It’s three in the morning, you’re hungry, and you still have a long drive ahead of you. Fortunately, there’s a gas station shop open, with bacon-wrapped hotdogs, chips and coffee on offer. If this is a situation you can relate to, Jón Þór Halldórsson may have served you. He’s been working at the Shell station by Perlan for about ten years now, and has spent a number of those years (the exact number is lost in a fog to him) on the night shift. For him, the night shift is a joy. ”To be honest, people that come in during the night are usually in a better mood than during the day,” he says. “It’s more of a fun way to work. You can play your music. You can almost get lost in just doing something. But the people that come during the night are usually the best kind of customers you want.” For Jón Þór, it’s the customers especially that makes the night shift special.
“The people, and the personal freedom, are the best things about this job,” he says. “Being alone most of the time, it’s a lot more relaxed than being on a day shift. There’s a bit more camaraderie between people who are awake at this hour than regular people.” Not like television
Those with a deeper knowledge of Icelandic television may already be familiar with this particular setting, thanks to Jón Gnarr’s cringe-comedy sitcom Næturvaktin, which is also set in a Shell station shop (albeit a different one from Jón Þór’s). For the record, if you were thinking Næturvaktin reflected the actual work of an Icelandic gas station night shift, you may be disappointed (or relieved), to learn that “it has some parallels with reality, but it’s still fiction.” The most difficult part of working night shift anywhere is how it messes with your sense of time, and your memory.
“There’ve been so many strange experiences,” Jón Þór says. “I’m having a hard time recalling just one moment, because it’s all pretty weird most of the time. Every now and then you might catch teenagers trying to steal from the shop, or some super intoxicated person inside the shop lying on the floor or something. But night shifts are so weird in general, that when something especially strange happens, most of the time it’s not something you want to remember.” What year is it? Despite his glowing review of working the night shift, though, it’s not a position Jón Þór would go back to.
“I don’t really miss night shifts,” he says. “Not being able to sleep is something I will never miss. I would be working a week on and a week off. Most of my week off would be spent sleeping. And if you don’t sleep, you just don’t meet anyone that week. You’re not going to go out and get a beer at what is, for you, essentially 10 o’clock in the morning.”
Read about more night workers here.