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, March 10, 2009

An Hour of Light for an Hour of Night

It’s Daylight Savings Time again. The adjustment, while routine now, was not always so easy to accommodate.

In 1942, a mother sought to re-set her infant son’s clock incrementally, about a minute per day. The February 28, 1942 New Yorker reported that by February 9th she’d tweaked his schedule by an hour. Not until she saw her husband set the clocks an hour ahead did she realize her mistake. She’d set his schedule back an hour, not forward. “She figures she’ll have him set right by May.”

The initial attempt to shift our clocks an hour twice a year came from England. Railways, farmers, scientists and other critics kept William Willett from tampering with time. He first envisioned the scheme in 1905. Only after Germany tried it during WWI, after Willett’s death, did the British set their clocks ahead as a war-time economizing measure in May, 1916.

A week or so later, in the US, explains David Prerau in Seize the Daylight: The Curious and Contentious Story of Daylight Saving Time, a group convened in New York City. They formed the National Daylight Saving Association. In Boston, a group including A. Lincoln Filene of bargain clothing fame issued a report, “An Hour of Light for an Hour of Night.” Their argument for Daylight Saving Time included reasons like more accidents occurring under artificial lighting, that is, at night.

Weeks after the US entered WWI, in 1917, a Daylight Saving Time bill came before Congress. The American Railway Association fought it (millions of clocks would need changing, among other logistical logjams) but conceded traffic was lightest at 2 a.m. It took another year to pass but clocks started their spring jump at 2 a.m. Sunday, March 31, 1918.

Critics abounded, but there were celebrations apace. In Manhattan, people watched the change of the clock on the Metropolitan Tower on Madison Square. People gathered in nearby hotels, in Madison Square Park, in the streets. The Boy Scouts paraded. So too the NYPD Band. In Brooklyn, an equally festive scene occurred at Borough Hall.

Thus 2 a.m. has been the time to spring forward or fall back ever since.

While 2 a.m. seems a fine time to shift the clock to those of us who are asleep, the stretch and shrink of light and dark affects those who work nights. In winter, they hardly see the sun. In the brighter months, it creates the strange sensation of starting the nightshift when it’s still light out. On a movie set, this means less time to get those night shots, well, at night.

In England, writes Prerau, nightshift workers at the Devonport Dockyard wanted to be paid for the hour that sprang them forward to 3 a.m. in 1916. Two years later, in the US, nightshift workers were told their shift would extend an hour, till 9 a.m. instead of 8 a.m.

But even those who don’t work nights feel the effects of changing clocks twice a year. (That is, unless you live near the equator, or Arizona, or Hawaii, or any of the other places in the world that don’t follow Daylight Saving Time.)

In one curious example, The New Yorker reported on July 17, 1926 about a woman who lived at the Plaza Hotel on a nightshift schedule. The relatively new Daylight Saving Time kept her oversleeping past her normal waking time of 5:30 p.m. She ate breakfast at 7, a.m. And lunch at 12, midnight. At 2, a.m., her chauffer took her for a drive in the park. “After this she writes letters until dinnertime, just before dawn. We hasten to add that this must not be lightly put down as an instance of metropolitan depravity. The lady’s habits are regular and she rarely stays up later than eight or nine A.M.”


Anonymous said...

Don't stop posting such themes. I love to read blogs like that. Just add some pics :)

Anonymous said...

Interesting blog as for me. I'd like to read more concerning that topic. Thank you for posting that info.
Joan Stepsen
Escort California