Four-sixteen a.m. I am hard of hearing due to my early line of work so as I sit at my desk in my dimly lit study, I faintly hear what I think is a clock ticking from high on the wall to my left. It reminds me that my rest time, the hours now in the early morning are slipping away and I should try and redeem them. Pain, however, is a nemesis to sleep.
When I was a young police officer, I worked mostly midnights for about thirteen years. In the small town where I worked, you got to know what houses would have a reading light on in a room at a particular time of night or see the blue lit haze through a curtain of a television on in another. Night people, many probably awake because of pain. Those who drive by my place at night now can probably know the nights the study light is brighter than its normal small light. The small one assigned the task of preventing me from smashing a pinky toe when I come in to turn on the other light at my desk. They may even see the light from the computer screen brighten the drawn shade. Telltale signs of a person awake perhaps because of pain, or perhaps, just one of those I nostalgically call, the night people.
When I was out and about at night all the time, I became acquainted with the night people. The deli store clerks, the truck driver preparing to leave with a load, those who had just left the bar carrying their own load, and some folks who just preferred to be out and about at night for no real reason because their own body clock kept them dwellers of the night season. I didn’t usually meet up with those who were awake, because of pain. Those souls were normally home-bound. The last thing you want to do is go out and roam around when you hurt but they remain people of the night.
One lady, an older, somewhat rough around the edges, kind of person; one who had been pushed around by life and pushed back really sticks in my mind. I’m remembering back to the very early 1970’s, maybe even late 1960’s when I came to know her. She lived in a small village of Lodi, Ohio. For a few years, my older brother was a police officer there and worked the night shift before going to the sheriff’s office. I would ride with him every chance I got.
The department had two means of being dispatched. The overarching one was the county sheriff’s office. The vintage one was this lady I’m thinking of. Since she was awake most of the night, calls for the police were routed to a phone in her home. In a small corner of a room she had a desk with a police radio transmitter and receiver on it. Next to it was her coffee cup and almost always a cigarette burning in the ashtray. No computers. No bells or whistles. A phone, a radio with its mic and this dear lady. We’d stop by for coffee when the night permitted it, which was most nights. Her raspy deep voice, shaped by years of cigarettes would crackle across the radio usually about this time of the morning to give the call-sign of the transmitter and say, “Rod (my brother) I’m switching over to the SO now. Good night.” With that she’d literally flip a switch on the phone and it would again go directly to the sheriff’s office.
We met others, too. Some interesting ones were always found at the Royal Castle. I’d call it a restaurant along IS 71 at SR 83 but a truck-stop greasy spoon would be a more apt description. Long gone from the scene at that intersection now, taken over by large corporate truck stops on either side of the Interstate. At the Royal Castle you knew how good the coffee was by how long your spoon could stand straight up in the cup, held only by the density of the black tar like semi-solid they called coffee. You could grease one of the 18-wheelers in the lot with the grease scraped off the stove, if they would have ever scrape it off. Not sure they ever did. The burgers though, were fantastic, dripping until you had a puddle of grease on your plate. Ah, the healthy lifestyles of the night people.
The folks of the night were not usually embroiled in the national or international news of the day. What happened locally, though, they knew well and had an opinion. If it was an election year, it wasn’t party that would divide a conversation (it never divided friendships just conversations). It was who believed which candidate would really do what was best for their local world.
Their world is different. Not better or worse, just different. It was unlikely the day people would ever meet the night people. Most daytime dwellers never realize night people exist.
But they do, or they did… once upon a time, in a land far, far away, in the quiet dark of the night.