At Night

I used to love to stay up late. I still do, or would, if only I didn’t have to get up so early and function all day long.

When I was in college, as I’ve mentioned before, I worked for campus patrol. Shifts ran from 6 or 7 (depending on the time of year) to 9 and 9 to midnight and midnight to 2:30 or 3:30 (depending on whether it was a week night or a weekend). I always used to find myself waking up right around the time of the 9 o’clock shift change. Sometimes it was the first time all day I’d felt fully functional. And the best part about patrol was that no matter how bad a day you’d had or how many things had gone wrong, you could always go in and work patrol, and even if that sucked, at least you were getting paid. And mostly it didn’t suck. Mostly it worked some kind of magic.

On particularly bad days, regardless of what I had to do for the next day or how behind I was on my Greek or how many paper deadlines I had looming, I would eat an early dinner and then head in to work a triple shift — seven and a half to nine and a half hours, depending on the day and the time of year. You could be sure that the supervisor for the night would be grateful to have you. If you were a triple-shifted who’d had a rotten day, the supe would even often suggest a diner run, or at the very least order a pizza from Nap’s, which made cheap pies and would deliver until 2 a.m., and would even deliver pizzas to the D block parking lot or the Lathrop stop sign or whatever outside place you designated. Sometimes we ordered pizzas and surprised our supervisors with them. “Unit 54 to Unit 5 requesting a 2-5 at your convenience. It is not an emergency.” That meant one of two things — either you’d left your key in your booth or you’d just gotten a pizza delivered.

The campus was lit like a movie set at night, and you’d wander around in the half dark, watching the mist on the lake (and, if your Maglite had decent batteries, turning it on and waving it through the mist, which made it look as though you had a light saber). You always tried to break into buildings, because it was important to make sure that they were secure. There were informal contests going to see who had gotten on to the largest number of roofs of various buildings. Once in awhile there was a job to do — a student to escort across campus, a non-student to escort off, a bike thief to chase (always rather difficult, since they had the bikes and we were on foot), or the north gate to open so that the fire trucks could get through. Fire alarms get pulled a lot on college campuses, and so that was a frequent chore. There was a woman who lived across the street and spent a lot of time listening to her scanner, and sometimes if she heard that a patrol unit was being sent to open the gate, she’d come over and bring you sodas.

I always knew while I was working patrol that it was both the best job I could ever have and a job that could never last. There are days still when I wish with all my heart that I could come home, chuck everything on the floor, change into my ratty jeans and my hiking boots, and go out and get paid $5.50 or $6 an hour to walk around with a Maglite and an alarm and a radio and look at the trees, and try to find the Brooklyn Bridge, and count the number of different states represented on license plates in the parking lot, and think of things you might some day be able to get away with saying on the radio (I finally was able, after being sent to investigate an incident, to report that all was quiet on the western front of some building), and listen to campus security (grown ups with cars who were responsible for allowing in visitors and busting parties; we patrolled a number of areas they did not) say all kinds of stuff on the radio that we’d never get away with, and walking and walking and walking, and taking some bench time now and then at one of the dozens of benches placed around campus with plaques noting that they were in memory of Alice somebody or other, class of 1912, who must, we thought, have been a very tired woman.

I never get to do that anymore, of course, and while I no longer have homework, the consequences of chucking my other responsibilities are much more dire, and I know that I have to get up in the morning and there’s no way I’ll be able to manage on five hours of sleep. And so I go to bed. But I miss the night.

3 thoughts on “At Night”

  1. I hear you with maximum clarity and volume….I still get to walk around late and night, but it’s around the block with the dog. Much less scenic, no benches, no pizza. No roofs to climb. (I think I’ve been on most of the academic buildings….) On the other hand, when it’s cold and raining we don’t stay out very long.

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