Wednesday, April 18, 2012


I went in early with bagels and coffee for the night shift two weeks ago. I was designated - other people brought other things later. Despite my distaste for getting up early, I was looking forward to the chance to talk a bit with this crew. I worked the overnight shift years ago and still feel some identification with them, decades later.

I recognised immediately the aloofness and the distance, however.  It was a social smell I had not sniffed in years but I knew it as soon as I opened the door, even bearing gifts. You're a Daywalker.  We don't need you.  We're fine just by ourselves, thanks.  No we don't want your bagels.  Those are Day Bagels.

They weren't in the least rude.  I could have pushed the issue, and with some energy and skill gotten some grudging acceptance, I suppose.  Yet that seemed intrusive.  I stood aside and busied myself with useless things nearby.  I caught their conversation, and that also had threads I had not followed for many years now, but still recognised immediately.  There are folks who prefer 11-7 for social reasons.

I recall having a wonderful 3AM conversation with an attorney who no one hired (maybe alcohol, maybe appearance, maybe social skills - dunno) and a rather irritable lesbian who was trying to get an antiques business off the ground.  Y'know, the usual conversation about Sonny & Cher, hitchhiking near Baltimore, Subaru commercials - and I reflected how one of the great benefits of the graveyard shift was all the great conversations one had.  They both got kind of quiet, and Bill smiled wryly. "Only on the units you work.  It's pretty quiet everywhere else."

I couldn't read whether that meant "This is mildly entertaining in small doses, but shut up," or "We're really grateful there's someone here to talk to."

And in a few months I was gone.  When I would chance to see them, I could tell I had become a Daywalker to them.


Texan99 said...

I had a boyfriend long ago who is as sociable as I am not. He signed up for a psych experiment, as many students do to earn a little money. While he waited to be called in, he struck up conversations with the others in the waiting room. Within a few minutes, he began to discuss with them the possibility that the point of the experiment was to see how long it would take a bunch of strangers in a room to talk to each other. They immediate came in and stopped the experiment, explaining that not only was this the first group that figured out what was going on, but it was by far the fastest group to start talking to each other, all because of his initiative.

I'd have been in there for hours, reading away quietly.

He's still that way, a great guy. Naturally I couldn't possibly have made a life with him, which is too bad. He's one of those people that make society work.

Texan99 said...

PS, Day Bagels. I laughed so hard my husband called downstairs to see what was up.

Gringo said...

Ah yes, the night shift. I could get some studying done. We raided the kitchen, conveniently right next to the nurses' station.

I worked the night shift for 9 months. Didn't miss it when I transferred to second shift.

Night shift in the oil field was when I learned to drink coffee. Though come to think of it, I must have drunk some while working the hospital night shift. Just don't remember it much.

In the oil field you were always liable to be up all night. Drilling goes on 24/7. One time on a well that was threatening to "kick" [gas coming out uncontrolled- potential blowout/fire] I got eight hours of sleep in five days. Fortunately the office sent in a trainee, so I could get some sleep.

Most of the time in the oil field, things were structured so that if you worked nights, you could sleep during the day. But try sleeping in a 100 DB room right above the engine room on an offshore rig. Ear plugs don't do much. Makes you appreciate sleeping quarters that are relatively quiet- which I had a fair amount of the time in the oil field. On land. I encountered only one offshore rig with sleeping quarters as quiet as a downtown hotel.

Four a.m. was the dead time. If you could make it past 4 a.m., you could stay up until noon.

I like going to bed and sleeping at night. It sure beats the night shift.

"Twenty years of schooling and they put you on the day shift." Would you prefer the night shift?

MaxedOutMama said...

Laughing over "day bagels".

You know, they were probably just tired and not able to "stretch". When we are fatigued we shut down to new things and naturally shift our attention to covering what we have to cover. We can almost resent new calls on our attention, and that includes social calls on our attention.

It does make one wonder if certain personality types prefer night work. There's less distraction of the social type, and calls on your attention tend to be more work-focused. You see a smaller cast of characters.

karrde said...

The word "daywalkers" can almost be twisted into an analogy to vampires, werewolves, or something.

(Except I think the phrase for both would be "nightwalkers".)

It is a little odd, to see what should be a simple descriptive phrase become a Not One Of Us denigration.

Comparison: for a time, I lived and studied in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.

The cultural difference between the U.P. and the Lower Peninsula is sharp enough that there are well-defined slang terms for people from both regions. ("Yooper" and "Troll", respectively. Because Trolls live under the bridge, and "Yooper" grew phonetically from "U.P.")

This distinction didn't lead to distrust or animosity. Yoopers were too friendly to be rude to visitors. But there was an implicit assertion that someone had to live in the U.P. for a certain number of years before they could really belong to the local culture.

There were also implicit assertions about how/when a person could lose the "Yooper" name if they moved out of the area. That varied, depending on place of birth, age at move out, and behavior whenever they came back to visit.

The distinction between Day/Afternoon shift and Night shift probably has some similarities, even though there is less friendliness between them. There is a common cultural reference (the shift worked) for the Group. There is an understanding of entry/exit from the Group. There is a group of social attributes that are implied by being in the Group.

And the Group has a common opinion about outsiders.

Sponge-headed ScienceMan said...

When I'm on a team conducting an environmental audit of a manufacturing or process industry we have to check the night shift, including interviewing a selection of line employees. My conclusion: little good happens on night shifts. They're scary.

Gringo said...

To give a counterpoint to those who posit that there are personality differences between night shift people and other peopls, I offer the oil field example.

In the oil field, there is generally no distinguishing between night shift people and day shift people, because you go on a "shift work" basis. No one likes night shift, so you end up splitting your time. Shifts are 12 hours long, not 8. On a four week hitch, you wil end up with 2 weeks of night shift and 12 hours of day shift.

On one rig in the Guatemalan juingle, where I and another co-worker set our schedules, we tried working 8 hour shifts. [6 AM-2 PM on, 2 pm-10 pm off, 10pm -6 am on ..] It wasn't that bad, because when you work nights it is usually hard to sleep more than 5-6 hours at a time.

Gringo said...

On a four week hitch, you wil end up with 2 weeks of night shift and 12 hours of day shift.

Correct to:

On a four week hitch, you wil end up with 2 weeks of night shift and 2 weeks of day shift- both 12 hours.

BTW, in the oil field, shifts are called tours- but pronounced "towers." Day tour/tower, night tour/tower.

Ben Wyman said...

I don't have a comment to add here, I just wanted to note that this post was fascinating to me.