Pokémon Go has taken much of the world by storm, and my hometown of Fort Mill is no exception.
When The Fort Mill Times asked me to see what was going on in the virtual world of Pokémon Go, I jumped at the chance. I grew up in Fort Mill, so I know this town like the back of my hand. Additionally, I’m a tiny bit obsessed with Pokémon Go.
You probably know all about the app that’s taken “being glued to your phone” to a whole new level. But just in case, Pokémon Go is a free game on Android and IOS devices. It’s a virtual reality that uses GPS location in order to help Pokémon Trainers catch Pokémon, fight other teams and train with your team in gyms. Also, you collect items at PokéStops.
If those terms mean nothing to you, here’s a quick guide:
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▪ Pokémon Trainer: This is someone who plays Pokémon Go.
▪ Pokémon: These are the characters a Pokémon trainer captures, trains and strengthens.
▪ Pokémon team: There are three teams: Valor (red), Mystic (blue) and Instinct (yellow). Trainers join a team and can work together with other team members.
▪ Pokémon gym: Real-world landmarks with a virtual purpose: to train and fight Pokémon
▪ PokéStops: Also real-world landmarks: a PokéStop’s purpose is to collect virtual items needed for the game.
The interesting thing about this game is that it does take place among real-world activities. Trainers cannot successfully sit on their couches and play; they must actually get out and interact in the real world. This leads to more exercise and in theory, more socialization – meeting friends and neighbors who are also playing.
So on a recent Saturday, I drove down to my hometown armed with a fully charged phone, a portable phone charger and sunscreen. Yes, I meant business. But first I had an important stop to make: afternoon tea and lunch at Z Bakery on Confederate Street in downtown Fort Mill with my childhood best friend, Amy Bennett, who emphatically does not play Pokémon Go.
"I already have grave concerns with the amount of screen time my kids get,” Bennett said. “I don't need another app they are begging to play constantly. And really, the same goes for me."
I didn’t even launch the app; we were too busy catching up, anyway.
But after a couple hours of hometown gossip (if you wonder if we were talking about you, the answer is yes), it was time for me to see what Fort Mill looked like on a virtual map. A quick glance showed me there was plenty to offer in this city! I decided to focus my efforts in the “heart” of Fort Mill, using S.C. 160 as my guide, starting at the U.S. Post Office and finishing with Tega Cay.
U.S. Post Office
There was room in the Team Mystic gym (my team!) so I pulled in and assigned a Pokémon in right away. Within a few seconds, though, I could see someone fighting the gym. This was bad for my team, but good for the story – it meant there was a source nearby.
I just needed to figure out who the other player was. I saw two cars with people inside, so I walked up to one. The driver, who had been looking at his phone intently (he must be playing, I thought!) kindly rolled down his window. "Hi, I have a random question," I said.
"Are you playing Pokémon?"
Loud laughter ensued from both the driver and passenger.
"No," he laughed. "Not me: I'm just looking for an address."
I thanked them and walked off with the intention of approaching the next car. But then, I noticed the gym was white – which meant anyone could claim it. I couldn’t help it. I forgot for a second I was there as a journalist and I quickly threw in a Pokémon.
I then wondered if they were annoyed, lost my confidence momentarily and aborted approach. They fought the gym – again – and kicked me out – again. This time, they took over as Team Valor, then drove off.
Darn. OK, onto the next gym.
PokéStops: Unity Presbyterian Church, Masonic Lodge, Johns United Methodist Church
Nearby Pokestops aren't all that walkable.
Downtown: Main Street and Veterans Park
I drove to downtown and parked, figuring there had to be a ton of Pokémon lurking around for me to catch, right? Well, on my initial walk down Main Street, I was sorely disappointed. Not a Pokémon in sight! But as I approached the railroad tracks, things were starting to pick up. There's even a PokéStop labeled Fort Mill Times (although it's now the Katie Baby store).
I wandered to the entrance of Veterans Park, where there was a gym that was currently Team Mystic. I leveled up the gym to make room for one of my Pokémon. I was hoping another player or two might wander by during the 30 minutes or so I was there, but the only person who showed up was a guy playing fetch with his dog.
So I walked back up Main Street to The Gazebo, sweating in the direct sun and humidity. The Fort Mill Times PokéStop had a lure on it, which attracts Pokémon, so I caught an Eevee, a Weedle and almost a Growlithe (he escaped). Good on you, downtown Fort Mill.
PokéStops: Fort Mill City Hall, the former Fort Mill Times office, H. William Close Memorial Tree, The Millstone, and The Springs of Achievement.
Walter Elisha Park
From downtown, I went to Walter Elisha Park, where two gyms flanked the entryway (not a good place to stop and play if you are driving in; I recommend parking and walking over if you want to get in these gyms).
Surveyor Man Bronze Statue and Fort Mill History Museum both got my attention as they were both Team Mystic gyms, but neither of them had room for me and I didn't feel like training them up alone (it’s a much faster process if playing with a buddy on the same team). I looked around, hoping to spot a fellow Mystic trainer, but I didn't see anyone else playing.
I needed gas, so I drove to the Peach Stand in hopes there would be some activity. There was a PokéStop! So I filled up the tank, both real and virtual.
The skies were starting to gray and the wind was picking up, so I thought ducking inside for a bit might not hurt. I was certain the employees would have information for me about the Pokémon world in Fort Mill. My first conversation was with an assistant manager who wouldn't give me her name but she said “Pokémon Go sucks.”
Her coworker told me her name was Mary, but her nametag said Kim. Regardless, she was happy to show me all of her Pokémon swag – purse, key chains, lanyards, suspenders even that she was wearing under her shirt.
Kim/Mary said Pokémon on the Nintendo DS is the real Pokémon, and proceeded to show me the DS and Pokémon game she carries with her. She acknowledged that even though Pokémon Go does indeed suck, the free app has its benefits – it's getting people introduced to Pokémon who might not otherwise know about it.
"I've seen even 50-year-old moms in here playing," Kim/Mary said.
The guys in the meat department said they saw a lot of people in the first few weeks playing but it seems to have died down just a little. "Well, people still put lures up," one guy clarified. "There was one up earlier today!"
"Go to Winthrop," another guy said. "That's where the real Pokémon playing happens."
St. Philip Neri Catholic Church
The gym here was Team Mystic when I pulled up and there was a space, so I quickly assigned a Pokémon.
I also collected from the PokéStop here, but otherwise all was quiet, except for the thunder in the distance. The people walking into the church for an evening service didn’t seem interested at all in what I was doing, much less playing Pokémon themselves.
I could see a few PokéStops and a gym from the red light on S.C. 160. It was raining, though, so I knew no one would be outside playing. I wanted to get to Tega Cay before it got too late. Hindsight: Choosing Tega Cay over Baxter ended up being my mistake of the day.
My last stop for the day. It was thundering, and angry lightning was stabbing the sky. By this point, I knew I wouldn’t have much luck finding players, but at least I could see which activities were available.
Driving down Tega Cay Drive brought back all kinds of memories, from visiting a high school boyfriend's parents' house to skipping school and hanging at Windjammer Beach Park. But, I wasn’t there to reminisce: I was there to catch Pokémon.
Lake Wylie Lutheran Church’s gym greeted me at the stoplight, but it belonged to Team Valor so I didn’t pull over. After that, I saw a few PokéStops down Tega Cay Drive, but that's it. My phone buzzed several times as I drove, letting me know Pokémon were in the area, but I didn’t look at them as I was driving and wanted to be responsible – plus, I remembered how strict Tega Cay police could be!
I drive straight to Runde Park, certain there must be a gym or a PokéStops, but surprisingly, I found nothing. Just a bunch of baseball players and their parents looking warily at the dark skies.
So I did what any logical person would do: drove past the ex-boyfriend's parents' house (“Wait, does he live at home again? I can't remember.”). Kept driving, down to Manila Bay Lane and then to the water. And, nothing. No ex-boyfriend in sight, but no Pokémon, either.
Tega Cay, at least the main drag, was not what I was expecting. Bummer.
Fort Mill’s Pokémon scene
From there, I headed back to Charlotte armed with a slightly stronger game and tons of nostalgia. Virtually, it had been a quiet day, with not a lot of people playing outside. It was a weird weather day, though, and I could tell from the activity: lures set, gyms full, that there is an active Pokémon scene in Fort Mill; people just weren’t outside in the heat and thunderstorms. In fact, by the time I got home, I had already been kicked out of both gyms.
An active scene, indeed!
Overall, it was a blast getting to see what Fort Mill looks like in this different, virtual world. I learned a few things that apply to the real world, too – such as the tree downtown actually has a name? I had no idea.
Thanks for having me, hometown, both virtually and otherwise.
Melissa Oyler: firstname.lastname@example.org @melissaoyler
Your guide to Pokémon Go in the Fort Mill/Tega Cay area
Gym: US Post Office
Pros: On at Saturday afternoon, at any rate, it was easy to sit in my car and play (plenty of empty parking spaces).
Cons: Hard to tell who else is playing; anyone sitting in a car looked like they could be playing. But they could also be addressing envelopes, applying postage, sorting through mail.
Gym: Veterans Memorial Park
Pros: There was good afternoon shade if I sat directly behind the monument instead of the benches. So necessary on a day with summer heat. Sitting back there, hidden from traffic, only made me appear sort of creepy.
Several Pokestops nearby; are all in relatively close walking distances.
Cons: Not a lot of shade while walking from stop to stop; only two pokestops on Main Street itself. I was expecting Main Street to be more active.
PokéStops: Peach Stand
Pros: If I’d been so inclined, I could have grocery shopped and collect items from a Pokestop at the same time.
Cons: None, really. Who doesn't want to have an excuse to hit up The Peach Stand?
PokéStops: Walter Elisha Park entrance, Fort Mill Sundial, Lady Checking on the Cloth
Gyms: Fort Mill History Museum, Surveyor Man Bronze Statue
Pros: 2 gyms and several PokéStops close by.
Cons: The gyms and PokéStops seemed better placed for car traffic than for pedestrians, which seem counter to the game. I wish they had put the PokéStops closer to the actual trail, maybe between some peach trees, where pedestrian activity would be safer.
Gym: St. Philip Neri Catholic Church
PokéStops: St. Philip statue
Pros: No one around means a trainer could train or fight in a gym without interruptions, I suppose, although it made for kind of a boring experience. Maybe Sundays are more active!
Cons: Other than the one gym and stop, not a whole lot going on here. The closest next PokéStop is the VFW and that's too far away to be convenient via foot.
Gym: Baxter YMCA, Fountain at Springmaid Park
PokéStops: Baxter Village Clock Tower, Fountain at Springmaid Park, Fort Mill Public Library, Baxter Village Trail Head, Eternal Church, Carolina Thread Trail, Baxter Town Center Entrance.
Pros: Lots of PokéStops; not all of them walkable, but most would be – sans lightning, of course!
Cons: None that I could see on my drive-by.
Gyms: Lake Wylie Lutheran Church (not really Tega Cay).
PokéStops: A few; lack of places to pull over kept me from getting the names of them.
Cons: The only activity I found were a few PokéStops on Tega Cay Drive, not in a walkable area, so one would need to be a passenger to even collect from these.