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...

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Guest Blog... Michael Boonstra

Back in December, we had the privilege of chatting with Leonard Lopate live on WNYC and taking questions from callers on his popular public radio program. The response in the days and weeks afterwards was overwhelming. One of the many folks who reached out to us with their own experiences on the nightshift was Michael Boonstra. We thought his stories of working the overnight shift at the Plaza Hotel in the 1980s were worthy of a more public forum. So this week, our guest blogger is Mr. Boonstra.

By way of a little background on our guest, Michael says he has lived in the same rent stabilized apartment in the East Village for 31 years and considers himself a New Yorker, still in love and fascinated with it’s many quirks and idiosyncrasies. After 25 years working in the film industry he says he is currently in search of what to do when he finally grows up, and that finding Nightshift NYC could be the start of a long overdue writing career. Here's Michael's take on "the graveyard shift":
One of the things I loved about working the graveyard shift at the Plaza Hotel in room service during the 1980s was commuting on my bicycle and the great downhill ride on 5th Avenue into The Village. One of the things I hated was the only other waiter with whom I worked during those hours of 11P to 7A: a paranoid schizophrenic from Brazil. At that time the two of us were room service; taking the orders on the phone, setting up the tables, preparing the food and delivering it up to the rooms, which meant we had to work well together. The problem was this fellow didn't trust me and would threaten to kill me on a regular basis. Fortunately I had a couple of friends in security and the hotel later brought on a full time clerk to take the orders.

She was a middle aged African American woman who was so addicted to her soaps that she would set her alarm clock during the day so as not to miss them. Then she would spend the night at work talking about the troubles of the characters, as if they were real people.

There was a young Greek American kid who was brought on from the breakfast shift to help out. He was the drug connection and could supply black beauties, which got us through the shift in a flash. There were a surprising number of guests who would ask for drugs when they put in their orders. For a while, coke was supplied but you can't keep that up and we didn't, fortunately, before anyone caught on. By the time this waiter came on, the Brazilian had left and there were four of us. One was Polish and had landed in NYC with three dollars in his pocket. We are still friends. The other was a young kid who lived with his girlfriend and her mother on Long Island. We were saddened when the news came one night that he'd overdosed on barbiturates.

When business got really slow at three or four, the Greek kid and I would go up to the roof in the service elevator. There was a place on the 58th Street side where you'd look out and see only the intricate maze of buildings, but with no opening whatsoever to view traffic in the streets. We would smoke a joint to come down from the speed and then head back downstairs to an often frustrated Pole, who had just gotten swamped with orders.

When the night ended, we’d head for the local Blarney Stone for a drink. There were always a number of well dressed types who would come in just starting their day, for a couple of shots.

My weekends were Sunday and Monday and I loved having a weekday off because you could get so much done without fighting the crowds. But you always had a sleepy suspicion that you were living an alternate universe.

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