Considering what an intriguing topic the night shift in NYC is, it's hard to believe that no one else wrote a book about it until now. What inspired your book as well as the blog?
It is hard to believe that no one has written a book on the workers who make possible the city that never sleeps. The idea for the book came from two or three different all-night businesses within a block of where we living at the time, in East Harlem, and wondering how difficult that life would be. There was a 24-hour bodega, a 24-hour laundromat, and a 24-hour taxi mechanic. None of these sites made it into the book but they sparked our interest in the topic. As writers and researchers, we’ve always been interested in telling the stories of people who are often overlooked. In some ways, that’s what led to the blog, because there were so many stories that didn’t fit in the book, and we’re still meeting more night shift workers with equally interesting lives, so the blog allows an ongoing exploration of New York at night.
What are people's biggest complaints or favorite things about working such exotic hours?
Most of the people we interviewed worked the night shift because it was the first job they were offered. In 24-hour businesses, the day shift often comes with seniority. On the one hand, the kind of person who works the night shift is someone who will eventually switch to the day shift once they’ve gained some experience; we’ve already seen that happen to some of the folks in the book. On the other hand, many choose the night shift or to remain on the night shift because they come to see its many benefits. The benefits include things such as sharing childcare with a day shift spouse, a night pay differential, more autonomy and, especially in the service sector, fewer customers. Of course some people are just night owls, and may as well be at work when they’re most alert. Then again, there are those who never adjust to the taxing lifestyle and will take a day shift the first time it’s offered.
Do you think working overnight in NYC is different than in other cities?
We think that working overnight in NYC is similar to working the night shift in other cities all over the world. We’ve heard from night shift workers in other places about the lack of sleep, the strain on social relationships, the lack of seniority, the cherished autonomy, the benefits for childcare, and many of the same things we found in NYC. We just did a reading in Chicago where we met a former night shift nurse who felt the book resonated with her experiences, and a current night shift auditor at a hotel who wrote a guest blog for us on his experiences, many of which find overlap in our book. That said, there are aspects that are unique to NYC. New York has one of the only train systems in the world that runs 24 hours, so there’s always someone out, no matter the hour, creating a sense of safety and community that you don’t necessarily find in other cities.
Tell us something about the night shift in NYC most of us don't know.
Most people don’t know that NYC feels much like a small town in the wee hours of the morning, because of that sense of safety and community that comes from working nights in such a densely-populated city. In a city with a car culture, for example, everyone is insulated from everyone else and 24-hour businesses are few and far between. In New York, every block has several arenas of all-night activity, whether a doorman or a drugstore or a diner, making it safe to walk down just about any street at any hour. This sense of NYC at night feeling like a small town was a surprise even to us and was one of our favorite discoveries of writing Nightshift NYC.