The book begins with the narrator, Bob, getting ready to leave his hometown in California after graduating from high school:
Pack my rucksack and get out of this place. Like the song says, "I'm leavin' LA, baby. Don't you know this smog has got me down." Taj Mahal, a blues singer. I found his album -- one of those old black discs -- in a box with a bunch of others in granddad's garage. Old record player with it, kind that goes around and 'round. Been listening to them ever since -- all gramp's favorites from the sixties and seventies when he was a kid. Great songs ... despite the scratches.
He said the smog then was nothing compared to what we got now. They didn't have alkali smog back then. We're breathing borax and potash blown in with the dust. Granddad died of emphysema but he never smoked. The doc said some people are more sensitive than others. I got his heredity. Mom and dad coughing, especially when they wake up. Even hear the neighbors coughing. Gotta get outta here. "We gotta get out of this place, if it's the last thing we ever do." Another song -- The Animals.
Animals now are dying even in the zoos. Birds gone.
Like to take all his old records with me, but no room in the rucksack. They'll be here when I come back ... if I come back. Mom and dad will be pissed I just left them a letter. But if I told them, they'd just pressure me into staying again, like they did last time I told them I wanted to go. No money for college. They want me to get some sh*t job here. If I'm going to have a sh*t job, I want it to be at least some place where I can breathe.
Rucksack's pretty heavy. Outta here.
Little bungalow house like the others. Dust on all the window sills. Sand in the drain spouts. Hasn't rained this year. Wind patterns have changed so it rains over the ocean but hardly ever over the land. Grass died, then even the weeds died. At least the dirt won't die. The Great Drought, they call it. I don't know what's so great about it.