Working Nights in New York – the City That Does Like to Sleep on Occasion

***The following was written in the long sweltering heat of a July summer day, just over 3 months ago. However, I still consider its aspects very true and wanted to share this with you before it gets forgotten in the endless queue of drafts unknown to anyone’s eyes but mine*****

The past two weeks have been a bit gruesome. My work has put me on a different shift, as opportunities to train newcomers have arisen, and an entirely different New York has shown its face. It’s the New York of the night. It’s New York of the doomed! I am exaggerating a bit but this city does have a different appeal to it during night hours. And time really does seem to stand still during the day, especially if you are waiting on a train that never comes.
My late shift starts around 1PM and goes until 10PM. While most people are off around 5 to 6:30 PM here, this is the typical time I now take my lunch.

In the beginning I wasn’t too bothered by the sudden switch of times. “You will become a night owl,” my roommate predicted. “You will be too wound up to fall asleep when you come from work and stay up late”, he went on, enjoying his gloomy perspective on things.

His predictions did not prove true in the first week, as I was simply too tired to go to bed any later than 12 AM on a given weeknight. However, getting up in the mornings became a real issue. After two days I gave up setting my alarm at 7 AM and adjusted it to 7:30 AM. That’s half an hour more sleep than normal but also half an hour less of getting things done. After turning and twisting beneath my covers and trying to squeeze in some additional minutes of “resting”, I often found myself awake at 8 AM or later. Bummer!

A morning trip to the bakery in Greenpoint

Since it took me around 30 minutes to take the train to work, I had exactly four and a half hours of productivity ahead of me. Not counting having to take a shower and eating breakfast, of course. So trying to fetch groceries, squeezing in some chores and doing all the necessary housework in this limited time frame didn’t leave me with much time on my hands after all. Even though I had theoretically prepared my trip to Greenpoint to get some great Polish bread, I was now facing obstacles in forms of the subway running off schedule and not bringing me from A to B and back to A on time. And then of course just swinging by my favorite clothing store – when do I ever have the time for this during the week now?

I hadn’t taken the train in the middle of the day in a long time. I had therefore lost the feeling for its normal schedule. In the morning, as one train runs after another, it takes me not even 20 minutes to hop in and get to my end destination. But during the day, I had it already happen two times when the train decided to jam up at some point before and after the Manhattan bridge, thus extending the average commute for another 20 minutes. So believe it or not, but after giving myself a generous time window of 40 minutes, I would still show up slightly late to work when the D or N decided to act up for now reason. And of course the night train has the same issue. Not with getting stuck, luckily not. But with arriving at the station on time. The Q is notorious for sometimes switching over to the R, which means it can take an extra 20 minutes to get home because your subway just decided to run local and stop at every single station on its way beneath the Bridge (instead of crossing it).

I once walked into a subway car in broad underground light and was captured by a horde of “Young Aspiring Columbia Scientists” screaming their lungs out. 20 little brats children (not much older than 7 or 8) were having fun entertaining themselves while their teenaged supervisors were busy looking as bored and unresponsive as possible. Seems like aside from the saucy school children, you can stumble across the occasional field trip or two when it comes to riding the train at noon. Especially since school is out, right now, giving the kids not much to do but grouping together and thinking about a whole bunch of nonsense.

Brats in the train

Entering the ESB, the guards only knew me because of my former daily routine. “Have a good night” they yelled after me once I exited the revolving doors at 5PM. And were quite impressed seeing me enter it again just an hour later. Some people really do work late here, don’t get me wrong. I’ve seen people wandering around on our floor at the late hour of 8 PM on a FRIDAY! But 10 PM is over the top late, even in terms of a New York office job. So the ESB employees must have already noticed our little group of fours and fives exiting the building at exactly 10:05 PM. I wonder if there have been any rumors involved? Maybe it’s better not to know.

And then 5th Avenue, of course, which is never swept clean entirely. There are always the tourists who want to see the ESB at night. And McDonalds can be surprisingly packed with teenagers and families at 9 PM, believe it or not. But the streets running parallel to us, including the fascinating Koreatown, luckily do empty out after eightish. And the people riding the subway with me don’t look like the average crowd of workers but more like exhausted tourist and party hordes. Friday night is always crazy: Girls dressed up like prostitutes, men in their finest party gear. I almost forgot that a different party scene existed aside from the Meatpacking District and Village. I forgot about the newcomers to this city, who dress as they please and enjoy all the attention they can get from random tourists walking past them. Despite all of this, my efforts to find a decent bar or club close to the ESB have miserably failed. It’s just too darn bad, sometimes I would have loved to go for a right-fully earned unhappy hour drink after work sometimes.

My friend thinks it’s a terrible time of the year to be working late. “During summer you want to hang out with your friends and enjoy the outsides as much as you can” she rightfully complained when I had to tell her I wouldn’t make it to an event that evening. I agree. I already had it happen twice that I couldn’t watch an open-air movie in Dumbo. Or go for drinks with friends on other schedules. A meager social life and a bad habit for eating late – all no changes for the better.

What I take with me from working late is the following:

1) New York is not the never-sleeping city people want it to be.

2) A surprising amount of people still work the traditional 9-5 job, or certainly don’t work my midday – night hours

3) New York’s Midtown does calm down in certain parts after a certain time of day

4) You cannot get much done on a tight schedule as this, because it is eating your entire day away

Luckily, this was my last week on this shift so far. And why I wave my Martini glass at you and pour over these little wisdoms of the day I feel bad for the coworkers that still have to endure these working hours for a much longer time than I had to. Cheers to New York, the city that does snooze off to sleep at some point at night!

A huge bonus: The night views I’ve been getting lately! Gorgeous, huh?

5 thoughts on “Working Nights in New York – the City That Does Like to Sleep on Occasion

  1. It’s a totally different kind of setting, of course, since I’m not in bustling NYC, but I often work nights/evenings too. And i’m not so great at it. It screws everything up, and the crazy thing is… some days I work mornings & some days I work nights.

    Glad that phase is over for you now & hopefully you’re back on track with everything. 🙂

    • Yes, it def messes up your rhythm. I don’t even know how military people deal with it but I guess they are fighting their own wars and have a greater purpose. Glad to hear that you are also not happy with this shift! I am on track with more things than before. Sometimes something just needs to be taken away from you in order for you to appreciate it again, right?

  2. The city does look lovely at night. I have the opposite problem. My entire working life, while I have occasionally worked early hours (usually by choice), my main shift as always been that later shift usually until 11 or 12 p, sometimes even overnight. With this job, while my normal schedule was middday, they’ve been giving me extra hours so I’ve had to get up earlier than my body is used to. I have to be up at about 9am and I am still awake past midnight all the time. On the upside, getting up “early” by my standards is finally getting easier so It’s almost normal and occasionally I even manage to get to bed by midnight. I do agree that the later shift tends to eat up your day though. It’s hard to get much done before work and harder to do anything afterward. Even with me getting off at 6 now, that’s later than a lot of people I know are off work and a lot of things around are already closed.

    • Oh boy! Seems like you know how to handle those type of shifts better than I do! Well, the fact that stores and everything else are closed is definitely a bummer. I hope your body gets adjusted to those things even better from now on. Some things we just cannot change, we have to adapt to them… :-/

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s