I was walking along Colby Avenue with my co-worker Ben when a giant hairy purple insect came out of nowhere.
It was Venonat, a poisonous bug with big menacing red eyes that don’t miss prey.
Neither does Ben. He zapped that sucker. “Got it!” he said, with a flick of his thumb on his iPhone.
Ben is a Pokémon Go fiend. His face cuts into a sly grin and his eyebrows arch when a pocket monster flashes on his phone screen.
There are thousands more people like him all over town.
I’m not nearly as ate up. Or as young. But I get what this fever is about.
This time around, the Pokémon craze isn’t just 10-year-olds. It’s 29-year-olds like Ben as well as the kids who grew up obsessed with it the first go-round. And it’s 50-something grandmas like me.
After I caught my first pocket monster I was hooked by those spinning Pokéballs that flash lights and play music. It reminds me of playing the slots in Vegas.
But instead of pulling a one-armed bandit and watching dollars vanish, this compelling game is pulling strangers together. Pokémon are often found at parks and shops, places people congregate. That means if you gotta catch ‘em all, you gotta go out and about.
Within the first few days, Pokémon Go was downloaded more times than the dating app Tinder.
“People are happier doing virtual fighting than dating,” said Ben, who was a hopeless romantic before Pokémon.
“Everybody is happy.”
Some people think chasing imaginary monsters is stupid. But grownups do lots of stupid things. This one is entertaining and it gets people off the couch and into the real world, even if it’s overlaid with monsters.
My editor sent us out in the streets for this story, reminding us to be aware of curbs and look both ways before crossing the street.
First stop was Grand Avenue Park, popular because it’s a Pokémon gym where trainers can battle for supremacy via their Charmanders, Vaporeons and Snorlaxes. The three-block overlook also has Pokéstops to fuel up on Pokéballs and Pokémon eggs. Jackpot!
I found a fluffy Eevee hovering around the bust of the late Sen. Henry M. “Scoop” Jackson, whose magnificent house across from the park is a Pokéstop, much to the horrified amusement of his descendents.
The area brimmed with pedestrians and people in cars parked along the road battling and protecting the gym. Once you get to Level 5, players pledge a team, red (Valor), yellow (Instinct) and blue (Mystic), then use their color to help control a gym.
The game fosters teamwork. Fans can already buy stickers and T-shirts sporting their team loyalty.
Isaiah Baer, 15, and a friend sat on the grass, twiddling their thumbs on the phone screen. “My team owns this gym,” Isaiah said.
The Everett High School teens spend hours a day outside, chasing Pokémon all over town. “We’ve met quite a lot of people,” Isaiah said.
The app promotes fitness for all ages.
“My son got me to play it so I could get active,” said Stephanie Rose, 43, who came from Monroe to capture Pokémon at the Everett park. “So, it’s working. I’m just at Level 9.”
Just at Level 9?
She was bad-ass.
So, too, was Jill Matheny, 18, of Everett. “Girls can play it, too,” she said. “I like that it gets the community together in one place. It gets people out. I have been walking so much. It is impacting the community. It’s pretty crazy.”
Crazy in a good way.
“I’d sit around and get lazy and this has really brought me out and makes me walk,” Jill said.
Serious trainers have to log kilometers in order to incubate Pokémon eggs. Eggs are like pocket-monster roulette, where you could get a powerful creature or a run-of-the-mill critter. It’s a gamble players don’t seem to mind taking.
The little monsters themselves are popping up everywhere. On Community Transit buses. Mukilteo Beach. Downtown Snohomish. Value Village. Jennings Park in Marysville. The Herald newsroom.
The downtown Everett Public Library is a Pokéstop and the Evergreen Branch is a Pokémon gym.
“We have a Pokémon book display in our lobby and see Pokémon trainers with their phones everywhere in the stacks,” said library technician Kim Payne.
Even the librarians are chasing Charizard and Pikachu in the stacks, as evidenced by the video they posted on Facebook.
Duking it out is thirsty business. AFK Tavern, an Everett watering hole for geeks and gamers, has special Pokédrinks in team hues for $7.50. Valor is a modified Long Island iced tea. Mystic is a mysterious blue mixture with peach schnapps. Instinct has red passion fruit rum.
“They’ve actually been ordered fairly evenly,” said bartender Fiona Rairigh. “I don’t know if people are ordering based on what team they’re on or just because it tastes good.”
— Ben Watanabe contributed to this report.