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...

Friday, October 24, 2008

How Much for the Ribbon?

“How much do you think he’s selling this for?”

The bleary-eyed woman sways ever so slightly, holding up a large spool of green ribbon. It’s 1 a.m. on a January Tuesday at the Lucky Stop Deli, a tiny island of light on the Avenue of the Immigrant on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Hassan is busy with another customer, and the ribbon woman waits her turn.

“How much you selling this for?”

Hassan, 21, looks at her, and then the ribbon in her hand. His head of curly black hair and thin goatee frame a confused stare. He scans the items in the small store, cases of soda and beer on one side, chips, crackers and other dry goods on the other. He looks back at the woman.

“What is that?” he asks.

The woman laughs. “You’re so funny, man.” She shuffles back toward the refrigerator cases with the mysterious ribbon. “This is the best store.”

Hassan watches her go and laughs. It’s a clear, enunciated laugh – ha-ha-ha – that proves infectious. Between customers he bounces to the music pouring from a portable stereo below a display of potato chips. It might be anything from Led Zeppelin to Lambada, but tonight it’s the Middle Eastern dance-fusion music of the late Ofra Haza, a Yemenite Jewish pop icon.
Originally from Yemen, Hassan moved to New York six months earlier, and has worked the nightshift at the Lucky Stop Deli for the last five. On slow nights, he passes the time joking around with Santiago, his coworker from Mexico who makes sandwiches and works the small grill. Tonight is a slow night. “On the weekends people come in drunk and very hungry,” he explains. “Sometimes girls come in here just messing around and don’t order anything.”

Corner convenience stores like the Lucky Stop are a mainstay of the block-based economy of New York City neighborhoods, though there is entrenched disagreement on what these stores are actually called. To many they are delis, descendants of delicatessens opened by Jewish immigrants more than a century ago. To many others, especially in Latino or formerly Latino neighborhoods, they are bodegas, descendants of the small grocery stores established at mid-century to serve communities that seldom received attention from larger national franchises. Whether it was Jewish immigrant entrepreneurs at the turn of the century, or Latino Bodegueros in the second half of the 20th century, delis, bodegas and corner stores have always been part of the immigrant history of New York City. Hassan is now one small part of that history.

The ribbon woman shuffles back to the counter with two 40-ounce bottles of Ballantine malt liquor. “This is a great store,” she says again. She pays and turns toward the door as a Domino’s pizza delivery man enters. The ribbon woman pauses and says, “I mean, if the Domino’s man comes to this store, then…” She resumes her exit, adding, “They know the value of a… whatever.” And she shuffles out of the store.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

cool !!

crazyemenite ;)