… says Thomas Wolfe, but you can sure as hell drive by, thanks to the Google car and Street View. I’m sure most of you already know of this stupefying technology. You enter an address into Google Maps, and a street-level image of the address accompanies the map. But the amazing thing is, you can then continue on, either up or down the street, to another destination. I’ve used Street View to research my books and stories, but I’ve always jumped from address to address. This time I decided to stay in the car and cruise all over town.
I started at my childhood home in Reno, and then, by repeatedly clicking the street surface, I travelled to my best friend’s house, down the dirt road (now paved) where I used to ride my minibike, and passed by the homes of other friends. I visited my elementary school, middle school, high school and even paid homage to a few old girlfriends, all the while traveling the streets I would have walked, ridden my bicycle or driven my jacked-up 4WD truck (did I mention this was Reno?). After I hit Reno High, I cruised by the University of Nevada and checked out a couple of the campus bars where I used to send brain cells off to their deaths.
As I said earlier, a lot of you are already familiar with this technology, so why does it warrant a blog entry? Well, something unanticipated happened while I was driving around town. A torrent of memories came rushing in, and with those memories came the associated emotions. Some of the emotions were pleasant, some were unpleasant, but all were deeply felt. Then it occurred to me that this would be a great tool for writers, beyond just gathering setting details. If you want to write about a specific time and place in your life, you certainly want to evoke the emotions that dominated those times. The best way to do this, of course, is to visit these meaningful places (if you no longer live there), but if you can’t visit, climb in the Google car and go for a drive.
If you have never done this, try it, then come back here and let me know how it went.