The overnight shift: notes on becoming a nocturnal creature
By Fabiola Carletti
I glanced through a pub window and saw a young woman removing her jacket. Her cheeks were still pink from the lashings of the wind.
A man beside her lifted a pint to his lips.
Outside it was unseasonably cold, and the streets of Toronto shone with the gloss of new rain. Still, it felt like a vibrant Friday night.
It was May 7 (well, the end of it), and I was on my way to my first midnight shift at the Toronto Star radio room.
Even though I’d never been a night worker, I felt like I could spot the others. They checked their cell phones and walked a little more deliberately. Many were headed toward the same beacon as I was: a 24 hour Tim Hortons.
Once there, I felt like expressing my solidarity with the cashier by asking how far into his shift he was. Instead, I ordered a whole arsenal of snacks and an extra large regular.
"Coffee at this late hour?" said a police officer in a bright yellow jacket. Apparently I wasn't blending in.
"Yep, I'm on the night shift," I replied with bravado. I could tell the cop was in on the exclusive club of nocturnal creatures.
"I'm hoping for a slow night," he said, "No news is good news."
My smirk gave me away. When I told him I worked in the radio room, he threw his head back and laughed.
Coffee in hand, I slipped back out into the drizzling night.
In the morning -- after eight hours of listening to police speak and static, staring at screens, writing stories, and nursing a cold cup of java -- I felt like I'd stepped through the looking glass.
I didn't see the sun rise, but I knew it was up thanks to highway shots on CP24.
At 8 a.m., the morning person arrived looking freshly showered. I stealthy brushed a few crumbs off my lap.
On my way out of the newsroom, I grabbed a fresh newspaper, feeling outnumbered by the people walking in. They checked their cell phones and walked a little more deliberately.
But, you know, I didn't mind it on the other side.
In a way, I felt like I was part of a whole other work force.
As George Orwell once wrote of coal miners:
"You could quite easily drive a car right across the north of England and never once remember that hundreds of feet below the road you are on, the miners are hacking at the coal. Yet in a sense it is the miners who are driving your car forward. Their lamp-lit world down there is as necessary to the daylight world above as the root is to the flower."
This is my first experience outside of the daylight world.
And although my job is nowhere near as difficult as a miner's, I have a whole new appreciation for everything and everyone that makes the world move while the majority are asleep.
Fabiola Carletti is a Toronto Star radio room reporter and graduate student at the UBC School of Journalism. She recently graduated summa cum laude from York University, having earned an honours double major in Professional Writing and Communication Studies. Her digital footprints are all over the internet, but you can learn more about her by reading her blog or chasing her around on twitter.
Photo: "Toronto by night" by Flickr user Ernst Moeksis. Licensed under the Creative Commons.