YO, CANADA! -- The Detroit River, seen from my and BLowe's hotel room, with the Ambassador Bridge to Windsor, Ontario, Canada in the background and Ontario, Canada to the left. DETROIT – The last person I expected to meet in this city was Vincent.
Mitch Albom? Possibly. Eminem? A chance. Tim Allen? Not out of the question.
Never, though, did I imagine I'd bump into a long-dead, foreign celebrity.
The team charter arrived Friday on a perfect day for flying. Our hospitality was provided by the same good folks who handled our accommodations at Thanksgiving. This imposing complex of glass and concrete soars over downtown Detroit, its interior an expansive, labyrinthine structure of vaulting columns and sweeping avenues reminiscent of a freeway. With a built-in shopping mall ringing the perimeter and several restaurants scattered throughout, it feels like a city within a city.
As Marc Cappello, our flagship radio producer, astutely pointed out, "It's like being on a Star Wars set."
The building's Death Star vibe, however, belies the welcoming service we receive, particularly at breakfast, from the hotel's gracious staff. I was joined this morning – at one of the best buffet spreads on our travels – by Scott Zolak, former Patriots QB and now a member of the broadcast team on 98.5. With a full day in front of us in Detroit, we pondered what to do to pass the time.
Through the restaurant window, overlooking the Detroit River, we could easily see the temptations of Ontario, Canada – Caesar's Palace chief among them. Didn't bring the passport, though. Greektown is another casino option on this side of the river, too. But with that madwoman Irene looming, literally, as a dark cloud over our return trip to New England, I was looking for something less risky, more relaxing. I fell back on a familiar choice – the greatest collection of art I could find in the area.
That meant a five-minute cab ride to the Detroit Institute of Arts. Knowing little about what its exhibits held, I was pleasantly surprised to find plenty of recognizable big names on the walls. But the treat of my three-hour exploration came when I ducked into a dimly lit room off the museum's Great Hall. While I recognized all the names of the great Impressionist masters on display, it was the familiar face of Vincent van Gogh that took me by surprise.
His signature self-portrait (see photo) in straw hat and bright red beard, piercing eyes staring right at me, was smaller than you'd expect for so famous a work, but its life-sized image fit perfectly as the centerpiece of one of the four walls in this small room.
How, though, did this iconic painting end up here, of all places, I'm left wondering. The lingering, perplexing thought served as somewhat of a comfort, however, when I got back to the hotel. With my roommate, Patriots Today's Brian Lowe, we flipped on The Weather Channel for the disquieting details on the storm back east, tuning in with one ear open and both eyes shut in a vain attempt to get in a nap before tonight's game.
We're at Ford Field now, the turf and stands virtually empty with 90 minutes remaining before kickoff. We were here only nine months ago for the traditional Motor City Thanksgiving Day game, so, this stadium and this still mysterious town seem just a little more familiar. Particularly now that I've discovered an old friend resides here.