From the archive
Mr. Osei saw Elizabeth Otolizz for the first time when she stopped to eat in his restaurant in the late 1980s and he pointed out that she had spilled okra on her blouse. She moved to New York in 1986 and worked as a home health nurse, a newspaper deliverywoman and a taxi driver. She spilled out stories about the celebrities she had met, like Snoop Dogg, and the times she had been beaten up by customers. She carried in her purse masses of wires that she used to make emergency taxi repairs.
When Mr. Osei went back to driving a taxi, he would occasionally spot Elizabeth at airport taxi stands and chat. Then, when he saw her driving her taxi, he would ask her for her phone number at stop lights. But Elizabeth, who was getting over a previous relationship, demurred.
In 1991, Mr. Osei’s taxi medallion was about to fall into foreclosure, and Elizabeth offered to go into business with him. She borrowed $1,500 from an African grocery store owner and alternated with Mr. Osei driving his Chevy Caprice in 12-hour shifts to help pay off the loan. Soon, Elizabeth decided she was ready to take their friendship beyond a trade-off of taxi keys. In 1995, they wed in New Jersey, had two sons and slowly and steadily built a small taxi empire.
But in 2006, after his brother died of complications related to diabetes, Mr. Osei was called back to Ghana to assume the title of chief. Suddenly, Mr. Osei was being carried on a palanquin, conducting judicial hearings and officiating at festivals. Ms. Osei still laughs when she describes the expression on her husband’s face when he returned from that first trip back to Ghana.