The sky is dark and cold at 5:30 a.m., but dozens are already on hand to pay last respects to the concrete sports bowl, Cinergy Field, nee Riverfront Stadium — former home of the Big Red Machine and a football team that once knew how to win.
The media, our breath showing as puffs in the brisk air, arrive at Paul Brown Stadium's eastern plaza around 6 a.m. for programmed events and politicians' speeches. Television lights bathe a stage containing a table with white hard hats for the dignitaries. The hard hats are supposed to be symbolic; they have no real use.
It's a deceptively cold morning.
Dozens more guests of the O'Rourke Wrecking Co., Hamilton County, the Reds and the Bengals filter through steel gates into the plaza, picking their own memory-making spots, cameras in hand or on tripods. The general public arrives with blankets, earmuffs and gloves, lining the newly curved Elm Street. Others perch in downtown office buildings. Many more line surrounding riverbanks and hills or take special riverboat cruises. Some take flash pictures from distances that make flash useless.
A few nearby say they'll cry when the explosions begin. But will today's 30-and-under crowd hold the concrete bowl in the same reverence as Crosley Field, the awkward ballpark where the Reds grew up? I'm taking bets.
Relief from the cold is waiting inside the football stadium's lounge. There's hot chocolate and coffee, donuts and Danish, tables, comfortable seats and heat fans for the 2,000 invited guests, all wearing color-coded badges. As the sun rises, the people are one deep, then two, then three along the gleaming new stadium's choice spots.
With the sun rising, a 15-minute warning siren sounds. Then a two-minute siren, then a one-minute.
The detonation begins not with tumbling concrete and steel, but with flashes of light on wires dangling between the bowl's upper and lower levels. Each flash looks like the last gasp of a light-bulb filament.
Several seconds later another round of charges sets the bowl into motion — one final wave. It slowly moves counter-clockwise, mimicking the fans' 15-minute wave after Pete Rose's hit No. 4,192. The noise isn't very loud and there are no tangible vibrations this far west.
Less than 40 seconds later, the bowl is shattered. Televisions inside the football stadium replay the dying wave from angle after angle, even from inside the bowl.
For us watching from the football stadium, the moment is poetic, as if cleverly written. The dust rises, wafts west and people who linger taste the gritty, vaporized remains of Cinergy Field. This is our last encounter with it.
The sun grows stronger and reaches the mirrored skyscrapers, which reflect light back into the dust, creating a unique riverfront haze. With the riverfront skyline remade, the Great American Ballpark asserts itself through the fog of debris.
I buy a memorial brick in front of the new ballpark. The message I have engraved comes to full meaning today: "Reds Win or Not — Just Make This Ballpark Last." ©