I saw the Google car the other day in Largo. It was heading south on Belcher, its cameras mounted on black metal legs.
Naturally, I chased it.
The Google car makes photos for Google Maps Street View, which is documenting the planet from ground level, one continent at a time. Surely the driver would have interesting things to say about America, circa 2011.
I followed him into a Largo neighborhood, flashing my lights, waving like a maniac. He kept twisting through the streets, not speeding but moving at a faster clip than you'd think.
Finally, back on a four-lane road, I pulled abreast of him, rolled down my window, and had this interview at 35 mph:
"Can I talk to you?"
"No, I can't stop."
"Can I take your picture?"
He nodded. I stuck my BlackBerry out the window and took the photo you see here.
Later, I e-mailed Google and asked why the guy went all Witness Protection Program on me.
Google's drivers are not permitted to give interviews, spokeswoman Deanna Yick wrote back. They "work for us on a short-term basis" and "might not be familiar with Google's overarching project or mapping efforts."
She mentioned that Google's cameras have "cutting-edge face-blurring technology," so nobody looking at Street View can identify anyone in the photos.
Cool. But I wasn't thinking about privacy. I thought privacy died about seven years ago.
I was thinking about Abraham Lincoln.
In 1833, according to a Carl Sandburg biography, the 24-year-old Lincoln was hired to survey Sangamon County, Ill., a rural patch of the young nation. Surely his ideas about America were shaped by what he saw as he rode his horse across the land with his compass and chain.
Like Lincoln, the guy in the Google car sees all — our lost dogs, our garden gnomes, our mansions and shanties. What must he make of it all?
We can go online to see the pictures he's taking. But what picture is he forming?
Mike Wilson, Times staff writer