Arts & Entertainment

My Pokémon Addiction

Is this story a thinly veiled cry for help? Not at all. Nope. Uh-uh.

Every recovering addict has a rock-bottom story, a lurid tale of when he realized his behavior had to change because the bottle or the needle had taken too great a toll. I don’t have that story. I’m not yet ready to recover, which scares me. Because if the story I’m going to tell you about my Pokémon GO addiction isn’t my rock-bottom moment, then my future depravity will indeed be deep. I hope it involves a Pikachu.

This happened on a recent school night. We’d finished cleaning up the kitchen after dinner, around 9 o’clock. My 17-year-old son said, “Dad, let’s make a quick run around the lake,” by which he meant take a slow drive along West Lawther, the road that runs in front of the multimillion-dollar homes that overlook White Rock Lake, to catch Pokémon. My wife was at “book club” (the primacy of wine over printed words in that gathering requires the quotes). I couldn’t very well leave my 10-year-old daughter by herself at that hour, so she would have to accompany us. “Daddy, it’s my bedtime!” she protested, even though she, too, plays Pokémon. Mine is the only fifth-grader who has to be talked into missing her bedtime. Her brother and I practically had to drag her to the car. It’s so much more tragic when children are involved.

But around the lake we went, and many Pokémon did lose their freedom that night. We caught Psyduck after Psyduck and too many Magikarp to count. I don’t need to tell you that Magikarp, an orange fish that flops around on its side, is a pathetic excuse for a Pokémon, but after catching 101 of them, a trainer can evolve a Magikarp into a potent Gyarados, a fearsome, turquoise eel-like monster that can shoot dragon pulse at its foes, allowing its trainer to defeat others in a gym and thereby gain some measure of notoriety because whoever investigates that gym or tries to fight in it will see your avatar and screen name, until such time as your Pokémon is vanquished. My screen name is Cistercimon, by the way, an allusion to the all-male high school in Irving that I attended.

Fertile hunting grounds like the one along Lawther are called Pokémon nests. That’s where they spawn.

Writing the preceding paragraph makes me more ashamed than I’ve ever been in my life. But I took pleasure that night, driving around the lake, knowing that I was getting good gas mileage. I own a Prius. Traveling at 15 mph, the optimal speed both for catching Pokémon and for hatching Pokémon eggs that are contained in incubators, I can get about 70 miles per gallon.

Okay, that paragraph was more embarrassing.

Fertile hunting grounds like the one along Lawther are called Pokémon nests. That’s where they spawn. Or, rather, that’s where the GPS function on your phone puts Pokémon in your path. Again, not that you needed me to tell you that. I’ve driven Lawther many times after nightfall, as late at 1 am. There is always a parade of people playing Pokémon, everyone driving slowly, periodically pulling over to catch a monster, their faces reflecting the blue light from their phones. Cops have begun issuing tickets to people who loiter. Homeowners have erected chain barriers to prevent drivers from pulling off the road and into their grass, which I’m pretty sure is an easement that every American has the right to park on while he safely catches Pokémon.

Someone of social standing should point out this injustice to the authorities. It might as well be Paul Sims. He’s a Dallas Park and Recreation Board member and the husband of former councilwoman Angela Hunt. He’s also the guy who, after we connected on a Twitter exchange about Pokémon, alerted me to the fact that Magikarp spawn along Lawther.

Sims is 46 (as am I), and I’m worried about him. He is in desperate need of an intervention. One of the first times I talked to him about Pokémon, he was in his car on a weekday with his 4- and 6-year-old daughters, headed to Flower Mound to hit a Jigglypuff nest he’d heard about in a Reddit forum (PoGoDFW is the fourth-largest regional Pokémon GO subreddit in the world). As of late August, Sims had spent about $300 in the online Pokémon store, buying Poké balls and lucky eggs and extra incubators, the utility of which you already understand, I’m sure. He claims much of this expense went toward items that his daughters needed, which makes me feel good about myself, because at least I’m not lying about this stuff like Sims does.

The other Sunday afternoon, he and I met at Goodfriend, an East Dallas burger and beer joint, after he’d emailed me the following: “I should hook you up with my spreadsheets. The base information is from Reddit, but I’ve added some more sorting options that make the info more useful in real-world gym battles. It ranks each Pokémon by type and moveset, so I know which of my Pokémon is best to take on a water foe, dragon foe, etc. It also lets me know which Pokémon to use my candies and stardust on.” His screen name is PaulSimsDallas. Watch out for him. He has reached Level 27, and he has Pokémon I’ve never seen in the wild. Also, he has Pokémon spreadsheets.

We sat at the bar and ate lunch while catching Pokémon, he on his Galaxy, me on my iPhone.

We sat at the bar and ate lunch while catching Pokémon, he on his Galaxy, me on my iPhone. Goodfriend is a great hunting ground, because it has two Pokéstops and a gym, which would be like building a gun store in a deer blind. I at no point felt like a woman might try to hit on us.

Carlos Bell, Goodfriend’s bar manager, told us a story about when the game launched, in early July. As they were prepping the restaurant one day, he found his staff all staring at their phones, trying to catch Pokémon instead of getting ready for customers. Bell had to threaten to confiscate their phones and lock them in an office.

Sims, drawing on his experience as a parks board member, pointed me to the Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Garden for an even better story. He lives nearby and takes advantage of its 33 Pokéstops and three gyms. “I’d say 80 percent of the people there are walking around, looking at their phones, hunting Pokémon,” he said. “Ten percent are taking pictures of their kids’ quinceañeras. The rest are looking at flowers.”

David Schreiner is the website and digital content manager for the Arboretum. “The game dropped on a Wednesday,” he told me when I called him to see how things were going over there. “It took two days to make a case to senior staff to post on social media about it. That Saturday we had a Facebook post that had more than 7,000 likes, and on Sunday that next weekend our attendance was double what it was from the same day a year ago. July was crazy.”

If Goodfriend is a gun store in a deer blind, then the Arboretum, just down Garland Road, stuffs the deer into a barrel so they’re even easier to shoot. Not only do visitors get the Pokémon spawning from White Rock Lake, but they drop lures at the Pokéstops and attract even more monsters for everyone to catch.

“The cool thing about it has been how nice the people are,” Schreiner said. “We’ve gotten great feedback that these are some of the nicest guests we’ve ever had. I’m a pretty big nerd. These are my people. It has been such a weird, positive thing.”

Schreiner’s screen name is xmdavecsx. If you go to the Arboretum, look for a Snorlax working a gym under that trainer’s name.

As for me, if you want to test your skills against Cistercimon, your best bet is the gym at Central Lutheran Church, on Easton Road. It’s just a few blocks from my house. More than once I have snuck out late at night to sit idling in their parking lot while I took over the gym because I’d noticed that some loser from the Yellow Team was trying to defend the place with a 1254 Golduck.

Oh, man, my fall from grace is going to hurt.

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