A thread on Reddit’s popular r/pics subreddit has been dubbed the "thread of the year" thanks to its subject — a bare-chested guy in baggy pants standing over a subway grate.
As a standalone artistic statement, "bare-chested guy standing over a subway grate" is an interesting but ultimately hollow concept.
But as it turns out, there’s so much more to this particular bare-chested guy standing over a subway grate than anyone ever imagined.
Meet Philadelphia’s very own Vent Guy:
As you can see, Vent Guy’s behavior is pretty straightforward: He stands over a subway grate and lets the air whoosh beneath his clothes, presumably giving him a little respite from the heat on scorching summer days.
The redditor who took this photo, user Noerdy, thought it was a humorous random moment and decided to share it on r/pics. Little did he know that he was about to give (at least) two other redditors a major shock.
"NO WAY!!" came the response from user mkcie upon glimpsing Noerdy’s shot of Vent Guy. "I have an alternate second photo of this guy! It was taken at least 3 years ago!"
Now, at this point, you may have a few questions, such as: Who keeps an old photo of a random guy standing on a subway vent just lying around for three years on the off chance it might one day come in handy on Reddit? Why would the same man be caught standing over the same grate at two different times, three years apart?
Hold on to your billowing, button-down shirts, because things are about to get weirder.
No sooner had mkcie dropped this bombshell on the thread than a third redditor, the illustriously named WillFerrelsGutFold, chipped in: "No way, I took this one May 31st this year. He is in Center City Philly. This guy seems to chill here all the time."
At this point, members of r/pics more or less began to react in two typically internet-y ways: a) They started to freak out; b) They started to dig for more info on Vent Guy. And oh, how much more there was to find.
First, they discovered a video of Vent Guy taken earlier this month, uploaded by YouTube user cheekflapperer, who commented that our hero was "not exactly Marilyn Monroe."
Then, using Google Maps, they pinpointed the exact Philly street corner where all this action was taking place — a task made easier by the fact that in 2014 Google actually captured a Street View image of Vent Guy astride his favorite subway grate:
In the "freaking the hell out" corner of Reddit, redditor JeebusHasComeToTown probably speaks for everyone: "This is completely blowing my mind! This must be an everyday activity for this guy!"
Based on everything the Reddit investigation had turned up so far, it seemed like a safe assumption to make; why not test it out? Pretty soon, working typical (creepy) Reddit magic, user adeadhead installed an actual live cam across the street from the subway — where Vent Guy was quickly spotted once more. "THE EAGLE HAS LANDED!" adeadhead wrote. The live cam has since been taken offline, but don’t worry — there’s a time-lapse video.
Over the course of the video, Vent Guy, wearing what seems to be his favorite patterned shirt, shows up to stand over the subway grate no fewer than five times. Though he stops at one point to lean against a window and talk to a passerby, he typically evinces a single-minded purpose: walk, stop, stand, air out.
"This guy has the best existence in the history of human existence," wrote one YouTube commenter in response to the hypnotically soothing routine playing out on the time lapse.
"An entire city with this dude[']s picture on their phone as he just doesn't give a shit," marveled a transfixed redditor.
With a definitive compendium of Vent Guy’s greatest hits now materializing before Reddit’s eyes, user Twixonyourface stepped in with the Imgur three-pointer. "Had to make an album," Twix commented. "Mind=blown."
And indeed, this visual chronicle of a life lived standing over a subway grate suddenly takes on a profound pathos — especially when it’s presented in grayscale:
What can Vent Guy teach us about the mysteries of the human heart, or the human condition, or the thrill of whooshing air, or subway grates? Or even about Vent Guy himself? Probably not that much, honestly. After all, we don’t even know his real identity — at least not until the inevitable moment when someone tracks him down and he receives his requisite 15 minutes of viral internet fame.
But he has definitely, and unwittingly, provided us with a revealing glimpse into the Reddit hive mind. Not one but three different redditors — along with who knows how many non-redditors — have stopped to take photos of Vent Guy as they were going about their daily lives. They may not have known anything about Vent Guy at a glance, but it’s clear that all of them immediately twigged to his behavior as notable. There is a strange, mutable sense that something can be inherently viral, meme-ready, or just made for the internet. Vent Guy is all of those things.
In other words, "cool" used to look like this:
But in today’s ever-weirdening modern times, "cool" can also now look like this:
Of course, the truth is that Vent Guy was always cool.
It just took an assist from Reddit, and the unique corners of internet culture, for many people to realize it.