Night Hawks In Search of Sleep

By Joe Maniscalco


Joseph Flores spends most days blacking out his windows, fumbling for noise canceling earplugs and exploring endless varieties of herbal tea. The 39-year-old father of two says he doesn’t want to resort to sleeping pills, but that if he doesn’t start getting some real rest — and soon — he just might have to quit his job as a Level II Traffic Enforcement Agent after nearly 10 years on New York City’s municipal payroll.

The Bronx resident’s troubles began last fall when a transfer to Queens immediately transformed Flores into what TEAs call a “Night Hawk”, and tasked him with patrolling neighborhood streets from 7 p.m. to 5 a.m.

“I’m fine the first two hours of my shift because I’m wide awake doing my equipment check and going to roll call,” Flores says. “But then after that, the whole night is just a killer. It’s so frustrating just trying to stay up.”

What little poor-quality Flores has managed to achieve during daylight hours is fitfully fragmented and hardly what anyone would call refreshing.

“I only sleep like maybe a good three hours, then I wake up,” Flores says. “And that’s the hardest thing — trying to get back to sleep when I can’t.”

Valerie Martinez once was a “Night Hawk” as well, but was able to escape the bleary-eyed world of overnight summonsing.

“It took a toll on my body,” Martinez says. “Yes, it gave me three days off, but the only thing I could do on the days I worked was sleep. It was very hard to sleep during the day. I had no life. It was just work and sleep.”

There are lots of economic reasons why Traffic Enforcement Agents become “Night Hawks,” according to Local 1182 union head Syed Rahim. Regardless, Rahim warns nighttime work not only punishes the individual, it also threatens family cohesion.

“Because they can’t sleep at night, wives miss their husbands and vice-versa,” he says.

New York City’s Industry has long recognized the indispensable need for sleep. And special safety & wellness classes now specifically teach young drivers how to get enough of it.

Muhammad Barlas, a 57-year-old father of three children, has been driving Black Cars for almost 20 years. He also teaches one of the safety & wellness classes that stresses sleep.

“At the start, when you are young, you may be okay,” Barlas says. “But eventually, what happens when you don’t take care of your sleep and you get fatigued every day, then that fatigue can turn into a chronic fatigue. And once that sets in — it’s very difficult to get rid of.”

Barlas counsels 20-minute power naps during long overnight shifts, and at least seven hours of quality sleep, that he says is possible with the right atmosphere.

“They must understand,” Barlas says. “There is no alternative to rest.”

It’s a battle Flores continues to fight.

“I’m still searching to find ways to do that,” he says.

Tags:  Black Car NYC Sleep Sleep & Work

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