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 16, 2008

Unnoticed and unheard

In a cramped Upper East Side deli, the owner, Ishmael, pays out $100 to a man with a winning lottery ticket. It’s 1:30 a.m. on a Saturday night so he’s doing a brisk business of cigarette, coffee, soda, and snack sales.

Ishmael, originally from Yemen, explains his schedule. He works seven nights a week, sixteen hours a shift. “I’m here on weekends until 3:30 or 4,” he says. “On weeknights till 1:30 or 2.” Tonight he might stay later, he admits, because he’s training someone new. “He’s also Yemeni,” adds Ishmael, nodding to a man who looks to be about the same age.

Ishmael, 53, has owned this busy deli for fifteen years. “I’ve had one vacation,” he says proudly. He says he has to work this hard to cover the $5000 a month in rent for the store, and the expenses of his family. “I have six daughters,” he says, “the oldest 35.” He pauses a moment, then adds, “And two sons, 18 and 22.” He grows quiet and then says that he kicked out the oldest son.

Working sixteen-hour nightshifts, admits Ishmael, leaves little time for him to be home – or sleep. “I sleep here sometimes,” he says jubilantly. “Especially when the children were small.” Things were very hard then, when they first came from Yemen. “It was really rough between my wife and me then,” he says. Things have changed. Things have changed in Yemen too, Ishmael says. “There used to be no women in Yemen. Now it’s the opposite. All women, no men."

Ishmael isn't in the book. That's because he's but one of many Yemeni entrepreneurs working nights in New York City delis. But his story, like all those we interviewed who didn't make it into the book and all those we couldn't even interview, deserves to be told. Working nights is just one of the many sacrifices they make. This blog is as much about the facts and findings that continue to make headlines, or sometimes go unnoticed, as it is a way to provide space for the voices of people who often go unnoticed and unheard on the nightshift.

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