Tonawanda News

February 22, 2013

Back when we weren't afraid of the dark

The Tonawanda News

Tonawanda News — Things are different these days. Of course they are. They’re supposed to be.

Another specimen in the “what we’ve gained, what we’re missing” canon was evident to me, one just-past-midnight early morning, when I noticed my car and I were the only visible things moving on Sheridan Drive. Oh, there’s nightlife, somewhere; certain bars in certain neighborhoods are busy and the town’s Greek restaurants remain open, but there was a time urban Western New York didn’t know what time it was.

I’ll now use a phrase a lot of readers have never heard: third shift.

Harken back to the days when this was a manufacturing hub, a place where people built stuff, and in periods of heavy demand, which was all the time in some industries, factories and offices and labs always had the lights on and working around-the-clock was a 24/7 endeavor.

That meant service industries kept the same schedule. Men and women who got out of work at 2 a.m. often sought a place to eat, so restaurants accommodated them. Breakfast was available whenever a customer wanted breakfast. Steak and mashed potatoes at 7 in the morning? No problem. 

The area’s surprisingly liberal bar-closing schedule (to wit: 4 a.m.) is a remnant of those days. You might want, need, a beer at three in the morning because you got out of work at two in the morning.

It was not that long ago the avenues Delaware, Sheridan, Hertel and others were busy places after midnight. We post-adolescents tend not to live that way, these days, and I miss it.

Among the things we can do late at night are the pumping of gas and the visiting of ATMs. There is essentially no shopping, and little eating, available. Only on special occasions do movie theaters offer 11 p.m. or midnight showings.

‘Twas not always thus, kids. While second and third work shifts tended not to be the preferred way of making a living, they were prominent parts of the economy, and the rest of the trades catered to them. If you were not working that way you know people who were.

These days our cellphones, pagers and other devices give employers the luxury of making us think we’re on the job all the time, but it’s essentially a nine-to-five world in a 24/7 economy. 

Delaware Avenue, two in the morning. There were bars and restaurants open, of course, and I knew of two places, car repair places, that seemed to work all night. Drive past, in any weather, and a garage door would be open, a car was on a lift and a shower of sparks would emerge from the underside of the vehicle and seemingly clank down the driveway. The men inside may have been working on their own cars — I dropped in once, just to see, and the strangers greeted me warmly — but there you are, all-night welding.

Even radio catered to what was called “the night owl,” with call-in shows, programs for truck drivers, insomniacs asking questions and getting answers from other insomniacs, so you’d drive at night, to someplace or from someplace and listen to people with perfectly good reasons to be just like you, more in touch with the moon than the sun. These days, radio at night tends to offer more of the same as the daylight, and all those people likely get their needs met by something more web-based.

Places simply did not close as early, if ever, back then. Plots were hatched in donut shops all night, people got psyched up or came down in there and three in the morning was as honorable as two in the afternoon. Those who closed down the bars are now the old-timers you see at McDonalds in the morning. Even Kenmore’s Panera Bread, a welcoming place which encourages loitering, conversation and coffee-swilling, shuts down at 9 p.m.

Oh, I miss living like that. Night is supposedly a time of fear, of danger, but fear comes from isolation, from being the only person on the lonely street. If it’s midnight and you’re one in large crowd and the movie just ended, there is little to fear. For one thing, you and your friends might head to a restaurant or bar or coffee shop; there are plenty from which to choose.

Funny, how the Internet age brings a breathtaking expansion in knowledge and the pursuit of experience, just as the face-to-face, hand-to-hand involvement gets constrained to almost a farmer’s maxim: Get it all done before sunset. I tend to stay home late at night, these days, but I’ve observed three in the morning is a great time to get certain household chores and duties done (anything except plumbing; one slip and I’ll drown before a plumber shows up). The attitude comes from working a significant portion of my life on the less-than-standard shift. Any time is the right time for nearly anything. 

Ed Adamczyk is a Kenmore resident whose column appears Fridays in the Tonawanda News. Contact him at