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Ten-Hour Days

[whitespace] Counting Money

By Todd Dayton

You tell yourself the first hundred dollars is yours. Then you worry about making money for the company, because they're gonna collect it whether you make it or not. That's why after the day's first fare, a pinstriper heading from one end of Sansome to the other, you take the four bucks and buy cigarettes and a cup of coffee. It's yours.

Couple hours go by and you've crossed the city a dozen times. Between fares you flip through the bills in your front pocket. Later on you'll tuck the twenties in your sock, keep a wad for change in your pocket. You're counting all day.

Sometimes you do it as you drive down the street, calling off fivers for the people late to work, tens for tourists heading to Union Square. A woman with two suitcases on the street corner is thirty bucks, forty if she's late for her flight. It's become a habit, pegging them before they climb in the back seat. Every face has its story, and most of the time you don't have to look much farther than through the window. Transparent, a twelve-dollar trip to the Avenues, meeting some buddies to watch a game. It could be a few bucks off, but that's just because they didn't tip.

You see her two blocks off and you have to box the cab next to you out of the curb lane to catch the fare. She doesn't care who, she's just flagging a taxi. But to you she's ten bucks, headed downtown to some chichi bar where they make martinis out of everything but gin and vermouth. A good looker, dressed smart, ten bucks on cab fare is all she'll spend tonight.

"Where to?"

"UCSF," she says. "The surgery center."

You were wrong, but it's still a ten-dollar ride. You're checking her in the rearview, looking for signs of worry.

"Friend or relative?" you ask.

She looks at her reflection in the window, primping her hair. "Me," she says. She says no more.

At the curb in front of the building, you tell her it'll be $8.60. She hands you a fifty and you turn around to give her change, reaching in your sock for a couple twenties. She smiles and tells you to keep it. You're looking at her face for a second, peering close at her mouth, her chin. She didn't shave this morning. You realize you were all wrong about her.

"Take the evening off," she says. "I'm going to."

Watching her walk down the sidewalk in the side mirror, you decide you just might.

The Regular

Dispatcher reads calls over the radio, stringing intersections like a city up for auction.

Kearny-Columbus. Fell-Divisadero. Fifth and Harrison. Jackson-Polk. 23rd and Noriega. Closest driver wins the fare, farthest fare loses the ride. The address comes over the radio. You recognize it. A regular, she calls the inside line.

Regulars. Certain things can be said. They call the same company every time, tip well. They always get a ride, because ten regulars beats circle the Hilton for fares headed to Fisherman's Wharf. Most of the year, it's the neighborhood bread and butter feeding the driver, not clam chowder in a sourdough bowl.

You know more about her than you need to. Overworked lawyer, she sneaks in to work on weekends to do what she couldn't during the week. A couple of poorly planned office flings have her teetering on a breakdown Monday to Friday.

"How is it?" you ask.

"I'll be up all night," she says. "I can't believe you drive me to work every Saturday."

"Not every," you say. "But most."

"That's what I like about you. With everything always so different, I can't stand it. Sometimes I just need something to stay the same. You and your ten-hour days, you're my Christ on the cross."

"So tell me," she says, "How do you deal with them? All these different folks."

You're about to answer when she asks, "What's the strangest thing that ever happened in your cab. What's the most interesting story?"

You are, you tell her. You are.

Round Trip

They catch you at an intersection, hop in as you're trapped in traffic. You don't usually do pickups here; the Tenderloin is the perpetual no go.

Preparing yourself for the worst, you turn around to face them. Sunken eyes stare back at you, a hopeful smile built on crumbling teeth. He's got a twenty in his hand and he slides it over the seat. The redhead sits next to him in silence.

The light turns green and you go.

It's a round trip to the Haight.

Red's complaining about the prostitutes that were out on the lower end of Polk that morning. "Female prostitutes," he emphasizes.

Rottenteeth says that the cops are squeezing them out of downtown. The streets are crowded now.

Redhead says that's why he put an ad in the paper, to get off the street. It's better money, seven or eight hundred a week. But he's getting tired of it. Answering the voicemail at a pay phone, meeting at bars or bus stops.

When you get to the house, Rottenteeth jumps out and buzzes the door. "There goes your seven hundred bucks," you say to the redhead. He doesn't answer, glancing at the doorway every few seconds. Then his friend pops out of the door and gets back into the cab. In the rearview, you see the nod between them. You head back toward downtown.

"You mind?" Rottenteeth asks. "We've been waiting all morning." He pulls a kit from one of his pocket, the blackened spoon coming out first.

You pull over at the corner, hand back the change and ask them to get out. They don't care. Their hurry was only one-way.

Merging into traffic, you see a Vietnamese woman a block up. She's loaded with groceries, waving. She needs a ride.

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From the March 1998 issue of the Metropolitan.

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