New York is the city that never sleeps. But this renowned insomnia would not be possible without the more than 200,000 men and women who work the nightshift – the fry cooks and coffee jockeys, train conductors and cab hacks, cops, docs, and fishmongers selling cod by the crate. Inverting the natural rhythm of life, they keep the city running as it slows but never stops.

In our book, NIGHTSHIFT NYC, we tell the stories of New York City nightshift workers. This ethnography of the night investigates familiar sites, such as diners, delis and taxis, as well as some unexpected corners of the night, such as a walking tour of homelessness in Manhattan and a fishing boat out of Brooklyn. We show how the nightshift is more than simply out of phase, it is another social space altogether, highly structured, inherently subversive, and shot through with inequalities of power. NIGHTSHIFT NYC presents the narratives of those who sleep too little and work too much, revealing the soul of a city hidden in the graveyard shift of 24-hour commerce when the sun goes down and the lights come up.

But there is more to the story than found its way into the pages of the book. Here you'll find more stories of the night in New York City and around the country. And we hope you will add your own stories and comments in the months to come. Stay tuned and check back often...

Friday, March 20, 2009

Guest Blog ... Jennifer L.W. Fink

Jennifer L.W. Fink is a freelance writer and mother of four young boys. Her blog, Blogging ‘Bout Boys, is all about boys – raising them, educating them and learning with them. Visit her at

Blessings of the Night

Many years ago, as a Registered Nurse, I worked the night shift. Actually, I rotated between day and night shift – some days working 7 am – 3 pm, others working 11 pm – 7 am – and let me tell you: nothing messes with the body like switching between nights and days.

The first day on nights was always the toughest. It was such a surreal feeling, to leave my comfortable, cozy home in the dark of night and drive to work, past other comfy, cozy homes. I’d peer inside the windows, those squares of golden light, and feel somehow slighted. They were getting to spend the night winding down, enjoying each other’s company, and I was off to work.

And yet, there was something magical about those nights. During the day, the floor buzzes with activity. Nurses, doctors, physical therapists, researchers, social workers, visitors, dieticians and more bustle around, caring for patients and checking off tasks. At night, it’s just us and the patients.

During those quiet, dark nights, I was privileged to witness some intensely personal moments. I cared for a Roman Catholic priest who’d just received a kidney transplant over the Christmas season. For whatever reason, his new kidney wasn’t yet working and he was mad at God. At night, in the dark, he felt free to talk of his spiritual crisis and I often listened, providing a sounding board for a man of God who was all too human.

Another time, I held the hand of an elderly woman who lay dying. She asked me to pray with her, and I did. In that moment, I felt an awesome power. Instead of being upset about having to work, I felt blessed to share such an intimate moment with a woman who so desperately needed someone by her side.

I’m reminded of those moments over and over, now that I parent my own four sons. Although I no longer technically “work nights,” parenthood is a 24/7 proposition that includes its fair share of night duty. And just like in nursing, I often dread those nights on duty. I’m a person who needs sleep, so the idea of being up all or even some of the night does not sound like fun to me, ever.

Yet when the call comes – when the sick or lonely child cries out – I am instantly awake. I fly to their bedside and fight through my own tiredness to tend to their needs. And inevitably, I am reminded of the blessings of the night. Tired as I may be, the night is time to experience my child in a whole new way: time to snuggle with the toddler who no longer likes holding, time to comfort the tween who’s slowly outgrowing his need for Mom and Dad, time to simply appreciate and reflect on the beauty and wonder of these children that are mine.

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