Nightshift NYC

Nightshift NYC

RUSSELL LEIGH SHARMAN
CHERYL HARRIS SHARMAN
PHOTOGRAPHS BY COREY HAYES
Copyright Date: 2008
Edition: 1
Pages: 270
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1525/j.ctt1pnp4m
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  • Book Info
    Nightshift NYC
    Book Description:

    New York is the city that never sleeps. This luminous book peels back the cover of darkness over the city as it hums along in the night, revealing a hidden world populated by the thousands of women and men who work and live the nightshift. Written with beauty and grace,Nightshift NYCweaves together cultural critique, vivid reportage, and arresting photographs to trace the inverted logic of the city at night. Russell Leigh Sharman and Cheryl Harris Sharman spent a year interviewing and shadowing fry cooks and coffee jockeys, train conductors, cab hacks, and dozens of others who keep the city running when the sun goes down. Investigating familiar places such diners and delis, they explore some less familiar ones as well-taking us on a walking tour of homelessness in Manhattan, onto a fishing boat out of Brooklyn, and into other little-known corners of the night. Traveling past the threshold of voyeurism into the lives of real people, they depict a social space entirely apart-one that is highly structured and inherently subversive. Together, these stories open a compelling view on contemporary urban life and, along the way, reveal the soul of the city itself.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-94206-6
    Subjects: Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[viii])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [ix]-[x])
  3. PROLOGUE: NIGHTFALL
    (pp. 1-14)

    The most familiar story of New York is of the city as celebrity. From its rough-and-tumble beginnings and early rise to fame to its midlife crises of fiscal failure and recent renaissance, New York City is an archipelago of public fascination. From the soaring heights of the Empire State Building and the Statue of Liberty to the still-gaping wound of the World Trade Center, New York is the city that America consumes as greedily as any public figure, rejoicing in its triumphs, mourning with its losses, and gloating over its failures.

    But there is another New York.

    After the tour...

  4. ONE: ONE BIG FAMILY
    (pp. 15-28)

    Steve, 27, the night manager at the Skylight Diner, stands behind the counter eyeing a disheveled, middle-aged man smiling into his coffee. It’s 3:30 am on a Thursday and the man has been there since 5 the previous evening.

    “Need something?” Steve asks him.

    The man giggles and replies, “First, a psychiatrist; second thing, a girl; third thing, a job.” The man launches into a story about massage school, and then offers a free massage to Steve. Steve rolls his eyes and turns the channel on the television overhead to a rerun ofFresh Prince of Bel Air.

    “This is...

  5. TWO: I’LL TAKE MY CHANCES ON THE NIGHTSHIFT
    (pp. 29-43)

    Night cab driving,” says Malik, “the first three hours is important.”

    Malik, 46, is at ease in the driver’s seat of his yellow cab cruising over the Triborough Bridge. He drives with one hand on the wheel, one hand on the gearshift, and talks about life as a taxi driver. As he talks, he glances up in the rearview mirror, a practiced cab driver routine that enables him to see what’s on the road as well as who’s in his cab. His large molasses brown eyes look kind, rather like the eyes a child might draw if asked to make...

  6. THREE: OUR OWN LITTLE CITY
    (pp. 44-56)

    It’s past midnight in Terminal 4 at JFK airport and the flight from West Africa is late. A few dozen West Africans wait impatiently behind a gleaming metal railing for their loved ones to trail out of customs. Some wander off to the few eateries still open in the terminal, but most stand in groups of two or three watching the frosted partition that divides the baggage claim area from the terminal.

    Peter, a U.S. customs border protection officer, steps from behind the partition and heads for the café in the middle of the waiting area. He is in his...

  7. FOUR: A STILLNESS
    (pp. 57-64)

    By 11:30 pm the emergency room waiting area no longer feels chaotic. It’s a cold night in early December, though a couple of broken candy canes strewn across a corner table are the only holiday decorations. The place is far from festive. It has that typical nondescript hospital beige feel. Bland-colored linoleum floors jut up against creamy walls with blue accents and generic sets of impressionist watercolors. Everything feels scuffed, worn, and old. The newest, shiniest things around are the Purell hand sanitizer dispensers adhered to the walls.

    The only windows in the waiting room look not outside but onto...

  8. FIVE: STAY AWAKE
    (pp. 65-74)

    She’s sleeping now.” Angela points to a monitor crowded with digital indicators. “Her waves have changed.”

    It’s nearly midnight on a Wednesday night in February. Angela, a respiratory therapist, and her colleague are settling down to a long night of watching other people sleep in a clinic designed to diagnose and study sleep disorders. Angela, a thirtyish natural blonde, slender and soft-spoken, is originally from the West Coast, where she also worked nights as a respiratory therapist. At the moment, she stares intently at rows of data scrolling across a monitor in the cramped control room. In one corner of...

  9. SIX: YOU HAVE TO GIVE UP SOMETHING
    (pp. 75-86)

    The first shift they offered me was the nightshift.”

    Esther, 52, sits erect, arms folded in front of her, at a green-trimmed table in the spacious if rather dreary hospital cafeteria. “I had to take it,” she continues, her English tinged with the verbal rhythms of southern India, “because I had to work.”

    As usual, Esther is early for her shift at the squat outer-borough hospital. Though not yet 6 pm, it’s February and night has already fallen. Outside, traces of the last snow still muddy the streets, and freezing rain drizzles from the sky. Inside, Esther is at home...

  10. SEVEN: FULFILLING MY DREAMS
    (pp. 87-96)

    How much do you think he’s selling this for?”

    The bleary-eyed woman sways ever so slightly, holding up a large spool of green ribbon. It’s 1 am on a January Tuesday at the Lucky Stop Deli, a tiny island of light on the Avenue of the Immigrant on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Hassan is busy with another customer, and the ribbon woman waits her turn.

    “How much you selling this for?”

    Hassan, 21, looks at her, and then the ribbon in her hand. His head of curly black hair and thin goatee frame a confused stare. He scans...

  11. EIGHT: I DON’T KNOW WHERE IS THE KEYS
    (pp. 97-110)

    I tell you the truth, I’ve been here fifteen years and I don’t know where is the keys!”

    Sunny, 42, cackles at his joke and pushes his paper hat off his forehead. He looks a dozen years older than he is, easily weighs two hundred pounds, and has a distinct bulbous nose and ruddy complexion. Tonight he wears a black Rick James t-shirt, black pants, and tennis shoes. Turning back to the grill, he expertly manages several orders at once, flicking his free hand to the beat of his metal spatula and the Arabic music overhead. It’s after 2 am...

  12. NINE: ALL NIGHT ON THE STREET
    (pp. 111-120)

    Moments past 2 am, on a cold December night, several young women in short dresses stand by a taxi’s doors ready to step in before the passengers inside have paid their fare. They are on 14th Street in the meatpacking district, where the soundtrack of the street is a loud, low bass from passing cars and the clubs that line the street. Hundreds of people crowd the sidewalks, and the streets themselves feel like an extension of nightclubs. There is one soundless pedicab, but it is lost in a rush of passing cars, their thunderous engines and honking horns, the...

  13. TEN: CALL IT A NIGHT
    (pp. 121-125)

    At 3:30 am on a brisk November night, dozens of bodies are strewn about the waiting area of the Long Island Railroad (LIRR) in Penn Station. Couples lie passed out in each other’s arms, young women sulk in clusters of three and four, and young men vomit into trashcans. These are the casualties of Manhattan nightlife waiting for the nightly “drunk train” to carry them back to the Long Island suburbs.

    A backlit board of train routes and their track numbers shines overhead, and the few alert passengers wait impatiently to learn the track number for the next train to...

  14. ELEVEN: I JUST WORK HERE
    (pp. 126-144)

    Late one muggy, summer Saturday night, or, depending on your perspective, early Sunday morning, Ahmed stands with his hands in the ice of a beer display case trying to cool off. He has bronze skin and an easy if timid smile. Though in his thirties, his graying sideburns and mustache make him look a bit older. He is minding the counter of a nondescript newsstand on the LIRR concourse in Penn Station. Behind him, two or three men browse the hundreds of magazines on display. Before him, a handful of waiting passengers mill about the cramped corridor. The air is...

  15. TWELVE: EVERYONE IS THE SAME DOWN THERE
    (pp. 145-154)

    A few meters beneath the junction of Flatbush and Nostrand avenues in Brooklyn, the No. 2 train trundles to a stop at the end of its long trek from the farthest northern edge of the Bronx. Air brakes explode like a gunshot, and everything settles into a momentary silence. Then, the doors clatter open and a few dozen weary passengers disembark. A jolly, prerecorded announcement reminds everyone, “This is the last stop on this train. Everyone, please leave the train. Thank you for riding with MTA New York City Transit.” Within the half hour it will roll out again, heading...

  16. THIRTEEN: THE REAL HARD CORE
    (pp. 155-165)

    These are the real hard core.”

    Barry, 59, nods in the direction of several homeless people asleep in blankets on the steps of a church. “These people are here sleeping every night,” he continues. “These are the people who sleep here year round. This church really supports the homeless.”

    Barry is standing on a quiet corner of West End Avenue on the Upper West Side. It’s only the first weekend in December and winter hasn’t hit yet, but it’s in the low thirties. Barry is an ox of a man, broad, athletic, and fair-skinned like an Irish boxer of long...

  17. FOURTEEN: I’M HERE ALL NIGHT
    (pp. 166-180)

    I’m here all night,” Ricardo says, chuckling from his shoulders, his eyes dancing. That sly grin suggests he has much more to say.

    Ricardo, 49, a round man in a full-length overcoat, is pacing under the awning of a stately stone building. He is a doorman. His brimmed hat caps a cherubic face, and his thin salt-and-pepper mustache accentuates his slightly impish smile. The heat lamps overhead are warm enough, but he moves anxiously to and fro as if waiting for someone. Waiting for hours.

    After midnight, the Upper West Side of Manhattan falls into a quiet slumber, deeper and...

  18. FIFTEEN: NIGHT BOAT WEEKENDS
    (pp. 181-187)

    We call this the money boat.”

    Billy, 42, a nightshift deckhand for the Port Authority, makes his rounds through the cabin of theAlice Austenbetween dockings. TheAlice Austenis one of two smaller ferries that run the nightshift between Manhattan and Staten Island. It’s after 2 am on a hot Saturday in late August and the ferry is still full of summer tourists. While they chatter away in various languages and snap photos with pocket cameras, the ferry steams out of the Staten Island terminal and heads toward the open harbor. There is no moon out tonight, so...

  19. SIXTEEN: NIGHT FISHING
    (pp. 188-201)

    We’re just off of Seabright, New Jersey.”

    It’s a Tuesday night in June and Billy, the deckhand from the ferry, is moonlighting on theBrooklyn VI, a bluefish boat that operates out of Brooklyn’s Sheepshead Bay. Tonight he wears a navy hooded sweatshirt emblazoned with theBrooklyn VIlogo and the traditional fisherman’s oilskin overalls known as skins. The 110-foot boat pulled out of the bay at 7:30 pm, passed under the flight path of JFK airport, and ran due east for two hours through six-foot swells. By the time it anchored in the shallows of the Atlantic Ocean, the...

  20. SEVENTEEN: DIFFERENT FISH, DIFFERENT PLACES
    (pp. 202-218)

    It’s gonna get in your clothes,” says the parking attendant. It’s bitter cold on the last night of February, but you can still smell the fish as soon as you drive into the parking lot of the Fulton Fish Market in its new home in the South Bronx. The market has recently moved to Hunts Point, a desolate, industrial promontory that juts out into Flushing Bay across the water from Rikers Island jail. The parking attendant’s tone is friendly, playful even, but he’s not joking. One trip to the fish market and you’ll want to burn your clothes.

    Inside the...

  21. EIGHTEEN: HERE IS NOT MY HOME
    (pp. 219-230)

    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...

  22. EPILOGUE: DAYBREAK
    (pp. 231-240)

    It’s 2 am in early summer and we stand at the confluence of Broadway, Seventh Avenue, and 42nd Street. There are only a few more hours before the sky begins to lighten in the east, but it was Friday night a mere two hours ago, so the wide sidewalks are still a crush of revelers. Some sailors saunter past, their crisp white, bell-bottom uniforms standing out in the crowd. They seem out of place, anachronistic, and yet so thrillingly, timelessly part of Times Square. It’s also prom season, and a few dozen teenagers wobble on their high heels under the...

  23. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. 241-242)
  24. REFERENCES AND SUGGESTED READING
    (pp. 243-250)
  25. INDEX
    (pp. 251-259)
  26. Back Matter
    (pp. 260-260)