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...

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Food, Glorious Food

There’s something about the nightshift that leads, inevitably, to food. Talk of food. Pursuit of food. Weight gain from food. Perhaps it’s that Russell, Corey and I love good food. Possibly it’s because the NYPD, MTA, Port Authority, and taxi leasing companies turned down our requests for interviews but the Cheyenne Diner and other eateries kept their doors open to us. Or maybe it’s that working nights, as we’ve mentioned in other posts, makes you crave carbs instead of vegetables, which leads to what many refer to as the “overnight fifteen” extra pounds.

No, these all played a part but the real reason there’s lots of talk of food in the book is that everyone we interviewed talked about food. Since we often interviewed them on breaks or just after their shifts, they were also often eating while we talked. During our first conversation with Fatima at the Cheyenne, around 3 a.m., she drank a Diet Pepsi and ate a slice of cherry pie.

Steve, the night manager at the Skylight Diner, eats just once a day – in the morning after his shift. He might eat eggs. Or he might have a burger or pizza. “That’s why I’m big,” he said.

At midnight, at the start of his shift working at a Penn Station newsstand, Ahmed ate an apple. “I like to have something healthy to eat,” he said. Echoing this statement, Alam, who managed a Penn Station café, usually ate either a salad or a chicken sandwich at the start of his shift at midnight.

Rick, an exterminator, said that he too eats breakfast at the end of his shift, at 7 a.m. Then he goes to sleep until 3 p.m. “And then I’ll really be in the mood for Eggs Benedict,” he said.

Peter at JFK gained weight. “I gained 10, 12 pounds, maybe more. Now that I’m on a dayshift,” he said, meaning the 4 p.m.-midnight shift, “I’m 8 pounds lighter. I would eat before I came to work. Then I wouldn’t eat at all at work, then I’d eat right before I’d go to sleep. Go right to sleep, wake up maybe a half hour before I had to be at work and then rush to work.”

At his Brooklyn bodega, Sunny, the owner, grilled us amazing shrimp one Monday night around 4 a.m. Then at precisely 5 a.m., his night customers gone and his morning customers not yet awake, he made himself a turkey sandwich. For the first time all night, he sat down. And he ate.

PICU nurses Jessica and Tamar described their eating habits over a diner breakfast at the end of their twelve-hour shift. Since they don’t have much of an appetite before their shift, they admitted to grazing throughout the night. “On whatever’s available,” Tamar said. Jessica elaborated that she eats a number of small meals throughout the day, and has distinct names for each of them. “I have a pre-lunch lunch, lunch, and a post-lunch lunch, and then,” she added, pointing to her scrambled eggs, cinnamon toast, and orange juice, “breakfast.”

If all this leaves you craving carbs after midnight, try the four garlic rolls for $1 at John & Tony’s Pizzeria on First Ave in the East 50s. Not uptown? Try the samosas at taxi-driver hangout Lahore Deli on Crosby between Prince and Houston (and subscribe to this blog to know when we’re having our launch party at Housing Works Used Book Café next door, replete with Lahore samosas). Or, if you’re of healthier ilk, head to one of the two 24-hour New York Sports Clubs at 80th & Broadway or 23rd & Park Avenue.

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