The overhyped and overblown North American International Auto Show has touched down once again for its annual pomp and circumschmaltz. Mother Nature took pity on Detroit, eschewing the blizzard and concomitant paralysis that accompanied the media preview week in 1999.
More fun than the public show, the media preview week presents practically unlimited food and booze for the 6,000 or so journalists that descend upon the event, demonstrating that, contrary to the laws of Economics 101, there is such a thing as a free lunch, dinner and breakfast.
Lounging in the Audi café with a catered German meal and Spaten beer on tap, surrounded by chain-smoking fellow travelers speaking foreign tongues, I felt like I was awaiting my connecting flight to Tokyo at a high-tech European airport. Most of the shows pavilions even laid out menus, so you could, say, plan your breakfast at GM, lunch at BMW and perhaps an afternoon snack and cappuccino at the Dodge Café, then rendezvous at VW for happy hour.
In the evening there was a bountiful array of parties, and kicking it off in style was the stupendous DaimlerChrysler shindig at downtowns David Whitney Building.
The folks from DaimlerChrysler reportedly spent about a cool million bucks and three weeks preparing and decorating the interior of the building for this one-night gig. They created two tropical-style bars in the former shops on each side of the buildings four-story atrium, with murals by locale female arts collective The Girlee Show and by Michael Segal.
Simply put, this was the hippest one-night nightclub in town, with a sumptuous spread from the Ritz Carlton. I started out savoring a few oysters prepped in a martini glass (or did someone drop an oyster in my martini?), and moved on to the tenderloin, lamb chops and lobster, all with a delicious, slightly indistinguishable South American twist.
The main event for the party, however, was the high-flying display put on in the atrium lobby by Argentina-based performance company De La Guarda. Sort of a cross between a Terry Gilliam movie, an avant-garde dance troupe and an indoor bungee-jumping extravaganza, the artists performed a variety of high-energy pieces attached to cables, even picking up a few audience members at one point.
Apparently, the high-strung artists all headed down to the Garden Bowl afterward for a rollicking, clothing-optional dance party in the Garden Bowl bar.
SEE AND SNOOP
Next on my agenda was the Charity Preview, at which we schlepped into the show with 17,500 other black-tie clad patrons content to pay $300 a pop for a complimentary plastic flute of mediocre champagne.
Oh, but its not about the champagne, apparently, but rather the see-and-be-seen factor for those in the auto industry, as well as helping out what is rumored to be the largest one-night charity event in the country.
Frankly, its a crowded and somewhat-pretentious event where everyone walks into everyone else because they are constantly arching their necks to spot some auto exec with whom they can network.
Seeking refuge, we tried out the always-exclusive, invite-only New Yorker magazine party, which seeks to lend a bit of snobbish Manhattan-style elitism to a rather proletarian event. Once inside, we were greeted by a smallish and rather stooped host by the name of Arne Gittleman, who, upon learning I was from the Metro Times, immediately assumed I was uninvited and started looking beyond us for the doorman.
We quickly pushed past, only to be greeted by a cramped rectangular room which basically was just a place for people to smoke while they waited in line for the bar. It was worth the wait, however, as they were pouring top shelf all the way, from the Taittinger Champagne to the Bass Ales. The hors doeuvres, however, were a bit pedestrian ("krab," I do believe).
Aside from the omnipresent cigars and sporadic bouts with claustrophobia, it was a fine refuge from the seething black tie-clad masses outside the velvet ropes.
Next stop on our journey was the ever- cautious Roostertail ("please hold the hand rail"), where Compuware was throwing an afterglow to benefit The Childrens Center. Immediately spotted in the free food line was disgruntled casino-barge operator Don Barden. Also spied mincing about was local arts gadfly John Bloom of the Fanclub Foundation, who was no doubt preparing for the Fanclubs big Swingtime 2000 Party, to be held Feb. 5 at the Fisher Building. Always a cant-miss party on the midwinter calendar.
We happened to sit down at a table with Thomas, Jean and Jan Adams, as well as Jessica Taylor, all from Detroit, who were gracious enough to pose for the Loose Lips photographer.
Our final stop was none other than the 3rd Annual Anti-Auto Show Preview, held at the detroit contemporary gallery. There, the karaoke club hosted by WDET-FMs Ralph Valdez was serving up a scintillating version of Creams "Sunshine of Your Love," sung by local editors Leif Gruenberg and Sarah Peters, who, if their Woodward Magazine fails to stay afloat, no doubt have a promising career ahead of them on the karaoke lounge circuit. The Anti-Auto Show runs through January 22.