They Paved Paradise and Put Up a Parking Lot

As Joni Mitchell has told it, late one evening she flew into Hawaii where she was to perform in an upcoming concert.  When her plane landed at the airport, a taxi took her directly to her ocean side hotel where she immediately went to sleep for the night.  When she woke up the next day and drew back the curtains to take in her view of the ocean, she was startled by an immense parking lot between her hotel and the water.  Her reaction was the same as yours or mine probably would have been, namely, “Why on earth did somebody decide to do this?”  The next thing she did though was something that you and I would not have done or, rather, could not have done.  She immediately sat down in her hotel room and wrote a song.  It was called, “Big Yellow Taxi,” and the first verse is:

They paved paradise
And put up a parking lot
With a pink hotel, a boutique
and a swinging hot spot
Don’t it always seem to go
That you don’t know what you’ve got
Till it’s gone
They paved paradise
And put up a parking lot

 One of my clients and I used to love to talk golf rather than business.  He was a world traveler and played the great game everywhere he went.  His favorite golfing spots were in Scotland.  He convinced me that I should go with his group on the next trip.  He told me  how I would love Turnberry, Gleneagles, Carnoustie, and the Old Course at St. Andrews.  He said, “Mike, you’ve just got to see Scotland – they never tear anything down!”  Unfortunately, his health deteriorated rather suddenly, and we never made the trip.  However, I often think about the  trip that would-have-been — and imagine playing those old golf Scottish golf courses and seeing all of those old, old buildings that they never tore down.

Back in December of 1969, I remember 2 of my fellow college dorm mates returning from a concert.  They were quite excited  to say the least.  They had been to a Joni Mitchell concert at Symphony Hall in Boston.  This was quite an achievement for one of the guys, George, since he rarely left his room, even to attend class.  But he had an exuberant smile  that night, and something closely clutched under his arm.  The two guys quickly gushed that they were lucky enough to persist in meeting Joni and that the experience was indescribable – at least they were having difficulty in describing it.  However, George was able to entangle himself from his own arms and show me his prized possession, a signed album from Joni.  I don’t remember now whether the album was personally inscribed to George, but I have never forgotten what that signature looked like.  It was a very feminine, graceful autograph and it had a sweet touch that I hadn’t seen for a long time.  She had dotted the “i” in Joni with a little circle, the kind of dotted “i” that I hadn’t seen since second grade.  Right away, I  thought Joni Mitchell’s music might be something that I might want try a little more.  I thought maybe I was a little late to the Joni Mitchell parade.  She was already playing Symphony Hall, and I was just discovering her?  Where had I been?   The guys told me that she going to play at some nearby colleges within the next couple of days, namely:  MIT, Brandeis, and maybe Holy Cross.  I really wanted to see her perform but I didn’t seem to have the time.  Maybe later.  I would be content for now listening to an album.

Regrettably, many years later, I have still not seen Joni Mitchell perform, nor have I been to Scotland.  I guess I have been a little too sedentary.  Maybe it’s just been circumstance.  But lately, I’ve started to think about Joni and Scotland a lot more.  You see, since, “Big Yellow Taxi” was written, they’ve torn down a lot of paradise and put up more than a few parking lots.  I have lived in Springfield, Illinois for the past 35 years and they have paved a considerable amount of paradise since I’ve arrived.  Cornfields, chunks of old neighborhoods, historic mansions , you name it – Springfield has done its share of demolishing paradise.  It also has had a inclination to put up paved lots subsequent to the demolitions.

Springfield, being the State capital, has a requisite number of buildings for conducting official government business.  The State, being the largest employer in Springfield, also has a requirement for parking spaces for its employees.  For reasons too involved and too complex to be discussed here (read entrenched political stuff), parking lots having developed as a big business here.  As a result, the ugly things are all over the place.  Parking lots are not monopolized by governmental employment needs alone, however.  Ubiquitous sitings dot the entire landscape of our community here.  For example, just down the street from my home sits a very large neighborhood movie theater that razed several blocks to build a massive asphalt parking lot.  The problem is that this eyesore has been abandoned for I’m guessing over 10 years, and there sits adjacent to this horrendous vacant shoe-box theater complex, an unused desert of obtrusive, asphalt nothingness.  Not to dwell on just my neighborhood, this sort of urban blight exists all over the city, and the people aren’t quite sure what to do about it.  I know I’m not.

I would like to find some answers though.  I’d like to know where all the urban planners, zoning officials, municipal leaders , planning commissions,  developers, outside corporate interests, and other miscellaneous idiotic bureaucrats are, who planned this urban morass, with which we are now stuck.  I suspect that they are either retired in Gstaad, Palm Springs or, more likely, comatose in Branson.  Wherever they are, no one every seems to step up as accountable.   At this point, I doubt that any of them could care a whit about the mess that we’ve inherited from these community muddleheads.  They got the money, and we got the asphalt.  And in the process, we’ve  lost at a piece of paradise, and we’ve got what we’ve got. 

Totally frustrated, I am going to do what I can.  I am pledging to do what I wanted to do years and years ago.  First, I’m going to Great Britain.  I do not intend to play golf, but I do plan to take in a lot of those old, old buildings.  In fact, I plan to stay for most of my 3 week trip in a university building built around 1265.  I understand that it is a very nice building, continuously occupied now for almost 750 years.  Instead of tearing it down, I understand they intend to keep it up-to-date in perpetuity.  No need to worry, I’ll have a high-speed ethernet connection in my room, although I’m not sure if I’ll have a rainhead shower nozzle or warming bar for my towels.  I’m guessing I will, though.  By the way, almost no parking lots are allowed anywhere near the central part of my destination GB city, which has a population of over 150,000 (larger than Springfield, IL).

Oh yeah, and when I get back home from my trip, I’m going to check out Joni Mitchell.  I don’t think she sings much, if at all, anymore, but I hear she paints.  Maybe I’ll buy a picture of paradise.

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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I saw Joni Mitchell at the Assembly Hall on the campus of the University of Illinois – Urbana. Some time before her performance the group ‘Jefferson Airplane’ had played there. The Airplane (for whatever reason) didn’t play ‘White Rabbit’ during their show. Every artist that played the Assembly Hall after that had somebody yell ‘White Rabbit’ during their performance.

    When someone yelled, ‘White Rabbit!’ during Joni Mitchell’s show, she replied, “I’m slick, but I’m not THAT Slick.”

    • Hey, thanks for your comment – loved your story. In fact, it’s why I bother to tell my stories, so I can hear the great stories of others.


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