A full moon is partially hidden by a thin strand of clouds in the eastern sky, and I am back on the streets of Biddeford after dark. I’m not sure if it is the moon or just because it’s the height of the weekend, but for whatever reason, there is a certain energy on the streets tonight; a restless feeling that seems to have much more to do with the pangs of loneliness and despair than with the joy of the approaching holiday season.
This is the first full weekend following the time when we set our clocks back, making the darkness come much more quickly into our lives. The solstice will be here soon, but for now the nights just keep getting longer.
As I walk toward my destination, my mind begins to wander. I wonder what Jack Kerouac, the beat generation poet and author, would think about Biddeford. Where would he go on this lonely night? With whom would he hang? What would he say or write? What would he be thinking?
I think also of Kerouac’s primary characters from On the Road, Sal Paradise and the infamous Dean Moriarty. Would Allen Ginsberg howl at the moon, while Kerouac sips bourbon from a hip flask, both men walking along Main Street?
“Yas, baby — dig it, this is it,” Dean would probably say. Turning to Paradise, Dean would ramble about the energy of the city, the working-class mill town where the factories are dying a slow death. They would seek out the lonely and the down-trodden. They would shoot pool and hustle young women. They would find a party on Bacon Street and then drink cheap beer while smoking marijuana.
And if you sleep during the day, while the city thrives and jives; and if you walk into the night, full of energy and lust for adventure, what things will you find? And will your mind play tricks upon you? Would you see James Dean— collar turned up to the cold, autumn air — shuffling along Lincoln Street and wearing a Harris tweed jacket with a Lucky Strike dangling from his lips?
Trying to ignore those wandering thoughts, I turn onto Alfred Street, moving ever closer to my destination: The Biddeford Police Department.
Third shift is the bomb
It’s just after 10:30 p.m. Anthony Ciampi and Peter Schimeck are going through a long check-list. Both police officers make sure that their cruisers are in good working order, checking the lights, sirens and radios. The cruisers are backed into the parking lot. closest to the building and side by side to one another. Tonight, I am riding with Schimeck, and Ciampi rolls down his window.
“Third shift is the bomb, baby,” Ciampi , 29, announces with an eager grin. “This is when it all happens.”
Schimeck just grins, continuing with his checklist.
Unlike a lot of other people, Peter Schimeck says he prefers working third shift. In fact, it is the shift he has been working ever since becoming a police officer four and a half years ago. For the last three years, Schimeck has been patrolling the streets of Biddeford, and he says that by working nights he can gain a better understanding of the city and its inhabitants.
“One of the great things about third shift is that there is a lot less traffic,” Schimeck explains. “You can get to the calls quicker, and you can get around easier.”
Tonight, Schimeck and I have been assigned to area five, meaning that our primary concern this evening is to handle traffic calls: accidents, vehicle defects and OUI calls. Third shift begins with a 10:30 p.m. briefing, and then the officers are on duty until 7 a.m. Schimeck says that he sleeps in the late afternoons or during the early evening hours, generally waking up sometime around 9 p.m.
“I enjoy working nights, you get to work with a different breed of people,” Schimeck says. “I’ve always worked third shifts. Some people think it’s quieter or easier when you work this shift. That’s just not true. We handle more arrests than any other shift, and we’re dealing with things that don’t really affect the other shifts.”
In next week’s installment of Biddeford After Dark, we will revisit Schimeck and the other third shift police officers who work while much of the city sleeps.
Especially in Western culture, the evening hours are generally associated with a plethora of negative images and stereotypes. Bad things happen at night. It’s when the vampires and werewolves thrive, when our vision is impaired and when a whole host of things suddenly go “bump into the night.”
For those who choose — or more likely are forced — to work during the late evening hours, other stereotypes and labels have been applied. It’s a lazy time; a shift when the boss is sleeping and when the workers can party or break other rules of hallowed office etiquette.
Nowhere are these vague misconceptions more acutely applied than in the 1982 film Night Shift, starring Henry Winkler and Michael Keaton. The premise of the film involves two morgue attendees who decide to spice up their shift by running a prostitution ring on the side. The film, which was Keaton’s debut on the big screen, features raucous office parties and activities that would never be allowed during the light of day.
Many third shift workers, however, dismiss these concepts, instead saying they are often able to be more productive and focused without the distractions and restrictions of daytime activities.
In fact, according to the producers of the 1997 PBS series Livelyhood, many third-shift employees reported that they would rather work third shift than a typical 9-5 shift. The reasons given are as varied as the number of responses. Some workers enjoy being able to spend more time at home during the day, able to greet their children after school. Others said that by working late at night they have more flexibility about how to spend their daytime hours.
Once predominantly worked by blue-collar employees — such as security guards, bakers and factory workers — more and more white collar workers are now being forced to work third shifts.
Between 1991 and 1997, there was an 11 percent increase in the number of white collar employees working evenings or nights, compared to a 6 percent increase for blue-collar workers in the same time period, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Those trends have been attributed to a changing global economy and the need for increased competition across international time zones. Despite the increases, however, white collar work during third shift is still rare when compared to the jobs that are typically held by blue collar workers.
According to the U.S. Labor Department, only 1.3 percent of the 27 million Americans who work in managerial and professional positions work during third shift.
The greatest number of people who work during third shift remains the blue-collar workers who either prepare food, provide cleaning services or work in essential jobs such as police, fire and medical services. Approximately 3 million people work during the third shift in the United States, according to the Labor Department.
Shift work, either by working one particular late-night shift or fluctuating and rotating between three shifts, can adversely affect an employee’s circadian rhythms, the body’s physiological activity that occurs every 24 hours.
Abrupt changes to circadian rhythms can cause significant stress on an employee’s mood pattern and ability to function in his or her job, according to research conducted by both the U.S. Labor Department and the Sleep Channel.
A person who works third shift during five nights of the week, and then has two days off, cannot help but to suffer from disruptions to his or her circadian rhythms. Thus, it takes the employee anywhere from between 24 and 48 hours to completely re-adjust to working when he or she would otherwise be sleeping.
During our visits to several Biddeford workplaces, we asked employees about how they cope with their schedules. The answers we received were startling, and indicate that for all of the benefits of working third shift, there may be plenty of good reasons for an employee to carefully consider whether they can handle working third shift during an extended period of time. In our next installment, we will conclude our interview with Biddeford Police Officer Peter Schimeck. But for now, this is Biddeford after dark. Sleep well.