What I Learned About Philly Through My Google Search History

We were ahead of the zombie curve, Fishtown was inevitable and we sometimes dream of leaving (though we never do).




I realize that I’m late to the Google search download game.

The option to download your search history – as in, your entire search history – has been available since January, when Google quietly rolled out the feature. It came to the attention of the Internet masses last week, when a third-party blog spelled it out: Everything you have searched for while logged into Google has been saved, and you can take a peek if you want.

I did not want.

It’s not that I was surprised that Google had a Monica file. Every time I sign in to Facebook I’m bombarded with ads for graduate schools, skin care products, egg-freezing seminars and yoga retreats. (I suspect this is their advertising department’s “30-Year-Old Divorcee, Moderately Vulnerable” package. Touche, Google. Touche.) Creepy, yes, but nothing in this world is for free, including Gmail.

And it’s not that I have anything interesting to hide. I’m a bit of a WebMD hypochondriac and am extremely susceptible to the Boy Meets World Wikipedia rabbit hole, sure. But as far as behind-closed-doors Internet behavior goes, I’m relatively clean. No bodies to hide, no fetishes to satisfy, no shame that I check to see if Dave Matthews is single every few months.

I just wasn’t quite ready to see my life spelled out in searches.

I’ve had a Google account for the better part of a decade, and I’d wager that some of those years will go down as the best in my life. One of them damn well better be the worst. I was searching for a lot of different things through my 20s, and watching them parade by seemed like a cruel exercise that my therapist (aka Castle reruns) wouldn’t sign off on. I’m out of the cheap seats at this point, but I’m nowhere near the VIP lounge that makes past fuck-ups seem nostalgic and “part of the journey.”

Eventually, of course, I caved. Partly because I’m dangerously curious – but mostly because after you download your history, you can delete your history.

The good news, for me at least, is that this is far from a tidy download. Google may be handing over their records, but they’re doing so in multiple folders that contain lots of messy code. Don’t want to relive that particular weird rash? There’s a good chance you’ll never see those panicked queries in this jumbled mess. Afraid of someone seeing your history? Anyone willing to dig through this much material already has it in for you, and has likely hired a lawyer.

Ultimately, the only cohesive story that emerges in my Google search history is a Philadelphia story – which is to say, a weird, long story. Here’s what I learned about Philly while combing through my (admittedly questionable and, some years, a little drunk) Google history.

The zombie invasion is our fault

Or maybe the zombie invasion is our claim to fame – it’s hard to tell now that the fad has proven to be undead in the worst way. But in 2006, long before The Walking Dead, Robert Drake rolled out the first Philly Zombie Crawl on Easter Sunday, and it was weird and it was wonderful. I was searching around for a proper zombie costume that spring, which is probably why I googled “zombie bunny.” No idea how I got to “zombie mongoose,” but that’s Google for you.

We forgot to figure out who Arthur Kade is

In 2009 I was working for Metro, so you’ll have to forgive my “who in unholy hell is Arthur Kade?” searches. Covering local weirdos was part of my job, and Kade was a casualty of working in the gossip column trenches. He’s barely a blip on my Google radar, and he probably doesn’t appear on yours. But what bothered me then still bothers me now: Not even Google can tell me who Arthur Kade really is.

You could see Fishtown coming

It started out gradually with some searches for shows at Johnny Brenda’s around 2006. Then ramped up as Kraftwork, Frankford Hall, Barcade and assorted friends moved in, giving me more and more reasons to cross Girard Avenue. Now that I can barely afford a coffee over there, Fishtown pops up in my history much, much less. Note to self: Befriend the office’s Google analytics team, figure out where to buy a house, flip it when pedigree pizza moves in.

Despite it all, we’re stuck here

After college, I was flirting hard with the idea of the West Coast. Later, Miami. There was a time when it appears I was set on moving to New Orleans. If you spent the past few winters or mayoral elections around these parts, I suspect your search history looks similar. That said, get comfortable: If Google has taught me anything, it’s that Philadelphia can be pretty harsh – but I’m not going anywhere.

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