tie would favor Stone. Moderating a bi-partisan panel of five political and constitutional experts, MSNBC commentator Rita Lehane said, “So the consensus here is that if the electoral college ends in a tie vote, the House of Representatives would decide the outcome with each state delegation getting one vote. A majority of states or 26 votes would be needed to win. Because Republicans would control both a majority of House seats and a majority within 26 state delegations in the new Congress, Ronald Stone would win. Under that scenario, Democrats could still get the consolation prize of selecting the Vice President, assuming they hold on to win the Senate majority.”

By 11:30am, the other news outlets followed Fox, declaring Stone the winner in Florida and an electoral college tie. Stone’s come-from-behind victory in Florida came courtesy of an unprecedented and highly controversial maneuver by the Florida Republican Secretary of State, Pam Oliver, a Tea Party hack appointed by the Republican Governor. Hours after Huang appeared to win Florida the night before, Oliver disqualified over 100,000 ballots for suspected voter fraud. The ballots in question all came from Dade and Palm counties, with overwhelmingly large Democratic majorities.

Alex and Ana dragged themselves to the Transbay Terminal to take the noon train back to Sacramento. They boarded the train and grabbed a couple of seats. Alex normally took great pleasure when riding the Capitol Corridor, but today, he had a hard time seeing anything positive. Ana and Alex rode in silence, staring out the window at the rapidly receding Delta marshes. The skies were clear and bright, but there might as well have been Tule fog along the way.

When the train pulled into the Suisun City station, Alex got up to go to the café car, where he bumped into the Mayor of Suisun City, John Starling.

“Hey Alex, fancy meeting you here.”

Alex’s head suddenly cleared from the fog of disappointment. He smiled. “Oh hey John. Nice to see you.” Alex and Mayor Starling were frequent flyers on the Capitol Corridor. Starling and Alex had alternated as chairs of the Capitol Corridor’s governing board.

Starling sat down next to Alex, beaming. “It’s a great day in America.”

“How can you say that after this election?”

“What do you mean? My man Stone won. All is good.”

“You’re shitting me. I knew you were Republican, but I’m surprised that someone who supports high speed rail and leads a diverse city would support Stone.”

“Well, he’s the lesser of two evils. I can’t stand Huang. She doesn’t understand small business. I don’t agree with Stone on many things, but he’s a deal maker. He’ll get things done. I also think he’ll come around on high speed rail and climate change once he understands it’s good for business.”

“I don’t share your optimism. Plus, his social agenda is completely at odds with California society.”

“Well we need to have a few Californians who supported him and can talk sense to him. Don’t you think?”

“I guess. But if you get a chance to talk with him, make sure he understands what makes California great, starting with this train service.”

“Of course” said Starling. “Heck, I remember how the Capitol Corridor grew from a small service in the early 1990’s to become the fastest growing intercity rail corridor in the nation by 2000. And thanks to you Alex, just look at it now. Ridership has skyrocketed after you convinced our egghead Governor to replace his “train to nowhere” plan with a better plan to electrify the three California corridors that were already among the top five in ridership in the nation.”

“I appreciate the compliment, John, but you and I both know the original plan was viable. It just wasn’t politically palatable.”

“That’s an understatement. Your plan won popular and political support because it gave travelers a faster, cheaper, cleaner and safer alternative to avoid traffic in the state’s two busiest corridors from LA to San Diego and the Bay Area to Sacramento.”

“True, but it also connected Northern and Southern California more cost effectively by building upon the pre-existing San Joaquin service through the Central Valley.”

“Alex, you should have gotten more credit for bailing Yoda out. I mean you practically got the rail bond measure passed single handedly.”

Nicknamed “Yoda” for his small stature, wry wit, and uncanny intelligence, Governor Yoder partnered with visionary Silicon Valley and Sacramento Valley business leaders to apply innovative technologies to revolutionize the transportation, health, energy and utility industries, much as legendary tech leaders from the late 20th century had developed major breakthroughs in social media, communications, entertainment and data processing. Governor Yoder’s supporters and critics alike credited him with making California the most innovative place in the world. He loved to quote ancient philosophers, but was unusually forward looking for a politician, often talking about the future in decades or centuries rather than four-year terms.

“John, it wasn’t just me. You know the Governor went up and down the state to promote the bond measure. You had a hand. And don’t forget Michelle.”

Michelle Dupont was the Governor’s State Rail Director who later became the Governor’s Chief of Staff. Alex knew Michelle from her White House staffer days back in D.C. She and Alex agreed that the key to success was developing a modern rail system with seamless connections between the intercity corridors and enhanced commuter and regional rail, local light rail and streetcar systems, and the state’s major airports. She also understood that the plan required developing publicly owned and electrified passenger rail rights-of-way separate from the privately-owned diesel freight lines. The revised state rail plan was so compelling that it easily won public support for a tax to pay the state’s 50 percent share of the capital costs.

Starling said, “Our operation is so successful, folks are clamoring to extend high speed service north to Portland, Seattle and Vancouver, and east to Truckee, Reno, Salt Lake, Vegas and Phoenix. Even Texas, Florida and other red states are reviving their high speed plans.”

The Northeast Acela corridor had been the national standard bearer until California built its high speed system. California timed its rail renaissance to leverage the state’s rail bond measure with funds from the landmark federal infrastructure program, dubbed “WPA21”, the federal matching program that funded 50 percent of the capital cost of major projects, with the other half from state and local government or private funds. The more forward-thinking states that had their match ready in the form of carbon taxes or cap-and-trade revenues were first in line for federal funding to rebuild and modernize their roads, rails, bridges, electric and gas utility lines, dams, reservoirs and local water, sewer, drainage and other infrastructure.

California doubled down by combining the federal funds with a carbon tax and bond money initially set aside for high speed rail to front-load investments in local transit, commuter rail and connections to the state’s major airports, allowing people to get virtually anywhere in California or the rest of the world without a car and without fossil fuels. This comprehensive system also provided the density to pay the operating costs with passenger fares rather than subsidies.

Due to the phenomenal success of Tesla in the electric vehicle and battery markets and Volkswagen’s shift to electric vehicles after its costly and humiliating diesel emissions scandal, the other major car manufacturers were now shifting most of their passenger and freight vehicles to all-electric. Only air travel lagged behind. California and other states would now reach their carbon reduction goals much faster than projected by experts just a few years earlier.

Alex looked out the window as the train stopped in Davis, then back at Starling. “If you get to talk to Stone, make sure he understands the economic benefits of investing in high speed service. By reducing the travel time between Sacramento and the Bay Area, we forged a powerful partnership between Silicon Valley’s tech companies and the Capital and tapped into Sacramento’s ag, energy and natural resources. The Northern California mega-region is now one of the most creative, productive and dynamic regions in the world. Heck, we haven’t attracted such worldwide attention since the Gold Rush.”

Alex knew Starling didn’t want to hear anything positive about Huang, but so he didn’t mention that the renewable energy sector was also accelerating with the assistance of the battery storage system invented by her father. Instead he pointed out the powerful connection to climate change. “We’ve adapted our infrastructure to rising sea levels and climate change. Even the shade trees and the composition of the streets of our cities and the roofs over our homes are designed to be cool to reduce the warming effect of the climate. The new Capitol Corridor route and many of the State’s coastal highways and bridges are being rebuilt above the rising water levels caused by climate change.”

“You know I fought some of those changes. But I have to admit that phasing out fossil fuels and changing how people move between cities and neighborhoods have actually boosted our economy. Not just along the coast, but in the long suffering Central Valley, which has finally diversified its economy and job market beyond agriculture.”

“Exactly. But not all sections of the country have been so fortunate. John, you may not want to hear this, but I believe that now more than any time in our history since the Civil War, America has divided into two warring nations. It’s blue state versus red state, urban/rural, rich/poor, Christian/non-Christian, pro-science/anti-science, climate change believers/deniers, pro-abortion/anti-abortion, pro-guns/anti-guns, whites/minorities, and so on down the line. Technological, economic, socioeconomic and climate changes on a global scale have magnified and transformed these differences into increasingly stark economic and environmental disparities between regions of the country.”

Most of the western, midwestern and east coast states had long been called “blue” states because they typically voted Democrat. However, more recently, they had taken to calling themselves “Blue Sky” states because they were following California’s lead on climate change and environmental and energy policy. They were breathing clean air and enjoying blue skies as a result. Yet, much of the rest of the country remained stuck in the 20th century, still relying on oil and gas and dragging their heels on global efforts to reduce carbon and mitigate the effects of climate change. Some red states applauded when the U.S. pulled out of the Paris Climate Accord.

“Alex, I understand that the economies and job growth in the red states of the Midwest and Southeast have been lagging behind the rest of the country.”

“Well, at least part of that is because of the short-sighted decisions of their elected leaders to bet on oil instead of shifting to renewable energy and electric cars. They failed to retrofit their infrastructure to meet climate change. They refused to institute even market-oriented reforms like cap-and-trade or participate in the federal infrastructure program for political or ideological reasons, just like they refused Medicaid expansion and Obamacare. Their highways and bridges started crumbling even before the extreme droughts and floods brought on by climate change. They hid their heads in the sand and now they’re suffering the consequences, losing entire cities to hurricanes and rising waters.”

“Alex, it’s too late to convert me into a Democrat.”

“John, I don’t want you to convert. I just want you to talk some sense into your own party. Look, Republicans have long been the more conservative, pro-business party. But now your party’s been taken over by anti-science, anti-business radicals at a time when we can least afford it. The damaging effects of the prolonged recession and repeated cycles of terrorist attacks have been compounded by bad luck and some vicious weather. It’s no longer unusual for storms to drop 50 to 80 inches of rain in one week along the Gulf and South Atlantic Coasts. But let’s face it, even though virtually all the experts agree that these extreme weather events have become more frequent and more severe due to accelerating climate change, many of your leaders continue to cling to the fossil fuels industry, hoping that if they can dig up more oil or coal, everything will be fine. Well, it won’t.”

“I agree with what you’re saying, but politics is politics.”

“Well, it shouldn’t be, but you guys are better at it than Democrats. Your policies may be disastrous and short-sighted, but you’re much better at messaging and propaganda. Smart politics but not good governance.”

“Maybe so, but you guys still got your last presidential candidate before Huang elected.”

Former Vice President Joaquin Castro of Texas, a Democrat, had been elected four years earlier as the first Hispanic President, narrowly winning against a right-wing, middle aged white male Republican Senator. But Castro was widely viewed as a weak candidate and an even weaker President and Democrats once again found themselves on the defensive.

Alex nodded. “Yes we did. But our timing has not been great and some of our national leaders have been every bit as short sighted as yours. It’s understandable that people are fed up with the bad national economy, the rise in terrorism, and the gridlock in Congress. And since the outgoing President is a Democrat, Republicans are taking full advantage of being the party of protest against Washington.”

The ineffectual President Castro confirmed what everyone already knew. He would not run for reelection. He recognized that he was not even popular among his own party or within the Latino community. By ceding early, he strengthened Senator Huang's position as the odds-on favorite to win the Democratic nomination to face off against Stone. 

Meanwhile, Stone rose on a populist wave of anger against the establishment in Washington and Wall Street, never mind that he was a billionaire who rose to power within the establishment. Many voters preferred to be entertained and distracted by a charlatan they saw as their populist strongman who would “tell it like it is.” The problem was that too many voters never figured out what “is” was.

Huang was in the difficult position of having to advocate a different kind of change while trying not to ruffle unnecessarily the feathers of President Castro and his supporters. She nonetheless did surprisingly well at threading that needle and appeared on the verge of victory. With all of the nonsensical distractions Stone produced on a daily basis, Huang found it difficult to maintain focus on her key environmental, economic and national security messages.

As the train pulled into Sacramento Valley Station, Alex and John shook hands and agreed to resume their conversation at another time, maybe before their next Board meeting.

Chapter 5. The Hangover

"Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I'm not sure about the former.” Albert Einstein

Upon their return to Sacramento, Alex checked into his office for a few hours, made some calls, and handled some press interviews, while Ana drove to McClatchy High School in time to teach her afternoon classes.

After finishing up at City Hall, Alex drove to his campaign headquarters to clean out the office and take some files and supplies home. He drove home through the Sac State campus on the banks of the American River. Despite its bucolic setting, Sac State used to be a bland, commuter campus, but the district’s former City Council member and the University had partnered a few decades earlier to connect the campus to transit and the surrounding community. The results were now obvious. Sac State was a vibrant green campus in the midst of one of the region’s premier mixed use transit districts, just a few miles from Downtown. Scholars and civic and business leaders from throughout the world routinely visited Sacramento to learn best practices for integrating a university campus into a modern urban center.

Alex and Ana decided to take off Friday for a weekend trip up in the mountains to unwind after the election. They invited Stephanie Carroll, her husband John August and their teenage daughter Alison, to spend the weekend in their family “cabin”, a sunny, two-story mountain home with a loft, which Alex’s parents had built in Tahoe Donner. Nick and Angela promised to carve out a piece of their busy schedule to spend part of the weekend at the cabin as well.

Located 15 miles north of Lake Tahoe in the town of Truckee, Tahoe Donner was the oldest and largest planned unit development in the Sierras. Home to a community of 7,500 permanent and 15,000 part-time residents, it featured alpine and cross country skiing in winter, and hiking, biking, swimming, boating, horseback riding, tennis and golf the rest of the year.

Alex and Ana loaded up their sleek, cobalt blue Tesla after the Friday morning rush hour traffic had cleared, and headed for the mountains. They planned to pick up Nick and Angela at the Truckee train station on Saturday after their late morning soccer games, then drive back with the kids Monday morning in time for work and school. As was their custom, Ana drove while Alex relaxed, read and answered emails and texts. They zoomed up Interstate 80 through Roseville on the outskirts of Sacramento, then climbed the Sierra foothills, passing along several towns that originated as stations along the Central Pacific Railroad. They passed through the historic gold mining town of Auburn at 1,200-foot elevation, Colfax at 2,400 feet, and Cisco Grove at 5,000 feet, before taking the Norden exit at 6,000 feet for a stretch.

They parked in a small dirt lot off Old Highway 40 above Sugar Bowl, one of the first ski resorts on the West Coast with a base near 7,000 feet. They walked up the road a few hundred feet to a trailhead, then hiked down a granite trail as an alpine vista opened in front of them with Donner Lake framed by the arched, century-old Rainbow Bridge. They came to a fork in the path before the historic “China Wall” and the abandoned Donner Train tunnels built in the 1860’s by the Big Four founding fathers of California, Leland Stanford, Charles Crocker, Mark Hopkins and Collis P. Huntington.

The most important developments in the history of California and the West could be traced back to this scenic route from the Sacramento Valley across the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range. The two main freight railroads still operating in the West descended from the railroads built by the Big Four. But the real work was done by the visionary engineer Theodore Judah, for whom Alex’s elementary school was named, and the thousands of poor Chinese immigrants who brought forth to this land an impressive work ethic, an unparalleled expertise in dynamite and an indomitable will to carve the giant tunnels out of stone, an awesome engineering feat and one of the great wonders of the modern world.

Turning left on the trail, Ana and Alex dropped down a few hundred feet where they gazed at some of the fascinating petroglyphs carved into the granite rocks by the ancient Martis People, a Native American tribe who lived throughout Northern California and the Sierras thousands of years ago.

The early American pioneers, including the star-crossed Donner Party of 1846, traversed this route from the more treacherous east side of the Sierras, following the ancient trails left by the Martis people. This same route also served the first transcontinental railroad in the 1860’s and the first transcontinental highway - the Lincoln Highway - in the early 1900’s, before Interstate 80 was built in the 1960’s. Thankfully, a partnership between the State of California, the Union Pacific and Amtrak straightened the tracks and modernized the state’s vast rail system a few years earlier.

Alex and Ana retraced their steps, got back in the car, then passed over Donner Summit at 7,239 feet; before descending 1,200 feet to Truckee. An early winter storm had left a few inches of fresh snow up in the mountains, but the warm autumn sun had already melted the snow around the lake and cabin. When it wasn’t raining or snowing in the Sierras, the cloudless, sapphire skies  above would reflect off the deep aqua-blue waters of Lake Tahoe and its sister alpine lakes. Today was no exception.

When Ana and Alex arrived at the cabin, Stephanie, John and Alison were lounging on the front deck, soaking in the mid-day sun. They unloaded the car and Ana unwrapped the sandwiches they bought at a small deli nestled in the pines on the way up. Alex opened a bottle of Trokay ale and joined the party.

The conversation turned inevitably to the election. Still in denial, Ana and John refused to believe that an “idiot” like Stone could win, especially since he lost the popular vote by such a wide margin. Alex, on the other hand, was more focused on what could be done to reverse the Florida vote.

Stephanie steered the discussion to her favorite topic - climate change. She first met Alex as a freshman at Yale. Part African American and part Indian, Stephanie had curly dark brown hair and stood over six feet tall. She started off a bit shy and awkward in school, but as she matured, grew more comfortable in her own skin. She used to tire of hearing Alex always talk so glowingly about Northern California when they were in college. But in the end, some of his boasting rubbed off on her. As an honors student, she had her pick of grad schools, but chose UC Davis for her Ph.D. in Atmospheric Science, with a specialty in oceanography and biogeochemistry, while Alex came home to UC Davis Law School.

After school, their careers continued to converge as Stephanie would become one of the world’s most respected climatologists, consistently called upon by major governments, environmental groups and private companies for her expertise and advice on how to predict and adapt to climate change. Warmer winters were causing alternating periods of drought and fires and excessive rain and flooding, with the average snow level rising well above the 6,200-foot lake level. Ironically, the droughts helped with lake clarity and acidity because less sediments drained into the lake. However, the reduced snow levels in the basin lowered the average lake elevation and the runoff into the upper and lower Truckee Rivers, which continually stressed the native fish and wildlife populations.

Stephanie’s biggest contribution to climate science was introducing a methodology to reduce and delay the most extreme effects of global warming, giving humans more time to eliminate carbon emissions and adapt to rising sea levels and climate change. Her pioneering study on the effects of climate change on Lake Tahoe was required reading for climate scientists. The silver lining in her study was a finding that improved methods of managing development and thinning forests around the lake would optimize small burns, reduce the risk of devastating fires, and offset the most damaging effects of climate change. She worked with the Sierra Business Council and regional governments in Nevada and California to reduce drainage into the lake and air and water pollution in the basin despite a two-fold increase in the basin’s population and a three-fold increase in visitors over the previous decades. Stephanie concluded that the absence of any fossil fuel burning in the basin contributed the most to these salutary effects.

Stephanie sipped her beer and looked over at Alex, standing in the doorway leading from the living room to the deck. “It’s interesting that people have acclimated to driving electric cars, but it’s been harder to shift from burning wood in fireplaces to heating with solar. Up here, cooling is not the issue. You just open your windows, even on the hottest days of August. Winter’s a different story.”

Alex said, “Whenever people ask me what we need to do about climate change. I just channel my inner Al Gore, “we need to adapt to what we cannot avoid and avoid what we cannot adapt to.” John broke his silence. “Wiser words have never been spoken.”

The two families rested and read the rest of the afternoon, then walked over to The Lodge for an early dinner. The restaurant overlooking lush meadows and verdant mountains had a surprisingly large crowd for a week night, driven by a successful “corkage free” promotion.

After dinner, they walked back to the cabin, taking a bit longer in the darkness of the autumn evening. Back at the cabin, they made plans to hike Lake Tahoe’s Rubicon Trail the next morning. They went to bed early, exhausted from the nonstop cavalcade of events leading up to the election and its aftermath.

The next morning, they ate breakfast on the front deck. It was another day in paradise as the early morning sun gave way to clear blue skies over Mount Rose to the east and Northstar and Lake Tahoe to the south. They took two cars so they could leave one at the north end of the hike in DL Bliss State Park and the other at the south end above Emerald Bay. Autumn was a relatively quiet time at the lake, so it wasn’t hard to find a parking place at both ends of the trail. Still Alex made a mental note to contact the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency about extending the west shore electric shuttle bus to Emerald Bay. 

After gathering their food and gear from the car, the crew hiked a mile straight downhill, then stopped for a few minutes at the historic Vikingsholm which was built in 1928 on the former site of stagecoach magnate Ben Holiday’s summer home in the 1860’s and remained one of the finest examples of Scandinavian architecture in the United States.

Little Alison ran out on the beach and scrambled up on the dock. She gazed out at the commanding view of Emerald Bay. “Mom, look at that castle on the island.” Stephanie walked slowly along the beach, laughing. “That’s not a castle. That was Mrs. Knight’s playhouse.”

“Can I have a playhouse like that?”

“Maybe your father will build you a miniature one in our backyard, but the one on that island isn’t for sale.”

From Vikingsholm, the group hiked along the northern end of the bay before turning north away from the bay along the west shore of  Lake Tahoe. Stephanie stopped to take a breath, her heart racing from the brisk climb.

Alex gazed at the gorgeous view below. “For such a large bay, Emerald Bay has a very narrow opening that’s hard to find when you try to steer a boat in from the lake.”

They walked leisurely over the next few miles, the trail winding up and down and in and out from the mesmerizing lakeshore. Alison scurried along several hundred yards in front of the grown ups who talked non-stop. John and Ana walked ahead of Stephanie and Alex, chatting about their kids.

Alex walked alongside Stephanie. “Of course, we could do better, but California’s been pretty progressive overall, accelerating our carbon reduction and economic growth goals, despite repeated claims that it wasn’t possible to do both. Now we’re well on the way to achieving our ultimate goal of no fossil fuel use at all.”

California had indeed achieved its goals of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 50 percent, generating 50 percent of electricity from renewables, and reducing petroleum use from vehicles by 50 percent well ahead of the 2030 target date, while sustaining the highest levels of employment and economic growth in the country.

Stephanie pointed to the lake’s deep blue waters and said, “I can’t tell you how important the grand water compromise was to our future. Not only did we defeat the massive Delta twin tunnels project, we conserved enough surface water through conservation, recycling, and recharging underground aquifers, and save money to build a less expensive storage and delivery system and a series of desalination and wastewater recycling projects.”

Alex said, “Not to brag, but Sacramento can take some credit too. After the 1986 flood almost destroyed Sacramento, we were one of the most at-risk cities in the country, but we strengthened Folsom Dam and the downstream river levees, modified the Yolo Bypass to allow more water to flow past Downtown during heavy rains, and collaborated to conserve and share water throughout the region.”

Stephanie said, “Fortunately, that system’s still holding even with global warming. Of course, we have to work constantly to maintain and improve the system to meet future needs.”

After the hike, they drove along the west shore to Homewood for a late afternoon lunch on the lakeside deck at the iconic West Shore Cafe.

When they returned to the cabin, Ana made the grown-ups her favorite aperitif, tequila mixed with Domaine de Canton french ginger liqueur, while Alison helped herself to a soda. They relaxed and listened to some music, then showered and changed, before heading to Downtown Truckee to pick up Nick and Angela for dinner.

When they arrived at the historic train station on Main Street, Angela was waiting alone in front. They parked the car in the adjacent lot, leaving Angela’s small bag in the car. Ana asked about the absent Nick.

Angela replied, “I thought he texted you already. He’s not coming.”

Alex frowned. “I’ll call him later.”

They walked a block over to Moody’s, the historic restaurant on the ground floor of the Truckee Hotel on Main Street. Moody’s was still famous for the times that Sir Paul McCartney occasionally sat in to play with a local band when he was on vacation in Truckee. The group of six enjoyed a fabulous dinner, topped off with the best S’mores this side of a campfire.

When they got back to the cabin after dinner, Alex paced the floor preparing to call Nick. It was always a production, the frustration level high on both sides.

“What’s up?” asked Alex.

“Sorry I couldn’t make it to Truckee. There’s a big party tonight in Curtis Park.”

Alex walked over to the front deck and looked out at Mount Rose. “You’re going to get expelled at this rate.”

“What difference does it make?”

“What are you talking about? It’s college, your future we’re talking about.” Alex was starting to feel that all too familiar feeling of the veins in his neck swelling, the blood rushing to his head as he tried to contain his anger.

In contrast, Nick betrayed little emotion. “I’ll probably drop out of school anyway. Even if I finish the year, I don’t think I’ll go back next year. I’m thinking about taking another year off to drive cross-country. Maybe join the Navy.”

“You’ll still need to finish college even if you join the Navy.”

In the end, Nick agreed to finish the remaining school year at Sac City College, but nothing beyond that. Before they could finish the debate, Alex got a call from Pamela Huang.

“I need to take another call, but we'll finish this conversation when I get back in Sacramento next week.”

Alex shifted gears. “How are you doing?”

Pamela replied “Not bad, considering I haven’t slept in a week”.

“How can I help?”

“I’m going to stay in Washington for the time being, but the campaign is in four states requesting vote recounts or filing lawsuits challenging the outcome. Alex, I really need you to oversee the litigation.”

Alex agreed to meet with her legal team in San Francisco the next day. She said she’d participate by videoconference. Alex hung up and prepared to leave early the next morning.