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, November 5, 2008

Expect Everything

“I spend all night on the street.”

Jahi, an Egyptian in his early twenties, stands behind his kebab cart on Gansevoort Plaza – the intersection of Gansevoort and Greenwich, Little West 12th and 14th streets. It’s a little before 2:30 a.m. and this section of the meatpacking district is still bustling. There’s a giant new Theory store where Woolco used to be, a fitting symbol of how fashion has replaced food in the district.

The cobblestone streets remain but instead of meat trucks rolling across them, they’re jammed with taxis full of customers. People are everywhere. The quiet of the side streets gives way to the throbbing bass of the clubs, the horns of taxis and limousines, and the fragments of conversation the revelers scream to one another and into their phones. Above it all there’s a giant Budweiser billboard of beautiful people partying that reads: “Expect Everything.”

“I work just only on weekends,” Jahi says with a chopped yet melodic Egyptian accent. He works 10 p.m. to 5:30 or 6 a.m., always on this same corner, four days a week. By “weekends” he means Wednesday through Saturday. “They don’t come to the club Sundays,” says Jahi, “so I have Sunday, Monday, Tuesday off.”

As he talks, he scrapes clean his grill. A girl interrupts him, her voice laced with alcohol, “Hey, do you have a restroom?” A few girls buy some chicken kebabs and flirt with him. Some customers return asking for hot sauce and salt. The only salt he has is from the pretzel warmer, which is very hot. He gives some to the girl and it burns her hand, but she laughs. Another girl approaches with a distinct swaying gait, saying, “I lost my wallet. Did you find a wallet?” He tells her, “Sweetie, no, I don’t have it.” She says, “I never did this in my life. I lost my wallet.”

Girls stumble across the cobblestones and on the sidewalks in their stilettos. Some guys help carry their dates across the minefield of cobblestones. Other girls take off their shoes. When one guy leaves his date stranded on the sidewalk to fend for herself in her heels, she stays there and shrieks out after him, “You deserted me.” He strides easily across the cobblestones. “You deserted me,” she screams again but he never looks back.

Jahi talks about what it’s like to deal with drunk people every night. “A lot of them,” he says, “they give me fucking hard time about nothing. Sometimes about the price.” He tells a story about a guy who asked the price of a shish kebab, and when Jahi told him it was five dollars he accused him of ripping him off. “I said to him, ‘This is the deal. I don’t put my hand in your pocket to take the money. You like it, it’s five dollars, take it. You don’t like it, that’s it.’ So to me he says, ‘It’s okay,’ and he give me ten dollar and go. A lot of funny situations like this. He’ll start fighting with you and then he pay more than you tell him and go.” Jahi laughs. “And some of them, they just take it, and go, without paying nothing. He’s just fucking drunk.” Some pay when he reminds them, others pay twice and walk away before he can say anything.

He laughs again and says, “Yeah, in just one year, I see a lot of new stuff here in this city.”

Two women approach and ask, “Have you got any E’s or coke? Ecstasy or cocaine? Do you know where I can get some E’s or cocaine from? We’re from England and we’re drug addicts!” Before long they’re leaning suggestively into two guys wearing hooded sweatshirts. The four of them disappear around a corner.

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