Curtis Hotel

It’s 3:36 in the morning, I’m about 200 feet in the air, and flat on my back staring at the ceiling.   

I think it’s because we have a hot water heating system in our house.   

I’m desperately trying to get a good night’s sleep, because all day tomorrow I’ll be wandering around a convention hotel, wearing uncomfortable clothes, going from meeting to meeting, drinking too much mediocre coffee and overhearing conversations full of statements I don’t agree with. 

This is the third time my eyes popped open , and I think it’s because the hotel has, as most do, a hot air heating system that kicks in at random intervals. The room is either too hot or too cold and always much too noisy while making up its mind.   

Because I’m not wasting time by sleeping, I’ve gotten up and wandered over to the window a couple of times. Even though I’m on the seventeenth floor, my view is mostly a giant parking lot and boring buildings. That’s a new experience. I have some very early morning events even when I’m at home, and I’m never bored with the view. There’s always something to see, even if it’s just a glimmer of starlight sparkling off snowdrifts.   

As I stared thoughtfully at the parking lot, the heating system kicked in and blew cold air all over my knobby knees, which didn’t help in my quest for sleep. 

Going to the big city just isn’t what it used to be. It makes me miss the Curtis Hotel. 

Sometime in the early 1960s, our family traveled to the State Fair. It was a big deal for us, made even bigger by the fact that we stayed in a hotel. 

Be still my heart. First time ever for me. 

At that point in my life, the tallest building I’d ever seen was the grain elevator in my hometown. As we approached downtown Minneapolis, the Foshey Tower, all thirty-two stories, loomed high in the sky. Not exactly the New York skyline, but I was amazed. 

We stayed at the Curtis Hotel, which was only about half as tall, but still the most impressive building I’d ever set foot in, particularly since the advertising on the brochure in the room said it featured steam heat and artesian water. 

I don’t remember the exact year, but I must have been old enough to read, because I was fascinated by the concept of artesian water; that water could fall on high ground a hundred miles away, sink into the earth until it hit bedrock and then pour out under pressure just by digging a well. But living as we did, in a little house where heat came up from an oil burner in the basement through a grate in the middle of the floor, I was equally fascinated by the radiators on the wall. Since it was State Fair time in Minnesota, when the typical temperature is between 80 and Melt-Your-Face, the need for room heat was completely theoretical, but it seemed so elegant. 

Speaking of elegant, the bellboys and other hotel staff were dressed up far beyond what I’d normally see, even at a church service, the only place I’d ever seen someone wear a suit. 

I never stayed at the Curtis Hotel again, but I always had a twinge of nostalgia, seeing its giant sign looming over Minneapolis and I remember being sad when I read it had been torn down and replaced by an office building. 

Times change. There have been a lot of hotel rooms between then and now. Hardly anyone wears suits anywhere, much less to church, and elegance is a threatened commodity. Fewer wonders make a ten-year-old boy go, “Wow!” and that’s a pity. 

And hotel rooms are far too noisy. 

Copyright 2021 Brent Olson