To get to the air-traffic-control tower at New York's LaGuardia Airport, you have to walk through Concourse D in the Central Terminal, past the shiny shops and fat pretzels and premium brews, into and back out of streams of travelers yammering wirelessly at wives, lovers, brokers. You come to a thick steel battleship-gray door, shove it open with your hip. Step inside. You are now in…Leningrad? Bucharest?
Cinder-block walls washed in dingy fluorescent light, a cramped elevator, slow and rickety, up to the tenth floor. This is the center of the universe, a tower serving 23 million passengers a year as they fly in and out of the most congested airspace in the world, and yeah, this tower, built in 1962, one of the oldest in America, is a dump.
The FAA promises a new tower next year. You can see it emerging next to the parking garage. It's right there. Some LaGuardia controllers remember hearing about a-new-tower-next-year as far back as 1984. "Next year." "Next year." "Why fix up the old tower when a new tower is coming next year?" A quarter of a century of no next-years is enough to make any worker with a spare shirt in his locker in case of a toilet explosion feel…skeptical.