I wrote a short version of the following story on Facebook, which my mind revisited after reading this tweet.
A month ago, I spent a week in the Seattle suburb of Tukwila, Wash. to complete some training for work. Tucked away within the verdant landscape of Tukwila is the Westfield Southcenter, a mall off I-5 that’s a converging point for the locals and the travelers staying at the Sea-Tac Airport hotels, like me. With three levels of stores, a number of restaurants, an AMC theater, a food court, and even its own grocer, the Southcenter had a variety of ways to get its visitors to part with their money.
After pulling off my daily trick of staying awake for eight hours at training, I’d drive the nine miles from my training site to the Southcenter to grab dinner. Whether I was going to grab a chicken dinner at Jollibee or the famous pizookie at BJ’s Restaurant and Brewhouse, I always had to walk past this futuristic-looking, white and gray vending machine — sitting in the middle of its aisle, ignored by others walking by it — that the mall directory failed to mark on the map.
On my first visit to the Southcenter, I only stopped by the vending machine because of the circular red and white logo sitting atop the machine and the words that were to the right of the logo: “Pokemon Center.”
I had never seen one of these vending machines before, but given that Nintendo of America is headquartered in nearby Redmond, Wash., it made sense that a Center would show up here. Fittingly, there were six rows of merchandise enclosed in a brightly-lit glass panel to choose from; video games, plush dolls, figurines, and booster packs of cards were a couple pushes of a button away. All you had to do was insert your debit/credit card or cash to a slot on the right side of the machine, enter a two-digit code, and your selected item would appear in a depository on the bottom of the machine.
The nostalgia was getting to me as I browsed the items behind the glass. Like every other kid in the late ’90s and early ’00s, I badgered my parents over Pokemon cards. (God bless my parents for their patience and generosity.) There was the eager anticipation that came with holding a booster pack in your hand, hoping to find a holographic card of Venusaur, Charizard, or Blastoise — just any one of the three Red/Blue/Yellow starters — buried in the pack. Then there was the adolescent disappointment that followed when the rare card in the pack was discovered to be something as useless as a Clefairy Doll.
That was some 15 years ago, but now that I had a disposable income to make a silly purchase like this with no else to answer to, why not relive that rush?
I decided not to take the plunge after that first meeting.
The next day, I returned to the mall for dinner and stopped by the Pokemon Center again. This time, I gave into nostalgia and made the irrational decision to buy a booster pack for the hell of it. It’s only $5; no harm. I would select the Flash Fire booster pack, because the wrapping had an ascending black Charizard on it — this was the only booster pack wrapping where I could identify the creature on the front by its name. I slid the debit card, punched in a couple buttons, heard the thing drop into the depository, and picked up the pack with the receipt.
It was then I learned that there were multiple wrappers for the Flash Fire packs and the one I got was this lion whose mane was on fire. Oh well, whatever.
The opening of this booster pack — this first one in more than a decade — was unceremonious. I had just finished dinner and was seated inside the rental car, parked in a garage, with the youthful excitement taking over. The wrapping was torn and a moment of confusion came. The foil/shiny card was a card whose rarity was Common (Common cards get special treatment now?!) and the rare card was some creature I didn’t know, bashing its head against rocks.
That once-familiar sensation of adolescent disappointment reared its head again. It was fun to act like a kid again, but I was a one-and-done this time around. No need to visit the money drain anymore from those days in Florida.
I stayed with my plan 50% of the time. Two of the four remaining nights on my trip, I walked by the vending machine with no issues. The other two nights — including my last night in Tukwila, because screw it, I just survived a week of class and homework, a three hour final exam, and I was never coming back here anyway after graduating from the course — I succumbed and bought a booster pack on those nights. The cards were all garbage, but the last pack I got had a normal Charizard wrapper.
I took that Charizard packaging, which finally arrived on my last attempt at this game, to be a moral triumph of sorts. I mean, I had to grasp at something positive after chucking $15 into Nintendo’s pockets for no good reason than nostalgia.
Now to finally circle back to that original tweet above. If you didn’t click on it and read it, shame on you, but it said someone had enough in the bank to pay an Uber driver $1350 to drive from Chicago to St. Louis “DURING SURGE PRICING.” Some people, like this passenger who wanted to get from Chicago to St. Louis, are lucky enough to have the disposable income to splash the after-tax paycheck of an entry-level engineer for a 4.5 hour car ride, Chicago traffic and all. Other people, like me, can spend $15 on trading cards that will collect dust on the mantle.
So yes, it took nearly 1000 words to state the obvious: scale it up or down, but disposable income is stupid.