The moment I heard the toot-toot-toot, I knew I was going to like Detroit. I had come out of the Renaissance Center, the ballyhooed cluster of glass towers on the St. Clair River, hoping the city had more to show for itself, when I spotted a little red trolley barging blithely up Jefferson.
''That's our version of the cable car,'' said a Detroit friend, explaining that at 35 cents a fare, the one-car trolley runs back and forth on a recently extended downtown route. It obviously will never put the San Francisco cable car in the shade, but then it's a mistake to stack Detroit up against the great United States tourist cities. I doubt you will be disappointed.
As for the Renaissance Center, known locally as the ''Ren Cen,'' the reviews have been mixed, the house seldom packed. There were dark reports the week I was in town that the $357 million project, opened in 1977 and carrying the hopes of a troubled city, had already lost $100 million. Some fancy shops and stores in this gleaming indoor bazaar had recently closed up and moved to the still promising suburban shopping centers, of which Northland (one of the biggest you'll see anywhere), Fairlane (perhaps the most successful in the region), and Somerset (the most elegant, up the road near Troy) are the leading lights. It didn't seem that the Ren Cen's Westin Hotel (formerly the Detroit Plaza) was faring badly - in fact, the check-in line was so long the morning I arrived, I stowed my bag, left the hordes of paint-industry conventioneers amid the hanging vines and crisscrossing skyways, and went out to meet the real Detroit.