In the fall of 1982, my wife, Nancy, and I moved back to New York City from Putnam County, where we had moved 16 years before. For me, the most unfortunate change was the disappearance of the roomy Checker taxis, which had two additional jump seats so five passengers could ride together. The company that made Checker cabs, in Kalamazoo, Michigan, went out of business in 1982. Now there were only two taxi models to choose from: uncomfortable and unbearable.

To protest this diminished comfort in transportation, I went to New York magazine and asked to do a short history of New York taxicabs to show what we had lost, and they gave me three pages for it. Years later, Richard Snow, the editor of American Heritage, asked me to do a more historical approach to the American taxicab. Here it is.