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...

Wednesday, September 24, 2008


People are talking about the nightshift. Well, we are anyway. Last week went like this.

On Sunday, talk turned to the 1979 reactor meltdown in Three Mile Island, Pennsylvania. “That happened on the nightshift,” I said. “Lots of accidents like that happened on the nightshift: Chernobyl, Bhopal, Three Mile Island. We wrote about it in the book.”

On Tuesday, a friend’s mom, who’s in the hospital a long way from New York City, relayed a conversation she had with her nightshift nurse. “Her life is really hard. She never sleeps.” Our friend urged her mom to buy the book.

On Thursday, I called Frigidaire (or rather Electrolux, which owns the brand). I spoke to a woman with an accent I couldn’t quite place. She gave me two numbers in Brooklyn to call with my question. I thanked her and asked where, geographically, she was. “Manila,” she responded. “What time is it there?” I asked. “Right now it is 3:30 in the morning here.” Women in the Philippines and India are flocking to call centers that, because of the time difference, must be staffed through their night to attend our mid-day questions. And because of the tight job market in health professions, many of them are trained nurses who could not find jobs in local hospitals.

And then on Saturday, a friend told a story about taking a NYC taxi late at night. The driver told him the credit card machine didn’t work, that he had to go to an ATM machine for cash. Our friend argued with the driver, pointed out that the machine worked, and eventually paid by credit card. But he felt badly afterwards. “Why,” he asked us, “would the driver lie about that? Why wouldn’t he let me pay by credit card?” We explained that taxi drivers begin their shifts in debt, paying in advance to lease the medallion licenses they cannot afford to own. The credit card processing costs drivers, not the companies who own the cars. And even a really big tip, on a credit card, is not as helpful as a smaller tip in cash immediately.

Ok, so it’s a subject on the tip of our tongues. But it’s not just one subject: the nightshift. And it’s not just about New York City. It’s about disasters, catastrophes, accidents, loneliness, social dislocation, sleep disorders, nursing, healthcare, Philippine call centers, taxi drivers, globalization, and so much more. And it’s about small decisions, every day, or night. Like paying attention to the sacrifices, large and small, that many are making here and abroad to attend our needs through the night.

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