Saturday, June 14, 2008

New York again

And so I’m back in New York again, for the third time this trip. This has always been my favorite city, but the more I see it now, the less happy I am with it. Maybe it’s not New York that makes me feel this way, though I know (I feel it) the local mood has changed since 9/11. The trauma is still there – in me for sure, and I was in Europe when the attack happened. Next time I’m here, I want to get out of the city.

I think something has happened to the spirit of America. The people are not happy; pressure and stress are evident, as though they’ve lost the natural ebullience that is their soulmate.

The bureaucracy is generally unpleasant and burdensome – especially the subcontracted Federal sort; in fact it begins to feel as much a barrier to doing things as it is in Brasil. In the airports and stations the redundancy and inefficiency of security is palpable; nothing they do here is more than has existed in Europe for years and yet they make a hash of it. The costs must be enormous and I have the sensation of their having set up a Frankenstein of a bureaucratic beast that is or will become such a monster for patronage that it will never be made efficient.

The focus on customer service is gone too; whether from the airline reps to the subway staff to the bank tellers. New York’s subway is visibly rusting; the speaker system worse than that of the UK. Airlines are using old aircraft where monitors don’t work and customer amenities haven’t been attended to in a decade. Same goes for the Greyhound coach – no change in twenty years there. The Amtrak up to Boston was good, but the manner of the stewards towards passengers was almost brutal. Airports are ‘as-was’ but for the controls; no reworking of customer facilities notwithstanding the need to provide more ‘entertainment’ during the long waits (and if you want to provide your own you have to search for power sockets here too).

Hotels are managed by immigrants who, for the most part have no experience of customer service in their own territories – and who are evidently not (no longer) trained here to consider it; to the point that you question why return to what would otherwise be an OK hotel/restaurant/store. Staff seem to be about as interested in caring for their clientele as do the staff of hotels in Italy – i.e. not at all.

I’ve always wanted to live and work in the States (New York specifically). I’m disappointed with what I’m seeing now. I used to enjoy every moment of being in New York; now I do almost nothing when I visit.

Maybe it’s just a moment of funk brought on by the events of the last few years and a general malaise thanks to the ructions of the economy. However what I see is enough for me to decide on a rain-check.

The United States is beginning to feel a little bit too much like Europe – tired, uncertain, fearful and middle aged, focused on protecting benefits and without a vision. It does indeed need change, for the wind is out of its sails. I fear it may remain so for some time.

If that is so, Europe is more attractive because it offers more (non-monetary, non-opportunity) quality of life. Except for Italy, that is.

My mind keeps turning to Asia …

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