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A full serving of the graveyard shift, with a side of insomnia, drunks and memories

Friday - 12/28/2012, 8:27am  ET

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Mensa Prescott and Brandon Bell work the overnight hours at The Diner in Adams Morgan. Though the hours can be tough, the regulars and experiences keep the job interesting. (Alicia Lozano/WTOP)
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Alicia Lozano, wtop.com

WASHINGTON - The sound of clattering dishes inside The Diner in Adams Morgan betrays the late hour as hurried servers scuttle between tables. While most people are getting ready for bed, the graveyard shift at this Northwest D.C. eatery is just getting started.

Brandon Bell, the night manager, has trained his body to cope with the irregular hours. At 34 years old, he arrives to work around 8:45 p.m. and heads back to his home in Capitol Heights, Md. sometime before 7 a.m.

Instead of sleeping the day away, he helps out his mother or works on his creative projects for Phyre Arts Entertainment, a D.C.-area production and talent agency he founded several years ago. Then it starts all over.

Despite the schedule, Bell says he has the right temperament for the job.

"I'm a night owl anyway," he says. "If I was just at home, I would be up until 3 or 4 a.m."

"After a while, though, it does become wear and tear."

For insomniac Mensa Prescott, working overnight provides a whole different set of challenges.

She recalls an especially rowdy night when a 20-something woman staggered into the restaurant around 3 a.m.

The intoxicated customer took off her clothes in the bathroom and rolled around in her own bodily fluids before the police were called. She was eventually taken to the hospital and treated for alcohol poisoning, Prescott says.

"That is the craziest thing I've seen," she says.

The 28-year-old former school teacher says her experience working with children prepared her for wrangling drunk adults.

"It's the same kind of," she says. "I'm serving, taking care of and dealing with a lot of people at the same time, same as the classroom."

"The only difference is they've been drinking and they're bigger."

But not every night is so chaotic - most graveyard shifts can be divided into four stages:

The first to arrive are the late-night diners hungry after happy hour or just getting off work. Then come the bar hoppers fueling up for a big night out. After the bars and clubs close, a new crowd packs in eager to soak up the booze with breakfast and burgers.

And finally there are the regulars. These are the people who can be counted on day in and day out. They order the same thing, they sit in the same seats and they make the graveyard shift memorable, says Bell.

"We have a few characters," he says. "An older guy that comes in every single graveyard around 2 a.m. and gets eggs and corn beef hash and sits there and laughs and jokes to himself."

Other regulars include Janice, who always orders a Diet Coke, and Mark, who loves a glass of Malbec.

"We expect them to come in and we know them by name now and they know us by name," Bell says. "It's really cool. We kind of look forward to those people because they keep things positive."

Prescott and Bell join the 16 percent of workers employed on the overnight shift. Studies show that people who keep irregular hours are at a greater risk of heart disease and stroke, and about 20 percent of them fall asleep on the job, CNN reports.

Conventional wisdom aside, Bell plans to continue his double life as an artist by day and graveyard shift worker by night. When he is not busy running The Diner, he is preparing a big surprise for inauguration weekend.

Until then, Bell is satisfied with getting four or five hours of sleep a night while juggling work at The Diner and Phyre Arts.

"That is my passion," he says. "I don't want to give up on it, so I just have to balance it somehow."

Watch the video below to learn more about Bell's Inauguration Flashmob:

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(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)