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, July 28, 2008

The Search for Happiness

Lately I've been reading books lent or given by friends that all seem to share a similar theme: the search for happiness.

In The Geography of Bliss, NPR correspondent Eric Weiner travels the world to find out where, exactly, bliss resides. He treks to Bhutan, Iceland, Moldova, India, some other countries and, in the US, Miami and Asheville. He does not go to New York. In Eat Pray Love, writer Elizabeth Gilbert travels to Italy to explore pleasure, India for prayer, and Indonesia for love. She does not go to New York; in fact, she leaves her homes, her husband, her job, her friends, and New York to find herself. In Selma, a tiny red volume by Jutta Bauer, a sheep, Selma, happily spends her days eating grass, playing with her children till lunchtime, exercising in the afternoon, chatting with the buzzard Mrs. Miller in the evenings, eating more grass and, finally, falling fast asleep. Asked what she would do with more time or with a million dollars, she replies that she would spend her days eating grass, playing with her children till lunchtime, exercising in the afternoon, chatting with Mrs. Miller in the evenings, eating more grass and, finally, falling fast asleep.

What, you reasonably ask, does this have to do with the nightshift?

Much, I think.

Trekking around the city after dark, instead of traveling the world, we found much bliss. Our own, to be sure, but also that of the many women and men who work the other 9 to 5. True, as we've pointed out here, they suffer. They lose friends, sacrifice sleep, gain weight, suffer health problems, struggle with depression and diabetes and digestive issues. But as we asked them about those topics, they replied again and again with other words. Words like "cohesion," which Jessica and Tamar felt among the night staff on the PICU. Or "prayer," which James and Ricardo, doormen who worked across the street from each other (one Christian, the other Jewish), felt they had the freedom to practice on this less populated shift. Or "relationships," which Peter at JFK felt they alone -- as nightshift workers -- had time to develop at such a deep level. Or "community," which Esther, a NICU nurse and a Christian, listed as the reason why she sacrifices her sleep. Or "stillness," which Rachel, an ER nurse and a Christian, said she had in her life because she worked nights. Without trekking to an Indian ashram, without big paychecks and even bigger apartments, without even switching after seniority to the dayshift, these people found these things working nights. In New York. Gilbert, in Eat Pray Love, gives New York City the one word description of "ACHIEVE." For millions, this is true. And many pick up and leave when they find that achievement either too elusive or destructive to press on. But for others, many, many of whom work nights, they have found another New York. They have found cohesion, prayer, relationships, community, and stillness. That's a city to get to know, to love, and to visit next time you find yourself searching for happiness.

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