Like a Rolling Bone — My Trip to Pokemon Regionals
Recently, my little brother (whom I’ll call Marrow) and I took a weekend trip to Illinois. By chance, we wound up at a Pokemon tournament. The following is the story of my experience at the Pokemon Championships Regional Qualifier in Collinsville, Illinois. We attended the tournament on Saturday, but the story actually begins on Friday.
Mine and Marrow’s first stop on Friday morning was to Illinois Supply and Provisions, a marijuana dispensary in Collinsville. For those who don’t know, Illinois legalized recreational marijuana at the beginning of the year. I love smoking weed, but had not done so in years. In between my college years and today, all the dealers I knew moved away or disappeared. Plus I hit a point in my life where I needed the money for other things (wedding, insurance, adoption, etc..) and, as a semi-responsible adult, I couldn’t justify the risk associated with the illegal activity. Marrow and I had been talking about taking a trip together for a long time. Still in his prime party years, Marrow is an active pot smoker, and I knew he was the perfect person to accompany me on my first excursion to purchase marijuana legally.
I don’t like surprises, so I had extensively researched Illinois Supply and Provisions before we left for Collinsville. The dispensary’s lot is reserved for medical marijuana patients. All recreational patients had to park about a half mile away, then take a provided shuttle to the dispensary. The shuttle lot happened to be across the street from the Gateway Center and we saw the Pokemon Tournament advertised on the building’s marquee. That’s when Marrow realized that one of his friends had mentioined he would be participating in the tournament. So, as we rode the shuttle to the dispensary, Marrow messaged his friend and we made plans to meet up with him the next day.
The dispensary had been open about an hour when Marrow and I pulled up in the shuttle. We walked around the back of the building and got in line. We ended up waiting in line for three hours before we even made it inside the dispensary. Luckily, we befriended the guy in line in front of us. I never caught his actual name, so I’m going to call him Psyduck. Much like Misty’s Psyduck in the Pokemon Anime, dispensary Psyduck was easily confused. Luckily, this confusion provided Marrow and I with plenty of entertainment. Some of the more humorous snippets from our conversation with Psyduck include:
BONES: “There’s another dispensary closer to where we live, but it hasn’t consistently opened for recreational sales yet. So, we skipped the town of ‘Sau-ghett’ and came here.
PSYDUCK: “You mean ‘Sau-jay?'”
BONES: “Yeah, I guess. I’m from ‘Missoura’ so I don’t know how the town’s name is pronounced.
PSYDUCK: “Man, that ‘Sau-jay’ guy is so corrupt. He’s the most corrupt guy in America. He’s owns all the cops. He owns the cops and the firefighters. I hate that ‘Sau-jay’ guy.”
– – –
PSYDUCK: “Yeah I brought my beater of a truck. That way if I get pulled over crossing into Missouri, I can ditch the truck, grab the weed and run. Take my truck, just don’t take my weed!”
– – –
MARROW: “Yeah man, my girlfriend’s crazy. I can’t get her to leave my house. I may have to break up with her just to get her to go back to her own place.”
PSYDUCK: “You can’t get her to leave? Shoot, it’s normally the opposite for me. I beg em to stay.”
The three of us finally made it inside the dispensary where we joined a new queue. A guy on an I-Pad took our orders and eventually we were escorted into the final room where we would pay for and pick up the items we’d just ordered. Huge smile on my face, Marrow and I returned to our hotel. As we sampled our purchases, we kept joking about Charizard. For those who aren’t familiar with Pokemon, Charizard is a big red dragon. He’s the final evolution of Charmander, one of the starter Pokemon from the original video games. Many people we knew growing up picked Charmander as their starter Pokemon (even though he was at a huge disadvantage against the first two Gym Leaders) just so they would eventually own Charizard. The holographic Charizard was also one of the rarest and most valuable cards in the Pokemon Trading Card Game. So, when Marrow and I were younger, we commonly heard our peers say, “I’ve got a Charizard, Bro!” This phrase became our motto for the rest of the trip.
The next morning, after a continental breakfast and a wake & bake, Marrow and I headed for the Pokemon Tournament. On the way we stopped at a gas station and bought supplies. I purchased a pint of gin, a 20-ounce bottle of Mountain Dew, and a 32-ounce fountain drink (also Mt. Dew). When we left town the next day, we didn’t want to risk bringing anything illegal over the IL/MO border, so we also brought along the majority of the product we’d purchased the day before. We get to the Gateway Center and end up parking far away from the building. I pour half of my pint into my fountain drink while Marrow collected our supplies from the trunk. Having no idea what to expect, we walk up to the convention center doors, which were located on the opposite side of the building as the hotel entrance.
The first thing we see as we walk up to the doors is a sign that says, “No Outside Food Or Drink.” Now we have no idea what awaits us on the other side of the doors, and Marrow had not heard back from his friend yet (it turned out he happened to be in the middle of a match). My plan had been to sip on my Gin & Dew over the course of the day, but that plan was now seemingly thwarted by the sign. It was the first hot day we’d had all year, and I didn’t fancy having to walk between the Gateway Center and the car every time I wanted a drink. So, in the time it took me to smoke two cigarettes, I stood outside the Gateway Center and chugged by drink. At this point Marrow’s friend came out to meet us and we went to his hotel room to smoke. I’m going to call Marrow’s friend Geodude because once he got stoned, he started every sentence with a drawn out “Duuude.”
With Geodude’s next match coming up, we headed downstairs to the convention center. As I said before, Marrow and I had no idea what to expect, and all we knew was that a Pokemon Tournament was happening. Geodude told us he’d won his first match but didn’t provide us with much additional information. I assumed the tournament would be in Conference Room B or something like that. A smaller room with a movable partition to separate it from the larger convention hall. I also expected there to be only a handful of people, milling around a few long tables as they waited for their turn to play. Boy, was I wrong. The tournament took up the entire enormous convention hall. It was like walking into a basketball stadium, minus the seating. On the right side of the room were vendors and tables for Trading Card Game matches. On the left side of the room, a stage complete with huge viewing screens had been set up along with a hospitality area for event staff. In between these two points, nearly the entire width of the room was filled with table after table, all full of people competing against one another via Pokemon Sword/Shield on the Nintendo Switch.
Now as you can probably guess, I had a strong buzz. Not only was I stoned, but I knew I had yet to feel the full effects of the gin I’d chugged. I had promised my wife I’d bring her back a souvenir, so I headed over to the vendors while Marrow went to watch Geodude’s match. There were only about four vendors, so I didn’t have many choices to begin with. Plus I haven’t played a Pokemon game since Diamond/Pearl and my wife knows next to nothing about Pokemon. So amid the sparse selection of merchandise, I was hoping to find a plushy of one of the cuter original Pokemon, maybe a Jigglypuff or Eevee. That’s when I looked down and saw it. Standing about eight inches tall in all of its fiery glory, was a Charizard stuffy. Giggling like a mad man, I immediately purchased it.
After that I bought my wife a small Chimchar plush (cute, and it kind of goes with Charizard), and a bottle of Mountain Dew from the snack bar, before heading outside for more gin. Once I got back inside, I decided to go watch the live matches that were being displayed on the big screen. That’s when I started acting like I was a Pokemon trainer and Charizard was my starter. I sat front row center and talked to the Charizard plushy like it was alive. Even going so far as to manipulate Charizard’s head so it looked like he was watching the screen. The live matches were actually pretty cool, though I didn’t recognize a lot of the Pokemon being used. The tournament even had commentators. Being unfamiliar with both tournament play and the newer versions of the game, I found the commentary very helpful. That is when I could focus enough to follow what they were saying and not just marvel at the action happening on the big screen.
As the next match started, I channeled my inner Ash Ketchum and started yelling out Pokemon themed comments such as, “You’ve got a Rhyperion? I want to meet it!” and “My Charizard can take that Excadrill. Let’s battle!” By the second match I was also voicing Charizard, “That was awesome! Right Charizard?” “Char Chaaar!”
Eventually, the people around me cleared away, so there was a perimeter of at least two chairs behind and to both sides of my own chair. As the third match started, I began to worry that I was becoming obnoxious. I didn’t want to get kicked out for being unwittingly belligerent. That’s when I was joined by one of the players from the first match I watched and his girlfriend. I’ll call the player Brock (because later when he got stoned his eyes got really squinty) and his girlfriend Dawn (so called because she was wearing a Piplup beanie). Brock and Dawn joined me in cheering and heckling the players in the next match. Dawn even joined in on the bit of acting like Charizard was real, “Oh, your Charizard is so cute! He looks really strong too.”
Eventually, Geodude and Marrow joined us. Geodude won his match and had a couple hours to kill until the next round. So the five of us went and smoked again; and yes, we pretended like Charizard was lighting our bowls. Afterward, we returned to the tournament floor where we split up. Dawn and I went and watched some Trading Card Game matches while the others went to satiate their munchies. Earlier, I’d felt that the speed of the gameplay in the video game matches seemed slow. Meanwhile, the TCG players’ game play was almost too fast to follow. The players knew the game so well that little communication was necessary. More often than not they’d just play a card without saying anything and then end their turn.
The Trading Card matches began to wind down and soon the tables at our end of the room were emptying. Since I immensely enjoyed the performance put on by the card players’ speedy game play, I decided to return the favor and put on a show of my own. I started loudly pretending that I couldn’t control my Charizard (a la Ash in the original anime series). Holding the plushy above my head, I acted like Charizard was trying to fly away and I was holding onto his tail. Then I shouted and flailed acting as those I’d just dodged a Flamethrower attack. Dawn instantly picked up on the bit, shouting, “Bones! Get your Charizard under control!” Soon a small crowd formed around us. All were laughing and enjoying our impromptu performance piece. Suddenly, a small boy steps forward. The kid is holding a plushy of his own. It was a newer Pokemon I didn’t recognize, but I could tell from its coloring that it was most likely a Water-Type. With a huge smile on his face, the kid says, “Sea-Sea, use Water Gun.” The imaginary Water Gun attack cooled off Charizard and brought my performance to an end.
I have no idea who ended up winning that tournament. For that matter, I don’t even know what the rules for the matches were, or how many divisions existed, or how many people participated. At the time, it did not occur to me that I would decide to write an article about my experience. What I do know is, Pokemon Tournaments are a blast. In the future I definitely plan to attend another one. The next time, I’ll try to do so with a much clearer head, but rest assured, I’ll still have my Charizard bro.