Walter Day And His Transcendental Galaxies
“TM’s just like that. You do it regularly, absolutely regularly, two times a day. And suddenly, whether it’s two years down the line or four or five, you suddenly realize it. Wow, this bad thing that used to plague me is gone.”
Walter Day enters my home photography
studio with a young man’s zest. He carries with him a strong energy
that seems to spread throughout the rest of the room as we sit down
to talk about his life in Iowa as a living legend in the gaming community. Transcendental Meditation brought
Day to Fairfield, Iowa in the late 1970’s, and his decision to move
there would ultimately be an anchor point to the rest of his life.
Day would soon open the now-famous Twin Galaxies arcade just a short
drive away in Ottumwa, and from there he would eventually become one
of the world’s leading gaming historians.
FORGOTTEN IOWA: Tell us a little about yourself.
WALTER DAY : Well, my name is Walter Day. I was born in Oakland, California and grew up in Anaheim a mile or two from Disneyland. When I was fourteen or so, my parents moved the family back to their hometown of Lynn, Massachusetts. That’s where I went to high school. It was there that I first heard about Transcendental Meditation, something that would become one of the most important things in my life. It removed a lot of stress, a lot of physical health ailments, it just made my life more dynamic and energetic.
FORGOTTEN IOWA: So, TM is what
brought you to Iowa in the first place?
WALTER DAY: Oh, yes. Absolutely. Maharishi Mehesh Yogi, the founder of the TM movement, said that people should come to this place in Iowa called Fairfield. He said that’s where we’d do our group meditations, that it’d affect how other people think, too. That’s what I’ve been doing for 36, no, for 37 years now. It’s been an interesting experience to say the least. But the Maharishi also said that we should do something to support ourselves when we arrived here. Since I had just fallen completely in love with video games, I decided to open up an arcade in Ottumwa with a friend of mine. We called it Twin Galaxies. It was just one of those typical, old-fashioned video game arcade of the early 1980’s. We’d only been open three months when we had someone go for a world record on a video game. You wouldn’t believe the trouble we found when we tried to verify the score, that it was indeed the new world record. Turns out, nobody was keeping track of the scores! We called up all the manufacturers and magazines and said, “we’re keeping track of the scores.” We just boldly said it like that. It was just some amazing stroke of destiny that nobody argued it. They just said, “Wow, that’s great! We’ll keep you in our Rolodex and refer to you when somebody calls about a new high score.” It was less than thirty minutes after that call before Twin Galaxies received our first phone call to report a high score in the Nashville, Tennessee area. It started as fast as that. After a week, we were getting a dozen calls a day. Before the year was over, we started getting ninety to a hundred calls a day. And thirty-five years later, Twin Galaxies still exists, owned by big Hollywood producers. I’ve since retired from it.
- Twin Galaxies, 1984.
FORGOTTEN IOWA: What made you open the arcade in Ottumwa as opposed to opening it in Fairfield?
WALTER DAY: Well, first of all, the video games were so expensive. An arcade cabinet cost the same as a new car in the early 1980’s, numbers as high at $3,500 each. And that’s in early ‘80’s currency! When we opened our arcade in November of 1981, we had twenty-two brand new games in there. It was essentially the equivalent of having twenty-two brand new cars that we were responsible for the mortgages on. These companies had to earn, a quarter at a time mind you, the money to pay back for the debt owed on these machines. Anyway, there were these people called route operators that would decide where the games would eventually go, what town and what venue, stuff like that. There was already an arcade in Fairfield back then, and there were some odd rules about only having one arcade per town dictated by these distributors, so opening an arcade here just wasn’t possible. It turns out that the only town in Iowa that didn’t yet have one was Ottumwa. It was merely an odd quirk of fate that it was a town that happened to be so close to the one I lived in. We just grabbed a location there as fast as we could, rented it, and the rest is history.
FORGOTTEN IOWA: How would you
say Iowa compares to the east coast or the west coast of America?
WALTER DAY: Well, Iowa is so much a part of my heartbeat now because I’ve been here so long that I don’t necessarily notice the qualities of it anymore. Iowa just is me and I am it, you know? But recently, lots of people have come to town from other places and they just love Iowa. They go nuts over Fairfield specifically. Lots and lots of people who have come to my video game events from out of town, out of state, the non-meditators, they’re absolutely intrigued and amazed by Fairfield. They think it’s one of the coolest, most remarkable places they’ve ever been. They tell me that they can’t put their finger on what it is, just that there’s something so different about Fairfield. And it feels so good that many have talked about moving here and living here. Some of them even commit to it and they come here, you know, they live here today. Not necessarily coming to start doing Transcendental Meditation, just because there’s something about this place that they just love.
FORGOTTEN IOWA: What do you think the biggest changes have been for Iowa and the people that live here?
WALTER DAY: Okay, well, from the context of being a person that practices transcendental meditation, the big group of us that arrived here to do this big program together and meditate – we have always had the understanding that culture will change. Culture will become uplifted. Harmony will develop between all kinds of different groups of people. We’ve become more peaceful. You know, the economics and money could get better yet. Things like that, you know, but I think even those things are beginning to happen slowly. Especially for Fairfield. Especially here. That’s why all sorts of different organizations like Mother Earth News, or the Smithsonian Magazine, have been declaring this town an economic powerhouse. A cultural phenomenon. Just one of those great places you never heard about that, when you do, you want to come and live in. That’s not a hallucination. When we first came here, there was a big division between the townspeople and the meditators. They thought that, “Oh, some sort of Hindu cult is going to take over the town.” But we began to have more and more of a presence in the town, and they eventually realized that there was no sort of takeover happening at all. What actually happened is we all became integrated, and a lot of those townspeople started meditating, too. A lot of them fell in love with the practice of Transcendental Meditation and started doing it themselves. So all that stress between these two groups has gone away almost entirely over the years. So, what else has changed? A lot of independent small businesses have popped up here, I’ve read that this part of the world is starting to be referred to as the silicorn valley. I think we’re heading toward good things. It’s a good time to be an Iowan.
Walter and I would continue a conversation that would jump all over the map, from video games to life philosophies, as I set up my studio lights and we began our photo shoot. Somewhere in that time, I began to feel like I’d just made a good friend. And I suppose that’s the kind of guy that Walter Day is. Friendly, inviting, warm, kind; the kind of person that felt as genuinely Iowan as they come. He left my studio with two or three large winter jackets on and with a spring in his step. Walter was off to meditate and then to play his guitar for a little while.