Yesterday, the Trump campaign finally acknowledged Pokémon Go. Finally. The Republican frontrunner’s newest anti-Clinton smear ad made a nod to Niantic’s hit app (“Crooked Hillary No!”), probably explained to him by his interns. Given Pokémon Go’s apparent resonance with the The Donald’s campaign, I wondered how popular the game was in the gilded palace of Trumpland. So, I went up to New York’s Trump Tower looking for fellow Pokémon trainers. And found nobody. Not one person.
Here’s what happened.
I hopped on the M train to 53rd and 5th Avenue. Trump Tower loomed as I rounded the corner onto 56th, its name in gold over a wide entrance. Its sterile, glassy lines shot up into a sky that was threatening rain. A mass of tourists, shoppers, locals, media and sign-bearers of various political leanings loitered out front. It was a PokéStop, because of course it was.
The building is 58 storeys high. Trump Bar and Trump Grille feature on the bottom few levels. Its foyer resembles a gaudy, tasteless Baroque church lined in gold leaf, but with a Starbucks as its focal point instead of an altar.
As a monument to excess, capitalism, and nostalgia for so-called better times, I expected nothing less than an endless stream of Pokémon and Pokémon accoutrements. Outside, I caught a Magikarp.
Now is when I must establish that everybody in New York is playing this game. Nearly every Manhattan block I walk, I see another another Pokémon trainer with her phone thrust before her, head down and totally negligent of her surroundings. PokéStops dot about every third corner, a full half of them with lures. There, groups of trainers gather and wait for Pokémon to approach. Given this, I assumed a tourist trap slash PokéStop like the Trump Tower would be rife with trainers.
Immediately, I started to play Pokémon Go as conspicuously as possible, adopting the conspiratorial, come-hither body language specific to socially inclined Pokémon Go players. I wanted to make friends. When someone finally caught my eye, it was a woman with a sign standing confidently outside the Trump Tower entrance. She smiled and I smiled back. When I looked down, I realised that her sign said, “TRUMP IS FIGHTING 4 YOU.” I frowned.
Two Turkish tourists approached her to take a picture. A Seel appeared. I caught it as they walked off.
“Hey, mind if I catch your name?” I said, writing down the contents of her sign.
“Who do you work for?”
“Gawker’s video ga-”
“No,” she said firmly. “No.”
Suddenly, it started to downpour. Everybody collected under the Trump Tower awning, weighing the benefits of shade against standing too close to the tower’s imposing guards. Everybody was holding their phones, not playing Pokémon Go. After my notebook got soppy, it was time to go inside. “Did you make any money?” a man with manicured nails yelled into his phone. I caught a Polywag.
Men with shiny shoes, teenaged girls, conspicuous tourists, women with Prada shopping bags and whoever happened to be outside when the torrential downpour began all collected in the building’s foyer, starting at their phones. I stalked the perimeter of the crowd. Tinder, yes. Texting and Facebook, all right. No sight of the Pokémon logo.
Weird, I thought. Weird. How is it that everybody and their grandmother’s ex-roommate’s friend are playing this game, and yet, I’ve found nobody entering or loitering in Trump’s 58-storey pillar to collect Pokémon?
The game glitched, so I logged onto the Starbucks Wi-Fi. I caught another Voltorb. Then a Diglett, which was pretty exciting. But something felt off.
I went up and down a half dozen flights of escalators. Nothing. Back on the second floor, peering over the Starbucks customers’ shoulders, the weirdness of the situation hit me. Hundreds of people walked in and out, faces glued to their phones, but not a single Pokémon trainer. I descended the escalators and ran back outside, frantically hoping to find common ground with anybody at all. Over an hour of lurking later, somebody threw a lure up. Satisfied, I left.
Yesterday, I found out, Trump told the Washington Examiner that he wished he had time to play Pokémon Go.
Two blocks away from the Trump Tower, 30 people were playing Pokémon Go in a 40 by 40-foot zone.