This love story begins as most do, with a man searching the internet for a choppy video of a garbage truck: The truck lifts a trash can, and then unceremoniously thrashes that can up and down, spewing trash across a quiet street. I can’t remember exactly why I was searching for that video—it was technically the GIF version I was looking for—but it was likely for use in a witty email, something I admittedly spend way too much time on and am way too proud of.
When the Google Images page loaded, the GIF appeared: top left, option one. I patted myself on the back for my superior Googling skills—“garbage+truck+GIF”—and was ready to X out the window when I spotted another image of interest: blue and white garbage truck, lush lawn, suburban. Expecting to add a new arrow to my quiver of trash-chucking GIFs, I was instead met with a garbage truck lifting two trash cans one by one, and then gently returning them to the ground. Surely this must be a mistake, I thought. I watched the GIF over and over, waiting for something else to happen. It did not.
What I did see, though, was a flicking time stamp in the corner—this trash was picked up and not thrown at 10:46 a.m. on June 20, 2007—and the website’s URL, Watching-Grass-Grow.com. Curious enough to spend a few more minutes down this rabbit hole, I pulled up the site.
The Rocky theme song blared.
A weather report sat atop an all-green, rudimentary web page.
My cursor became a scrolling red lawnmower.
And I, for the first time, stole a look at Mr. Grass’ front lawn.
A poured concrete driveway runs down the right side of the frame, with a few coniferous trees poking into the screen. A Volkswagen-sized bush occupies the southwest quadrant, sitting at the top of a yard that slopes down to the street. The top edge is populated with the beginnings of neighbors’ yards. As I moved my cursor over the image, the words “grass webcam” appeared. According to a counter in the upper right, 37 other souls were staring at the lawn with me.
Just as I began to come to terms with what I was watching, a tan Chevy Avalanche blipped onto the screen. I jumped, and maybe yelped. (I yelped.)
I started winding my way through the tip of the site’s 11,000-plus comments. Highlight of my day: Mr. Grass getting the newspaper, wrote Sr. Grass, from North Platte, Nebraska. The UPS van just drove by!!! a Branson, Missouri, viewer announced. This is my favourite website, said Lucy, from Serbia. Occasionally, the man behind the curtain, Mr. Grass, would respond, like when a viewer complained about the yellowing of the lawn. It will perk back up when the weather gets cooler and we get some rain, Mr. Grass said.
I scanned the dozens of screengrabbed highlights from over the years: mundane shots of him fertilizing the grass, elaborate Christmas and Halloween displays, sun-soaked carwashes. The years flitted by. Grass crinkles and reemerges; his neighbor gets a new mailbox. In one, from Father’s Day 2004, Mr. Grass is trimming the lawn, with his two early elementary-school age sons pushing toy mowers behind him. After the webcam, it’s the first image any viewer sees. It’s sweet.