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 3, 2009

So Many Things

I’ve written quite a few posts here about some of the wonderful people we met who work nights in New York City but whom we ultimately couldn’t include in the book.

One of my favorites was a taxi driver from Guinea, in West Africa, our fourth night out. He was the first to educate us about the intricacies of driving a taxi in New York. Soon enough we learned his story was a familiar one. He only worked nights and he drove a taxi owned by a broker who owned both his taxi and his medallion.

The medallions are private property, and can be bought and sold like any other commodity. There are over 13,000 of them these days, and each one is worth more than $300,000. Most of the city’s 24,000 active yellow cab drivers cannot afford to own a medallion. Instead, they lease one, through brokers, who often own as many as fifty at a time.

That West African driver we met early in our research was like so many of the taxi drivers we met preparing for the book - trolling the city streets after dark, hoping to make at least enough to cover the lease to the broker.

Yet his story was also unique in ways I’ll never forget. First, he hated working nights.

“The reason I do it,” he said, “is because my wife passed away and I don’t want to be in the house at night.”

We let that hang in the silence for a while. Second, he told us one of the first stories in what we’d come to know as New York As A Small Town. We’d asked him the best thing that had happened to him in his cab at night.

“Well, I don’t know, because, it’s hard, depends, there’s so many things. Sometimes, at Christmastime, you have some very nice people. They come and give you Christmas gifts, they don’t even know you. That’s number one. So many things.”

He was quiet a moment, then said again, “So many things.”

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