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, April 6, 2009

Voice of the People

One year ago today, on April 6, 2008, the Cheyenne Diner closed.

NIGHTSHIFT NYC opens with a modern recreation of a diner, the Skylight, and closes with the real thing, the Cheyenne. An excerpt from the penultimate chapter:

“No one is normal who comes in at night.”

Fatima, 33, smiles slightly and steps back from the cash register at the Cheyenne Diner, easing her small, curvy frame against the counter. She wears a uniform of a red short-sleeve shirt with an American Indian on the back, black long-sleeve t-shirt underneath, black apron at her waist, black pants, and black shoes. A tight ponytail contains her black, curly, shoulder-length hair and highlights her face. Her contagious smile reveals slightly crooked teeth and the smallest of dimples on either side of her mouth. “Anyone on the streets at 3 or 4 in the morning is not regular,” she continues, her words tumbling out in a lyrical Dominican English. “They can be crazy people. That’s why you have to be sweet and sour. You have to know how to manage people.”
We’d finished the book by then but it still hadn’t appeared between hard covers. We stopped by on that sad last day and found that Fatima, Mr. Gerry, and Juan had jobs elsewhere. NPR stories, articles and blogs started appearing on its demise, most sad, some cynical of nostalgia for old New York, but all of them impassioned.

Before long, we heard that a real estate developer bought it and planned to move it to Brooklyn. Red Hook, to be exact. While we generally view real estate development as synonymous with gentrification, we recognize it’s not always a simple story. Thus we were at least glad the Cheyenne would live on, and thrilled that its new life would be in Brooklyn. Some in Red Hook even laud the developer who bought it, Mike O’Connell, and his father, Greg O’Connell (think Fairway).

However. O’Connell could not, did not, would not find a way around the problem of transporting the Cheyenne to Red Hook. It wouldn’t fit on the Manhattan Bridge. It was too expensive to travel via barge on the canal. Up on the auction block it went, in January, with a demolition deadline slated for a few weeks out. The chair of the Committee to Save the Cheyenne Diner (seriously), Michael Pearlman, issued a press release on Jan 14.

For an “undisclosed sum,” the release said, owner George Pappas sold the Cheyenne to the head of an investor group, Joel Owens. It will resurface soon in … Birmingham, Alabama.

But how can they get it to Birmingham if they couldn’t get it to Red Hook?

According to Pearlman’s press release, the 2,000 square-foot diner (15 by 96 feet) will travel in two sections on flatbed trucks. M&M Rigging will do the job. They’re the ones who took that other iconic NYC diner, the Moondance, to LaBarge, Wyoming in 2007. It reopened in LaBarge in January.

This year, we decided to do our part to keep a neighborhood institution, well, in the neighborhood. Though nowhere near as old or iconic as the Cheyenne, the struggling Vox Pop in our Brooklyn neighborhood of Ditmas Park was about to go under. Vox Pop, which means “voice of the people,” was a chief reason we moved here. They hosted one of the first events for the book. We heard via the local blog that they were selling shares to the community, to save it from closing permanently, and to make it a truly community space. As with the Cheyenne, stories, blog posts and comments appeared immediately, most sad, some cynical, all impassioned. Though our little contribution won’t make us rich, or at least that’s not why we did it, we’re excited to be part of a grassroots team that helped at least one NYC establishment stay open, and stay in NYC.

So the Moondance is in LaBarge and the Cheyenne will be Birmingham. But Vox Pop, at least, remains in Brooklyn.

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