Saturday, January 11, 2014

Black Dot

Today, looking on Bing Maps, I saw myself driving.

Well, at least I highly, highly believe it's my car in the image. Here's a screenshot...can you see it?

There are several reasons I really think it's me (it's the black dot in the middle of the street). For one thing, it's obviously spring this year, and for another, I park on that street when heading into the college. It's Canter Boulevard. Another factor is simply how the car looks like from above. I've seen it from above before, most notably when I parked in front of my friend Arthur's building and then looked down on it from his balcony, high up. The shape, the windshield, and the obvious headlights. I call my car - a 2009 Toyota Yaris - the Black Chipmunk for a reason, and it's because of its short rounded hood and distinctive headlights. I even took a picture with my old cell phone of the car from above.

The only difference between these two comparisons is that the image on the right that I took was captured later in the summer - and therefore there are roof racks on it. Otherwise you can even tell in both images that the dashboard is the same colour.

I remember when I was twelve and was just discovering the wonderful, beautiful allure of aerial photography (back then I had only recently seen the image on James' fridge and had gone on to discover aerial photos from 1999 on the Ottawa website). I remember running out into the field behind Sir Winston Churchill with my arms wide, looking up at the sky, wanting to be spontaneously captured from the air, from above. It would only be natural for me to look at an aerial photo, years later, of the Sir Winston Churchill field in 1968 and very obviously spot half a dozen human figures randomly spaced about on the ground (the image had been taken at a scale of 1:4000, otherwise at 2,000 feet, in monochrome, so people from that height, especially in numbers, are easy to see). The idea of being noticeable in an aerial photo or spotted from above was a very appealing goal or aspiration for me. The first 'novel' I wrote, called The Bombs: And the City back in 2004 has me, as the main character, intending to spend my summer lying down in the middle of the courtyard between the townhomes on my back, looking up at the sky, frozen in a wave, in hopes to be caught in any potential aerial photo.

Despite all the satellite and aerial photographs taken of the region over these years, I've never spotted myself, either because the resolution was too low, or because I happened to be inside, or, much more likely, both. There's an unusual pattern of shape and colour on my back deck in a 2010 photograph that looks like my outstretched arms taking down or putting up the roof of the gazebo on the deck, but I can't be sure.

Of anything, these discovery is probably the most certain thing I've looked at. The shadows of the trees show that it's morning, and probably in May. I didn't have any morning classes that semester, and all of them were over by May, but I was working at the college for a field placement which went from the morning to the afternoon. It looks very obviously like I'm driving to park either along Canter or Elmbank (the second street in) for a day of work at the college. The shape, colour, size, headlights and dashboard of the car are so obvious.

Now that I've finally been obviously captured by satellite, and driving, no less, it really gives a feeling and sense of how minute and tiny you are relative to space and your surroundings. Driving along that street on a clear, sunny morning, I would never have figured my picture was being taken from above, but having been hypothetically suggested that, I wouldn't have ruled it out. Everything is bigger than you. Every inanimate object - from the houses and trees to other, larger, parked vehicles and lampposts, signs. Fences. From my eye-level, you aren't looking down on anything but even shorter people, small children, lower sedans, and the ground. Everything is bigger and very surrounding. Everything, you go around. And when you examine that black rectangle that is likely to be me, diminutive in the middle of the wider street, the surrounding, huge rectangles of houses and tall green roundish things that are trees, you see how small we really are. I'm a short person in height already, and I drive a small hatchback of a car, so that's exacerbated when viewed from above. Just a black dot in the middle of the enormous green, brown and grey of streets, roofs, trees, lawn fixtures and neighbourhood. God, I kind of feel small. I hardly cast any shadow on the ground at all.

With that relativity, you can almost feel like you see your place in the world. I finally got to see myself relative to the street, the neighbourhood blocks, the houses and properties, and in a way, the world. Just another little dot moving around in the middle of the enormity that is us, the species, and this world.

By the way, if I look like I'm driving on the wrong side of the road, I'm not. It's not a lane. Generally one will drive down the centre of a residential street to avoid parked cars and children running about. But there I am, the literal carbon footprint that is me, happy to know the satellite did not have the resolution to capture my license plate number.

Justin C.

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