A Day in the Life:

So here's a summary of my 24 hours, beginning this past Sunday morning. I was going from my home in DC to New York, where I was meeting some friends and going out to the soccer game (U.S. v. Argentina) that evening at the Meadlowlands. The following morning, I had to take the train to Windsor Locks CT -- my car was parked at Bradley Airport outside of Hartford, and I was going to pick it up.

The Acela from DC to NYC arrived 45 minutes late -- due in at 348 PM, it arrived around 430. My friends and I were driving to the game -- there is some public transportation to the Meadowlands, but it's limited to a bus from Port Authority terminal in New York, and we've heard too many horror stories of people stranded for hours after events, waiting for the bus, to want to risk it. Traffic to and from the stadium is a complete nightmare -- everyone is diverted into a large 4-story parking garage, and we sit in traffic for around 45 minutes or so, creeping along at 2-5 mph. [Wasting insane amounts of gasoline in the aggregate, needless to say]. Having left the Upper West Side at 6 PM, we get to the traffic knot at around 6:20 or so, but we don't make it to our seats until 7:35, precisely at kickoff.

Getting out, as you might guess, was even worse -- we sat, literally motionless, for over an hour on one of the garage ramps. And my train to Windsor Locks the next morning? Again, an hour or so behind schedule. Not to mention the utter bleakness of the built environment through which you pass; there are some lovely spots along the way, but the stations in Stamford, Bridgeport, New Haven, and Hartford, and the landscapes around them, are about as ugly as anything you'd see in Moldova or Indonesia -- not quite "third world," but surely not top drawer.

This country is starting to feel second-rate to me, and it's not a pleasant feeling. The worst part of this entire experience was that nobody really seems to give a damn, or be in the least surprised, about complete breakdowns like these. There's nothing in the newspaper the next day: "Thousands Stranded at Stadium -- Meadowlands Operators Apologize for 'Appalling Inefficiency.'" Why would there be? It happens like this all the time. It's just the way it is. Folks sitting in their cars, listening to the radio, and the guys with the flashlights who are supposedly guiding the traffic just standing around, doing absolutely nothing. If you want to go to an event in the Meadowlands, just plan on wasting a minimum of 3 or 4 hours sitting in your car. What can you do? The Windsor Locks train (the "Vermonter") arrives on schedule, according to Amtrak's own figures, about 20% of the time. Think about that for a second -- running a train that keeps to its schedule 1 day out of every 5. [And I strongly suspect that Amtrak's definition of "on time" is something like (within 1/2 hour of the schedule). Well, what can you do? It's just the way it is.

Really, our public infrastructure -- our public life -- is in the process of deteriorating, and we don't seem to be able to summon up the energy required to do anything about it. Maybe I'm wrong about that. I work in Philadelphia, probably the world capital of "what can you do? it's just the way it is" -- the public transportation system in Philadelphia is a grotesque monstrosity, filthy, noisy, and monumentally unpleasant, and the general feeling seems to be that it would be a miracle if we could find some way just to keep it from getting any worse -- so maybe I'm oversensitive to the problem. But if I had had a guest with me from overseas on this trip, I would have been appalled and embarrassed by the state of decay into which we, collectively, have allowed things to fall.

Maybe it had something to do with the fact that we were playing Argentina -- Argentines, after all, understand all too well how first-rate countries can become second-rate countries, in the blink of an eye. In 1920, Argentina was the sixth- or seventh-richest country in the world; by the end of the century, it was far, far down the list. .