Google Earth can be a dangerous place to go when you’re feeling nostalgic. Especially if you’re an immigrant. It started when I looked up a house nearby that I’ve been thinking of buying. Then I discovered Google’s updated street view, where you can move in real time along roads as though you were actually there. Except nothing stands in your way. You float through hedges and walls and cars and people like an invisible spirit.
Last night I ‘visited’ Dad’s house in Northern Ireland, and to my delight discovered that Sam, his Labrador had been photographed out in the front driveway. From there I moved down the hill, across the road and along the sea front where Dad walks the dogs every day, and I accompany him when I visit. We always veer to the left into Murlough, a wildlife refuge, but there’s a lane that turns off to the right just at the entrance. I’ve always wondered what that road led to, but never had time to go look.
So I took that road less traveled. My spirit, using the mouse on my computer followed it all along the shore of Murlough Bay and past some cottages I didn’t know were there. A man had been photographed coming out of one of the driveways, and in the next frame he stood off to the side to let the Google truck pass by. I thought Google had some policy about not photographing people’s faces? But I’d recognize him if I met him in person.
On I went for about a mile until the lane met a crossroads where a larger road with signs that showed Newcastle was to the left, and Dundrum to the right. I crossed the road, passing through a white delivery van and followed what was labeled ‘Old Road’ for what seemed like many miles. I know this road for real. I had no idea that little lane at Murlough led back to here. I followed the road all the way past farmhouses and a dolmen of ancient standing stones, until I ‘stood’ at the bottom of Dad’s lane once more.
Where else could I visit? Typing in Magdalene Road in London, Google tore me from Dundrum by the sea up into outer space. The Earth spun until I was above England, and then I rushed toward London, so fast I almost felt dizzy. I thought of the poor whale that had appeared in the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy as it hurtled toward the Earth, wondering what that ‘big round thing’ was, and if it would be its friend, just before it crashed into the Earth with a ghastly blubbery splattering sound.
Dragging the street view icon over, I found myself standing outside Earlsfield Underground Station. I used the arrows on my keyboard to look all around. I didn’t remember all those estate agents and shops lining Garrett Lane. Or the railway bridge, or the pub on the corner of Magdalene Road. I turned and floated past the pub, past the Baptist Church on my right, and found the building on the corner, where I had rented a bedsit when I was at Drama College. The building used to be a pine furniture store, where they actually constructed the furniture and polished the wood out in the yard behind. But the shop had gone. It looked like the building had been converted into 3 apartments on each floor, instead of all the rooms being a conglomeration of bedsits.
I turned right onto the street alongside the building and went along far enough so I could turn back and look at the top floor window where once I had looked out from my bedsit. I remembered how all of us who rented the bedsits had become friends. We shared traditional English Sunday lunch together every week in the largest bedsit at the front of the building. We had many wild parties, and I remembered once going to bed at dawn and looking out at a pink sky with an unreal half-moon sinking below the red brick chimney tops of London. In those days I felt immortal. There was beauty in everything, and the future stretched ahead, an unwritten page.
I had no idea then that I would be writing this years later, looking out at a breathtaking sunrise in Oregon, halfway across the world. I didn’t know I’d decide writing was more satisfying than acting. But my future pages are still unwritten, although there are many pages behind that are filled to bursting. But that's another story for another time. Or perhaps a book.
I’ll bet Google never intended nostalgia to be one of the products of their Earth mapping! Visit it at your own peril. :-)