On the night shift with Alex S. Garcia

More explorations of the night shift vibe

On the night shift with Alex S. Garcia
Photo: Rafay Ansari

For some, night shift work is a requirement. It might be the only time a job can be done, or the only job available. For others, night shift work is a deliberate choice, something to seek out. In the case of Alex S. Garcia, waking up in the morning was so difficult and night work so creatively fulfilling that he continued working at night even when he became his own boss.

In the second edition of “On the night shift,” a series of Q&As about the lives and vibes of night shift workers, Alex walks us through how he sought out night work, the discovery of his nighttime creative drive, and, of course, his ideal late night vibes.

Who are you and what do you do on the night shift?

My name is Alex S. Garcia. I’m a French writer and translator. I’ve done many things on the night shift over the years, including working in hotels at the front desk for 6 years. For me, however, it is more a way of life than a necessity, as I now do most of my writing at night.

How long have you been working the night shift? Why did you start?

I guess you could say it started when I first realized I was not a morning person—that was at some point in my teenage years. It was a struggle getting up to go to school and I hated the idea of having to do that for work as well later on. I think I unconsciously resisted any type of work that would require getting up early like that and it likely was part of the reason I dreaded doing my military service (it no longer is mandatory in France, but it still was at the time)—and yes, that was a nightmare when I finally had to go through it.

That’s not to say I never worked in the morning; very often, there was no way around it. There are not that many jobs where you can work at night. One obvious one was night auditor. That’s the guy (or gal) who’s on night watch at the front desk of a hotel. My brother worked in hotels most of his life (though he did day shifts), I had an uncle who owned a hotel, and we traveled a lot in my youth… all this contributed to my fascination with hotels. So it was a natural choice for me.

In parallel to all this, I always had a tendency to go to bed late, probably to avoid getting up early! Whenever I could (weekends, when I was unemployed, etc.) I’d just sit up at night to read or write.

There came a point when I realized I was more creative at night. I’m not sure when this happened, but it was like a light bulb going off in my head. I think part of it is that it is much more peaceful, with less interruptions (no phone ringing, for instance). But most of all, it’s knowing that (almost) everyone else is asleep. It’s like you’re all alone in the world. At least for a little while.

I’ve always liked movies like The Omega Man and I Am Legend where you have one person who is the last survivor of the human race. They have the whole planet to themselves. There is no greater freedom than that. Of course, the loneliness would get to you eventually.

Working the night shift, to me, is a little bit like that, but without the loneliness bit, since during the day, you can go out and there is life everywhere around you.

From that point on, I consciously started looking for jobs where I could work as late as possible, even if it wasn’t the night shift exactly. In one case, for instance, I sold cruises in a travel agency that was open until 11 pm. I requested (and eventually got) the later shift, working from 4 to 11 pm. The hotels came after that.

Now I’m a full-time writer, but I’ve maintained night shift hours because why not? I’m my own boss, and those times work better for me, so that’s what I do.

A figure sits at a desk, working in the dark under a lamp.
Photo: Kevin Yudhistira Alloni

What does your daily routine look like?

I get up around noon, take an hour to get ready, check my emails, write for a little bit, then go out to take care of errands—or just to get a bit of exercise, because that’s important when you spend a lot of time sitting at a computer.

After the walk, I do some more writing, then I watch a movie or TV show while I eat (this is typically around 7 or 8 pm).

I’ll spend a bit of time then working on outlines or editing.

Most of my writing happens between midnight and 4 am.

I typically go to bed around 5.

Do you have any tricks or habits that help you get through the night?

Because it’s a way of life for me, I don’t really need to “get through” the night, it’s become like a natural thing. Of course, I have to be careful with appointments and getting groceries while the stores are still open. Some places are only open in the morning, and that can make things tricky sometimes.

I rarely nod off, though when it happens it is more about not getting enough sleep than about the times I keep. And not getting enough sleep can easily happen, especially when I’m almost done with a project and keep going until it’s done. Or, sometimes, you’re just so engrossed with whatever you’re doing that you don’t realize how late it’s gotten.

I remember a few times when this would happen in my hotel days. To avoid nodding off, there were a couple of tricks I’d use. Washing my eyes with cold water often was enough. Another one was to just get up and do something physical for a while.

What is your ideal night shift vibe?

I used to listen to this great French radio show that aired after midnight and that played what I thought was the most appropriate music for that time. Basically, what has come to be known as the “Laurel Canyon sound.” Stuff like the Eagles, the Mamas and the Papas, Joni Mitchell, CSNY…

Here is an awesome (though sadly obscure) song that, to me, perfectly captures and exemplifies that sound:

If I had to sum it up: it’s a nostalgic, introspective vibe, that I find very inspiring and conducive to creative work.

Thanks, Alex, for sharing some of your night with us. Alex has two newsletters you can sign up for. The first is The Xen’in Universe, where he sends out monthly sci-fi and fantasy short stories, and the second is Screen Views, where he writes weekly film, TV, and music reviews. You can also find out more about Alex at his website.

Are you a night shift worker—or know one—who would like to answer a few questions for the daywalking Night Water readers among us? Send me an email at adam@nightwater.email.