JFK Airport in New York City is like an island of the Third World right here in the middle of the First.
The workers don’t speak English. The low ceilings are crumbling. It’s filthy. It’s chaotic. There aren’t enough taxis. And — unlike in many parts of the Third World — there’s isn’t even a hint of charm to make up for the shortcomings.
The contrast with Heathrow, which I had left eight hours earlier, was stark and depressing.
This time, my JFK ordeal began with the baggage claim. Electronic signs all over the area announced that our bags would be on Carousel 3. But as we were waiting around, a shoddily dressed worker yelled in broken English that our “bags on carouse’ one.” No one bothered to change the signs.
After I’d collected my luggage, I called “Dial 7″ car service to arrange to get home. “I’m in Delta International Arrivals,” I told the woman who answered the phone.
“Meet the car on Level 3 East, Door 1,” she told me in broken English. (There is no Level 3.)
I was parched from my flight, so first I went to a vending machine to spend $2.50 for a small bottle of water. The machine took $3 from me, displayed “credit: $3,” and refused to give me any water. So I waited in line and spent another $2.99 at Dunkin’ Donuts for water.
Now I had to find “Level 3.” I tried asking some people — security guards, porters, etc. — but I couldn’t find anyone who spoke English. Finally I asked a limo driver who was picking up another passenger.
“Only one place to meet cars,” he told me. And he told me how to get there. It was on the ground floor of a neighboring building, access to which is provided by a long, winding, narrow ramp adjacent to speeding cars. Unfortunately, while the ramp serves as a two-way connection between the buildings, it is only wide enough for one person.
Once I’d navigated the ramp, I saw a huge line of people waiting for taxis, and no taxis. Those poor folks, I thought. But there were also a dozen Lincoln Town Cars waiting for passengers. This must be the right place.
Now I called Dial 7 to tell them where I was. “You have to go to Level 3,” a receptionist insisted.
“I’m on the ground floor. There is no Level 3,” I tried to explain.
“Everyone else can find it!” she chastised me.
So I trudged back to where I had been, taking the ramp upward, searching for Level 3. “You canno’ go up there mahn,” a security guard yelled at me as I was half-way there. I turned around, walked down to the guard, and — in my own home town, mind you — explained that I was lost and I needed help.
It wasn’t until some 30 minutes later that the driver and I found each other — on the ground floor of domestic arrivals.
I don’t understand it. New York is so wonderful. Why is JFK so awful?