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Night Shift: Mystery, Desolation

"Nighthawks" (1942), an oil on canvas by American artist Edward Hopper


The following piece appeared in Deadline, a publication of the Summer Program for Minority Journalists at the University of California at Berkeley, on September 5, 1980.

The night titillates. It frightens. And it soothes the voyagers who are swallowed by it.

The night belongs to those who work the graveyard shift.

Thomas T. Blaeser, 22, stands in a fluorescent booth at an Emeryville service station from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m., collecting money from customers.

Chill cuts through the night air like a metal knife.

“There was a scene here – someone with a gun a month and a half ago,” said Blaeser one recent night. “He was drinking. He was pretty drunk. A guy on the lot went to help this guy (the drunk) on the other side of the street.

“I’ll blow you out,” shouted the drunk man. The other man ran towards the door. I called the police. I can’t open the door to someone who’s asking,” said Blaeser after he dropped the night’s collection into a floor safe. “It’s a very strict rule.”

No one was arrested that night.

Although there is plenty of action late at night, there is also plenty of stillness.

“I get a lot of no reality to deal with, and quiet,” said Blaeser. “I meditate and listen to the radio. When I get home, I have a nice breakfast and go to bed. Then I get up at 2, 3 in the afternoon. I go golfing or bowling.”

Patrick H. Bass, 26, is the night manager and auditor of the Holiday Inn in Emeryville. He has worked the graveyard shift for five years.

Bass said, “I enjoy this shift. It’s a different class of people. Normal people are asleep.

“There was a roller derby here one night. A large group of teenagers going too fast to count skated through here six months ago. They didn’t want a room, so I didn’t care.

“We have ladies trying to jump out of windows, hookers try to rob guests, guys run down the hall naked.

“Every once in a while, the elevator door opens and people come out in their underwear looking for a Coke machine.”

At home after work, Bass unwinds by typing entries daily in his computerized diary for about five hours. He usually gets to bed about 11 a.m.

Sgt. Blondell E. Groseclose, 66, anti-hijack control officer at Oakland Airport, monitors travelers’ possessions at the security checkpoint and scrutinizes the airport crowd.

“I get a few creeps in here, said Groseclose. “One drove up outside and dragged a woman into the men’s restroom. Another creep was walking around with a pair of scissors (dangling) from his pants, eyeing a handback on a (sleeping) girl.”

Groseclose said sometimes as many as 1,500 people pass through the checkpoint at night.

When he gets home, he walks his dog and then goes to bed.

Dr. Deborah L. Gould, 25, is a pediatric resident at Oalkand’s Children’s Hospital. She has been working 24-hour shifts every fourth day for two years. She works in the intensive care unit.

“I’m not working (this shift) because I want to work it,” said Gould. “I like my nights to myself. But that’s part of my training.

“Night is more dramatic than day because there’s less support around you. It’s hard when a kid dies in the middle of the night. That’s the most dramatic thing – when a kid dies.”

Gould talked about an 8-year-old boy with pulmonary problems who was her patient a few weeks ago.

“The child got really sick during the day, so we called the mother to spend time with him. We didn’t know if he’d make it through the night.

“He didn’t make it.

“How do you explain to the mother, ‘Please come over to the bed and touch this child because he may not be alive five minutes from now?’ she said, “Because I’d feel terrible if she didn’t get to touch him, hold him.

“I felt frustration and helplessness. Nothing else could have been done. Still, you ask yourself, “Well, did I really. . .’

“I cried with (her) the mother. Shit, it was hard. I was hurting, too.

“I hate working at night.”


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