A detailed portrait of JFK International captures the airport's exoticism and mystique, reporting on everything from its notorious criminals, its mind-boggling organization, its infamous delays, and its place in the world. Reader's Digest Cond Bks.
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Before going on a cross-country flight, I decided to find a good book about airports, and was pleasantly surprised to discover this book, an in-depth description of JFK, it's tens of thousands of employees, and the general principles of the airline industry this airport illustrates.
James Kaplan idolizes the brilliant essayist John McPhee, and at times, this book approaches the work of the master--especially the second chapter about "the Birdman of Kennedy" (whose job is to protect human life and metal wing against the astonishingly potent threat of seagulls).
The following passage illustrates Kaplan's reportage and writing at it's best:
Down a hallway, toward passport control. "Human ingenuity is endless," Fingerman is saying. "People hide sausages in bandoliers around their body. I've seen a man trying to bring an entire fig tree on his person. The roots were in his shoes, the branches were in his sleeves. One lady tried to hide her pet bird between her breasts. Another was wearing a big hat, with a whole hatband full of little finches"... Now his restless eyes pick out two men having their passports processed nearby. One is Italian, the other Venezuelan; they look as if they have on at least three sports jackets apiece. They have huge fake-Vuitton suitcases, and Fingerman leans on one of the bags as he says, in his carrying voice, "How are you gentlemen doing today?"And how delightfully ironic that this customs inspector's name is Fingerman!
I leave a little while later. Fingerman, who has forgotten all about me, is contentedly removing dozens of pieces of fruit and wrapped sausages from the men's bags as they gesture and shrug.
My only gripe is that the publisher should have spent more time editing this otherwise worthy volume--and Kaplan (like me several years ago) suffers from a dreaded syndrome I've dubbed "commatosis", the tendency to overuse commas. Otherwise, I heartily recommend this book to anyone who wants a good peek at how airports work--and how they sometimes fail so spectacularly. Two aerilons up!Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
From Chapter l: Arriving:
Van Wyck. IAB. The Manager
"At Queens Boulevard, I took the shoulder. At Jewel Avenue, I used the median! I had it! I was there! And then . . . I hit the Van Wyck. They say no one's ever beaten the Van Wyck. But gentlemen -- I 'll tell you this. I came as close as anyone ever has...." --ELAINE; on Seinfeld, TV situation comedy of the early nineties
On the kind of early-spring late afternoon when the shadows in Manhattan are long and purple on the brick faces of the old tenements of the far Upper East Side, I hail a cab for Kennedy. The fact that I have no luggage makes zero impression on the driver, nor does the fact that after a block I whip out a reporter's notebook. "Can we talk?" I say, not consciously echoing Joan Rivers. "Sure, why not?" my driver says. Like most cabbies and cops, he is surprised by little, and quite happy to talk, feeling -- probably with a good deal of justification -- that he has two or three books' worth of material in him. His name, I read on his hack license, is Efthimios Andreadis. My very rough translation from the Greek is "good spirited man." This Andreadis is. He is an extraordinarily equable cab driver, of philosophical bent -- a dark, mustachioed fellow of indeterminate early middle age. "The last time I went to Kennedy?" he says. "Maybe about three weeks ago. The thing about Kennedy, you rarely get a fare back to the city. You look around a little, then you go back empty. Financially speaking, it's not too bad -- it works out about the same as cruising in Manhattan. As long as you don't hit traffic."
We turn onto the FDR Drive, which is packed but flowing. We're heading north, toward the Triborough Bridge. "Sometimes it's just luck," Efthimios Andreadis muses. "Every corner you turn, you pick up somebody. Other times, you look and look for a fare. It's funny," he says, turning his profile to me. Whenever I chat with a cabbie, which is often, I have to figure out whether he wants me to make angular eye contact in the rearview mirror -- a process that disconcerts me by its indirection -- or directly with the side of his face. Andreadis is a hybrid. "Just before I picked you up, I was thinking about what else I might do," he says. "In your life?"
"In my life. My dream," Andreadis says, "is to maybe get three or four medallions, then lease out the cabs by the week. I could drive, not drive -- I'd still be making the money."
Now we're on the approach to the Triborough, Robert Moses' Pharaonic 1934 colossus. I think of Andreadis's dream; I think of Moses, the founder and patron saint of the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority, and his secret funds, and of the male human animal's never-ending scheming toward the making of a buck. Between 1955 and 1965, neither the TBTA nor the Port Authority spent a penny on mass transit in the New York Metropolitan Area, but the two together spent billions on highways that were doomed, from the word go, to be choked. Much of that money went toward improving access to bridges and tunnels in order that more tolls might be collected. Tolls, the czars of New York commerce learned very early on, are gold. I have a dim childhood memory of hearing an official announcement that tolls on one of the Manhattan river crossings would stop being collected as soon as the crossing was paid for. The crossings, and their maintenance, have been paid for many, many times over, and in all the years that have passed, I haven't noticed that anyone has stopped collecting tolls on the Manhattan river crossings. Why should they? This money is gravy! Why do we pay the tolls? Because they're there!
"I'm gonna ask you for the toll now," Andreadis says, as we inch up to the booth. "Since you're a writer, I'll tell you why. Most of the people, if I ask them for the toll when they pay the fare at the end of the ride, they're not happy. Even when I show them on the sign that's the rule. And when they're not happy, the tip is not as high." I give him the $2.50. He pays the man in the tollbooth, who is nodding his head insistently to the beat of a rap song that can be heard clearly in the back of the cab.
"Some guys go out to the airport empty and wait for a fare," Andreadis says, as we swing onto the Triborough's great eastward curve. "Then when things get slow, they jump on the highway and come back to town. I don't see how they make any money, but they must have it figured out. Some guys know the schedules of all the airlines-they know when it's gonna land, what type of people are gonna come out, everything." He shakes his head. Now we're cruising along in medium traffic on the Grand Central Parkway on this gem-perfect afternoon. A blue-and-white ASPCA car speeds by with its siren blooping and its lights flashing. On the shoulder, two motorcycle cops with a weirdly La Guardia (Fiorello) era look about them -- rakishly squashed-down hats and puttees -- are writing tickets for a small line of cars they've stopped.
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Book Description William Morrow & Co, 1994. Hardcover. Book Condition: New. 1. Bookseller Inventory # DADAX0688092470
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