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I got to come out here to make a buck

October 8, 2002
The Iranian

I picked them up at the street corner.

"Dos personas, dos horas," I yelled across the street from my van

Five of them rush towards me.

"Dos personas," I repeat, waving two fingers.

Now it was a race. The fastest two would get in my van. I had no other criteria.

As they got in I said again "Dos horas, ok?"

The one in the back said in perfect English, "Better than nothing."

He was Carlos, a Chicano. The one in the front was from Mexico. His name was Jorge.

"What kind of work?" Carlos asked.

Easy, I said, as I made the turn and got on the major street. "It's a small pile of dirt in the front yard. We'll load it on the wheel borough, and dump it in the slope in the backyard."

I then turned to Jorge and said "Muy facil."

He nodded with a smile.

I'd seen the likes of Carlos before; Chicanos who are day laborers and wait for work at the street corner alongside illegals. This is probably their last stop looking for legitimate, honest work.

Carlos was talkative, or perhaps he didn't care for the periods of silence that would ordinarily ensue.

"Is this van brand new? You must have paid a lot of money for it."

No, I answered, shrugging off his enthusiasm. "It's a couple of years old."

"Was there a lot of action at the corner today?" I asked, trying to change the subject.

"No, nothing. This is the first time for me all this week." he answered.

It was Saturday, late morning.

It turns out Carlos has a criminal record, and it's hard to get a real job.

"Why don't you get a permanent job?" I asked.

"When you apply, they run a background check on you, they see the record, and they don't hire," he explained.

"Even if the cops stop you in the street, and they run a check, they give you a lot of trouble," he continued as I nodded.

Carlos did three years at the penitentiary (Solidad , I think) for narcotics trafficking.

"A friend of my brother-in-law's gave me a package to bring over from TJ," he said.

"I'd never done anything like that before, but he offered five hundred, and I couldn't refuse. They brought a dog to the car at the border and he sniffed the package out. I got locked up for 3 years, with my wife and 3 kids out on the street," Carlos continued.

"I lost my job, my car, everything, man! My wife and kids moved in with my mom. My wife ended up going to work. She still works but don't make much, so I got to come out here to make a buck," he continued.

We were nearly at the house. Jorge had been silent throughout. Then again, nobody spoke in his language either.

I pulled up to the driveway. "That's the pile," I said, pointing to it.

I showed them the route and they got to work. No instructions needed.

The job went without a hitch. A can of Pepsi each and we are back in the van.

I dropped them off where I had picked them up. Carlos asked for a cigarette and I gave him one.

"I'm always here," he said. "Look for me here."

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By Shahriar Zahedi



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