How appropriate it is that a trolley bearing the name of Grand Circus from Cobo Hall to the Renaissance Center, a two-block enclave that for this week comprises the city limits of Detroit.
An endless ring of circuses can be seen from the trolley as it moves past Wolfman Moose and Betty Boop and the boys in the Reagan Posse buttons and the Bloomfield Hills cheerleaders and the sandbox Christians and the soapbox socialists and the hot-pants girls from Debincrat's strip joint and the Buckeye banner that doesn't "give a damn about the whole state of Michigan" and the thousands of Detroit natives who, until they became tourists in their own city this week, didn't give much of a damn about their own downtown.
The buttons say that Detroit loves a good party. Aside from a few thousand journalists who pretend to be reporting the news, that is pretty much the case. What this circus has to do with the conservative Republican movement that is supposed to be sweeping the country is quite another question.
Somewhere high above the crowd, on the top-floor suites of the Detroit Plaza and Pontchartrain hotels, the important people and their minions hold important meetings and place essential telephone calls that may alter the course of America. Below them -- in the lobbies and ballrooms and workspaces, on the sidewalks and park benches and park lawns -- the mood is much less sober.
Walk toward the Hart Plaza to the beat of conga drums and jazz saxophones.
Past the kid hawking the Oakland (Mich.) Press with its scoop that Jerry Ford's the veep choice. Past presidential candidate Wolfman Moose, who bellows that he's got it all over "Peanuthead" and "Bonzo." Beyond Wolfman, there is an unusual gathering of some 50 gawkers. They stand in a circle, and in the middle of the circle is a man wearing blue tennies and balloon pants and a black-and-white referee's shirt.
His name is Stoney Burk, or so he says, and his cause, it seems, is a form of socialism. He hops around more than he talks, but still, for hours, he draws a crowd. A young enlisted man who badge identifies him as "Fagan" doesn't like Stoney Burk at all.
"We have a responsibility to the free world," barks Fagan, his teeth grinding away. "We must be the No. 1 power to defend others from the communists."
Stoney dances more sprightly, delighted that someone is taking him seriously. "Hey, Fagan," he shouts. "What are you doing here? You should be defending El Salvador."
Sudenely, Stoney loses half his audience.
Heads turn to the side, where three young women wearing high heels, hot pants and halter tops are strolling by. They say they are "exotic dancers" at
Debincrat's out at Eight Mile and Telegraph, and they came downtown to pass out free cocktail tickets and to enter the Hot Pants Contest some local columnist was holding over at Kennedy Square.
"Hey, where's Ronald Reagan?" asks Micki, trying to overcome her disappointment at not getting into the Hot Pants Contest because she didn't register on time. "We'd like to show him our outfits."
Ronald Reagan, it turns out, is only a 200-yard walk and 70-floor elevator ride away, but he isn't seeing exotic dancers on this day. Henry Kissinger, women Republicans, leading Republicans, congressional Republicans, black Republicans and auto workers -- yes. Exotic dancers -- no. Scores of Republicans from Ohio and Utah and New Jersey took pleasure at seeing Micki and her hot-pants friends get soaked in the Hart Plaza fountain, but hot pants don't really fit with the GOP's family-neighborhood-country theme.
Micki and her friends are told not to be discouraged. By walking into the lobby of the Renaissance Center's Detroit Plaza, they get as close to Reagan as a few thousand journalists on this day.
Patricia Price and her 12-year-old daughter, residents of northeast Detroit, have also ventured downtown to celebrity-watch for three straight days.
"If you told me two weeks ago that I'd be down here doing this, I'd have said you're crazy," says Price. "But this has been such a turn-on, for me and the city. Yesterday, we were in the Pontchartrain at noon and saw Dr. Kissinger coming down the elevator. Then we saw him again near the Joe Louis arena. I'd say it's a toss-up between Dr. Kissinger and Walter Cronkite. I saw Cronkite just walking down the street like anybody else. It surprised me that he didn't have any bodyguards or nothing -- you know this city has such a bad image and all."
Price calls herself a "Detroit booster," but most of her friends back in the neighborhood, she says, have never even been to Cobo Hall or the Pontch. t"The people out in the suburbs think Toronto's the greatest," she says. "If you put all this in the middle of Toronto, they'd say it was wonderful. But in Detroit? They won't see it."
The hotel has the aura of a major golf tournament. As one moves through, around or up one of the countless passageways, avenues and escalators ripples of applause can be heard in the distance, as through Jack Nicklaus had just sunk a 30-footer on 18.Heads turn. Is it Reagan or Bush or Rumsfeld or Kissinger?
No, it is Willard Scott, everyone's favorite weatherman, waving to his new "Today Show" fans as he glides down the escalator from the Ontario Level to the lobby.
As Scott goes down, the reporters go up. In an endless stream, they ride the escalators up to the fifth floor, then walk past the Reagan Caucus Team room and the Reagan Political Operations Room and the Reagan Media room and the Reagan Communications room until, at last, they reach the Reagan Press room.
Certainly, the Reagan Press room should not be excluded from the Grand Circus tour. As the candidate meets with Kissinger and Ford and the black women and the black Republicans in succession from morning to late afternoon, dozens of reporters wait patiently in the Reagan Press room for the word from above. They are an unhappy lot today -- being excluded from the process -- but some relief comes when a Reagan Press room flak announces that one of the meetings will be opened to reporters.
They are also placated by the periodic appearances of those who have seen Reagan. The women Republicans pay a visit and stand like a glee club at the front of the room -- their positions on the podium prearranged -- and answer questions. Are they satisfied? Sort of. Yes. Maybe, Electing Reagan is the first priority.
Time for some relaxation. Take the escalator down a floor or two to the Republican National Committee's Exhibit Hall, past the Texans wearing their "A Democrat Shot J.R." buttons and the Michiganders wearing "Stop ERA" T-shirts that feature a profile of Reagan on the map of their state. The exhibition hall is filled with buttons trinkets and T-shirts and GM booths and, above all, some very unhappy merchants.
If this is a circus, these merchants are the sad clowns. They've been sitting in the exhibition hall for three days, watching a handful of people filter through, not nearly enough customers to help pay off the $750 daily rental fee for the booths.
"This is a bunch of garbage," snaps Sheri Collins, proprietor of the Full Moon T-shirt booth. "All of us up here are going broke. The Republicans didn't advertise us or anything, they just stuck us up here to sit and rot. Hell, I'd rather be out on the street. That's where the action is."