Well, I was right. The weather was hot and muggy and partly cloudy all day, and then, late afternoon, a deluge. This drove the film-festival launch party indoors, to the ground floor of the Renaissance Center. That place belongs in an architectural case study book somewhere, in several chapters, including “And Then Came the ’70s: What Were We Thinking?” and, of course, “How Not to Do It.”
Built in the mid-’70s, the RenCen has its own complicated history, perhaps best summed up in its name, an ironic joke worthy of Orwell’s Ministry of Love. It was intended to reassure the white people leaving the city in their rearview mirrors (although I’m not sure, precisely, how that would work) that the city was done with the unpleasantness of the riots and was on its way back, yeah baby. Obviously it didn’t work, but the city got its signature building out of it — a five-tower “rosette” with a central silo reaching 73 stories and the surrounding ones, 39 stories, all wrapped in the black glass that was not only ’70s standard but also a trademark of its architect, John Portman. (Its familiarity was always an itch I couldn’t scratch, until a little research showed Portman was the man who designed the Peachtree Center in Atlanta. Atlanta’s downtown was an early-adult formative experience for me.)
Inside is the nightmare. I walked in from the parking garage and stood there a minute, trying to get oriented. A security guard sitting at a station nearby didn’t even look up from his desk when he drawled, “Lemme guess. You’re lost.” Everybody gets lost in the RenCen. All those towers! All those levels! Curse you, John Portman and your stupid ideas about atria. Everything is round, every walkway seems to lead to another roundabout, and all the walls are some sort of beige concrete. I tried to listen for the music of the party, but the acoustics are awful. I knew where I was going, but I still needed directions. These were the directions: Go straight, follow the walkway around to your right. Look for the escalator. Take it down one level, make another right and you’re there. And I still nearly missed the escalator.
It’s not a terrible place, though. There’s the GM Wintergarden, a vast interior public space with a window wall overlooking the river. Alan likes to take the People Mover over on his lunch hour and eat a Potbelly’s sub while watching the freighters go by. Tellingly, this was a 1999 add-on to the building, after GM bought it. Trust Michiganders to know how much you need the sun in January.
And, I’m pleased to report, you can get good cell service inside, which is good because you need it: “OK, you’re passing Starbucks? I’m right across from Starbucks. Stop. No, stop. Stop walking. Turn to your right. Look up. Not that far. Lower. OK, I’m waving. See me wave? Great. No, I don’t know how to get here from there. Maybe we’d better hold the meeting over the phone.”
The storm was great, and the clearing after the storm was greater, the sun breaking through to light the casino on the Canadian side, bright against the fleeing bank of black clouds. There’s nothing that says, “yes, the storm will pass” like CAESAR’S in red neon, is there?
One final note: I interviewed a man a couple years ago, a sailor. On the wall of his office is a great photo of a boat sailing down the Detroit River, past the half-completed RenCen. It was him, and his boat. He had no idea who’d taken the picture. He’d just found it at a garage sale. What are the odds.
Geoffrey Feiger’s co-defendant’s lawyer suggests thanks for his client’s recent acquittal goes right up to the top:
In his initial meeting with 39 mock jurors chosen to represent a typical southeast Michigan jury pool, the judge hired to conduct the simulated trials asked how many trusted their government to tell the truth. Just four of 39 raised their hands.
“In my father’s day,” Fishman told me, “there would have been 38 hands up, with maybe one holdout who’d just gotten out of prison.”
Roy, on a roll, riffs on a Peggy Noonan column about the need to let the gray stallion run, by letting him insult people. Worth a try — he already sort of reminds me of Don Rickles.
Happy Friday. Happy weekend. Happy everything. It’s a lovely day.