Here’s Tom Magliozzi, who died this week at 77: “Some guy I met said it’s amazing how we use cars on our show as an excuse to discuss everything in the world — energy, psychology, behavior, love, money, economics and finance.” And then he added, “The cars themselves are boring as hell.”
Well, maybe not always boring, but often not funny. Before Click and Clack assaulted the airwaves, auto radio was super-serious and deadly — unless you really cared about the different bolt patterns on Chevy wheels. It’s not the cars, but the people — their foibles, the funny things they say, and their tentative and sometimes gingerly approach to the two tons of machinery under that care — that’s so consistently hilarious.
That's Tom on the left, Ray on the right, and me in the middle. (Photo: Doug Mayer)
Tom and Ray may have wandered accidentally into the studios of WBUR in Boston back in 1977, but it was their sense of humor, and their recognition of the existential human comedy, that kept them on NPR all these years. They’re still hugely popular in reruns now on more than 660 stations.
I’ve never met anyone who didn’t love "Car Talk," even though they often preface it with, “I don’t really care much about cars, but…” The bottom line: Those two guys, laughing together, joking with (never at) their callers — it’s the chemistry of Click and Clack, that’s why people tune in.
The national NPR show started in 1987; I started, as one of their bloggers, in 2008. No, they didn’t hire me because I own a 1963 Dodge Dart convertible, a double of Tom’s most beloved steed. They hired me because … actually I have no idea why they hired me, but I’m mighty thankful that they did.
That's a '56 Chevy wagon they're wrenching, back in the day. (Photo: "Car Talk")
To seal the deal I went up to Car Talk Plaza in “our fair city” of Cambridge. We didn’t actually talk any business, just ate lunch together after a taping. Given their clout at NPR at the time, do you think we had a fancy meal in a Harvard Square restaurant? Hell, no, we had greasy sandwiches on a cluttered office table. That space, with a huge black-and-white cutout of the brothers, is so them.
I can say with total conviction that Tom and Ray off-mike are exactly like they are when it’s on, one bizarre anecdote after another. You can’t do them justice without that insane Boston accent and the laughter punctuating the punchlines.
Tom Magliozzi isn’t replaceable. We can only enjoy what he left behind, and take comfort from the fact that he lived a long and happy life. As Ray puts it, “Tom spent his life doing what he was born to do. Making friends, philosophizing, thinking out loud, solving people’s problems, and laughing his butt off.”
Try to imagine hearing Tom’s joyous, life-affirming voice as you read these quotes:
It’s only a car.
Do it while you’re young. You may never have another chance to do anything this stupid again!
Happiness equals reality minus expectations.
How do you know if you’ve got a good mechanic? By the size of his boat.
If money can fix it, it’s not a problem.
Our humility is what makes us great.
Non Impediti Ratione Cogitationis (Unencumbered by the Thought Process). Tom's self-proclaimed motto.
If it falls off, it doesn’t matter.
I like to drive with the windows open. I mean, before you know it, you're going to spend plenty of time sealed up in a box anyway, right?
Related on MNN: Remembering my first car