(For the #WriteHere prompt “A Dark Night”)
OMAHA, Nebraska — Another night ends and turns to morning while I’m still at work. I sign off on A1 of the paper’s fifth edition, the metro, and make my way out to my dark car sitting alone on a silent downtown street that in six hours will be bustling with morning business.
I drive home slowly through the deserted streets, past the First National Tower, Joslyn Art Museum, UNMC, and Memorial Park. Maybe I stop at a shockingly bright but blissfully deserted 24-hour supermarket for frozen pizza and wine. But that’s my sole available destination — even the bars are closed.
I’d rather work graveyard than second shift. At least you overlap with the regular world for a few hours, even though everything’s reversed. On second shift, you encounter the waking world only when it’s at lunch.
I walk into my basement apartment, uncork last night’s half-finished bottle of Cabernet, and settle in for a few hours of West Wing or Grand Theft Auto. I’ve long since given up trying to read at this time. Eight hours of editing and detail work will wreck your attention to the written word.
Around 4 a.m., the first struggle begins. Go to bed and get up with a few hours to spare before work? Or stay up past sunrise and sleep till mid-afternoon when it’s time to head back to work?
“Morning” — the second struggle. Snooze. Snooze again. Turn off the alarm, fall back asleep. Get up, make coffee, doze while it’s cooling. What’s the rush? Work doesn’t start for three hours. And what can you really do with three hours anyway?
Saturday. Back at work, on the Sunday editions. My twentysomething friends call, drunk, at 10:30 and shout-ask into my voicemail where I am. Two hours later, I call back as I duck out a few minutes early, praying to make last call. But they’re long gone. I finally catch up with them just as the night is ending at someone’s dingy apartment, and they are the worst versions of themselves.
Tuesday, my Saturday. I wake around 1 and wonder what the absolute shit I could possibly do with a few hours of daylight and no available friends in Omaha goddamn Nebraska on a Tuesday. Go geocaching?
I do. I’m desperate to be outside.
I call my friends once they’re off work, but they just want to chill at home. It is Tuesday, after all.
My very long night in Omaha lasted a year and a half before I decamped to resume my place among the living. It was my first real job and I absolutely loved it. I learned so much, from some terrific journalists. It was the schedule that I couldn’t handle.
But even that wasn’t all bad. I finally found the answer to the question of what the absolute shit I could do with three hours before work: run. That was when I became a runner, now 15 years strong.
I even found silver linings in being a creature of the night. There’s a particularly delicious form of public privacy to walking through a dense neighborhood at 3 a.m., knowing that you’re truly alone among thousands asleep. Strolling a silent cemetery, sneaking a cigarette on the church steps, peering into a favorite coffee shop’s dark windows and envisioning Saddle Creek-era hipsters nursing cappuccinos at the formica tables.
Then back home to do battle with my will, to finally climb into bed as dawn light creeps in around blackout curtains, and awake to do it all over again — at night.