“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.
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
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
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.