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THE GOODS : Only Easy Street Is Missing


Even if you are so jaded a CD-ROM user you think of yourself as the master of "Myst," emperor of "Encarta" and ruler of "Rebel Assault," there are still CD-ROMs out there that will make your jaw drop.

We're not talking about new special-effect-filled games or virtual reality worlds. The most amazing CD-ROM I've seen recently takes place right here on Earth and, although digital, is hardly virtual.

"Street Atlas USA" includes every street in the United States on one CD-ROM. It's like having a Thomas Bros. guide to the entire country on your computer. "Street Atlas," according to the Delorme Mapping company of Maine that developed it, includes more than 12 million streets and more than 1 million other features such as parks, lakes, rivers and airports.

A printout of all the maps on the disk would cover 10 football fields.

And it's all searchable by place name, street, ZIP code or telephone exchange.

Pick up that jaw--it's time to go exploring.

Let's say your Aunt Tess lives on the 700 block of Shady Lane in Dallas, Tex. You fire up "Street Atlas," which opens with a map of the country. You click on "Place," type in "Dallas" and up pops a list of 15 cities and towns with that name, from Alabama to West Virginia.

You choose Texas and the screen quickly changes to a map centering on mid-town Dallas. At this magnification level, the only locales that are marked are major thoroughfares, large parks and major city institutions such as the Dallas Convention Center and Scottish Rite Hospital.

Clicking on "Street," you fill in "Shady Lane" and the map zooms in to show you an approximately five-square-mile area, with Shady Lane (which is only about four blocks long) highlighted in the middle.

You can zoom in a bit more until the map covers a less-than-square-mile area, showing all the intersections on Shady Lane.

You're practically close enough to knock on Aunt Tess' door.

While I was doing this search, my friend Charlie--who does not think CD-ROMs are of use to anyone who actually has a life--happened to call. He challenged me to see if the coastal town of Oysterville, Wash., was included in "Street Atlas."

Charlie had spent his boyhood summers at his grandmother's house in Oysterville, which has a year-round population of about 20. Until 1980, the only telephone service available there was on party lines.

Oysterville was not listed in either of the two print road atlases--Rand McNally and Grosset--I had at hand.

But "Street Atlas" found it in less than 10 seconds. "Wow," said Charlie, repeatedly, as I read off the names of streets, including one named for his great-great grandfather, the first white person to settle in the area.

Suddenly, Charlie was telling me family stories about how a tribal chief had once saved his great-great grandfather's life, and in tones that traveled the full range from cynicism to sentimentality, my friend related boyhood tales of the idyllic town.

Maps do that to people. They are full of points of remembrance and also points of longing--places we've always planned on visiting but have not yet seen and maybe never will.

The maps in "Street Atlas" are neither beautiful nor distinctive. For the most part they are red grids of streets on peach-colored backdrops--practically indistinguishable, design-wise, whether you are in Dallas or Oysterville.

And unless you are a private investigator or otherwise have a practical need for this kind of detailed atlas, "Street Atlas," which sells for about $80 and is available for both Macintosh and Windows, would basically be a novelty item in the home.

After zeroing in on places of interest to you and your friends, it would probably get only occasional use.

But just the fact that this amazing tool not only exists, but is available to anyone who has a CD-ROM player, is astonishing.

At the end of our conversation, Charlie asked me to print out the close-up of Oysterville so he could mail it to his grandmother.

He wanted to show this woman, whose grandfather had followed the Lewis and Clark trail to the Northwest only 50 years after the trail's namesakes, that in the digital realm, her town was getting due recognition.

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