New York: The City That Never Cares

I'm visiting relatives in the USA and decided to make a stop in New York City, since that's usually a fun thing to do. After living in Europe for so long, seeing any New York airport is a reminder of just how shitty they are. America's public infrastructure really is crumbling. Three separate long lines at customs and passport control, which snaked far beyond the barriers and ended up haphazardly curling back and forth into the corners of the rooms. All the pens had been ripped away from their holders, so you couldn't use the tables to fill out the customs forms. 

No personnel to tell you where to line up. When you did encounter someone official, they usually spoke worse English than the foreign visitors. The luggage pickup displays directed us to the wrong carousel, where hundreds of people waited patiently as their luggage was delivered elsewhere. Since nobody was there to pick it up, the workers just stacked it into random piles. Most of the ceiling tiles were stained, some were missing.

The line for the cab was also 100 people long, snaking along a narrow concrete median with traffic on both sides. Since the area to line up for the cab was the same area for passenger pickup, you couldn't tell if people were in line for the cab or waiting for a car to pick them up. Tense confrontations resulted. Touts patrolled the cab line offering jacked-up rides to the inner city; nobody did anything about them. There was a strong stench of urine wafting along the line. A couple in front me of from Australia were chatting among themselves, incredulous that this malodorous, chaotic dump of an airport was the gateway to one of the world's great cities.

Finally got a cab after a 40-minute wait. The cab was falling apart, couldn't do over 50 miles per hour, and the driver had night vision problems which led him to constantly bleed into other drivers' lanes. He had no idea where the destination was and no GPS system. The Van Wyck Expressway has to be one of the ugliest roads I've ever seen. On each side is a pile of garbage and dead leaves, and the only barrier between it and the modest Queens neighborhoods on either side is a rusty chain-link fence. All the houses seemed to have burglar bars on all windows and doors.

The overall impression you get landing in New York is worse than in most developing countries I've been to. I am already looking forward to returning to Europe, where countries still at least try to make sure their public amenities are interesting, pleasant places to be.

11 thoughts on “New York: The City That Never Cares

  1. Agree 100%. After living in Germany, Austria and Sweden since leaving the US, I can only cringe when I return. No investment in infrastructure. Public amenities few and far between. And Americans, as finicky as they are about their treatment as CUSTOMERS, put up with it. Can say that DC is as poorly organized and threadbare as Istanbul used to be 10 years ago. The only place closer to absolute meltdown from a public infrastructure side is London. Everything 50 years old and not maintained. If you want to see how well public amenities can be designed and maintained (and I have never been to the far East)–go to Vienna. You feel great just walking around there, because someone cares about it. An absolute jewel. Those guys know what they are doing.


  2. Interesting observations, yet I’d much prefer JFK to Berlin’s new airport–for it’s many faults JFK is up an running. Also, people say absolutely terrible things about Paris Orly, not to mention the Calais Jungle, Paris or Marseille suburbs, thousands of migrant ghettoes in Euroland, garbage piling up in Rome or Naples, their outskirts growing like fungus, run by the Mafia. It may be visibly worse already over the pond but infrastructure in Western Europe is held together by spit and duct tape too, what investment there is going for paint jobs. I guess we still have more paint, or better paint allocation programmes than in the US. Most Berlin bridges eg are in disrepair with severe limits on the allowed maximum carrying capacity imposed, forcing what little industry is left to make huge detours to get things over rivers and canals, I read about that in the Tagesspiegel.


  3. No question about it, JFK is an embarrassment for the city, and as a major global gateway, for the nation as well.

    Pity that we can’t vote for the politicians who might actually do something about it.


  4. JFK is considered the worst major airport in the USA. The NYT recently had an article about homeless squatters living in the entry lobby area. It is very far from typical of the USA.

    Even within New York area, the Newark airport is well run and modern.

    In SFO a futuristic skytrain whisks you between terminals and the entry to BART which will take you right to downtown or many other places is within the terminal. If you need to rent a car, right across the street is a multifloor complex that is modern and efficient.


  5. Agree, ZX, many other U.S. airports aren’t bad at all. Some are exceptional, like Albuquerque airport with its massive wooden ceiling beams and turquoise tiles.

    Also, am I alone with my opinion that Frankfurt is competing with Heathrow for the title of Airport from Hell?


  6. No you’re not. This Frankfurter agrees with you one hundred percent. I believe Andrew has even blogged here about how horrible it is.


  7. You may not be alone, but the majority of customers seems to think otherwise. According to the recent World Airport Awards survey which is based on customer ratings, Heathrow and Frankfurt airports received pretty good ratings (8th and 12th place, respectively, out of 550 airports). JFK airport made no. 59, CDG airport no. 33.


  8. Sorry, Herr Mohling, I could have said that I consider European culture and organization to end just south of Rome. Naples is a disaster in motion. When I worked there 30 years ago, the government was debating building a state-of-the-art incinerator to handle an out-of-control garbage problem. 30 years later, it still has not been built, the mafia were contracted to “get rid” of the garbage as a stop-gap measure. They dumped it illegally in the countryside around Naples, and now the groundwater is hopelessly polluted. And Naples is paying a Swedish company to haul the trash to Sweden and burn it…in the same type incinerators that Naples was to buy. Sweden’s recycling has been so effective that incinerators are running out of stuff to burn. Migrant ghettos, either current or being built now in Germany are really not part of a decaying infrastructure. They are indicators of a decaying, cowardly government who lets itself (and its taxpayers) be swindled by muslim states who know they can dump their overpopulation on the EU, swindled by some secret cabal of “open-border, multi-kulti” criminals who could care less where these illegal migrants are housed.


  9. Anyone who has traveled Ryanair has flown out of the excellent small regional airports that Germany has built within the last 10 years. Save for Hahn–all of them have excellent links to the DB. You land, go down a flight of steps and get your train. This is true in Nuremburg, in Dusseldorf-Bonn, in Koln. Just outstanding service. Of course, FF-Main also, two flights down. Get a beer, get your train. I don’t understand the complaints about FF-Main.


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