June 9, 2009

You Don't Have to Go Home Again

I grew up in Houston. I moved to Virginia in '89 and only returned to Houston once in '90. I'm not sure why I've never really felt the need to go back. Maybe I consider that chapter closed. Maybe I'm afraid of tarnishing the memory of home. Regardless, I haven't gone back. Until last week. Kinda.


This might look like your average, everyday single-family colonial home but its more special to me than that. It's the house I grew up in. My room sat behind those two windows in the upper left. The driveway is on the left as well; before we moved I scratched my name into the brick wall beside it. There was a basketball hoop in the driveway and a pool out back. It was brown but, before that, its shade changed either slightly or drastically every few years as my dad put new coat of paint over the wood siding. The pea green was the worst. It didn't last long. I'm pretty sure the neighbors threatened to sue. There used to be two trees out front. We lost the one on the left. It was the better of the two trees for climbing with branches closer to the ground. It collapsed under its own weight after a hurricane.

Before you ask the inevitable question - how the hell did you manage to squeeze in a whirlwind trip to Houston and take a crappy picture of your old house without us knowing about it - I didn't go anywhere. I just Googled it. Because Google Maps is insanely cool. Here's the aerial money shot:


My pal Google and I walked the length of my street and strolled around the neighborhood. I saw Harold's house on the corner. I used to take care of his roses when he and his wife were away. He drove a 1968 VW Bug which he kept in mint condition. We traded comic books. And the house where Russel lived. Russel was the neighborhood asshole kid who thought he owned the joint. I'm sure he grew up to be either the nicest guy you ever met or a guy about which you say that the wrong people are given too much power. It's irrational but I've never trusted anyone named Russel since. I saw the garage in which one of our neighbors built a small single engine plane that he eventually flew. And Scott's house. Scott was convicted of involuntary manslaughter when he accidentally drove into a motorcycle. I'm not sure Scott ever recovered. And then I came to The Circle.


The Circle used to be wilder, the shrubs higher and around the perimeter of the circle, not planted so close to the tree. And it was haunted. None of us kids liked to hang around The Circle, convinced that some troll or ghost or maybe just Russel would snatch us from the street, never to return. We'd ride around it on our bikes and, at the furthest point, we'd feel that scared-yet-thrilled feeling in the pits of our stomachs. The Circle looks a lot less menacing now.


My elementary school is on the left. It's now two stories tall. And massive. When I attended the school, it was a string of classrooms joined by an outside hallway. Across the hall were offices and, further down, a cafeteria that doubled as an auditorium. My middle school is on the right. It looked like a prison then and still looks that way now. I spent countless hours on that track, running on the track team and, occasionally, ditching the whole thing and escaping into the neighborhood immediately adjacent.

Technology's a mixed bag. Sure, it's increased productivity and come up with a lot of neat stuff none of us can seem to live without. But how connected do we really need to be? Porn notwithstanding, how much information do we need? How many gadgets do we have to own? Do we really need more things to be addicted to? At the same time, technology can be cool. It can let you walk through the streets of your childhood in the comfort of your current home, the one you've made with your own children who will one day look back on the streets of their own childhood, complete with their own crazy neighbors, their own Circles, their own Russels.

Posted by Chris at June 9, 2009 6:32 AM

Ooh that's a great thing to do with goggle maps. I went on virtual walks of the apartment we stayed in Paris before we got there, and have looked at our current house, but never thought to do that for my old homes. Funnily enough this pregnancy I have been dreaming of my old home, street, walks to and from school, my old friends homes so clearly almost every night. So it's like I have been retracing my old steps anyway..weird.

Posted by: Beth at June 9, 2009 7:11 AM

I love nostalgia, and when technology helps me do it better, I love it. At least, I used to. Those where the days; back when nostalgia was cool.

Posted by: Wayne Hall at June 9, 2009 9:29 AM

Spring Branch?

Posted by: Elise at June 9, 2009 9:30 AM

I Google Earthed my childhood house a few months ago and I was amazed at how accurate and REAL it all seemed without having to drive 9 hours. It also sort of weirded me out; like I was spying on people that shouldn't be in MY house. But at the same time, I really enjoyed going back in time, if only for a few minutes.

Posted by: Claire at June 9, 2009 9:30 AM

technology is a wicked wicked thing... both wicked good and wicked bad... i used it recently and realized that the pictures it'd taken were before my grandmother had passed 6 months ago, sure enough her car was in the parking lot of the church she spent more time at than her own home. i visit every home i'd ever called my own, and every travel spot i wish i could return to.

it's a tricky question about technology and gadgets. as minimalistic as even i can be, i've got a disgusting amount of gadgets and electronics laying around thanks to my husband the super geek.

Posted by: SUPAHMAMA! at June 9, 2009 9:51 AM

That's so cool! I live only a few miles from my childhood home, and the neighborhood and houses all look so small now. My neighborhood had a circle tree too! But instead of being afraid of it, that was THE place to be as a kid. The grown ups surely never went there, they'd just yell their commands from the sidewalks across the street (come home, don't hurt yourself!). We loved that tree and at any given time, there could be five of us sitting on its branches.

Thanks for the memories!

Posted by: Sandy at June 9, 2009 10:55 AM

How funny you should post this. Yesterday morning I woke up with an urge to traipse through my hometown via Google Earth. The pics were really low quality though and I couldn't see anything. Perhaps I should just use google maps instead.

Posted by: jessica at June 9, 2009 11:05 AM

I think as far as technology goes, there's a healthy separation between addicted-to and really-likes. I really like technology and use it constantly. However, I grew up in a time without it and do just fine not having it around.

We're an outside family. We ride bikes, we play ball, we swing on the swingset and play freeze tag. As long as we keep that balance I think it's all good.

Still... we've been saved so many times by having a cell phone on a bike ride or at the park, that there is less misery in this world because of that simple technology.

Posted by: Brad at June 9, 2009 11:20 AM

In a weird way, Googlemaps kind of creeps me out. Like the whole world might be stalking me.

But you know - the drugs. They make me paranoid.


Posted by: k8 at June 9, 2009 11:53 AM

I really love Street View and even Google Earth. I get see places I haven't seen in years and visit sites that I may never get to see. It's not the same as seeing them in person, no, but it's still really fun. Also, a good session of Google Earth time before a trip familiarizes me with the area to which I'm traveling (I don't own a GPS).

Posted by: Sparkle Pants at June 9, 2009 12:00 PM

chris, how did you get the frontal pics of the house and the circle? I can only get an aerial view.


Posted by: jessica at June 9, 2009 12:08 PM

What a cool, cool idea! I may have to do this, too. And give you credit, of course. :)

Posted by: Jen at June 9, 2009 12:18 PM

Street View has yet to produce the maps of Canada (or at least, my city), although they were in town filming in the spring.

So far, all we've been able to do with it is look for (US) places with bums urinating or ladies flashing. And as far as I could tell, all the ladies flashing have been removed by Google. But I wasn't as committed to the task as my husband was, so he may have found some more.

One of our local radio stations wanted to find out where they would be filming and stage a light saber fight between a robot and a gorilla. Not sure if they were successful.

Posted by: harmzie at June 9, 2009 2:01 PM

Wow, that's so cool!

Posted by: Fraulein N at June 9, 2009 2:41 PM

I Googled my last house a couple years ago. Apparently, they took the aerial shot while I was out back sunbathing. It was really weird. Thankfully, I was wearing a suit. But it made me wonder how many people they catch who aren't... or who are engaged in other, less family friendly, activities.

Posted by: Tink at June 9, 2009 4:40 PM

Gah. Now I have to kill time on Google Earth and steal your idea so I can prove to people I grew up in the hoodrat portion of Dallas!

I know why you don't go back to Houston...bc it's way to freaking hot, that's why. I have to go mid July, you will hear my whining and crying all the way up there!

Posted by: The Stiletto Mom at June 9, 2009 6:40 PM

I just discovered Google maps. It's way cool. In fact I just discovered Google everything. I might finally be breaking up with Yahoo. Permanently.

(And I had no idea you grew up in Houston. I lived there from Sept. 1999 - February 2001.)

Posted by: Country Girl at June 9, 2009 6:40 PM

loved this.

Posted by: Aimee Greeblemonkey at June 9, 2009 6:52 PM

Great - now I know of another time-waster on the internet.

In all seriousness, that's really cool. I see myself looking up several of my previous addresses now.

Posted by: Kimberly at June 9, 2009 9:35 PM

Houston? Ugh...IT'S HOT. I know this because I have to go there once a quarter. How you lived there and did not melt is beyond me!

Now I have to go google my old house so I can prove to everyone I grew up in the hood rat portion of Dallas. I've been by it, it has a chain link fence now and a car propped up on bricks...really. :)

Posted by: The Stiletto Mom at June 10, 2009 9:36 AM

I google mapped my childhood home once. The east coast is fully mappable, I think. Biggest mistake of my life, I tell you what. As miserable as it was living there, it was worse seeing it. (Wanna see? )

Your home, however, looks freaking awesome. Houston does NOT suck.

Posted by: Mr Lady at June 14, 2009 3:08 AM

Don't you know that it is high time to get the mortgage loans, which can realize your dreams.

Posted by: BriggsKristine18 at April 12, 2010 2:32 PM