In the present day, Lyman has just returned from a doctor's visit in Nevada City (which is in...California). There's nothing that's really bothering him, but he did it for Rodman's sake.
Nevada City has changed a lot since Lyman's youth—especially since the local quarry mines (his grandfather's Zodiac mine included) shut down some years ago.
Just then, Lyman runs into Al Sutton, a former classmate with "odd glasses" and a crazy lisp (1.7.9). As you might imagine, Lyman isn't too fond of socializing.
Al, on the other hand, takes the opportunity to ask every awkward question imaginable. "How's your wife, buddy?" (They're divorced.) "How's working at the university, pal?" (He's retired.) "What about that leg, huh? Why's that missing?" (Turns out, it's due to a bone disease.)