It had been eight days since Patient Zero.
Eight days since Pokémon Go was unleashed upon the world and some sort of social transformation happened nearly overnight....
I find myself on the way to Folky Fridays in Old Ellicott City, looking to relax with some friends and perhaps have a bit of adventure. Having been released from the somewhat insular world of the Nine-to-Five, I am taken aback by the sudden change in my surroundings. As I drive up Main Street, I see groups of two or three or six, mostly high school and college age, all glued to their phones. Some with backpacks wield extra battery packs, wires spewing forth. Never have I seen the sidewalks as crowded on any other given Friday evening.
I snag a parking space near the central stoplight and start off to Tonge Row. More people are milling about here, index fingers swiping furiously on touch screens. I run into Dan, a summer theatre friend. We chat a while as he captures a Zubat on the thirtieth try. "I've used all my Pokéballs," he moans. Middle schoolers ask us which team we are on - I learn that there are three teams and opponents can battle one another at local gyms, which might be a church or some random building. All around us, on grassy hills and any available seating, are phone-wielding Pokémon trainers. Two port-a-johns are set up in the parking lot so these crowds might find some relief.
Stephanie arrives, followed shortly by Justin and Nathan. We move to a nearby table, straddling two distinct worlds of Americana music lovers on one side and pocket monster collectors on the other. We talk, observing the crowd of nearly forty people staring at their phones. A group of young men attempt to sell water from their tailgate cooler. A dating couple sits nearby, independently catching Pokémon together.
We are joined by Rachel, just finishing her shift at work. She is intrigued by the fact that we are having a real conversation amongst ourselves, phones securely out of sight. So she joins us and becomes a friend.
I have my camera out, as does Justin. Nikki notices and steps away from her cadre of Pokémaniacs and comes to ask us about them before pitching a videographer job at the Otakon Animé convention. Justin, intrigued, gives her his contact info. She joins us awhile, and then her posse drifts on to the next Pokéstop.
Nighttime falls. We are surrounded by the orange glow of street lamps and the blue glow of mobile devices.
It's time for second dinner at Cacao Lane, so we begin the walk down the hill. On the sidewalk are messages in chalk:
10% for Pokémon Go players!
Look up! Real Artwork Right Here!
I spy another summer theatre friend, hunched over his phone while seated on a storefront stoop, and call him by name as I pass him by. He hears nothing. Our group of five surrounds him. "Situational Awareness, man!" we say, laughing. After a brief catch-up, we continue on our way.
Dinner at Cacao Lane is an enjoyable experience, but now it's time to head on home. We enter again the mysterious world of Pokémon Go. Larger groups now wander, five or seven clustered together searching for prey. Two girls wander into the middle of the street, intent on capture, automobiles be scorned.
I remain astounded at this sudden change to the local economy and the average per capita level of exercise our town is now seeing. A new medium of interaction with our surroundings and with each other. What shall come of it?
We place bets as to the date of the first #PokémonGoWedding, say our goodbyes, and head home.