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, February 2, 2009

Sad to Say

With the economy tanking, winter, and whatnot, I’ve tried to keep these posts positive lately.

But it’s tough out there. For everyone. Especially for those working nights. Layoffs worldwide often start with those on the nightshift. And then there’s the violence.

Many of you have thanked us for introducing you to the plight of the nightshift workers all around you, especially taxi drivers and doormen. An excerpt from Chapter 2, “I’ll Take My Chances on the Nightshift,” about taxi drivers:

“Night driving is dangerous,” says Malik.

He is cruising along the parkway across Queens. The lanes are empty, but he keeps to the speed limit. “Before,” says Malik, “every week a cab driver was killed. Everybody knows they have the cash.”

He explains that drivers frequently think, “Maybe they’re going to show a gun or something. Maybe they are going to rob me.”

Anyone who lived through the slew of murders of New York City gypsy cab drivers in 2000 knows that the job is a dangerous one. In May 2000, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration put a firm number to the violence by reporting that taxi drivers were “60 times more likely than other workers to be murdered on the job.” Using Bureau of Labor Statistics data, the report also said that they were more likely to experience violent assaults than any workers other than police officers and security guards.

Violence against drivers is especially likely at night. The sociologists Diego Gambetta and Heather Hamill, in their book Streetwise, discuss a survey they conducted of New York Times articles. Of those that reported the time of the crime, 64 percent of drivers injured or attacked were victimized between 10 pm and 6 am.

But now, says Malik, it’s “99.9 percent better.” In fact, it’s 55 percent better. Violent crimes reported by the New York Police Department, according to the U.S. Department of Justice, dropped from 174,542 in 1990 to 78,945 in 1999.

That was then. This is now. I refuse to give in to all the dire predictions, but I’m also occupationally obligated to tell the truth.

Nightshift workers are being victimized, violently; in some cases, fatally.

In Omaha, Nebraska, pop. 419,545, two nightshift convenience store clerks have been killed since November.

In New York City, a nightshift gas station attendant was killed last week on Staten Island, pop. 481,613. Like many of the nightshift workers we met in and around NYC, he was an immigrant. Like many nightshift workers around the world, he was new to his job. Pakistani Mohammad Ahmad, 50, had worked at the Gulf Station on Victory Boulevard only a few weeks. “He came to America because he wanted the American lifestyle,” his wife told the New York Times. “He told his father he wanted the American lifestyle, he didn’t want to stay in Pakistan.”

It's tough out there.

But we don’t have to give in to fear and despair. There are things we can do. Thank the nightshift workers who cross your path for doing their jobs. As I’ve posted before, tip your taxi driver well – and pay cash. Get to know your nightshift doorman. Find out his or her favorite cookies, snacks, or newspaper, and bring such goodies to help pass the night. Sit with them in your sleeplessness. Linger long enough to find out more about your nightshift store clerk, or gas station attendant. If you’re buying diapers or filling your car with gas, ask about their kids, their car, their lives. Reach out. Hang on. Things will improve.

1 comment:

laminar_flow said...

Great blog and awesome content. Also have worked the night (grave) shift.

Commodore's classic []