The first time you open the app you feel like an idiot. You bumble around the park at 6:30 in the morning with the other weekday runners, not sure how this is supposed to work, embarrassed that you’re even trying. You slam right into another runner, who looks just as embarrassed as you — the app is visible on her phone.
You tell her yes, but you can’t figure out where the Pokemon are. She leads you up the path and tells you she just caught a Pidgey up here. You follow her, sheepish but excited, and then, for the first time, you see one — a little cartoon monster from your childhood, perched on the ground of a gravel path you’ve run a hundred times, blinking up at you through your screen.
You laugh out loud at the absurd thrill of it. You almost mess up and let it go, but the other runner shows you how to aim, swipe, release. The Pokeball snaps shut, the Pidgey rustles around in it, and you hold your breath, hold your breath, and then — phewph. You caught it. It is neatly contained in its little two-dimensional ball, and for a moment, so is the rest of your little world.
One of your coworkers makes a Slack channel and calls it #pokemongo. It starts as a joke, and ends up an institution. People you’ve shared countless elevator rides with but have never spoken to before are suddenly @here-ing you all day — Someone dropped a lure on 27th! EEVEE IN THE OFFICE! — and sharing memes about Pidgeys and tips for reserving battery life. The resident Happy Hour Hero has been replaced by the hero who drops one of their precious lures on the office Pokestop at 5 p.m., bringing in Rattatas and Nidorinas and Zubats by the scores as you commute home.
And speaking of commutes, yours instantly takes a new shape. You walk right past your train stop. You walk, swiping on Pokestops, hatching your eggs, accidentally bumping into other distracted players. You walk until the sun starts to lower in the sky and you look up each night into a part of the city you’ve never seen before — full of hole-in-the-wall restaurants, hidden parks and histories, shops with odds and ends — these whole contained universes that have coexisted just miles beyond your apartment and office for the whole year you’ve lived in this city, but you’ve never had a reason to explore.
Here’s the water’s edge of a park you’ve only ever seen on a map. Here’s that bakery with the massive doughnuts you read about online. Here’s a place you will visit again, because it’s so easy; because the world is somehow so much smaller and so much wider than you thought it was at the same time.
You laugh a lot. You laugh with strangers on the street, when you catch each other on the app. You laugh at videos of people sprinting for Charizards in the park. You laugh at the Pokemon Go dating service that launches online. You laugh at the Pokemon puns, at the viral tweets, at the story of the guy who got caught cheating after he caught a Pokemon at his ex’s place. You laugh with coworkers on Slack, with high school friends who revive old group text threads, with your mom who just downloaded the app, with your boss and your boss’s boss and the guy who brings packages to the office in the morning.
The city you were only just starting to learn the rhythms to changes so quickly that it feels like you moved all over again. People cluster on street curbs, at fountains, around landmarks. They are open and friendly and eager to help. The same park you avoided any time after dark is swimming with people at 11 o’clock on a Tuesday night, and you’ve never in your whole life been able to go to the park at 11 o’clock on a Tuesday night, so you walk up the path feeling uncharacteristically invincible — Nothing can hurt me! Nobody could even try! The presence of the masses offers you something that police presence or rape whistles or reflective clothing never could: for the first time, in this city teeming with strangers, you feel safe.
It is a sunshine-y, beautiful Saturday in September. “A Snorlax!” a boy announces, beckoning to his friends, his piping voice carrying over the park. “Up the hill!”
And so you bound, you and your friend you were picnicking with, the little boy and his teammates, a couple holding hands, a trio of giggling teenage girls, up and up and up the hill, your phones pointed up toward the sky. You stand in a circle, the little boy in the middle of it.
“Did you get it?”
“What level is yours?”
“Do you need me to catch it for you?”
“Tilt your phone this way.”
"Here. Let me help."
You leave the office one Monday to pitch black streets. It was Daylight Saving Time over the weekend, and now when you head home, the city is dark.
The Slack channel is quiet. People on the street pass by fast, and without incident. There is a charge in the air, spoken and unspoken in every little thing you do and say — the election is in two days. It’s been a long, hard few months at work, and it’s going to be a long, hard week, but you’re hopeful that everything will turn out OK.
What you don’t know now is that one day you will look back on this cluster of days and feel the kind of ache that startles you. Some of the people in that Slack channel won’t be in your life anymore. The person you were won’t really be there, either. You will look back on the things you typed, the places you went, and the beliefs you held so firmly in your heart, and remember it as a sharp divide — a before and an after — before you think back and understand what it really was: an innocence you collectively stole back from childhood, when you were desperate for something to buoy your hope.
But in this moment, on this cool November night, the curtain is drawing on your magical summer. You duck into the subway. You smile at a little kid catching a Pikachu on his mom’s phone. You walk home with a peace that feels like certainty, not knowing it’s the kind of peace a drowning person feels just before they die — one fragile, perfect moment when the Summer of Pokemon Go is ending, and tomorrow hasn’t quite yet begun.
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