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, December 1, 2008

A Stillness

Across the street from a Manhattan emergency room, an all-night deli serves coffee and sandwiches to nightshift nurses, doctors, paramedics, and the occasional waiting family member. Rachel, a young nightshift nurse, orders her usual large coffee. She settles down at one of the two or three tables inside the deli, a recently remodeled section that somewhat pitifully suggests a quaint cafĂ©. It’s late, close to 2 a.m., and there is nothing quaint about the place in the over-bright fluorescent glow.

As “Rock’n Around the Christmas Tree” plays overhead, Rachel explains the difference between working the dayshift and the nightshift in the E.R. “On the dayshift,” says Rachel, “your day gets progressively busier and busier as it goes on, it gets crazier and crazier.” Rachel takes a sip of her coffee and adds, “It’s also an older staff because you have more senior nurses because everyone wants to work days.”

The nightshift moves in reverse. “If you come in at eight o’clock at night in the E.R.,” Rachel explains, “that’s the busiest time. So you come in and it’s absolutely crazy. There’s a ton of people. And your night gets calmer as it goes on.” Rachel describes the ebbs and flows of the nightshift, the crush of patients treating the E.R. as a primary care clinic starting around 5 p.m., then a lull before patients are transferred upstairs around 2 a.m. “You have a younger staff at nights,” she explains. “They don’t have the seniority so it’s younger nurses.” It’s one reason she prefers the nightshift, and may be why she feels the nightshift nurses work well together compared to those who work the daylight hours. “For the E.R. at least, I think the night staff just works better as a team than the day staff does,” she says. “I really like nights better. And I like coming in and having it be crazy and then having my day get nicer as it goes on instead of crazier.”

She takes in the quiet hum of the deli and adds, “And I can come here and sit and drink my coffee for an hour and it’s quiet. You don’t get that during the day.”

Rachel gathers up her paper cup of half-drunk coffee and pushes through the glass door of the deli. It’s snowing out, but it’s only a few dozen yards to the emergency entrance. She passes the empty bays where ambulances would wait were they not on diversion and steps through the sliding doors of the emergency room.

Before heading back into the maze of beds and whirring machinery, she stops and says, “I think working nights has created a stillness in my life.”

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