Taking Stock

I never thought I would say this but I’m am taking stock. It seemed like only yesterday, I at the tender age of sixteen had to go down the the Bureau of Records at the New York City Health Department to get a copy of my birth certificate. It seems during some sort of kerfuffle at home, the original document was either lost or destroyed. I needed a replacement copy in order to get my “working papers”, which in turn would allow me to hired for my first job.

My first ever job was no biggie. It was a Summer job s through Youth Corps, and working in a day camp. It paid very little, in fact, I think we made below minimum wage. But no one fussed back then because we were grateful to have work and make a little money. I was happy to get off the hot streets of New York City during the Summer, and go on some great trips and have fun with the kids.

Back then the few dollars helped to buy a few Back to School outfits, perhaps a warm coat, some school supplies, and a few trinkets. My late Mom always admonished me to open a savings account and start saving. Which I never did, you know silly, air-headed teens. Yep, I was one of them.
I’ve been working steadily ever since then (which was in 1975) until now. From the summer jobs I went to full time by working at The New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission. This is a city agency which regulates yellow cabs, their owners, and drivers. This was my first foot through the doors of law enforcement.

This was also a very intense learning experience for me. Me, being a very shy and introverted soul, was inducted, more like shanghaied into Public Service Boot Camp 101. How? I was simply thrown to the wolves……….

It was rough, I tell ya……..

In addition, I had no clue that the yellow cabs on New York City’s streets were so heavily regulated. I’d see them pass me on the busy streets, but didn’t know that everything from fares, pick up sites, drivers keeping records of each trip, to their personal grooming, number of continuous hours behind the wheel, to the paint job was under TLC scrutiny.

Speaking of paint job, did you know that there is a specific shade of yellow every NYC taxi must be painted? If that shade is just a tad off, too bright or too dull, the taxi company or garage can be summonsed and fined. The vehicle must be taken out of service until it is properly painted, inspected, and approved.

The same goes for the lettering which is printed on the side of every New York City cab. If TLC decides to use say “Tahoma” style lettering instead of “New Times Roman”, every single cab must have all of their information painted in that font.

It also used to be that only one specific brand of vehicle was allowed to be part of the yellow cab fleet. It used to be mandatory that the fleet be uniform. Back in the 50’s and 60’s the fleet were solely the Checker cabs.

They were big, wide, boxy cars that were roomy enough for luggage without having to stash it in the trunk. For past twenty years or so, the fleet consisted solely of Chevy Crown Victoria’s. But, recently TLC has allowed the addition of the Ford Escape, the Toyota Corolla, the Ford Highlander, and I can almost wager I saw a Land Rover or two. As long as the vehicle can be “hacked up” (customized with the special equipment used by TLC cabs – partition, GPS, On Duty Light on roof, two way radio, meter, trouble light, the paint job, plus the medallion, rate card, insurance, and drivers who have a Chauffeurs license), it can become a yellow cab.

My dealing with the public came from interacting with the cab drivers themselves. TLC has a taxi court, where drivers attend hearings for their summonses and find out the fate of their licenses. Idiot driver = fine. Bad driver = suspended license. Very bad driver = license revoked.

Many drivers didn’t speak and/or understand English very well, as a result, they were always in trouble with the law. They did not comprehend that there were strict laws which governed what they did in, or with their cabs. Many times I wondered how did they a) pass their driver’s license test, b) pass the “hack” or taxi license test? I was laughingly told by seasoned co-workers that, “They paid an English speaking friend or relative take and pass the test for them.”

Another beachhead I had to surmount was the cultural divide. As I child I grew up in a multi-cultural neighborhood but not quite so multi-cultural. I being Black and West Indian, grew up with Puerto Ricans, Jews, Italians, and Chinese. However at work, I met and had dealings with people from all corners of the globe, everyone wanted to argue. And the argument was always the same.

“But, in my country we can do this, that or the other.”

My response was always: “Well, this is the United States and you can not do that here. If you do, you get a summoned, wind up without a license, or wind up in the clink.” Then came the crying and moaning: “How am I going to feed my six kids and two wives with no license?”

“Well, you should’ve considered that before you tossed your passenger out on her noggin, and threw her luggage out after her.” You see what I went through?

Yes, that really did happen, numerous times……….

Needless to say, many drivers were forced to find other means of support because they could not conform to TLC’s standards. To me some were downright too dangerous to drive anything but one of those old fashioned red wagons. However, that was just my opinion.

After fifteen years of working for The New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission, I was ready for something new. It was both interesting and scary working there. Interesting because I’d met so many people from all over the world.

It was scary when after the first World Trade Center bombing the Three Letter Agencies (CIA, FBI, and ICE) came to our main office to comb through our records. Why? Because those very same bombers had been cab drivers! OMG! I believe this is when they started officially profiling NYC cabbies as part time bombers. Supposedly using the funds they earned to either buy and make bombs themselves, or send it back to their country to purchase weapons.

So in 1995, I took this as a cue to get gone, so I took the opportunity to jump ship to another city agency.

That will be the subject of “Taking Stock – Part 2”


Look Ma, No Hands!

I never had a tricycle when I was a kid, but I always wanted to ride a bike.  For those not Old School like me tricycles were small bicycles with three wheels.     One in front and two in the back.  They were given to little kids so they can learn balance and eventually how to ride a bike safely.

I also didn’t get a bike with training wheels or one of those new fangled kiddie bikes (bicycles scaled down to fit small bodies, legs and feet).

Instead, at the ripe old age of twelve years I got a full sized, adult, girlie bike.  I was told if I wanted to learn how to ride a bike, I had to do it on my own.  This was because neither of my parents knew how to.

So the neighbors stepped in and helped me sit on the bike while they held it.  Once I was safely seated, they would give me the shove off.  After falling dozens of times, I got it.  After all, I was sick of falling and scraping my butt up on the asphalt. . . . .   I’ve been riding bikes ever since.

Likewise in high school it was REQUIRED that I take gym class.  I DETESTED gym back then and sought any excuse to get out of it.  When the opportunity was presented to take swimming instead of sweating, huffing and puffing in the gym with hundreds of my fellow classmates, I grabbed it.

I can just hear my late Mom in her West Indian accent ask: “What possessed you to do that?”  I thought I was being slick, I guess.

Swimming was fine for me, after all, I stuck to dinking around in the shallow pool for a couple of months, while my compatriots advance to the deep pool and diving.  My swimming teacher (who was four foot nothing, Hawaiian, and named “Ms. Ho”) got totally sick of me.

One day Ms. Ho baited me over to the deep end of the pool.  Of course I didn’t see she had it all set up, with lifeguards and floatation devises surrounding.  When I least expected it, she shoved me into to water. I was so outraged the only thing on my mind was to get my hands on her and do serious damage to her.  When I surfaced I fully intended to do so.  However Ms. Ho’s words stopped me cold.  “Nanci, you’re swimming!”

Indeed I was.  To this day, I can swim in deep water without problems.  

When I first got my current job, I first went to the Training Academy.  According to the powers that be, I was learning the foundation upon which my job must be built.  They didn’t say I had to build it with my own hands.  

The first week on the job a Sergeant came in and wanted me to do a particular task.  Unfortunately, I had just graduated from the Academy and I never learned how to do that particular task.  As a matter of fact, I didn’t even know what she was asking for.  

Well, she went into an immediate hissy fit and diatribe, threatening to call down fire from heaven to destroy me.  Thoroughly intimidated, I got on the computer (and not really knowing what I was doing), tried to do what she wanted.  Of course, I screwed up shop.

She went jetting out to the front desk and complained to the desk officer (a crusty old Lieutenant) in charge.   Well, he really gave her an earful.

“I heard her tell you she doesn’t know how to do that!  Instead of harassing her, why didn’t you ask me to do it?”  he bellowed.  Ops. . . . . .

Ever since then I’ve been winging it. I’ve been forced to play with programs and figure out how to use them.  Why?  My workplace has a nasty habit of updating  programs overnight.  So, when you come in the next day, it’s a whole new ballgame.  And of course, there is no training, no warning things have changed, and not even an instruction manual.  

Yes, it’s an woefully unprofessional way to run a workplace.  But, in order to perform my job and in an efficient manner, this is what I must do.  

Gifted you say?  Nope, this is a valuable survival technique that everyone needs.  

Busy, Busy, Busy!

Have you ever had one of those days where you go into to work, and it’s like the 4 by 4 relay in Olympic Track?  The starting pistol goes off the minute you get in and the race is on till you clock out?

Well, I had that happen to me this morning!  You’d think working at midnight would be QUIET.  After all most people are asleep!  Only the barflies and criminal element are out at that hour.  The long arm of the law is out too, that’s why I’m at work, cuz I’m a civilian member of their team.

Well, it was paperwork, paperwork, paperwork, type, type, type, scroll, scroll, click, click, print, print!  The only times I stopped was when I took my meal break, and personals (potty breaks).  The reason for the overload?  Lack of staff.

I’ve faced that demon long ago when I first started working there.  Even though there is a serious lack of man power, they (The Powers That Be) are not going to do a thing about it.  As long as they have people who will come in and bust their nuggets and overwork themselves.  Me?  I am a plugger like the tortoise.  I do oooooonnnnne thing at a time until I complete the task, then go on to the next until I am finished.  

So, by the time I left work, I had most of the mess cleaned up.  

Of course, this means, I had no time to write.  But that’s alright, I’ll make up for lost time this weekend.  

Until then, I keep on plugging.

::SIGH::  Five more years till retirement. . . . . .

A Real Life Vampire?

What’s it like being a Vampire, you ask.

I’d made several references to this term in some of my past posts and I’m going to try to properly describe my peculiar lifestyle.  

It started approximately 15 years ago when I started working the Midnight Shift, Graveyard Shift, or the Vampire Shift as some call it.  

It didn’t take long for me to get used to because I loved being up at night (early morning) and sleeping during the day.  I was never a morning person, even though I worked on a job which required me to work a standard nine to five.  It was pure torture for the fifteen years I did it.  

I had to commute to work via the New York City subways and and let me tell you back then (in the late eighties to mid nineties) it was a “beast” every morning.  I can’t even imagine what it is like now…….   All I recall was the fact that my commute was always crowded and late……

However, When I transferred from one New York City agency (which was a strictly 9-5 agency) to another (which operates 24/7/365) where they had three rotating shifts (12×8, 8×4, 4X12) and where there is no such things as weekends or holidays off.  I had to make a total lifestyle adjustment.  

My entire lifestyle is opposite my fellow “Dawn Treaders” or “Day Walkers”.  While everyone is rushing to work, I’m going home.  I’m like a salmon swimming downstream while everyone else is swimming upstream.  

I’ve found that in order to be an effective Vampire, I must maintain strict discipline in my life.  First of all, I must get the proper rest.  Many people don’t realize that as a Midnight Shift Worker they can easily fall into the trap of not sleeping.  Many go home too wired to sleep and stay up all day.  As a consequence, they go to work the following night, sleepless.  A continued cycle of this will eventually lead to “insomnia”.

But, how does one sleep when the body clearly tells you to stay awake?  Human beings are hardwired to be Day Walkers and sleep at night.  Not the other way around.  So if you are a shift worker, you have to fool your body.  

My old supervisor gave me excellent advise when I first started working the night shift.  She told me told me to turn my bedroom into a “dark room”.  Pull the shades or blinds down, put up dark curtains at the windows to keep out the sunlight.   Another suggestion from another co-worker was for me to work out before I go to sleep.  The action of working out, coming home, taking a shower, getting dressed for bed, tells the body it’s time to shut down and go to sleep now.  And last but not least, so that you are not disturbed by daytime noises (traffic, construction, drilling, etc) either purchase a “white noise machine” or play the radio softly.  

If all else fails, I have a little extra ammunition in the form of an all natural product I buy from “The Vitamin Shoppe” named “Snooze Right”.  I take two capsules an hour before I’m ready to sleep and it relaxes me so I can sleep.  It’s totally non habit forming and contains Meletonin which helps the body relax and sleep.

I am also diligent in getting in my workout.  It not only clears my mind and relaxes me, but it also provides the sunlight that I must have on a daily basis.  Working at night has a tendency to keep us Vampires inside all day like the fictional characters.  Not because we would go poof, but this is when we sleep.  

However medical studies have found that “shift workers” had the highest risk of cancer.  Why, because they are not exposed to sunlight which deprives the body of naturally producing Vitamin D.  So I try to get in at least an hour or two per day.

Please refer to the following link to read further medical information on the subject:

Vitamin D From Sunlight

This may sound strange, but, I also had to be a “junkyard” dog and protect my territory!  Why?  I had friends who are “Day Walkers” and didn’t understand the fact that since I worked nights and therefore had to sleep during the day. So they would call and wake me up with frivolous things when I was trying to get serious winks.  

My first step was to remind them that I worked nights.   My second step was to turn the sound off on my phone so I wouldn’t hear it ring.  I’m the type of person, if I’m startled out of my sleep by the phone ringing, I can’t go back to sleep for the next three hours or so.  

So, if they had a really important call, they had the option to leave a message.  Some were highly offended I didn’t get back to them until after Zero Dark Hundred (12 midnight), but that’s how I roll.

In dealing with businesses, I had to do the same thing. I made sure I informed them (doctors, banks, government agencies, etc.) upfront that I worked midnights so certain appointments be impossible to keep.  Either they had to make them early in the morning, or on my days off, Wednesdays or Thursdays. They would have to work around my schedule, not the other way around.   

Last but not least, I also have to vigilant in my eating and the things I consume.  Since I was working odd hours I had slid into the habit of “grabbing stuff”.  Grabbing stuff as in Chinese food, McDonalds, pizza, etc.  It was not very encouraging when one’s co-workers eats that trash and always has extra to offer.

The way to defeat that was to carefully plan my meals and prepare them myself.  So nine times out of ten, I’m shleping (“carrying” in Yiddish) my own food and snacks to work. I’ve become much more vigilant now that I’m in my mid 50s and must watch my salt and sugar content.  With both parents who had diabetis and high blood pressure, one must be vigilant in that area.  

Thus is the life of a Vampire…….

WRITING Is My Second Job

Alternate Title:  
“My Baloney Has A First Name. . . . . .”

I often harken to that very old Oscar Meyer commercial, where the little boy sings: “My Baloney has a first name, it’s O-S-C-A-R. My Baloney has a second name it’s M-E-Y-E-R!” 

I call myself a writer by trade, but in reality, I currently don’t earn a dime for doing so. I’m am working towards that goal, however, in the meantime I must hold real job “to help keep skin and bones together” as my “late” Mom used to say. That means to pay the bills and stuff.

In “real life” I’m a “Vampire” because I work the “graveyard shift” or midnights. My “Real Occupation” is: a “Station House Clerk”. I work in a police precinct (which is called a Station House in police jargon) in “The Big Apple”. Most nights it is very quiet, and after I finish my work (at approximately 2am), I have time to plot, scheme and write. Either by hand in a composition notebook, or on “Mini-Me, my netbook.

My precinct or station house is considered a “hot house or active house”. Why? It happens to be smack dab in an area which has over 500 bars (Yes, you read right), thus the weekends can be absolutely nuts and crazy with paperwork.

We have a saying at my job: “Crime begets paperwork.” in a police precinct. The first thing the police must do when they arrive on a crime scene is to file a written report(s), which they then turn into the precinct for processing. My job as a Station House Clerk is to make sure this paperwork is properly sorted, and entered into the computer system in a timely matter in order to generate a reference or complaint number. This or these numbers are essential for the investigation to continue, if needed.

We have a strict system of triage (like hospitals) where all felony crimes (Homicide, Robbery, Burglary, Grand Larceny, Assault) must be entered first, and all misdemeanor crimes (Petit Larceny, Lost Property, Criminal Mischief, Lost property) must wait until later when I, or my fellow co-workers, are not so pressed for time.

Weekends are often extremely busy with bar fights, assaults, robberies, grand larcenies, and unfortunately, domestic violence. And don’t let there be a large event like a parade, concert, a playoff game, and above all, the New Years Eve celebration! Plus, the warmer months, Spring, Summer and Fall seem to bring out the worst of the criminal element. Just like John and Jane Q. Citizen who enjoys the warm weather, criminals love it too. Like on National Geographic, the lions follow the gazelle and wait for an opportune time. . . . . .

So often, I don’t get to do much writing if the paperwork is overwhelming. At home, I have very little time to write, because unlike my fellow compatriots who work during the day. I must retire to my coffin to sleep.

Of course, that last statement was purely tongue and cheek. My bed is far more comfortable. . . . . . . . . LOL!

So, how do I write? I content myself with stealing a little time here and there, in addition to my days off where I can write with abandon. In some ways, I’m glad im in this position because it teaches me discipline. When I have a window opportunity, I write like mad, and I’m content with that until I have another.

That’s my story.