This past weekend I traveled to Indianapolis with my son Patrick so he could compete in the 2011 Pokemon Nationals. How we came to do this is, to me, a wonderful example of simply being open to — and mindful of — possibility and opportunity.
Pokemon, for anyone not familiar with it, is a Japanese cartoon about young people who capture and train strange little creatures who possess various powers and abilities and are made to compete or battle against each other. It has spawned a complex trading card game as well as a video game played on Nintendo’s hand-held DS platform. My son enjoys both, but is particularly fond of the video version.
A few months back, one of my son’s friends told him about a regional Pokemon competition happening not far from where we live. Patrick asked if I would take him. I looked it up online, saw that it was free to enter and would be over by noon, so I agreed.
Several weeks later, we arrived an hour early at the convention center in Secaucus to find a massive line of children and their parents snaking from the closed doors, through the underground parking, out the other side of the garage and up the roadway. Our hearts sank a little as there were a limited number of slots for competitors, and it was first come, first served.
But we managed to get in, only to wait on another line to be checked in and to have Patrick’s team (on the DS) approved. Patrick was then escorted to a player table while I was sent to the periphery of the player area with the other friends and families.
I expected Patrick to maybe make it through the first couple of rounds, since this was his first competition and there were so many serious-looking players in attendance. This was to be a simple elimination: winners moved on to the next round, losers would go home. Once all the players were seated, there was a rousing countdown (the staff for the event were very energetic) and they were off, thumbs a-blazing.
And Patrick kept winning.
When all was said and done, he placed third out of more than 500 players in his division. This earned him an invitation to the nationals and a stipend to help with travel expenses. He was interviewed by reporters from two newspapers.
The whole experience was surreal to me. But I was proud of my son. He just wanted to have fun. He stayed calm and was a complete gentleman, wishing his opponent good luck at the start of each match and shaking hands at the end.
Look what can happen when you approach something with joy and without expectations!
We figured it was too expensive a proposition for our whole family to go to Indianapolis. My wife said since I’d started this with Patrick, I should see it through with him. So off we went.
The Nationals were conducted a bit differently: Seven rounds, and the top 16 players with the best win/loss records would then compete the next day for eight slots at the World Championship next month in San Diego. Patrick won his first three matches, then lost the remaining four. It was a good run. And he took it very well. A dash across the hall to the Pokemon vendors, and all was right with the world again.
The trip was a marvelous father/son adventure. Indianapolis is a beautiful city. We met wonderful people from all over the country (and Canada). The people of Indiana couldn’t have been nicer. We had a great time at the Indianapolis Zoo and riding a paddle boat on the canal that runs through the city.
And I got to visit the hometown of my favorite author.
At the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library, we saw some of Vonnegut’s artwork, exhibits detailing his family’s history, even a pair of his reading glasses. Patrick used a typewriter for the first time, in a room where they had recreated Vonnegut’s workspace. This quote was painted on one of the walls, a line from Cat’s Cradle that immediately came to mind when Patrick made the Pokemon Nationals:
Unusual travel plans are dancing lessons from God.