The Star movie theater complex in this Detroit suburb is an ode to the automobile, replete with ticket booths that are exaggerated front ends of Lincoln Continentals.

Out front, there is valet service, presumably for those patrons who dislike the idea of parking their own vehicles and walking across the vast, wind-swept lot to the theater lobby.

But, wait: The same people who just handed the attendant the keys to their red Dodge Durango sport-utility vehicle are standing in the frigid night air anyway, gawking at a bevy of new cars and trucks -- all labeled with equipment and price stickers -- strategically positioned at the theater's entrance.

And once inside the lobby, they stop again, this time to examine a spanking new, electric blue Ford Focus ZX3 hatchback. Finally, they make it to the ticket booth.

Depending on how they got here, they might have traveled along Interstate 75, the Chrysler Freeway, or Interstate 94, the Ford Freeway.

Also, they might have come from downtown Detroit, driving along Jefferson Ave., where they passed in front of what locals call "GM World," originally known as the Renaissance Center, the gleaming, multi-towered structure that now serves as the world headquarters of Genral Motors Corp.

Down the street from GM World is COBO Hall, which for 11 years has been the home of the North American International Auto Show, the largest and most expensive exhibit of cars and trucks in North America and, easily, one of the biggest and best in the world.

Since Sunday, the show has been open to nearly 6,500 international journalists and photographers, who tromped over, touched, photographed and took notes on cars, trucks and components presented in 67 major exhibits valued at $350 million. GM, this year, has the largest exhibit, a grand, two-level affair conservatively valued at $50 million.

Most journalists, especially those from Europe and Japan, began leaving today, clearing the way for the public program, which opens Saturday and closes Jan. 23,

An estimated 697,000 people attended the show last year during a major winter storm that shut Detroit's airports and clogged its streets with mountains of snow.

By comparison, the weather this year is mild with temperatures in the thirties and light dustings of snow. The show itself is larger, and more slickly presented. Sponsors expect attendance to top 800,000 people.

But, as often is the case in these events, the swells -- the local very important people and their many guests -- will get their private peak at the show before the doors swing open open to the masses. That happens tomorrow night at the annual Charity Preview, the equivalent of a metropolitan prom for adults, who will show up with their tuxedos and evening gowns_and checkbooks, the latter of which they will use to donate millions of dollars to 11 Detroit-area children's charities.

Tickets for the Detroit ball cost $300 each, and are usually purchased in groups by automakers and their suppliers, who then distribute them to executives, favored employees, friends and clients.

By comparison, under-65-year-old adults will pay $10 to visit the Detroit show. Adults 65 and older will pay $5. Children 12 years old and under, accompanied by an adult, will get in free.

And after they leave COBO Hall, they might show up here to take in a movie; or they might try their luck at the MotorCity Casino at Grand River and Lodge in Detroit; or grab a meal near Cadillac Square.

In any event, they'll be traveling in cars or trucks, the same vehicles that carry them on weekday mornings to jobs at DaimlerChrysler AG in Auburn Hills, Ford Motor Co. in Dearborn, or GM downtown.

Indeed, many of those travelers never will leave Detroit's suburbs. They'll simply rise at 5 a.m., shower, dress, breakfast, grab the car keys, and head for automotive marketing, research, and development jobs at auto industry supplier and consultant firms in Troy, Southfield, and numerous other stops along I-75 and I-94.