This weekend, things got pretty exciting in Jackson, Wyoming (population 9,577). There was an arts festival, a bride-to-be twerked in an intersection, and a horse pooped in the middle of the street.
Very few people outside the town itself would've known of those happenings, but for the fact that a simple webcam live-streaming footage of a Jackson intersection became a strange viral hit. It's part of a Jackson Hole tourism website that includes more than 20 live cams. (I also get a kick out of the one located outside the Jackson Hole Buffalo Meat Company.)
But none of them have taken off like the one at the intersection of Broadway and Cache streets, which caught attention when YouTube began recommending it and the link got tossed around forums, social media and even traveled across the pond via an article in Britain's Daily Mail.
Anyone can tune in, and anyone can comment on the view in a random blur of remarks that include everything from inside jokes to annoying spammers to people who are just confused. (And here's one more confusing thing: the town is Jackson, the valley is Jackson Hole, but the webcam is dubbed "Jackson Hole Town Square," so really, call it whatever you want.)
This isn't my first rodeo -- er, live webcam. I watched the corpse flower bloom in New York and spied on random strangers strolling through the Minnesota State Fair in my home state (sadly, both webcams are offline now). I've peeped in on raptor nests on downtown skyscrapers and kittens in Japanese pet stores, both now gone. But Jackson Hole's cam has a goofy charm, thanks less to the views itself and more to the story that's built up around it, both from online commenters and Jackson natives in the know.
If you're a fan of "Welcome to Night Vale," the podcast (and now book) about a strange Southwestern town with supernatural accents, you might find the feed and its comments as appealing as I do. I've been to Jackson Hole only once, for less than a day, and other than dozens of signs begging me to go whitewater rafting and a Pizza Hut that played death metal, I don't remember much about it. But now I kind of want to return.
Check out the arch made of shed elk antlers in the middle of the feed -- there are four of those, marking the corners of George Washington Memorial Park. To the commenters on the webcam, the arch is some kind of sovereign ruler, demanding sacrifices and enforcing laws. ("ALL CARS ARE AN ABOMINATION UNTO THE ARCH," one viewer declared.)
Probably the most well-known recurring theme is webcam viewers' love of red trucks. I'm not even sure why -- it's like how your grandma passes down a family legend and the specifics get lost -- but red trucks, and even sometimes red cars or red striped trucks, are a call for much jubilation on the comment feed. (Atlas Obscura claims to have a photo of the original red truck.) Jaywalkers are hooted at, non-turn-signal users booed, slow walkers encouraged to speed up.
It's "The Truman Show" come to life.
Now that people in Jackson are aware of the webcam and its following -- 2,000 viewers is the most I've seen at one time -- things get a little meta. Most street-crossers are still innocently ignorant that they're on camera, but others wave, hold signs or perform for the viewers.
Last week, a Teton County deputy sheriff danced for the audience, and the arch and its followers heartily approved. While I was tuned in this weekend, I saw what appeared to be a bachelorette party, complete with a veiled bride-to-be waiting for a green light who ran out and twerked in the camera's main intersection.
The footage is often so mundane that the smallest change can bring delight. This weekend brought an arts festival, complete with exhibit tents and mounted police officers, and when one of the police horses decided to leave a smelly offering mid-intersection, the comments went gleefully into the crapper.
I'd write more, but I have to go tune in again. Some guy just ran a red light and the arch is angry.