There was, according to the signs on the heir apparent’s mobile phone, a Dodrio somewhere nearby, and as experts in the field will assure you, a Dodrio sighting is as rare as it is pulse-quickening.
Which explains how the lad — using the term loosely; at 17, he’s half a head taller than his old man — and I found ourselves tramping about Tallahassee’s Oakland Cemetery well past sundown on a recent night, our steps illuminated only by a half-moon, the spillover from distant street lamps and the glow from his iPhone-turned-tracking-device.
Alas, our prey, the flightless, three-headed avian invention of some Japanese animator’s playful nightmare, was as elusive as straight talk in the state capital, and we soon packed it in. But not before we exchanged waves and encouraging shouts with a family of four — mom, dad and their two elementary-school-aged youngsters, one boy, one girl — who engaged in a similar quest in augmented reality: Find and trap Pokémon creatures loosed on our three-dimensional world.
Fads being fleeting, this one might be over already, replaced by another urgency-of-the-moment — remember Donald Trump’s promise to self-fund his campaign? — and Nintendo might have surrendered its absurd, two-day, $7 billion surge in market cap.
Maybe not. In fact, I hope not. Others more sophisticated than me were prepared to despair over the sudden phenomenon of Pokémon Go, a cutting-edge wrinkle on the age-old treasure hunt game, and their snarky dismissiveness is fine by me.
What I know, instead, is the same kid who, left to his preferences, would join with his computer like some pajama-clad member of the Borg collective, has, because of Pokémon Go, rediscovered, unbidden, the use of his legs and the joy of his neglected bicycle.
For this alone, I believe what others have reported, that from solving crime to finding true love to affecting property values, there’s almost nothing Pokémon Go can’t do.
Let me add this: I know next to nothing about Pokémon, except that the concept always struck me as cruel: Round up cute little monsters, raise them and then send them into an arena to destroy their cousins. Are we sure that’s not at least as soul-twisting as the other role-playing games of video slaughter?
As I say, however, I scarcely know enough to comment. If you ask me, Charizard sounds like something for lighting the grill; Dratini might be a gin cocktail with almost no vermouth; Butterfree is what you get when you order lo-cal mashed potatoes; and anytime someone says “Pikachu!” I have to resist responding, “Gesundheit!” OK, that last one is an old, old joke.
Now, retreating a little, the vexatious Dodrio only partly explains how we happened to be where we were.
The fuller explanation is last week, the boy (a rising high school senior) and I spent a couple of days touring rival state universities in Gainesville and Tallahassee. It is — I hear — one of those traditions fathers and sons gaze back on as prime bonding episodes, moments where, in the fullness of time, they began to recognize themselves as equals, partners and peers, each seeing the other as if through a glass, reflected and reflecting.
There I was. Here he will be.
Perhaps, ultimately, we will see those days as having performed that ritualistic trick. But in real time, tromping across the steamy hills of the universities of Florida and Florida State with dozens of other prospective students and their parents, the heir apparent plainly regarded the entire affair as a safari in target-rich Pokémon hunting grounds.
Then again, so did about 90 percent of the three dozen of us laboring across the FSU campus. I know because when one of the guides asked who was playing Pokémon Go, my view was obliterated by the sudden forest of arms.
As I say, I’m not complaining. The game prompted a half-hour father-son walk in the rain late last week, and I listened while my son explained evolutions and living dex — which sounds like “living decks,” but is not a platform for lounging, from what I gather — and CPs, or combat points.
Do I wish we’d been talking about baseball’s trading deadline, the prospects for improved offensive line play by the Buccaneers or which of the unknowns will quarterback our (yes, he’s ready to commit, it looks like) Gators this fall? I did.
But, this is a genuinely good and coachable kid who rarely has done anything more annoying than forget to turn in his homework, so I consider myself a dad blessed.
And, when I asked whether there was a Pokémon that might feel at home in Gainesville, he was able to answer without hesitation there was. It’s something called a Feraligatr, a spectacularly azure bipedal crocodilian that looks like what you’d get if you crossed a leghorn rooster and Albert, the UF mascot.
So, common ground.
As it turns out, there really isn’t anything Pokémon Go can’t do.
Published July 20, 2016