Flintstones rather than Jetsons: The End of America?

7295207e1c6311dd8bfc000077b07658Just back from New York City, where I flew in and out of JFK on my way to and from Manhattan. According to John Gapper in this morning's Financial Times, I just had the misfortune of travelling on The Pot-Holed Highway to hell. Gapper is echoing the New York Times' Thomas Friedman's argument that America is facing an infrastructure crisis from hell:

A few weeks ago, my wife and I flew from New York’s Kennedy Airport to Singapore. In J.F.K.’s waiting lounge we could barely find a place to sit. Eighteen hours later, we landed at Singapore’s ultramodern airport, with free Internet portals and children’s play zones throughout. We felt, as we have before, like we had just flown from the Flintstones to the Jetsons. If all Americans could compare Berlin’s luxurious central train station today with the grimy, decrepit Penn Station in New York City, they would swear we were the ones who lost World War II.

And here's Gapper on the journey from JFK to Manhattan: 

If anyone doubts the problems of US infrastructure, I suggest he or she take a flight to John F. Kennedy airport (braving the landing delay), ride a taxi on the pot-holed and congested Brooklyn-Queens Expressway and try to make a mobile phone call en route.

So, are Friedman and Gapper right? Is America becoming more third than first world?

I certainly didn't have a third world experience earlier this week. Traveling on a spankingly new Jet Blue Airbus 320 jet from Oakland, I arrived at JFK 30 minutes early, where I read about the imminent "ultramodern" Terminal Five (with free internet access and lots of space for kids to play). I then braved a cab ride into the city. It took me 45 minutes and I spent the whole journey unbumpily doing my email via my broadband Sprint USB modem. In NYC, I headed to immaculate Grand Central Station where I took a quick train to Connecticut. Then, the following afternoon, on my return to JFK, I spent the whole cab ride on my cellphone catching up to friends around the world.

Now, I would much prefer the Heathrow Express to the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway?  Of course. And, yes, even Grand Central Station pales in comparison to Berlin's fabulous new train station. But I do have a suspicion that Friedman and Gapper are falling prey to fashionable hyperbole about American decline. Bashing America has become all-too-easy in the dismal gloom of Bush's last few months in office. And I suspect that this pessimism will suddenly lift after November 4th, when the majority of Americans will be celebrating an Obama presidency.

Anyway, I'm off to Korea and Thailand next week. I wonder whether I'll be greeted by Jetson or Flintstone infrastructure.