03/14/2014 05:10 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

The Unexpected Poignance of Google Maps


This is an image, culled from Google Street View, of the house in which I grew up. It is in a working-class suburb of the Ohio town, Mt. Healthy, that was my home until I went off to college where I got drunk, got high, got laid, and now and then, when I had some free time, got the education that made me a journalist. After college, I briefly lived here again until I landed a job and moved out. My father stayed in the house for 30 years after my mother died, living by himself until the night he fell in the living room and broke his hip. Eight weeks later, I buried him. He was two weeks shy of 91-years-old.

In the back yard of this house, I played baseball, football, army, cowboys and Indians. I climbed a massive elm tree that is no longer behind the patio. When I was a teenager, I liked to shinny up the left carport post, hoist myself onto the roof, and climb to the peak, where I just sat and thought things over. God knows what the neighbors thought. I don't think my parents ever knew. At least, they never said anything.

The poignance of this photo derives from what is missing. I do not know when Google first sent a Street View car down my old street. But whenever I would go to Google Maps for a nostalgic glimpse of the house, my father's red car always was in the carport. This would fill me with emotion because after he began causing accidents and getting speeding tickets in his late 80s, I had to come from Baltimore to his house ostensibly for a father-son visit, then put a lockbar on the steering wheel, steal the keys that he would not surrender, and eventually sell the car. It was one of the most painful things I have ever had to do in my life. Essential, right, but awful.

Recently I used Google Maps for another purpose, and while I was there decided to have a look at the house. And this time I found that a Street View car had made a more recent survey of the street to produce the image above -- with the car missing. I so wish I had made a screen capture back when the red Ford Focus was still in the driveway. One more thing about my father now gone forever.

We casually speak of things as possessing digital immortality in cyberspace. Not true. The lives of the people we love disappear from there, too.