outside there's a lot of running and screaming
grapevine, texas, march 5, 2020
As everything began to shut down for the pandemic, like a tsunami approaching from the horizon…
My travel plans sheared sideways. First I was going to fly to Boston from Texas, to speak at a conference for another project I was working on. Then the main speakers cancelled and it was suddenly our job to keynote that conference. Then the conference was cancelled. I asked the travel wranglers to add one more leg and fly me right back home to New York.
Instead of having to frantically prepare for a talk, I was suddenly, unexpectedly free. I had a whole evening of tourist time in the freeway-bounded complex of hotels and malls in Grapevine, on the outskirts of Dallas—but effectively stripped of my American citizenship and stranded, given I had no car.
I needed exercise. Somehow, I identified that there was an arcade nearby. A Round1.
Here’s a sometimes forgotten fact about me: I almost derailed my academic career by obsessing over the culture of dance game players, writing papers on the topic. I’m an ardent fan of rhythm games, and Dancerush Stardom was an elusive grail. Round1 is the only arcade chain in the United States with a deal to showcase Dancerush Stardom machines. The nearest one to where I’d been living in New York was a two-hour commuter rail and Lyft trip to Long Island.
yep, that video is augmented, but it accurately shares the feeling of playing the game, which I tend to refer to as “My Real Boyfriend, The Dancerush Stardom Machine.”
Getting to the arcade before the evening rush, I luxuriated for hours in uncontested time on that big smooth stomping screen, a faceful of glittering lights and sparkling LEDs under my toes, charging points upon points to my card, unlocking levels, reveling in the sweet, oddly sad dance music until I was so sweaty I smelled. So I went back to the hotel to shower, thinking I’d fold for the evening.
That song will bear the strange weight of nostalgia for the innocence of pre-pandemia for me until the day I die.
But as I was considering my pajamas, I realized one of the arcade staff had utterly arrested my attention.