“How can they let us look at this stuff? This has got to be illegal.”
A constant refrain. Everyone I know has the same reaction at first. From hundreds of miles up, traveling our native land with the aspect view of the astronaut has entered the cultural mainstream. This isn’t Mapquest. They had satellite photos, too, but they didn’t work as well, and they mysteriously disappeared in 2003. What happened? Only they know, and possibly the NSA. Or so you would think from a person’s reaction when they get a glimpse of the Pentagon or Edwards Air Force Base from on high.
There they are, in all their glory. The Pentagon’s rings, so huge you marvel at the futility of flying just one plane into its massive structure. And out at Edwards, a gigantic compass cut into the dry lake bed used for a runway, its numbers stretching as long as a huge, four-engined jet parked nearby.
This is Google Maps, and my friends and I have already wasted far too much time looking at things we were never meant to see. That is the true initiation. Forget about the spectacular overhead view of Devil’s Tower in Wyoming, or the shadows cast by the Ambassador Bridge in Detroit. I want to see how many aircraft carriers I can find. I want to see if anybody left a stealth bomber parked on the tarmac in the daytime. There are already a dozen websites that link to a view of Area 51. Alcatraz? Who cares? There are 928 nuclear craters just sitting in the Nevada desert waiting for scrutinizing eyes to gaze at their destructiveness. In fact, I’ve found out from my desktop forays into the Nevada test range that it is truly the most bizarre locale in our entire country. Here is the apocalyptic wasteland of science fiction thrust into the real world, a land so irradiated it takes a special personality to want to venture there in real life. From above the atmosphere you can spot the tiny little villages inhabited by mannequins, swept by desert winds for fifty years now since they were first exposed to radioactive fallout.
Roads stretch in straight lines far beyond what must be the horizon at ground level. Some are still obviously passable, even used. Others are shadows, slowly being reclaimed by the desert. Here and there a building, rarely a vehicle parked outside of it.
Out there in the largest piece of nowhere in the country our nation’s nuclear legacy is a hundreds of square miles large museum that we are only allowed to see from space. My personal favorite? It’s the airstrip cut into the landscape that has no buildings, just a wrecked plane on one of the runways and some bomb craters. What was this place? Target practice? A foreign airbase mocked up far from prying eyes for our boys to hone their skills at unleashing fiery death on our enemies? If so, how did the mission go?
A person sees these things, if only on a website with an odd view from far above the ground, and they have these thoughts, “Am I doing something wrong? Are THEY watching me because I’m sitting here watching THEM?” Such a culture have we become. I’m not surprised. Americans can swim through only so many paranoid-laced Hollywood CIA adventures, combined with our current level of actual paranoia, for even the most decent citizen to be fearful that normal curiosity could get them in trouble.
Honestly, I do wonder how long Google will be allowed to show us overhead views of B-52’s nicely lined up in rows in Louisiana, or views so close up of nuclear plants that their radiation pools appear to be glowing. Then again, THEY already must know, and approve. After all, try to get a peak at the Capitol Building in Washington, and you’re treated to nothing more than a jumble of useless pixels. On top of the White House, there is nothing more than a flat expanse of Photoshop brown. So THEY’re certainly aware that THEY are being watched, albeit with photographs that are in many cases at least three years old.
So if you dare to risk life and limb by looking at addictively interesting places most human eyes were never meant to see, there is an outlet. But beware! THEY may be keeping a list.