How did it come to this? This is the question I asked myself as I was sprinting across East 60th street, running alongside a German man named Josh that I had literally just met 45 seconds before. But there we were, around 9 p.m. on a Wednesday night, dodging wary passersby who probably all just wanted to go home and not be run over by this new international coalition. This is the part where, if this were a movie, the record would scratch (I assume “Be Good To Yourself” by Journey is playing) and I would start my, “Yep, that’s me. You might be wondering how I wound up here,” voiceover…
And the stupidest thing about this isn’t that this was all to catch a Pokémon in the one-time sensation, now just “popular” game, Pokémon GO — it’s that it was to catch Hitmonchan, a Pokémon most people who play don’t even seem to like that much. But neither Josh nor myself had Hitmonchan yet, so off we went, sprinting into the night, trying to make it over to 3rd Avenue in less than five minutes. We succeeded. (There’s always this weird feeling when catching a desired Pokémon: It’s the combination of elation, followed by the dread that, in reality, I’ve just done literally nothing.)
In New York City, it would be difficult to tell that the Pokémon GO craze is over if you ever happen to be anywhere near 60th Street and 5th Avenue (also known as Grand Army Plaza). This is the epicenter of Pokémon GO in New York. The first time I witnessed this, I stumbled upon it by accident one day on my way home. There are crowded streets in Manhattan, but not this crowded. I remember being annoyed, trying to sliver my way through the masses. I’m sure this is the feeling most people have. (Living in New York, anything that delays us from getting home is the enemy.)
Over the last few weeks, I infiltrated this group in an effort to understand what was happening. (I use the word “infiltrated” because it sounds cool. In reality, you just kind of show up and stand there.) At this point, I’ve probably joined this mob around 10 times. I’ve gone after work. I’ve walked by on the way home in the middle of the workday. I’ve gone on weekends. Somehow, it’s always crowded. Why is this happening? What is the end game? Who are these people? Who am I?
Like most people, I downloaded Pokémon GO during the Pokémon GO craze of 2016. I think it was a peer pressure thing. I didn’t like not knowing what everyone else was talking about. At the time, my knowledge of Pokémon didn’t go far beyond this sketch from Norm Macdonald’s old Norm television series.