The Airport: Terminal Nights and Runway Days at John F. Kennedy International
JFK International Airport is a rich symbol of many things: of America both ascendant and in decline, of modern aviation and its predicament, of urban planning and urban decay. For many of us, Kennedy is also Idlewild - a mystic holdover from the early days of flight, evoking the freedom of air travel, the glamour of a bygone era, and the optimism of getting away from it all. But for many travelers, Kennedy is a horror, the place where taxi drivers won't take you, a maze of meaningless buildings where it's impossible to change from one airline to another without running a gauntlet of beggars and baggage hustlers, a sink of crime and corruption more rife with theft than the old-time New York waterfront - or the souk of Baghdad, for that matter. Over several years of virtually living at JFK, James Kaplan discovered that the airport has become, over the years, a world all its own, with a huge transient population and a large and bustling cast of regular characters - many of them on public display, many more of them permanently hidden from view. Until now. In The Airport, Kaplan reveals the airport nobody knows. The decommissioned pilot who roams the back runways, on a search-and-destroy mission for nesting gulls. The army of service people who check the more than seven thousand lights on the runways and taxiways, and the jungle of underground pipes supplying Kennedy's insatiable thirst for fuel. There's a spiritual side to Kennedy, and several underutilized clergymen out there to minister to the faithful. There is a bustling medical center (Kennedy boasts one heart attack every day); battalions of pilots, flight attendants, and freight handlers, as well as thieves, con artists, policemen, and customs inspectors. Periodically, the rescue teams prepare for the unthinkable airplane crash (we're spectators at such a practice); every day several gleaming Concordes take off and land (we're also along for one of those rides). In all, The Airport is a rich and surprising view that transforms one of New York's most visible institutions into a secret and fascinating world. This is journalistic nonfiction of the first rank, a trip to the airport as Tom Wolfe, John McPhee, or Tracy Kidder might take it.
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