ONE HUNDRED DAYS
When it is a question of money, everyone is of the same religion.
The cab driver glanced back at me. "You..." he said. "America?"
It was a Wednesday evening in early Novemberthe pleasant, dry season in the Philippinesand a breeze with the feel of warm coconut milk was pouring through my open window. Id studied a map on the plane: the blackness beyond the row of palm trees to our left would be Manila Bay. To our right a congregation of burlap lean-tos overflowed onto the sidewalk, and, between two of them, a woman was cooking something over a smoky fire.
"Yes," I said. "America. San Francisco."
"Ah, Cah-lee-for-nee-ah!" said the driver. "California best."
He slowed to acknowledge a red traffic signal, then, reassured, sailed through it. Above the meter were a license and photo identifying the taxi as Golden Cab Number Two (it was painted black) and the driver as Mr. Alfredo Errabo. At the airport Mr. Errabo had agreed to take me to Manilas Ermita district where, according to my guidebook, hotel rooms cost less than $10 a night.
In the past I might have insisted on something cheaper, $5 or less, but this was the best-financed trip Id ever had. A couple of decades had exhausted themselves since my visit to the Hindu Kush, but I had not yet become richby Western standards I had never even been close. But recently I had sold a book, my first, and after paying off all my debts I was left with the biggest stash of my life, $6,800. I thought: Give up my apartment, put everything in storage, and I can afford a trip. My editor had asked me to be back for publication in mid-February, and when I sat down with my calendar and counted its squares, I discovered a travel window of exactly 100 days. I studied maps of Africa and Asia and picked out several places Id always been curious aboutthe Philippines, Egypt, Kenya, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, and South Africaand one, India, I was eager to see again. I bought $3,000 worth of plane tickets, set aside $300 for a splurge/emergency fund, and put $1,000 into a savings accountsomething to come back to. This left $2,500 for expenses: 100 days at $25 a day. In the places I was headed I would be one of the wealthy.
When Mr. Errabo and I had been riding for more than ten minutes the meter read 28 pesosa sum about equal to the cost of a medium-sized cup of coffee back home. But in San Francisco the twelve-mile trip from the airport to the Transamerica Pyramid downtown cost about $30without a tip. I knew. Mr. Errabo and I were brothers.
"In San Francisco," I told him, "I am a taxi driver."
He turned to look at me, headlights from behind illuminating his gimme-a-break facial expression. "You," he said, "taxi owner?"
"No. Taxi driver." I raised my hands to my own imaginary steering wheel. "I drivelike you. Every day, ten hours."
Mr. Errabo snorted. "Ten hours..."
"Yes." I was no slouch. "Ten-hour shift."
"In Manila," he said, "twenty-four hours."
"No! Nobody drives twenty-four hours. When do you sleep?"
"Sleep other day. Today I drive twenty-four hours, no sleepmaybe ten minutes sometimes. Tomorrow another man drive twenty-four hours, I sleep. Next day, I drive twenty-four hours, he sleep." Mr. Errabo jerked the wheel back and forth three times to weave us through a series of beach ball-sized potholes. At the side of the road a group of four men and two women were clustered around a smoking car; the women held babies and waved frantically at us. Mr. Errabo ignored them. "In California, drive ten hours. How many dollars?"
Knowing full well he'd never believe it, I told him the truth: "Average day$150."
Copyright 2000. Brad Newsham. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced without written permission from the publisher, Travelers' Tales Inc
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No Man's Land
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