Davidson Hotel - A Christmas Story - by Dave Rogalsky
December 22, 1996, edited December 23, 2005, December 2017 - copyright
Davidson Hotel – a joy filled story of God with us, for us, but not necessarily fixing everything.
Gillian looked up from the paper again. Should she answer it or not? What the heck, "Hello, Davidson Hotel, Gillian speaking. No, I'm sorry we have no rooms available at this point. No, not tomorrow either. You’re welcome."
She turned back to the paper, the National Star, a tabloid. "UN Conference on Homelessness and Poverty set to begin today" read the headline. "UN officials and Non-government Organizations (NGO's) meet to discuss strategy to end homelessness in our lifetimes." More pie-in-the-sky thinking. More bureaucratic expenses, she thought. More people staying in three and four star hotels and less money for the homeless.
She turned the page, "Religious festival of the day." In this multicultural city with its hundreds of thousands of immigrants and refugees there was a different festival every day, usually some unpronounceable feast to some equally unpronounceable god. But today it was the Wiccan festival of Yule or Midwinter. Astronomically it was Winter Solstice, the shortest day and longest night of the year. Wiccans celebrated the sun’s coming and going. Tonight, the article said, would include feasting, and gift giving. Bringing in sprigs and wreaths of evergreenery (such as holly, ivy, mistletoe, yew, and pine) into the home and tree decorating also took place. Not that different from Christmas thought Gillian.
"Excuse me." Gillian looked up. A middle height man, about 25 or 30 wearing a fringed buckskin jacket stood by the counter. "Excuse me, we're looking for a room."
"All my rooms are full. You would have needed a reservation."
"There's supposed to be a reservation, for Joe and Mary-Ann Coldwater."
Gillian looked down her list. "Nope, nothing."
"I don't understand. We're from Cape Croker First Nation and we were invited to speak at one of the UN committee meetings tomorrow. We're supposed to help in a discussion about homeless natives in Toronto. They promised us a room and my wife is pregnant and...
"Listen, Mr. Coldwater", native, she should have figured, "There is no room for you here. Are you sure it was the Davidson Hotel?"
"Yes, Mary-Ann wrote it down. No room." His face was crestfallen. "Can you check with any other hotels?"
"I could but I know they're all full and if you're sure it was the Davidson then ..." she shrugged her shoulders.
He turned to walk away. That was when Gillian noticed the very pregnant woman sitting just behind Joe. "Hey, what are you going to do?" she shouted after him.
"I don't know, I guess we could sleep in the van, but it's so cold and all with the winter solstice tonight."
"Listen, I'm not supposed to do this but someone has given you a bum steer. You can park your van in the heated garage downstairs, if you promise to be gone by 7:00 tomorrow morning."
"You don't have to ..."
"I know but it’s all I can do right now." She reached out a parking pass to him. He took it.
The baby was born in the van, in the heated parking garage, at the Davidson hotel, in downtown Toronto.
"What do you mean you don't have a blanket?!" Ed was pretty exasperated. He was sure that he had given Bill a blanket just the night before. That was frustrating in and of itself. Two nights in a row in the soup and blanket van. When he had accepted this voluntary assignment he had seen himself arguing with government officials to get justice for the poor. Instead he slopped soup into Styrofoam bowls and handed out blankets to people who would pawn them off to buy a bottle of wine. "I gave you a blanket yesterday. What did you do, pull off the label and pawn it?"
"No Ed, I left it under a bridge and when I came back it was gone."
"If it wasn't so cold I'd make you sleep out here without. Here take this and return it in the morning!"
Bill and the other three in the alleyway covered their eyes. There was a bright light behind Ed. Well, Fred didn't cover his eyes, they were pretty much closed, he must have scored well on panhandling today - he smelled more of wine than aftershave. Ed turned and was blinded by the light too. Must be the police, they were the only ones who had lights that bright.
"Don't be scared." Didn't sound like the police. "We've come to bring you news of great joy. Today, in the parking garage of the Davidson Hotel, is born for you someone to fix all of the world's problems. This is God's appointed servant. The One promised long ago. This is how you'll recognize him. The baby is wrapped in a buckskin jacket and laying in the back of a blue minivan. Our God is an awesome God."
"Huh, what?" said Ed.
And suddenly there was a whole choir of people in the light singing, "Our God is an awesome God; God reigns with power from above; With wisdom, power and love; Our God is an awesome God."
Let’s sing that – W&R #658
And they were gone.
Ed staggered as if the light had been holding him up.
"Man!" That was Harry. "Man! I got to see this. What about you?"
"What do you mean?" asked Ed.
"He means", that was John, "We got to go to the Davidson Hotel and see this."
"Right," Ed shook himself awake. "Pile in guys, we got to move."
They drove off in a cloud of snow and exhaust. Fred was half sober now and looked around at the blankets and bowls of soup and wondered what had happened.
"Do you think this is the one?" John asked.
"It's the only one with the dome light on," whispered Bill. "Knock."
"Why don't you knock?"
"Here, I'll knock." Ed walked up to the side door and gently knocked.
The door slid open revealing Joe, Mary-Ann and a little bundle in a buckskin jacket. Joe looked scared, "The clerk told us we could stay here until 7:00," and then wondered if he had just gotten her in trouble.
"Hey, don't worry. We're not like from the management", said John laughing quietly.
"Um, you're not going to believe this but ...” Ed mumbled to silence.
Mary-Ann spoke up, "Let me guess - angels, a message, a job to do."
"Right on. Oh my God! What's happening?" Ed sank to his knees on the pavement. Bill, John and Harry did it too.
"Do you think, I mean, would God do it again?" whispered Harry.
"Shut up Harry, isn't it obvious?" that was John. "Can we see him?"
Mary-Ann held the bundle up and pulled the collars apart. A small, dark haired face, with wrinkles for eyes yawned.
Deep in his heart Bill felt it. God was still at work. It was OK to believe.
John was sober now. He felt it too. Maybe it was worthwhile. Maybe he could find work and a life off the street again.
`No, I don't want to do it,' felt Harry. It would be so hard to go back to the family now, after so long. Could he demand their love, by showing up on the doorstep again?
Ed felt it too. "Do you want some soup? I've got some here. You've got travel mugs. Great, let me fill them for you. I'd give you a few blankets but we're kind of short..."
"We can go back to the alley and get ours later, if you let us ride around in the van with you. Then drop me off at the YWCA so I can get a shower and look for a job." John was so excited he stumbled over his words and got the wrong letters for the shelter.
"You can just drop me off at the bus station, I won't need mine either," said Harry.
"They can have mine too," said Bill, "I'll figure something out."
The door closed and they drove away. `This is worth it', thought Ed, `This is real, not empty arguments or people pawning their blankets.'
As they left the exit three cars converged on the entrance.
The first was a white Lincoln Continental Limousine, driven by a white chauffeur but with a lone black passenger.
The second was a black Mercedes Limousine, driven by a black man but with a wizened old woman in the back.
The third? It was a pink 1957 Cadillac convertible. Though he was a hundred pounds lighter and his hair was grey, the big rimmed glasses were the same, the rings and jewelry were the same and the license plate gave it away.
All three cars pulled up around the van and the passengers got out. They looked at each other with a mixture of recognition and awe. Together they advanced to the door of the van. It slid open as they approached. They knelt in the light from the ceiling.
"I thought you were dead," said Joe.
"A lotta people thought I was dead but I just kind of had to get out of the limelight and hide. You see, I cum to see that all I was doing and all I stood for was twisting the gifts God had given to me. They called me the King but I was a slave. Tonight I've driven 500 miles to get here because God prompted me to get up and go. I had to leave most of my money behind when I faked my death. I don't have much to give." As he said it the light gleamed off one of his many rings. "But here, have these." He pulled off the rings and gave them to Joe. And then, with a real emotional effort, he pulled off the heavy gold Rolex watch. "I had this from Priscilla." He passed it to Mary-Ann.
"I am dead. Killed by an evil bigoted man before I could see the dream come to fruition. I never got into the Promised Land, just like Moses before me. And now I'm afraid for the hope, I'm afraid for the love, I'm afraid for the faith. I've come here to you," he gestured to the bundle of buckskin, "to pray you would renew the cause of breaking down the barriers between the races and nations and neighbors. Oh God! Have mercy on us!" You could hear how he had spoken to and inspired thousands before that day in Memphis.
"I'm dead, though there are some who wonder how it can be. They’re assigning my miracles to my account to prepare an application to canonize me. I don't have much to give either but the Missionaries of Charity in Calcutta minister most to the dying. And for Hindu people to die with sweets in your mouth makes the transition easier. All I have is some candy. Here take it." She gave the candy to Joe who took it with thanks. "Now, could we see him?"
Mary-Ann held him up and they looked on him, tears of joy flowing down their faces.
A few minutes later the cars idled out of the garage. Francine Stemmler was walking the hallway that overlooked the exit. She couldn't sleep and often she wandered the hallways then. Just as the third car came level with her, she looked out. She froze. It couldn't be?! But then she saw the license plate! Slowly, as if held up by balloons she slumped to the floor.
"Joe, wake up." Joe stirred, looked up and backed up as much as Mary-Ann and the van would allow. Glowing, powerful, amazing . . . Angels really are quite intimidating up close.
"Don't be afraid. You're not really awake. When I leave then you'll wake from this dream. They set you up. You've got to leave."
"What do you mean?"
"I mean, there never was a reservation. They wanted the hotel to turn you away. In just a few minutes a bunch of reporters will arrive at the desk upstairs and wonder where you are. When they find that you're down here then they'll write articles about discrimination and homelessness. They want to make you an exhibit, not understand the issues behind urban Native homelessness – things like white settler privilege, the doctrine of discovery, the multigenerational effects of residential schools . . . Then they can forget you again. You've got to go, maybe to Buffalo – no that’s not safe – go to Montreal. I'll tell you when it’s safe to come back." As they drove out of the garage TV vans pulled up to the curb and reporters piled out.
Gillian looked at the paper, the National Star. `What a night,' she thought. First the people in the garage, then finding Mrs. Stemmler in the hallway, then the reporters and the empty garage. Phew!
The radio behind her was tuned to WDCX in Rochester, New York. The paper was more interesting: "I saw Elvis" screamed one headline. Francine Stemmler was walking in the Davidson Hotel at about 5:00 this morning when she saw a pink Cadillac with `Elvis' license plates go by. "I'd know that face anywhere," she told reporters.
"They were abducted by aliens." Fred Jones, of no fixed address, reported that a bright light shone from the sky and three of his friends as well as the van and worker from a local soup kitchen disappeared. "One minute there was light, voices and singing and the next, nothing!"
"Homeless hoax fails." Reporters from several national news services were lead on a wild goose chase in the early morning. Told that local hotels discriminate against native Canadians they were led to one of our four star hotels. There the story unraveled. The desk clerk agreed that a native family had shown up but without a reservation, even though they had been told to come there. Further investigation showed that the contact in this early morning `scoop' had concocted the whole thing. The family in the meantime has disappeared."
"Religious festival of the day." Longest night is celebrated by some in an effort to make room in the relentless lights and festive music for those who mourn at this time of the year. Some folk have a hard time finding joy. Religious folk focus on God being with us, rather than on everything working out well.
"Excuse me ma'am." Gillian looked up, it was John. "Do you have any applications, I'm looking for a job, any job."
At a rest area along the 401 to Montreal Mary-Ann fed the baby while Joe got them coffees. God is with us thought Mary-Ann. So did Joe.