When it rains hard in New York City the subways often run late; many times trains stall or are even pulled out of service.
Other times old traffic signals on the subway lines malfunction, holding up thousands of commuters in packed carriages or on crowded platforms.
Sometimes there'll be announcement; sometimes you'll wait without explanation for ten, twenty, even thirty minutes.
If subways are the arteries of New York City, then they're often clogged.
Overcrowding in the carriages is such a daily occurrence that it becomes easy to forget that it really shouldn't be happening. When subway doors open commuters often can neither exit or board due to the tight crush of bodies.
People complain, of course they complain, they call the MTA or they bitch to themselves or to others on the crowded platforms. Sometimes furious confrontations occur. But the same conditions continue, week after week after week.
It's insulting and sad, really. Because Americans work harder and for longer hours with less benefits than any other country in the western world. The majority of them probably don't even know they do. They get up, steel themselves, and just get on with it in a way that would be completely inexplicable to many other cultures.
They deserve much better than what they pay for and are given.
It's been almost ten years since 9/11. That's a long time to address obvious weaknesses in the system. But New York's infrastructure - it's clogged bridges, it's crowded subways and lumbering train lines - do not seem ready to shoulder the burden of a panicked citizenry. Often they don't even seem capable of rising to inclement weather.
The images out of Japan last week ought to have rattled us to the marrowbone. How can we even pretend we're ready to meet the challenges that face us in this new decade when the truth is that in New York City in 2011 a subway car can be delayed because it rained?