When John Twine first drove his cab through Washington, cobblestone streets were lined with row houses set close together, gas was precious at 6 cents a gallon and fares rarely exceeded 20 cents.

That was in 1931. Since then, Twine has driven seven Capitol Cab Co. black-and-orange taxis, all bearing the number that has been the hallmark of his 48-year career: 46.

"They didn't even have 46 cabs back then," chuckles Twine, 72. "Now they have thousands."

Twine, patriarch of hacks, settles into a faded armchair in his modest Northwest Washington home and sifts through his memory to recall the changes he has seen during his long hacking career.

Twine got his start during te Depression, but escaped its pinch because of low fares. "People were riding real good then for 20 cents," he grins.

"Getting a nickel tip was a great thing," he laughs, head shaking, as if suddenly remembering. "If you made $5 on a Sunday, that was real good."

More recently, Twine earned up to $200 a week. But four years ago, he cut his hours to four a day, earning "just enough to get by." He avoids fares after dark, explaining that advancing age has sharpened his fear of violence.

"It's just too dangerous," he explains. "I'm not as afraid in the daytime as I am in the dark."

During the 1930s and '40s, Twine said, hacks used to joke, "I've got a dollar to rob and a dollar for change . . But they would never hurt you," he says, placing both hands on his generous lap.

Twine says he considers himself lucky. Forty-three years ago, he was robbed of $3. Since then, he says, he has developed a sixth sense that alerts him to danger.

Twine has been victimized, however, in other ways -- by riders who try to avoid paying their fares.

He remembers them now in rapid succession, like one-liners: The guy who left an empty box for collateral, saying it contained a pair of $40 shoes, promising to return with the change; the man whose wallet was stolen at the train station, promising he'd nail the fare; the guy who played the numbers and offered $20 to take him on his collection rounds.

The Washington of 50 years ago was a much less populous place where a nickel tip was considered "real good" and gas was doled out in five-gallon cans from a truck, Twine recalls.

Prior to World Wayy II, Twine says, racial tensions were more obvious and at times, Twine laughs, amusing.

"Sometimes (white people) would wave me, and they'd see I was black and they'd pretend they were scratching their heads."

He came to Washington from Norfolk, Va., in 1922. "I was going to work for a while and then go to school. But that never happened," Twine jokes. "I learn a lot talking to people or overhearing people. It's an education in itself."

At 13, he worked as a shoeshine boy, and later was a dishwasher and elevator operator in local hotels. He earned as much as $45 a month, "a lot of money in those days."

Twine says his sister was instrumental in his career. He lived with her most of his life, and in his early years never paid rent. They took in black show people. "There weren't many places they could stay," he explains.

"I saved my money and then I saw this cab stand," Twine said, referring to an unsuccessful venture to build his own cab company prior to joining Capitol in 1934. "I went out and bought four cabs because I wanted a fleet. cI bought then secondhand (because) they were cheap.

"I was young' and inexperienced and I went broke," he recalls, blaming his misfortune on ignorance rather than the pinch of the Depression.

Twine now drives a used 1973 Chrysler, the first used car he has owned since 1931. "I just can't go into debt buying a new car anymore," he laments. "They're so expensive."

Twine says he still enjoys driving, but not as much as before. "People just aren't courteous anymore, they've changed.

"Instead of letting you out of a place, they speed up to keep you in. When I was young, I could cope with it," he said.

Now Twine helps older people in his Northwest Washington neighborhood by running errands for them, charging them a minimal fee or nothing at all. "Sometimes I forget I'm old, too," he sighs.

Twine says if he had it to do all over again, he wouldn't become a hack.

If he had gotten a 9-to-5 job, he could have retired on a pension.

"Now I still have to drive to make a living."