Looping Detroit: A People Mover TravelogueSkip other details (including permanent urls, DOI, citation information)
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 3.0 License. Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org to use this work in a way not covered by the license. :
For more information, read Michigan Publishing's access and usage policy.
Ren Cen Zen
What I love about the people mover is that you can’t board a train going in the wrong direction. There’s only one direction. Just a single loop through downtown. If worst comes to worst and you miss your stop, you stay on for another lap. Simple.
I often commute in the PM; it’s all second-nature to me. But today my usual routine is interrupted when I realize I have to use the...facilities. So I decide to get off at the next stop, the Renaissance Center. Factoring in the extra token I’d have to buy, I figure it’s a seventy-five-cent investment in my comfort.
But it turns out to be more than that.
The simplicity of the People Mover won’t help you in the Ren Cen. Upon entering the series of linking-ring buildings, there are signs everywhere and none of them tell me what I want to know. Here, there is a wrong direction, and you can almost assure yourself you’re walking in it.
I have to go, and panic sets in. This must be where concrete and old carpet go to die. I can’t look at the floor for too long or I get dizzy. I end up walking with my head half-cocked skyward, reading every sign but getting little in the way of helpful information. The numbers begin to blend together in my mind. And...I have to go.
I pass by several Chevys, all painted red. They’re a point of reference, maybe, except that there are cars parked everywhere in here.
Then I spot a sign for the food court. Surely there’s a bathroom nearby.
An escalator ride down and I’m in fast-food world. I see a woman shoveling the last bite of taco salad into her mouth with a plastic spork. Either she knows there’s a restroom in the vicinity or she and her fellow diners are blissfully unaware of the problem they too will soon face.
A sign points me to another sign that leads me down a hall. The familiar hands-by-his-sides guy on the blue square awaits. I made it, and without another second to spare.
I exit, refreshed, and fight the urge to buy a bottle of water, lest I keep myself in this endless loop.
Which is when it hits me: I don’t know how to get back to the People Mover.
After circling Level 1 at least three times, I start to get annoyed. Is this really happening again? It’s at this point that a young man, couldn’t be much older than 21, comes out of what feels like nowhere and begins walking next to me.
At first I think we’re simply walking at a similar pace, but when he keeps his gaze fixed on me, I ask if there’s something he needs.
“No, man. I just saw you walking in circles and thought I’d join you,” he says calmly.
He must notice my puzzled expression as he offers me a pamphlet as further explanation. Clearly this isn’t his first time sidling up next to a stranger.
In a simple font, the cover reads “Ren Cen Zen.” He tells me he’s the founder and that this is his way of spreading the word. Gesturing to one of many open carpet fields, he tells me “I have a kiosk over there, but people have trouble finding it, so I go out and find them.”
I stare back at him, still somewhat confused.
“My dad used to work up on the 12th floor, and whenever I’d come and visit him it was impossible to ignore all the confused people, clearly lost and increasingly disgruntled. Even my dad, an engineer who worked here for 15 years, never completely cracked the code on this place. I figured as long as people are walking in circles, I might as well do what I can to help them calm down.”
We chat a little more, he gives me a few tips—“be mindful of your breath,” “each step is a gesture”—and I thank him and continue on my way. Or at least continue trying to find my way. Instead of frantically searching, I take it easy this time. My mind is clear, and I’m no longer worrying about the destination. I quietly walk to the center of the atrium on Level 1. New GM products line the innermost ring; have I seen that Volt before?
No matter. I close my eyes, take a deep breath, and envision myself on a one-man train gliding through the Ren Cen, back to the door marked DPM. The feeling is at once unfamiliar and comforting. I know where I have to go, almost as if the People Mover is calling me.
After one wrong turn, I find my way back. I trade a dollar for a quarter and a token. I’m back on the train—any train—headed for home. I’m centered. And all because of a pit stop from one unbroken loop to a series of complex rings. I know I’ll be back, and mentally prepared next time.
—By David Gluckman and Zak Rosen