My block has recently undergone a bizarre transformation. I love to walk around my neighborhood. I’m used to knowing who’ll be out and about. Jerome. One lone man. He will gladly shake your hand and tell you his name. He’s about 99, which is only 14 in dog years. His dog, on the other hand, is actually 99. I’m pretty sure about this. He walks with his head and shoulders bowed, staring at his little dachshund. But he raises up straight as a rod with every passerby – every single one – hoping for a little chat or wave. He doesn’t see a lot of action.
But lately that’s changed. There is a new glow to go along with street lamps and fireflies. It’s the glow of a cell phone waiting for a Pokémon vibration. And who’s playing? Everybody. In case you don’t know, this augmented reality sends you off in search of Pokémon, gathering resources, and fighting at gyms. But instead of wandering in virtual reality, you have to actually wander. The real kind. With, like, shoes. You have to go to your local park, church, courthouse. There are about five poké sites near my block.
But I noticed one particular trend on my street. Parents – with their kids. Some were huddled close together walking as quickly as you can when you’re crowded like that. Some were on bikes. Some were whispering and slowly pushing strollers and holding each other’s hand. All at 11:00 at night!
And this has got me wondering. Pokémon, how are you the thing that got the family off the couch? How did this become a family affair? Why the late night surge in activity?
It reminds me of something I used to do with my son when he was young. When he was just 3 or 4 we started the tradition of “sneaking out”. He was always game. All we did was go for a walk late at night when his father had fallen asleep early and we were both restless. Maybe it was to the little store for cold iced tea, or maybe it was just a scamper in the snow under the stars. But there was something special about it being late at night. It was mysterious, soothing, and quiet. Nothing else was competing for our attention.
Pokémon is not quite as good as sneaking out, or sitting around a campfire, but it sure beats another episode of Friends. It has the mystery, the charm, and sense of being together in this thing. And I’m happy about that. I’m happy to see the people in my neighborhood enjoying their families. Even the dad that was a little obsessed and made the daughter trudge behind with her broken bike wheel. “I’m tired now, Dad,” she huffed. “We’re almost there,” he said, staring wide-eyed at his phone. At least they’re suffering together.
I just hope some of you will look up from your phone when you see Jerome. Stop and pet his dog and tell him your children’s names. Then chat for a bit about something he can understand.