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...

Monday, June 30, 2008

A Normal Life

Clad in burgundy scrubs, three Filipina nurses enjoy a calm moment in the nightshift on the cardiac ICU. Gina, 38, has long black hair, flawless skin, and perfect comedic timing. Ann, 31, another stunning beauty, has shorter black hair and wears glasses. Both she and Gina are slender and sit behind a desk in chairs they barely fill. Emma, who doesn’t admit her age, stands next to them. With fuller hips and a rounder face she appears to be in her late forties but her magnetic eyes and sly smile make her seem a decade younger than that.

They’ve always worked nights, all of them. “It’s convenient for the kids,” says Emma, who’s been doing this for sixteen years. Emma says she can fall asleep right away on their hour-and-a-half break. With a thicker accent than Emma or Ann and a stoic expression meant to elicit laughter, Gina says, “She didn’t hit the pillow yet, and she’s asleep. I’m still talking, and she’s asleep.” Emma nods approvingly, Ann smiles widely, and Gina cracks a slight smile.

Ann has worked the nightshift for seven years. Gina steps away for a moment and Ann talks about why she likes it. “The good thing about the nightshift,” she says, “is you can go to the bank, you can shop for groceries. You cannot necessarily do that when you are working in the day. So three hours of sleep is okay, I can still function at night. The most I get is four hours.”

They all started working nights because they lacked the seniority to work days. But now, with seniority, Gina, Ann and Emma keep working nights, primarily for their young children.

Ann allows herself to imagine a life on the dayshift. “If only we could go to days.”

“It would be a normal life,” admits Emma, still standing.

Gina wanders back into the room, and the conversation. “No,” she says emphatically, “because if you work nights, you can go to the bank in the morning ...”

After much discussion, they say they like nights because they’re calmer and they find the staff more cohesive. Almost as an afterthought, Gina says that it’s also nice to receive the night differential of higher pay.

And, says Gina, her wry smile returning, “If you compare the morning nurses and the night nurses, we look good and young.” Her face an emotionless mask, she says, “If you come back in the morning, you’ll see.” Ann and Emma smile guiltily. Gina continues, “They say we lose ten years if you work nights, because of course your skin is different, you look haggard, gray hair. But look at the morning nurses,” she pauses for effect. “Just compare the beauty.” They all laugh.

More seriously, they consider that perhaps they like nights either because they’re married or because they’re Filipina. “Singles,” says Gina, “have a different point of view. I don’t know why they choose nights.” Emma’s placid expression turns more playful and she says her piece: “Whites don’t want to work nights. They want a life.” Her tone is jocular but the quick succession of nods from the other nurses indicates there is truth in what she says, or at least they perceive truth in what she says. Gina mentions two white nurses on their unit. “They're only here at night because they were hired for nights.” Emma nods. “They're new,” she says. Still joking, a little, she adds, “If they have a chance to go days, they will go days.”

No comments: