Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Overnight in Chicago is its own world

I never saw anyone watching “Bruce Lee” films while on the job. But then again, it certainly wouldn’t be out-of-character for the kind of people who keep this city alive while most of us are trying to get some sleep.

The Chicago Sun-Times reported Tuesday on their website about how an inspector general earlier this year decided to conduct “midnight raids” – which consist of just showing up at government offices that are open around the clock.

THEY WANTED TO see just what kind of work – if any – those people were actually doing in exchange for their government-funded salaries.

According to the newspaper, they found one staffer of the medical examiner’s office engaged in the cliché act of any overnight-shift worker – she was asleep at her desk.

Two others were watching Bruce Lee use his martial arts skills to wallop away at a cast of bad guys while speaking very poorly dubbed English.

And yes, they were watching it on a computer monitor that was a part of the Cook County inventory of property.

IN FACT, THE county inspector general’s report indicated that when an investigator showed up at 2:35 a.m. one early morning, they found no one working. Although it would seem that the particular moment was one of those lulls in activity when there wasn’t anything that specifically needed tending to.

Which is what seems to have caused these workers to think they could get away with taking a nap, or watching a film!

Now my own first-hand experience with this kind of life is nearly a quarter-of-a-century old. I was once a reporter-type person with the now-defunct City News Bureau of Chicago who worked the overnight shift.

For me, 1988 was the year that I rarely saw daylight. And for a few of those months, I was the City News “kid” who showed up at the very same medical examiner’s office five days a week – just to check up on things and see if anything occurred overnight.

ALSO, IT WAS a way to check up on final details of ongoing crime and violence stories.

But the lasting memory in my mind of visiting the county morgue five days a week at 5 a.m. each day was the sight of a pair of guys at the front desk who would while away the slower hours (I almost wrote “dead time”) by watching a portable black-and-white television.

I wonder how many collective hours of bad overnight television those guys watched while staying awake to process the bodies that would come in to the morgue from the urban violence that cares less about the clock.

I know some people are going to argue that the guys who got caught watching a martial-arts film were engaged in some sort of egregious act that wasted county tax dollars.

YET I’M NOT sure if I buy that whole-heartedly (and not just because, according to the Sun-Times, the two employees immediately turned off their computer and quit watching the film when they realized the inspector general’s people were present).

To be honest, I can remember moments working an overnight shift when I napped for a few seconds. One really does develop a sense that jolts them back into consciousness when something happens that warrants their attention.

I didn’t sleep through any news stories while covering crime from midnight to 9 a.m. A part of me wants to give the benefit of the doubt to the morgue workers – that they would have suddenly become alert if a fresh corpse had arrived on the premises and needed to be dealt with soon.

Besides, if a Bruce Lee flick is the worst thing the inspector general’s office can find, then perhaps our county government is fine. Somehow, I doubt that is true!


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