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, September 15, 2008

Night Fishing

It’s a rainy Tuesday night in June on the Brooklyn VI, a bluefish boat operating out of Brooklyn’s Sheepshead Bay. The 110-foot boat pulled out of the bay at 7:30 pm, passed under the flight path of JFK airport, and ran due east for two hours through six-foot swells. By the time it anchored in the shallows of the Atlantic Ocean, the sun had set and the horizon had disappeared in the darkness.

Billy, a deckhand with spiky black hair and rugged good looks, wears a sweatshirt emblazoned with the boat’s logo and the fisherman’s oilskin overalls known as skins. He works the deck with a thick-set, convivial deckhand named Chuck. Some nights, they’ll help customers bait hooks, fillet (dress) fish they catch, and help untangle the occasional backlash, where the line gets caught up in the reel. Other nights, when the fish are biting, they’ll mostly gaff, using a long metal hook to help haul the fish up out of the water and onto the deck.

“Last night was good,” says Billy. “It went fast. I went home this morning and I stunk. I always say if you don’t stink, you made no money.”

Though the Brooklyn VI can accommodate over 100 customers lined shoulder-to-shoulder around the narrow deck, tonight there are only fifteen lines in the water. The rough sea has the boat spinning in a wide arc around the anchor, making it easy to snag a line under the hull.

Someone brings in the first fish.

“Atta boy, girl,” Chuck says as Alanna, a five-foot-tall woman in green skins, heaves a bluefish onto the deck.

Before Chuck can move in to help, Alanna clamps down on the flapping fish with the heel of her rubber boot and wrenches the hook from its throat. With a practiced move she scoops up the catch by the gills and drops it into a barrel by her side. The male customers on either side of her scowl at her good fortune. She smiles sweetly. “Must be beginner’s luck,” she says as she baits another hook with a chunk of herring. Alanna is no beginner. She’s been out on bluefish boats since she was 8 years old, and worked as a deckhand since she was a teenager. Now in her early twenties, she’s a schoolteacher at a Brooklyn Yeshiva and married to a boat captain.

Halogen lamps above the deck light up the surface of the water around the boat, but beyond that it is inky black. In the distance there is the faint speck of another bluefish boat, and even farther, the dim lights of the coast, but the steep swells keep such reference points on the move.

Eventually, only Alanna, Billy and Chuck remain on deck but even they are waiting for the captain to blow the horn. Catching more than anyone else on the boat, eight bluefish, Alanna has the high hook for the night. On clear nights, the fish outnumber the customers, and Billy and Chuck can barely keep up with the gaffing. Other nights, like tonight, the fish are scarce and no one wants to be out on the water. When the horn finally blows three times, they know they are heading back to the bay.

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