It's just before 5 am in downtown Spokane. The sky is the color of wet blue slate, and the streetlights maintain a steady red and yellow rhythm, warning the few foolhardy drivers who happen to be out at this hour. A comfortingly familiar voice comes on the radio, and outside the air carries the electric glimmer of an impending thunderstorm. As my car crunches into the gravel of Inlander photographer Amy Sinisterra's lot, I can't help thinking, "Are we nuts? It sucks to be up at this hour..."
Our Day in the Life of the Inland Northwest issue is by no means a new idea -- we borrowed both from the Day in the Life series of books and from fellow alternative weekly the Missoula Independent -- but it's something we've wanted to do for several years now. Finally it was decreed: August 7 we would all go out, cameras in hand, and try to document one day in the life of the Inland Northwest. Our travels took us from an espresso shop to the odiferous final destination of Spokane's sewage system; from the Festival at Sandpoint to Fairchild Air Force Base; and from the air-conditioned comfort of the mall to the sun-drenched sand of Lake Coeur d'Alene's beach. We rode along in a police car, experienced an ER from behind the scenes, and had our drinks promptly taken away at 2 am. (Wait! We weren't done with that!)
But after we stopped near Spangle to take the pictures you see on this week's cover and here, with lightning crashing all around us, we started our day with a cup of coffee at the Harvester...
6:55 am ... The Harvester Restaurant, Spangle -- There's always that one guy, the one who's a little friendlier than the rest, the one who not only doesn't mind talking to strangers but sort of relishes it. Gordon Crabtree (above), farthest to the right on the Harvester's spacious diner counter, is just that kind of guy. In between sips of strong house coffee, he talks shop with his farming buddies at the counter -- Anders, Shorty, the other Gordon -- and is usually the first to greet whichever comrade has just walked through the Harvester's double doors. The conversation up at the bar is full of good-natured heckling, bits of old-guy gossip and talk of the morning's weather -- an electrical storm mixed with patches of rain.
"I've got a patch of land, but I don't farm anymore. I'm retired," Crabtree explains. "These guys call it a 'stump ranch,' but I've got a half section -- that's about 320 acres -- and that's leased out."
Crabtree has lived in Washington his entire life and graduated from Central Valley High School. As an employee of Pacific Telephone International (now Century Tel), he installed the first fiber optic line west of the Mississippi. When asked what retirement has to offer, he chuckles and says, "Lots of 'Yes, ma'am, I'll do it!'" In spite of a well-stocked "Honey Do" jar at home that keeps him busy around the house, Crabtree still has time for an almost-every-day Harvester habit.
"What brings you here every day?" we ask. He laughs, adopting a Scottish brogue: "Can't you see the lassie?" The lassie in question, Carla -- clearly one of the cheeriest waitresses in the history of breakfast shifts -- laughs and slugs him some more coffee.
8:24 am ... Spokane Valley Mall -- The innocuous music from somewhere overhead drifts down through the potted plants, rolls off the clean-scrubbed tile walkways and eases down the zigzagging staircases. Bonnie Colby and Buck Geiger (left) don't slow down to notice it at all. The two friends are animated in conversation as they stride through the mostly empty mall.
"Buck just came back from a trip," Bonnie says, not slowing her brisk pace down at all as she smiles and talks. "We're catching up." She's cheerful -- like a wily but doting grandmother -- and it's clear that she's here to move. If Geiger wants to slow down to talk, he's on his own.
But he keeps pace. "I sell school buses!" Geiger says, twinkling with the knowledge that it's the type of job that sparks conversation -- the sort of thing that must happen in the world, but nobody ever stops to think who does it. "I just delivered one to Alaska."
The two continue their conversation about Geiger's trip, moving rapidly around the perimeter of the ground floor of the mall. They walk counterclockwise, tracing every nuance of the layout, including each hallway and alcove. "I walk three miles here every day," Colby says.
The mall opens at 6:30 every morning for walkers, also providing security. In the food court, Taco Time sells coffee, and some people stay to play cards after their walks. "I like the convenience -- it's air-conditioned," Colby says, "and there are no dogs. I also like the companionship, the people you meet."
"In the winter, this place is full," Geiger adds. "We've taken trips with groups that we've met here."
"We don't do much together, though, other than walk," Colby says, chuckling at the implications in the conversation. "I don't think his wife would appreciate that!"
9:03 am ... The Rocket on 14th and Adams -- Some say ritual is dead, but anyone who has a morning coffee haunt to call their own would disagree. Sure, you can make your own at home or drink the work swill for free, but when it comes right down to it, half the fun is mingling with the other regulars and chatting up your barista.
The crew at the 14th and Adams Rocket -- Darla, Chris and Brandy -- are sweet, irreverent and hilarious, and every single one of them knows how to make a mean drink.
"I pretty much live here from 8:30-8:45 every day," says Deanna Spencer (right). On this particular morning, she's running behind schedule and adding a bag of pink cookies for her workmates to her usual order of a double Americano with room for cream.
Behind the counter, Chris Anderson (also right) greets just about every person to walk through the door with his trademark two-handed wave. With two years and a month under his belt, he knows all his customers by name in addition to their usual drinks. He says by noon he's usually so tired he needs a cup of coffee just to get home, but his natural effervescence is something he comes by naturally.
"I'm just this way," he laughs. "I worked at the Body Shop before this, and I was so peppy the customers didn't trust me. I'd be all, 'Ohhh, you've gotta try this,' and they'd act like I was trying to trick them or something. It really works here -- people are a lot more open."
11:13 am ... Wastewater Treatment Facility -- All rivers may lead to the ocean, but Spokane's 800 miles of sewer lines (and 44 million gallons of sewage a day) all lead to the Wastewater Treatment Facility just west of town along Aubrey L. White Parkway near Riverside State Park. When you flush something down the toilet, you think it's gone, right? Outta sight, outta mind, never to be seen by human eyes again. Well, lemme tell ya, that just isn't the case. Somebody sees it. And that somebody is named Lars.
Lars Morgan (above) has probably the least glamorous job at the facility. He's the grid-and-screening laborer in the Head Works, the first stop for wastewater in the treatment process. Everything solid you all try to get rid of down the pipes ends up right here to be extracted from the city's collective discharge by huge automatic screeners. Morgan and his buddies have seen it all: jewelry, money, drugs, animal parts, human parts, false teeth, turtles, frogs, goldfish, condoms, and lots and lots of sanitary napkins.
Morgan takes a pitchfork to the backed-up hopper chute over one of the waste trucks. The final destination for these soggy leavings is the Spokane County waste incinerator.
"Too bad you weren't here last week," he says lifting a forkful of the odious, odiferous slop. "They had the center channel up there plugged -- packed with this, basically. They had to get in there with pitchforks and scoop it all out. I didn't have to do that, thank God."
Morgan has been with the city for five years but at the treatment plant for just a year and a half.
"To tell you the truth," he says with a smile, "I've been with four departments with the city, and I think this is the best department to work for. Everybody here gets along well -- it's like being part of a big family. As disgusting as the job is, the people and the job itself -- with the benefits and the pay -- it's probably the best job I've ever had."
In addition to working the screener, Morgan is also the "backup to the backup sludge driver."
"The sludge drivers are the ones who haul the end product [treated, partially dried, mostly harmless organic solids] out to the farmers' fields," he says. "When other truck drivers ask me what kind of a load I have, I get to tell 'em 'I've got a load of shit.'"
12:39 pm ... Fairchild Air Force Base -- In the military, noon is 1200 hours. And at Fairchild Air Force Base, the day is in full swing. The sun reflects off car tops as vehicles line up to get through the "check and clear" entry. But 1st Lt. Jarrett McNabb's schedule has just been changed; his weekly training flight is cancelled.
"I'll fly again on Monday," says McNabb (above), brushing it off. "We were going to refuel a B-1 Bomber from Ellsworth Air Force Base in South Dakota."
McNabb is a 26-year-old native of Cedar Hill, Texas; he's been stationed at Fairchild Air Force Base with the 93rd Air Refueling Squadron since November. McNabb co-pilots massive KC-135 refueling planes.
"The planes weigh about 120,000 pounds with no fuel in them," McNabb explains, tracing the plane's outline in the air. "These can get up to 300,000 pounds with fuel."
McNabb was in flight school for a year, followed by "a few months" of plane-specific training. He's now a "mission-certified" co-pilot, refueling military aircraft all over the U.S. He's also recently returned from the war in Iraq.
"I was there for a couple of months, though I'm really not supposed to say where I was located," says McNabb sheepishly. "I guess it's not that big of a deal, but still... I got back five days prior to my wedding. The Air Force really does have a heart."
As McNabb strolls casually around the KC-135, its size is seemingly of no consequence to him. He explains that his flights take much more preparation than the movie-inspired data board switches and radio checks.
"We've got to check the weather and file and develop a flight plan," says McNabb. "We come out about two hours before takeoff to start doing our stuff. Plus, everyone has additional duties," he says, referring to the office work and general management of his squadron. When asked what he'd be doing since his flight was cancelled, McNabb sighs.
"I'll be filling out performance reports," he says.
1:58 pm ... Riverfront Park -- Eric Maughan and Nate Jensen are on a mission -- a mission from God. The two Utah natives are members of the Mormon Church and would like very much to turn you on to their way of life. Right now, however, they're just taking a break from the heat under a tree at Riverfront Park, waiting for a girl named Amanda. Their mountain bikes lie in the grass nearby. They look slightly overheated in their black slacks, white shirts and ties. Clips on their breast pockets introduce them to the world as "Elder Maughan" and "Elder Jensen" of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.
"We're missionaries 24 hours a day," explains the 20-year-old Maughan (below left). "We come out and share with people the basic beliefs of our church so they can come to know for themselves if the things that we share are right, so people can look at both sides of what's out there."
Maughan and Jensen are in the midst their two-year mission and share an apartment on the lower South Hill.
"There are about 200 missionaries in the Spokane area and 66,000 around the world," says 19-year old Jensen (right). "In all different countries."
Do they all get sweet mountain bikes?
"Well, we buy 'em," says Maughan. "It's all volunteer. It costs about $10,000 to go on a mission, and we don't get paid to do it. We save up money before we go out, and if you can't save enough, your family helps you with the rest."
Maughan reports that Spokanites, if not always receptive to the guys' message, are at least polite about it.
"People here are pretty nice to us. Even if they're not interested. And there's not a lot of people that are interested in talking to us. But then some want to because they really want to get into it and some because they're curious."
And they only occasionally get yelled at.
"Yeah," he laughs. "There's rude people in every city, I guess. And we run into them, too."
2:31 pm ... Coeur d'Alene City Beach -- Few places surpass the beachfront in Coeur d'Alene for sheer scenic beauty on a picture-perfect summer day. By early afternoon, the serious sunbathers head home, along with those who came for a leisurely picnic lunch, but a stream of new arrivals take their place on the lovely spit of sand just west of the Coeur d'Alene Resort.
While the sun, sand and water are the biggest draws, some prefer to stroll the path between beach and park, including Dave Masters and his children Jake and Rachel, who came via Amtrak to visit relatives in Priest River from their home in St. Cloud, Minn. Even though his home state is known for its lakes, Masters found the scenery in Coeur d'Alene unparalleled.
"The most beautiful spot was just walking along the boardwalk and looking across the lake," he says. "With this mountainous backdrop and the trees, it's so beautiful."
Susan Golub comes to Hayden Lake from southern California each summer, now that she's retired. She and companion Curtis Espenschied spend their evenings seeking out live music and ballroom dancing, but afternoons are made for strolls along the boardwalk or cruises on the lake. They sit on a park bench in the shade, watching the action on the beach while waiting for their 4:30 departure time on a lake cruise.
Down on the beach, Marissa Gierke of Boise tried in vain to get her daughter Paige (above left) out of the water, but the four-year-old was having nothing of that plan. Splashing in the shallows with her water wings, Paige makes it known that the beach is one of her favorite places. Nearby, Amanda Estabrooks of Coeur d'Alene and Carla Laudermilk of Post Falls relax on the sand while their children swim, splash, and dig in the sand (above). They come to the beach every week or so during the summer.
"You've got to do it in the summer and take advantage of the good weather," says Estabrooks. "Because when winter hits and cabin fever sets in, you'll wish you could."
5:58 pm ... Monroe Street Bridge -- It's the end of the day for Howard "Red" Riebe. He's been working on the Monroe Street Bridge since 6 am.
"Nah, I don't always work 12-hour days," he says, adjusting his hardhat, "but today it was like that." Describing himself as a "hands-on" guy, Riebe (above) is monitoring the quality of the construction work with the patience and pride of a first-time Mom.
"Isn't it just beautiful?" he asks no one in particular, gesturing at the bridge from the platform below the falls.
Like the mother of all bridges?
"Yes. It's like that, the mother of all bridges," Riebe answers definitively, "...the mother of all bridges."
He likes to be called Red. He worked for the Washington State Department of Transportation from 1962-93, mainly building bridges.
"I came out of retirement to work on this project," he says. "I've built many new bridges but never done anything like this, where there's also demolition involved."
He knows the bridge like he knows his own face -- every nook, crack, hole and wrinkle.
"First thing I do every morning is to check the arches. There's a couple of cracks that we look at to make sure nothing has shifted or twisted overnight," explains Riebe.
Doesn't that get boring?
"No. It's actually exciting. Every day is a new day," he says. "I also get to check the steel before they pour the concrete over it. You know, I watch the quality of everything, to make sure the city gets what it paid for."
Riebe and the other construction workers have found old shovels and tools as they tore down the old bridge.
"It gives you an appreciation for what they went through when they put this thing together back in 1910. Just imagine, they mixed all the cement by hand," he says.
Today Riebe also had litter duty.
"I picked up trash over there [points to a cliff below the falls]. I'm big on that, you know -- that nothing that doesn't belong there gets into the river," he says.
Sometimes even the litter has quite a story to tell. "And that rock over there, that's where they found that one guy they thought had committed suicide," Riebe reports. "But someone had pushed him in. One of our lady cops here in town found the guys back in West Virginia or something. That really pleased me, that she found them."
6:04 pm ... Outside the Chancery -- This is the fun part of the story," Travis Mayfield says, as he refolds the papers in his hand. "This is the part where you get to make the story come to life."
Mayfield and his cameraman, Brad Wood, have spent the better part of an hour and a half waiting in the air-conditioned KXLY News 4 van parked outside the Chancery Office of the Catholic Diocese of Spokane, waiting to deliver two short reports during the evening newscasts. Now, with the evening sun bearing down on them, they've moved into position for the final hour's segment. Wood, pulling a camera from a case in the back of the vehicle, walks it down the street and hefts it onto the tripod that has been left waiting outside. Mayfield, trailing a microphone, takes his place in front of the building.
"We got a tip last week," Mayfield says, explaining the story that he's about to deliver. "It was fuzzy, but it was about a document that might have surfaced, which could show that the Vatican knew about some of the sex abuse cases and was issuing orders on how to deal with them."
Mayfield jumped on the story, laboriously tracking down the document through an attorney in Texas, arranging interviews and contacting SNAP -- an organization of alleged sex-abuse survivors in Spokane, which plans to file a lawsuit against the Vatican itself.
It's not exactly the type of news piece that's filled with kinetic visuals or unforgettable images, but Mayfield, as one of the first reporters in the country to break the story, was happy to stand in front of a camera and deliver the brief report -- putting a stamp of ownership on the story.
"This is our version of the byline," he says, as Wood, finished with the newscast, coils cables around his arm. "My friends ask me what I do all day. They say, 'We see you on TV for about a minute in the evening. That can't take you all day.' Actually," Mayfield chuckles, "it does."
7:27 pm ... The Festival at Sandpoint -- It's an hour before the first night of the Festival at Sandpoint, and Diana "Dyno" Wahl is calm. One would expect a little backstage chaos -- a lost band member or an electrical problem, maybe some kind of concessions issue -- to be rattling everyone's nerves at this point in the evening. But backstage, everyone is as calm and mellow as a summer night on a North Idaho lake.
Dyno (at right, with Festival poster designer Gail Lyster) runs around the grounds, greeting the festival's many supporters, troubleshooting when nobody can find the KXLY crew -- "try the bar," several people suggest -- and wrangling a recalcitrant cell phone. Still, one gets the sense that this is about as bad as it gets. Dyno and her crew -- David Nygren, Terry and Donna Capurso, "Rug" the stage manager, to name a few -- run a tight ship. In fact, the Festival at Sandpoint is one of the most well-organized music festivals I've ever witnessed.
Behind the festival's signature white tent, a warren of fencing leads a selected few to backstage. The Capursos are in charge of this area, where Festival staff and band members take their meals and relax. Through the tent flaps, "deep backstage" can be seen. This is where the bands' trailers are. On this particular night, one of the Lettermen -- dressed head to toe in red -- can be seen walking around with a brew in hand.
Donna Capurso is in charge of stocking each trailer according to the requests of the bands' "riders," a document detailing what the musical acts want (and don't want) in their trailer. Capurso shows me her shopping list, as well as a peek at the riders for Shawn Colvin (allergic to wheat, requests a vegetarian meal with brown rice and no garlic) and Los Lobos (six bottles of chocolate YooHoo, two bottles of white zinfandel and no Mexican food).
Back out in front, the Lettermen have just taken the stage. Dusk has fallen on this magical football-field-turned-concert-hall. Near one of the enormous speakers, Dyno, Rug and the rest of the staff are enjoying the fruits of their labors. It couldn't be a more perfect August night in the Northwest.
8:06 pm ... Bedtime at the Bruegemans' -- Summertime is no friend of bedtime. Daylight hours linger, and mothers everywhere struggle to put little ones to bed. This is the ancient argument that's taking place in the household of Tanya Bruegeman and her two children.
"But it's not dark," explains four-year-old Kayla Bruegeman to her mother.
"But it's late," comes the patient reply. Kayla fights bedtime with her not-so-sly procrastination tactics: displaying stickers on her belly button, trying on patent leather white shoes, twirling with dolls, applying Chapstick and opening the cases of her favorite DVDs. Then she sings a song, flips over and points out her Barbie shirt.
Her mother, not yet changed out of her work clothes, sits on the couch. She got home just minutes ago after working a double shift at the Flying J Travel Plaza on Geiger Blvd.
"A girl at work called in sick," Tanya says. "The girl's uncle died. Kayla wants a TV for her birthday, so I'm working extra hours."
Tanya's seven-year-old son Brian crouches next to her, gazing at the television. He points out that he had three stitches removed from his chin today, and goes back to the television.
"Let's read books," Tanya says. Brian begins to read, but Kayla wiggles off the couch.
The Bruegemans live in a small apartment on the South Hill. Tanya, tired from a long day, tries to calm little Kayla down, to no avail. Brian escapes upstairs to his Nintendo 64. It is the last we see of him.
"I want to take more pictures!" says Kayla. Her fascination with the camera is unending. "Are you spending the night? Do you want to see my movie? Do you know who Cinderella is?" The questions come one after the other, inspired by her keen diligence at avoiding bedtime.
"I usually have to rub her back for about 40 minutes before she'll sleep," notes Tanya.
"No!" protests Kayla. She turns to me "Do you know Charlie's Angels? Let me show you...."
10:16 pm ... At the Sacred Heart Emergency Room -- It's just after 10 o'clock, and the evening shift enters its final hour in the emergency department at Sacred Heart Medical Center. So far, the evening has been quiet - or rather, pleasant.
"We don't use the q-word," admonishes Barbara Hudson (right, with fellow nurse David Kellogg), the charge nurse this shift, with 25 patients under her care.
The ability to multi-task and to prioritize quickly among competing demands is essential in the ER, where on a typical night up to 46 patients occupy treatment bays. Hudson's job seems less that of a medical professional and more like an air traffic controller. Computers display details about each patient and the vital signs of patients being monitored. A video screen overhead shows the ambulance bay and each psychiatric room. On the counter, a printer spits out a constant flurry of paper, while the hospital-wide tube system -- similar to those at bank drive-up windows -- delivers charts and meds every minute or so.
"In this little spot, you have a lot of control," she says, handing off a stack of lab reports fresh from the printer. "And the ambulance patches in and lets you know they're coming."
As if on cue, the speaker crackles and Hudson answers, "Go ahead 119, this is the Heart." The ambulance attendant gives a brief summary of the incoming patient, and Hudson responds, "Okay, we'll see you in four or five minutes."
Tonight, for example, several patients complain of vomiting. "It's just like with grapes -- they come in bunches," Hudson says, noting that a full moon or other factors often presage an increase in accidents or psychiatric cases. "There's a lot more depression and psychiatric trouble when it's really hot."
Despite the stress, Hudson says she likes being at the center of everything. "I went into this when I was 17, and I still love it," she says. "It can be very interesting. And it can be very boring as well. Once a doctor I worked with said, 'And who are we to complain that no one has to suffer?' So, hey, now I don't complain. We like to be bored."
12:57 am ... In a Spokane Valley patrol car -- It's midnight in the Spokane Valley; August 7 has ended and August 8 has begun. The White
Elephant has a boat sale. At the entrances to the car dealerships, cars are parked bumper to bumper so no one can get in.
Deputy Craig Chamberlin (above) has been on duty since 6 pm. It's hot and quiet and nearly 1 am when he jumps back into his patrol car.
"Oops," he says to me, "guess I should have warned you. I get into the car kinda hard -- I didn't mean to bounce you around."
The cruiser is still rocking gently as we pull out from the parking lot, with the windows down and the radio tuned to 105.7.
Chamberlin is a traffic cop. His specialty? Drunken drivers. On a slow night like tonight, he fills in for patrol officers wherever he's needed.
"Speeding is rarely an issue at night," he says. "I mean, look at it this way: Why are people out on the street at 2 or 3 am? Either they are on their way home or to work, or they are on their way home from partying all night."
So how does he know when to pull people over?
"I wish I could tell you that I have some super-cop sense, but I don't. The most I have is a gut feeling," says Chamberlin.
A pickup truck cruises through the intersection, looking no different to me than any other car.
"Ah," he says, "we're following that guy."
Chamberlin flips the cruiser's camera on as we tailgate the Chevy down University. The driver has a hard time staying within one lane and gets really close to the curb a few times.
Blue and red lights flash.
The truck pulls over.
A young guy in shorts and flip-flops tries his best at the field variation of the sobriety test.
He fails, is arrested, put in handcuffs and in the backseat of the patrol car. There are few moments quite as tense as when someone is in handcuffs and being written up inside a patrol car. The bar-stink fills up the car in a matter of seconds.
This guy reeks.
"Good thing the windows are down," says Chamberlin.
He calls his folks, so they can come get the truck.
"Shit," comes from the backseat. "Shit. My dad is not going to like this. Shit."
A couple of minutes later, after trying to explain that he really didn't go inside the bar he just said he spent the evening at, the young guy is passed out.
Turns out he's still a minor. He is hauled to the station and booked, then handed over to his mom.
Probably a good thing Dad didn't show up.
Chamberlin comes over and says goodnight.
So, I ask, do you think he learned a lesson? Being so young and all, perhaps he won't do it again?
"You'd hope so," says Chamberlin. Then he shrugs. "But I doubt it."
1:53 am ... The Satellite Diner -- It's been a quiet night so far, but as one o'clock approaches, a kaleidoscope of humanity begins to flow in. Joining the girl in black hair, eyeliner and vinyl skirt who sits alone in a booth quietly smoking cigarettes and reading American Skin is the group of 20-somethings in white "Live After 5" T-shirts. Near them, there's a metal girl, with metal in her face, who just arrived from the metal show at the B-Side. Add to that an oddly integrated assortment of young drunks, old drunks, would-be players and part-time losers, and you've got a typical Thursday night bar rush -- it's actually Friday morning, isn't it? -- at the Satellite Diner.
You can see the anticipation in the eyes of the cook behind the counter as he drops a basket-load of home fries into the boiling oil. You can see the fatigue in the blank expression of the busser as he moves past you with a full yard of clean and stacked plastic water cups. And you see quiet calm in the face of your server, Isaac Lariviere (right), as he greets you with menus and cold water. Another late shift. Another night spent working the bar rush. His two-and-a-half years of working at the Satellite have bestowed upon Lariviere the face of experience.
"Photo opportunity in the front," he offers, shooting a brief glance at a group of young men near the entrance.
You get a lot of that in here?
Time pisses away into the future. Breakfast foods, sandwiches and gin and tonics come and go. (The staff here is accommodating but strict about cutting off the booze at last call.) Dirty dishes and not-quite-finished G & amp;Ts are cleared away. Cigarette smoke curls up and is captured by the vent. The house system plays old Stones.
"I don't know. It's not too interesting tonight," says Lariviere apologetically. "Can you come back tomorrow?"
No. This is it. But I think I got everything I needed.
3:04 am ... Safeway on Hamilton -- A grocery store during the day is emblematic of everything that's normal and good about living in the United States. Shelves are perfectly faced out with a wide selection of canned goods, dairy products, Band-Aids, toilet paper and boxed pasta. But at 3 am, folks, the grocery store is a whole different ball game. At the Safeway on Hamilton, the parking lot is deserted, and inside, a security guard keeps an eye on the registers and the front entrance. Maybe it's the sleep deprivation talking, but the lighting feels overly bright and sort of unreal. There are only a few customers -- a kind of dodgy young man with a donut, and a woman slowly moving up and down the aisles with her cart, not making eye contact.
But over on the baby food-and-diapers aisle, Mike Phillips is making some serious headway through the 400 cases of freight Safeway puts out every night. "I've been on the night crew for 15 years here," he explains. "I've got three kids to feed, and this pays well." Phillips works with three others on the night shift, which is typically from 11 at night to 7 the next morning. "We get a lot of meth monsters in this store at night. But they don't trouble us much. We just keep our heads down and keep working."
While he talks, Phillips dispatches freight with the quick competency of years of practice. After a hard night's work, sometimes the night crew gets to enjoy an astonishing sunrise and the cool, clean air of morning.
"That sunrise yesterday morning was incredible, wasn't it? I was driving home and you could see those dark storm clouds coming in over the wheat fields south of here. It was really something."