20 January 2009
Time for change
I’ll be giving myself an early mark tonight, ending my shift before midnight to drive home for the broadcast from Washington. I’ve got some hot dogs, buns, onions, American mustard and for dessert, Oreos. I’ll see if I can find a bottle or two of root beer, but it’s hard to come by in Australia. I can always fall back on Pepsi, I guess.
Four years I got into Washington just after the second Bush inauguration, and it was a cold old town. Bleak in the snow, ice covering the Potomac, and homeless finding shelter amongst the grand monuments. But there were shops chock full of unsold red white and blue caps, buttons, scarves and nosewarmers. In the days afterwards I virtually had the place to myself, examining the Hope Diamond at leisure, and sharing the “Rotunda of the Charters of Freedom” with only a handful of other visitors, despite the fact that all of the grand institutions in which I rattled around were clearly set up for thousands.
This time around, there are going to be millions of visitors. Whole communities are hiring buses for the drive in. They want their piece of history. Washington will be a city buzzing with excitement, and I wish the local cabbies, creaky old black gentlemen every one of them, a windfall profit.
In Canberra, it’s hot and quiet. You could fire a cannon down any main road and not hit anybody except maybe a lonely cabbie looking for pedestrians.
There’s a bit of work available, but what is it with everybody in January? Does nobody have anything smaller than a fifty dollar note?
I start out with a float in my money bag. Two twenties, two tens, two fives and whatever coins I can cram into my dispenser, usually heavier on the silver than the gold one and two dollar pieces. I might have a few notes as a reserve in my wallet.
The first passenger offering a fifty I welcome with a smile. But the average fare is fifteen dollars and giving change for that wipes out half my float. Still, it can’t be helped, and I tuck away the golden yellow bill, known as a “pineapple” for its colour.
The second is greeted with a groan and the third pineapple just reams me out completely. I’m reduced to making change in handfuls of coins.
My wife doesn’t help. She raids my wallet for cash before departing for work, and at the rustle of notes I’ll wake from a sound sleep, muttering “take the fifties, take ‘em all, just leave me the little ones!”
Yes, it’s true - I love the little five and ten dollar notes with a passion. Give me a thick wad of the small notes and I’m the happiest cabbie that lived, but if I have a fistful of fifties, I’m haggard and wary, looking suspiciously over at my passengers as we near the end of the ride.
Which, of course, brings me to the classic old taxidriver story.
A late night cabbie, much like myself, was cruising the streets when he spotted someone flagging him down. Just an arm frantically waving, and a desperate face peering around the corner of a hedge.
He drew up to the curb and a stark naked woman raced across the footpath, flung open the door and dived into the back seat.
“Thank god you stopped,” she said. “The wife came home at the wrong time and I didn’t have a moment to...”
She stops as she realises the cabbie hasn’t driven off yet, and in fact is staring at her through the rear vision mirror.
“What’s the matter?” she snaps. “Haven’t you ever seen a woman before?”
“Well, yes,” the cabbie says slowly, “but I was just wondering how you intended to pay the fare.”
She leans back and opens her legs. “Will that do?”
“Awww, geez lady, don’t you have anything smaller?”