Photo: Mohamed Omar

While you were sleeping

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Reading Time: 5 minutes

Every day, the busy Ryerson campus dwindles in people as night approaches. Yet there are those who stay behind to keep the campus going. Rhiannon Russell takes a look at four campus night workers

George Walker
Hot Dog Vendor

On a cool fall night, George Walker stands inside the hot dog stand at Yonge-Dundas Square. The booth’s bright lights are blinding and the smell of roasting meat permeates the air.

Walker, 60, works from 10 p.m. until 6 a.m. five nights a week. It’s the nearest street meat stand to the campus during the night.

“I’m here by myself,” he says. “I don’t have to worry about other workers or other people. I don’t like people very much.”

Tonight, he’s wearing glasses, perched about halfway down his nose, and a grey Google polo under a black jacket. He’s balding, his face weathered.

“This isn’t really a night location. It’s much busier during the day,” he says. On these nights, he has to keep himself entertained, reading the newspaper or sometimes playing on his computer.

Another source of entertainment is his surroundings.

“See those religious nutcases there?” There’s a cluster of people nearby standing on the sidewalk talking in raised voices.

They’re two religious groups that argue with each other regularly. “Every weekend, we call it ‘battling of the megaphones.’ ‘The Bible says this’ and ‘the Qur’an says that.’ They’re usually misquoting both,” he says with a laugh.

When Walker has to go to the bathroom, he flags down the Eaton Centre security officers who patrol the area. “They stick around for five minutes and I give them a free dog,” he says.

The stand’s generator whirs constantly. There’s chirping from the intersection infused with the passing streetcar’s clack-clack. Gospel music with a dance beat plays loudly from a white van parked curbside. Talk radio can be heard from the nearby touristy trinket stand.

Walker leans against the back counter, reading the newspaper. Periodically, he picks up the tongs and turns over a wiener.

A man comes along and orders a hot dog. George is silent. He hands the customer his street meat in a napkin, then picks up his newspaper again and leans back on the counter.

Sam Bergen*
Library Assistant

It’s Friday night. While most students are on their way to getting unacceptably drunk, Sam Bergen* is working at the Ryerson library. The first-year urban planning student works until midnight three nights a week. Tonight, the library is quieter than usual.

Bergen and three coworkers, all students, are vacuuming the bookshelves on the ninth floor. They take turns moving the hose up and down along the bookshelves. Bergen, clean-shaven and dressed in jeans, sneakers and a striped T-shirt, leans against the shelves and fiddles with his keychain.

“Libraries serve a strong purpose in society,” he says over the vacuum’s faint drone. “It’s not even just about books. There’s stuff online, it’s a meeting place, there’s people studying, access to computers.”

Tonight though, there are only about five people studying on the floor. “These first couple weeks are dead, but then it does get really crazy,” Bergen says. He has yet to see anything out of the ordinary, “But I’ve heard rumours about people getting down in the study rooms,” he says.

Bergen and the other assistants shelve books, tidy study spaces and work at the circulation desk. Usually, the four students work in pairs, but since the library is so quiet right now, they’re all together, chatting about schoolwork. “You think you could tutor me in economics?” Bergen asks one of them with a grin. “I’d pay you.”

The 21-year-old likes working nights. “It’s very peaceful,” he says. “Therapeutic in a sense.” Some students would likely never dream of giving up a few hours of their precious Friday night, but Bergen’s not worried.

“It’s only 12. The night is young.”

Tebletse Kiros
Car Park Attendant

An orange fluorescent glow illuminates the darkness of Victoria Street. The usual steady stream of cars out of the parking garage has slowed, and now less than 10 vehicles remain in sight. Car park attendant Tebletse Kiros sits in a booth only slightly larger than a fishing hut.

At around 10:40 p.m., a frail-looking woman with dark circles under her eyes appears at the window, asking for change.

“No sweetheart, sorry. Not tonight,” says Kiros. The woman’s face remains expressionless and she wanders off into the night. Kiros shuts the window.

Kiros works until 11 p.m. She wears glasses, a white lab coat and blue jeans and sits on a rolling desk chair, greeting drivers (even the grumpy ones) with a smile and a “How are you?” as they stop to pay.

She says she often has to deal with rude people.

“What do you think if a customer gives you 54 cents in pennies when you have a line-up at 9:00 [p.m.]?” she asks, gesturing to the parking spaces.

“That’s what happened yesterday. A guy got really mad, insulted me and left. He didn’t even apologize.”

But she’s not cynical. “I don’t take it personal. If I did, I’d go crazy. Not everyone’s bad. Some of them I just kind of discipline as if they were my kids.”

Staticky music emanates from the radio inside the booth and is drowned out occasionally by the sound of running engines and teens’ drunken shrieks as they walk by.

Kiros says she feels safe when she’s working. Ryerson security is close by. “You call them, they are sent in two minutes,” she says. There are few times she’s had to call them. “If somebody refuses to pay us, they come.”

On nights when traffic in and out of the garage is slow, she likes to read. A Ryerson professor who parks her car there lent Kiros an e-reader, so she’s been reading classics for the past two months.

“Recently I’ve read Anna Karenina.”

Valentina Omnov
TRS Cleaning Staff

Valentina Omnov flies around the seventh floor of the Ted Rogers building, mop in one manicured hand and cleaning solution in the other.

Usually, this floor alone is Omnov’s domain, but tonight she has to clean all three floors.

She moves accordingly — like she’s on fast-forward — tucking in chairs, aligning desks, talking a mile a minute, her arms waving. After tidying a set of tables and chairs in a hallway, she turns and scurries to the nearest classroom, her wedges clicking on the floor. “Go go go!” she says.

Omnov wears gold necklaces and a polka-dotted apron over a black dress. Occasionally, she reaches up to smooth her cropped, blonde hair.

Omnov moved to Canada from Ukraine 12 years ago with a master’s degree in mechanical engineering. She’s been working as a cleaner at Ryerson since 1999. Now, she works part-time from 10 p.m. to 1 a.m. on weeknights.

“It’s not my job. It’s my fitness,” she clarifies.

In the classrooms, she wipes the white boards down with a mop. She moves swiftly around the room, picking empty Tim Hortons cups off the desks and stooping to collect gum wrappers on the floor.

For her, the importance of cleanliness is a philosophy. “People have to be clean inside to be clean outside. It’s the heart, the soul, the mind.”

Omnov says she’s 43, then in the same breath adds, “Of course that’s not true.” She has two grown children, and sings in the choir at her church. “It’s important to clean the spirit,” she says.


*names changed

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