Google Earth is a truly wondrous device, in its own creepy little way. The first thing I did when I downloaded it was to look up my own address and boom, there it was: A top-down view of Chateau Undercity. It was a thrilling and slightly unnerving discovery.
But when spinning the world like a top with one's mouse gets old (in my case after about the third hour), one starts looking for practical applications. Some people use it to find buried treasure. Some loopy-loos seem to think they've found Atlantis (which - point of fact - never actually existed).
My use thus far hasn't been as exotic, just your basic walk down Memory Lane without having to, you know, actually grab a bus or train and darken Memory Lane's sidewalks with my shadow.
All in all, the best way, I think.
When I was in high school I lived in a western Pennsylvania factory town that up and lost it's factory. Westinghouse, I believe. They left a shell of a building that used to be the town's main source of income, PCB's in the ground, and a deeply bitter taste in the mouths of the locals.
Just the place for a boy from the suburbs of Minneapolis to get re-acquainted with his extended family. I showed up, much like The Fresh Prince of Bel Air in reverse, and lightened everyone's heart as I stumbled into awkward fish-out-of-water situations and had madcap misadventures.
Actually, no I didn't. I finished high school and took the first chance I got to leave town for good. No thought filled me with more horror than the idea of staying in that undead town for the rest of my life, watching it shamble lifelessly on, never quite alive and never finally dropping dead for good.
But still, twenty years later, you get curious. My need to know wasn't bad enough to resort to desperate measures like attending my high school reunion (do ex-cons get sentimental for their cells?).
So yeah, Google Earth and Street View. I can safely say that, without awkward encounters with family and former acquaintances, the old town retains much of its old character. Which is another way of saying that it's still a decrepit shithole, only now the strip malls have closed in on the outskirts.
So curiosity sated and I never had to leave home for a reminder that sentimentality is often a highly overrated thing.