Tonawanda News

May 5, 2013

DUVALL: On being a night owl, quiet or loud

The Tonawanda News

Tonawanda News — My first apartment was two doors down from a methadone clinic at Elmwood Avenue and Virginia Street in the heart of Allentown.

Just past the clinic was a fire house, its engines rumbling, sirens wailing at the thought of a neighborhood emergency.

A block north was Allen Street and its seemingly 24 hour revelry — to which I contributed no small amount of debauchery in those years.

The place was never quiet. The rumbling fire trucks, the shouting drunks, the tweaked clinic patients pressing passers-by for change or a spare cigarette. During summer nights you could hear the dull thump of club music on Chippewa and watch fireworks following Friday night Bisons games from my living room window.

I’ve moved to a moderately quieter part of town since then, the wide, stately Richmond Avenue, lined with a canopy of shade trees that seemingly bloomed overnight. Those trees make the city so much prettier; drab and muddy April is now a distant memory.

I’ve traded the fire engines for the slow woosh of a policeman’s patrol car, standing sentinel for we wee hour ne’er-do-wells. 

A city speaks if you listen close enough. The cacophony of sirens, music, pedestrians, garbage trucks, honks of hello and see-you-later shouts.

Even at 4 a.m. on a weeknight there was always something to hear for the attentive listener just a short ride to where I used to live.

I mention this because the thought occurred the other night, plopped down on my porch after work, beer in hand, I was experiencing something I’ve come to appreciate more and more — silence.

For a lifelong night owl who’s lived in a bright, bustling neighborhood for nearly a decade now, the rare moments of silence are poignant. 

I grew up for 20 years on a quiet suburban side street. Silence there was routine. When improperly violated it was cause to call the police.

Sitting on my Buffalo porch without so much as a sound my first impulse was to call the police just so I could hear the sirens — hear something.

When you so regularly occupy those hours when other people sleep it feels like you get a bigger slice of the pie. During the day I’m just a guy sitting on a porch, no different from the guy sitting on the porch next door, or the woman pushing a stroller and tugging the family dog’s leash at every tree. I’m no different than the endless stream of bicyclists or joggers completing their daily treks.

At night when it’s quiet, when everyone else has surrendered to dreaming you’re the mayor, the president, the last man standing. Guardian of the night, a superhero or a villain, your choice. If no one else is watching, who cares?

I’ve long been sensitive to the stereotypes we night-lifers face. Sleeping until the early afternoon is a sign of laziness, a sin in this Puritan society built on productivity, bent on purchase.

I ask the 9-to-5ers a simple question: Are you in bed an hour after you get home from work? 

I just so happens there are people, in newspapers particularly, who burn the midnight oil so a newspaper can hit your doorstep (or in our case, a newsstand) in time for you to read with your morning coffee.

Much as I might wish — and some of the lazier practitioners of newspapering might believe — there is no such thing as a newspaper fairy. We sit here and do the work, night after night.

Most people with my title worked hard to get off the night shifts. Truth be told, I enjoy them. Not least of the reasons is because I have no desire whatsoever to join the 5 o’clock-watching, happy hour crowd.

I like nights. I like nights in my city. Sometimes I like them to be bawdy, boisterous affairs that go til dawn.

And sometimes I like them quiet, even silent. 

That means I live while others lay still. I say so much the better.

Eric DuVall is the managing editor of the Tonawanda News. Contact him at or follow him on Twitter, @EricRDuVall.