For a second, I thought I’d stumbled into the zombie apocalypse.
Sunday afternoon I drove my girls up to Vacation Bible School when I saw scores of people wandering Main Street.
That wasn’t strange.
What was strange was that they were all intently staring at their phones, like I do when I’m watching a Pirates game on my MLB app.
Pretty sure that all these folks weren’t Bucco fans, I drove around a little more trying to figure out what was going on.
Every turn I made, there were more people buried into their smart phones.
At the State Theatre, the A.P. Hill building, the post office and even in front of our office here at the Culpeper Times people would stop and linger.
Just as I pulled into our office to investigate, my phone began vibrating.
Startled, I looked down.
“There’s a beedrill nearby!”
The push notification probably would have seemed strange, but I’ve played Pokemon on some sort of device for years.
Then it dawned on me, Pokemon Go fever had hit Culpeper.
Pokemon – short for pocket monster – was a phenomenon when I was in my early 20s. I never played the card game but would mess around with the games on Gameboy. I was familiar with the cartoon and understood the concept.
Fast forward 15 years and now the little monsters are taking the world by storm again – even here in Culpeper.
The concept behind Go – produced by app developer Niantic with the license owned by Nintendo – merges reality and the Pokemon fantasy world. Utilizing your camera on your smartphone, the varied creatures (126 in all) appear to materialize in the real world. I just caught an Evee in my office.
You flick a poke ball, catch the creature and collect them. After that, you can train your Pokemon at various gyms in the community to make them stronger and evolve them.
Really, the app is ingenious because it promotes exercise without people realizing it. For example, you can receive rewards at Poke stops that include eggs. An egg will produce a Pokemon after you’ve walked a preset amount of time – usually 5 km. The search on Google for the conversion of kilometers to miles has spiked, by the way. Not a coincidence.
But what interested me was the Poke stops. I’m wasn’t sure how they were created, so I stopped down at The Shop – owned by Jason Theiss.
Theiss explained that many locations pay for the right to be a Poke stop, and the more people stop the more goodies are handed out – Poke Balls, eggs and what not.
He said his son Landon has been into it more than him, but thinks the app – while possibly being dangerous as people may drive while playing – is overall a good thing,
“You see kids who would probably not leave the house and they are out exploring the world,” he said.
Yowell Meadow Park has been a hot spot. So has the corner of Main and Davis where there are three Poke Stops – including the Gargoyle located on our office. The State Theatre saw a spike earlier in the week when someone set a lure nearby to attract Pokemon.
State Theatre Executive Director Steven Barker said he was contemplating showing Pokemon movies to capitalize on the phenomenon.
News stories have popped up quickly about health risks, as people aren’t paying attention and have fallen into holes, stepped into traffic and walked into poles.
Since the window in our office opens to Main Street, I’ve watched to see if anyone has stumbled into anything, but in the three days that I’ve worked since Go launched, I’ve seen nary a stumble.
Maybe it’s because I’m aware of it, but I’ve noticed foot traffic has increased almost tenfold. Leaving work on Monday I watched three separate groups of four people searching for Pokemon and Poke Stops, wandering past our office and down to the Sugar Bottom Sign.
It’s too many to list here, but the amount of Poke Stops and gyms in Culpeper still surprises me. If you have a full list and would like to share with your fellow “trainers” please add it to our Facebook page.
Good luck and stay safe out there.
Now excuse me, I’ve got to go “catch them all.”