“Well there’s too many windows in this old hotel. And some rooms filled with reckless pride. And the walls have grown sturdy, and the halls have worn well, but there is nobody living inside. Nobody living inside…” Heart Hotels (1979) Recorded and composed by: Dan Fogelberg
You know how it is. You grow up in a place, or visit a place as a kid, while often driving by stunning landmarks, oblivious to their existence. Honestly, I still do it.
I didn’t grow up in Greebville, Tx, about an hour’s drive east of Dallas, but I feel like I did. I was born there, but we didn’t stay. My mom’s family lived there, and still do. To describe it, I would say there are certain parts of town that still remind me of the old southern neighborhood scenes in the movie, To Kill a Mockingbird. My brain is sprinkled with fond memories of looking out the car window at the park I played in, the old gothic-style church on the corner near the downtown square, and the narrow street where I would grin from ear-to-ear as we drove toward my grandparent’s house. Those are the simple snapshots a little lonely kid recalls about a place. However, there are so many things this young one missed, probably because it was the loved ones in his focus.
One thing which escaped my interest was an old hotel on Washington Street, across from the old church.
The Washington Hotel – Greenville, Texas. Photo: Texas Historical Commission.
In its youth, it was called The Washington Hotel. Later in years it was changed to The Cadillac Hotel. In 2010, it was awarded a designation in the National Register of Historic Places. Built in 1926, about two blocks down from the train depot, it stood as a gem, a glimmering star in the downtown Greenville landscape. She has six floors ascending up to what was a garden roof, with plenty of space for romantic evening dances. A monumental marble staircase rises from the lobby with iron railings. Celebrities, tycoons, and diplomats were served by the old place through the decades, including Frank Sinatra, President Lyndon B. Johnson, and many more. My mom and her parents attended a campaign speech delivered by President Harry S. Truman from the back of his train caboose at the depot near the hotel. (Apparently, it was customary to build a hotel within a short walking distance to the train depot. It makes sense, considering the times.)
The old Greenville train depot.
However, a gem no more. The Washington/Cadillac Hotel, in all of her history and glory, was closed long ago as the town grew. Time and neglect were her new caretakers. In fact, it was abandoned in the worst possible way through the years. Before you could say, “Texas tumbleweeds”, looters and vandals had their way with it. In the early 1990’s a fire was set, destroying much of the interior of the old royal lady. A couple of times in recent years, developers drew promising plans to refurbish her amidst intentions of a rebirth with condominium lofts, studios, and flats on the blueprints. Still, plans fell through for one reason or the other. And now it sits in an almost ruined state. Much of it boarded up, and if not, windows cracked or broken out. I have interior photos, but to be frank, it hurts my heart to look at them. I would rather dream of her glory days. My fear is, the city will give up on it, setting a date for a heartbreaking demolition. My hope is, some wealthy decision-maker will grab a new vision of what this queen could be with some funds and lots of loving care.
Photo: The Herald Banner
Realistically, it’s a long-shot. She sits at the threshold of a section of town in need of a gigantic face-lift. And I mean more than a simple Botox injection.
Recently I heard Dan Fogelberg’s very familiar “Heart Hotels” over a classic soft-rock radio station. You should google it to refresh your ear’s memory. Immediately the old Cadillac Hotel came to my mind. I began to listen to the lyric with larger lobes while realizing I sing-along to it all the time without allowing the lyric to penetrate. The late Fogelberg was an incredible, thoughtful lyricist. “Longer (Then)” was one I did for many weddings since 1979. It’s considered a classic now. He has so many greats in his music catalog. Many bring tears to my eyes. This is one of them.
He aligned his heart in the fashion of an old hotel with way too many windows for outside viewers. Of course, he chose a hotel because he spent his life on the road from city to city. Many artists are introverts. I know I am, to a degree. His lyrics speak of closing the shutters, pushing everyone out, leaving offers of synthetic love, hoping for true love to arrive. In the third verse, his lyric pressed him to include an admittance that the soul needed to be repaired. He wrote of craving the vacancy, while hearing distant echoing voices from the stairwells which brought memories of unanswered prayers. OUCH!
Man, the song hurts! It’s just like the interior photos of the Cadillac Hotel, which I refuse to add here. At the same time, I love heart-breaker songs. Performing them multiple times in my day, I know the powerful movements they deliver. (I trust that doesn’t make me a twisted, bad person in your eyes.)
Truly, he wrote what most of us won’t. I think Fogelberg was a very straightforward composer. His songs spotlight his honesty. If we were forthright with each other, as Dan was, we could relate to the lyric of “Heart Hotels”. Just like too many windows in this old hotel (heart), there are also too many jumping off the roof surrounded by a garden, dancing, and romance. Have you noticed?
The heart is a strong machine. We call the pumping muscle in our chest the strongest organ, but the heart of the spirit is even stronger. The rooms are full of reckless pride and the halls are worn well, but there’s nobody living inside… When empty we are left to our chosen devices.
Like Fogelberg, if there is an honest recognition of “soul repair“, I think Fogelberg would be the first to say, you can’t do this on your own. Sure, try all you want, but the carpet wears out in the pacing years of frustration, loneliness, and heartbreak. Soon there after, the present reality hits like a brass doorknocker where the echoing voices in the stairwell repeat the failures of the past. They do remind us, don’t they? What do we have to show for it? A worn-out carpet, wishing it were a magic carpet for flying. A quick trip to the fire escape proves to be a faulty idea, as the decades have rusted the old scaffolding. Thoughts of the roof flow in again, or medicate with the devices at hand for the numbing of our pain. Honestly, this song should be longer than Stairway To Heaven or Alice’s Restaurant, because it should be a theme and variation which is in loop.
Should I mention something worse than our own heart-sickness? Dare I?
How often do we drive by a dis-connected, seemingly empty person, who for whatever reason, has pulled down the shutters and rolled up the carpet inside? How many of us are shocked when someone we know, or someone we love, takes to the roof for a final inhale of the garden? The shock usually coats our minds because we thought they were doing just fine, as we occasionally peered through their many windows. Still, we drive by them, distracted by the gothic-style church building across the street, not noticing there’s a soul is in trouble and needs repair. Don’t kick yourself too badly. I am the first to say, I am sooooo guilty. My hull has been breached a few times by deliberate final exits of people I love.
Often in my life I have heard others speak of unanswered prayers, as the late Fogelberg penned. Like me, I bet you have, too. You didn’t ask for this, but allow me to quickly shed a laser light on this familiar topic. Prayer-life is a mystery. Make no mistake about it. Scripturally speaking, the problem is solved through three different camera angles.
#1 – Know God first. Read and study Him before you climb up His sleeve. The passage states:
“And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who approaches Him must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who earnestly seek Him.” – Hebrews 11:6 (Berean Study Bible)
#2 – We frequently petition God in a misdirected way. We envy, we crave, we itch for this and for that. In the old King James language, we “covet” in general. We also want a rabbit’s foot to stroke, or a genie in a bottle to grant us three wishes, or an item hanging from our rear-view mirror in which we trust to have some sort of empowerment. As often the case, what we ask for could bring us to an intersection which may be unhealthy for our future…the future we are hidden from.
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.” Isaiah 55:8-9 (ESV)
Unfortunately, when we pray, asking for our “coveting” heart to be satisfied, it goes against God’s target for our lives. (IE: ” Oh Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz? My friends all drive porches, I must make amends…” (1971) Composers: Bob neuwirth, Janis Jolin, Michael McClure.) Fun song, yet the humor of it stresses a fundamental truth. One can be wealthy, socially honored, and in need of nothing, yet in reality, naked, poor in heart, and without spiritual sight. Jesus mentioned this many times. After all, God wrote it down so we would know, “Do not covet”. Asking for peace, safety, protection, insight, direction, needs, and most of all, His plans to rule over what we cannot see, is always well applied. Another way of putting it, sometimes our motives are off rhythm, as in an engine which lacks oil on its timing chain.
#3 – Unanswered prayer…at least that’s what we call it. We perceive a prayer hits the ceiling, bouncing back like a rubber ball. In reality, God promises to hear our prayers. If you don’t get what you want, like an angry kid on December 25th, it could be the answer is “No”, or “Not yet”. THIS has occurred in my life many times following premature prayers, where the answer came clearly months or years later. Retrospect is a supreme teacher. I could write a list of times this has happened in my life. Keep in mind, there’s a solid case for follow-up prayers, asking God why He didn’t answer, as you personally weigh answers. Other times, an immediate answer arrived during my prayer-life. In fact, I have had prayers granted before I even finished the prayer. The acknowledgement is always astounding to me, reminding me of my lack of 100% trust in God. There’s a bold statement from Jesus which speaks loudly…
“And when you pray, do not babble on like pagans, for they think that by their many words they will be heard. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him. Matthew 6:7-8 (Berean Study Bible)
A sweet friend of mine, a vocal harmonizer for Joan Baez, recently said she believed the “Universe” wants her to move to Texas. I should have explained the following, but I didn’t. Unfortunately, the universe doesn’t love her. The universe never reached out to counsel her. The universe never cared for her. The universe never burdens itself with restoration of life. The universe doesn’t oppose evil. The universe never offered a free gift of redemption. The universe never bothers itself to tend to her when naked, poor, and blind. The universe doesn’t have a count of every hair on her head. The universe never wanted to remove her transgressions and faults. The universe never protects her, defends her, or gives grace to her. The universe is faulty and proves to be imperfect, as we are.
Bottom line…the soul/heart, never has to be empty and alone. There is One who loves closer than a brother. Search the world’s religious history. After exhausting yourself, you will find religious systems demanding your “works”, your “efforts”, your climbing up Mt. Olympus to earn the favor of deities. It’s easy to accept because it’s based on our human nature to work, to earn what we want. Then there’s “touch this”, “burn this”, “kiss this”, or my favorite…”buy this”, etc. Do the research. If you know me, you already know I say this out of love, not hatred. I hurt for religious beachcombers. We’ve all been there. Some doctrines even demand starvation, suicide, murder, and self mutilation to achieve a cozy suite in an afterlife hotel. Have you noticed? Only God, through Jesus, who, as a baby, couldn’t find room in the inn, proves to be of this magnificent heart of love, without condition, and grace toward us imperfect people.
(Most recommend reading the book of John, in the Bible, to learn Who Jesus is, and why He is so different.)
Heart hotels don’t have to be vacant. Room service is available with fuel for the race.
“What can I give Him, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb;
If I were a Wise Man, I would do my part;
Yet what I can I give Him: give my heart.”
Excerpt from: In The Bleak Midwinter (1872)
By: Christina Rossetti