Taxi as Icon: News Clips and Selected Essays
Monday, April 8, 1974

With little room to maneuver or park private cars, New Yorkers are more desperately dependent on taxis than any other city dwellers in the world. And the thousands of cabs that they ride are among the world's sleaziest: cigarette butts and paper coffee cups on the floor, dirty windows, leprous upholstery, chewed gum and sticky candy wrappers on ripped seats, and jagged metal protrusions on the doors waiting to savage the clothing of entering or departing passengers.
Thus it was with considerable incredulity last week that New York's taxi masochists learned that one of the biggest fleets in town, called Helen Maintenance, had hired Designer Carleton Varney to refurbish its taxis in Holiday Inn splendor. The company's 104 Checker cabs will have green-and-white checked vinyl-covered seats, red tweed weather-resistant carpeting, solid green jump seats and matching interior walls. Seat belts will be bright red and ceilings will be painted blue—with an occasional white cloud and colorful bird —symbolizing, no doubt, New York's skyhigh fares. Says a Panglossian spokesman for Helen (named for no one): "Driver reaction has been surprisingly great. The drivers feel that it will stimulate bright conversation with their passengers." Chiefs of Helen Maintenance are trying to persuade the Checker Co. of Kalamazoo, Mich., to make the spiffy interiors a standard item on all the taxis that it manufactures for New York.

Another large New York taxi fleet, Scull's Angels, is intent on decorating the passengers' interiors. The company will soon present patrons between 7 a.m. and 9 a.m. with a free box containing orange juice, dry cereal, milk, a Styrofoam bowl and a plastic spoon, all of which could add to backseat squalor. Though Scull's fleet is owned by famed Art Collector Robert Scull, there are no plans to mellow the yellows' interiors.