Google Car Likes to Take Pictures. Pose for Them? Not So Much.

It does not come around often, but when it does, the Google Street View car is hard to miss.

The car is emblazoned with the Google logo, and its tall rooftop mount — supporting the 360-degree panoramic cameras that harvest visual information for Street View, the virtual streetscape feature on Google Maps — sticks up in traffic like a dorsal fin.

It has also gained near-mythic status in towns and cities around the world, as it shows up pacing, Pac Man-like, along streets. Spotting the car has become a parlor game, with many photos posted online.

I spied the car two years ago on West 15th Street and asked the driver for a ride-along. He declined. I wound up writing an article about the car’s task of photographing New York City.

As I was driving Wednesday morning I saw the Google car again, heading east on East 68th Street. It passed my car and I quickly snapped a blurry picture, and the driver — looked like a guy in his 40s — saw me driving after him to try to take another. It was tougher than you’d think.

I could swear the driver was trying to lose me. First, he stopped dead in a flowing traffic lane on Lexington and waited for a few moments. I stopped too, but was in no position to photograph him.

Then he zipped down Lexington and the chase was on!

He banged a left on 66th Street, and so did I. This was no movie chase scene. We crept along in traffic and waited at red lights. He made a left on Third Avenue and began stopping in traffic again and then sped up. At this point, I was videotaping him out my car window. He scowled at me and got on his cellphone. Then he made a quick left on 69th Street and succeeded in losing me.

Deanna Yick, a spokeswoman for Google, which began its extensive photographing of New York City in 2006 to gather images for the May 2007 introduction of Street View — would not provide information about the car’s whereabouts or how long it would be in the city, citing as a reason that the car’s “routes are often subject to change based on factors like weather, driving conditions, speed of collection, etc.”

She did write in an e-mail that the company updates Street View imagery periodically and that the car was “re-driving in the N.Y.C. area to provide both locals and tourists with refreshed street-level views.”

It can be a real challenge to keep an updated photographic likeness of ever-changing New York City.

A quick stroll through the current version of Street View indicates that the recently shuttered Elaine’s restaurant is still open; the Intercontinental Hotel on West 44th Street, which opened last July, is still very much under construction; and that “The Owl and the Sparrow” is playing at Cinema Village on East 12th Street, even though the theater’s Web site lists the film as having closed in June 2009.

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