Readers already familiar with my lack of mechanical and home improvement skills shouldn’t be surprised to know that I don’t know terribly much about cars. And for those who didn’t know this about me already, let me assure you that my lovely wife, Becca, stands a better chance of changing a tire — or oil — successfully, or at least with less cursing along the way.
Despite my lack of automotive acuity, however, I must admit to being an enthusiastic fan of the National Public Radio program “Car Talk,” and was sad to learn Monday of the death of one of half of the infamous “Click and Clack, the Tappet Brothers,” Tom Magliozzi. I hadn’t even known of his illness — or his age for that matter — but there was on my news feed: Tom Magliozzi, taken by Alzheimer’s at age 77.
I have a vague recollection of first hearing “Car Talk.” I was probably in junior high (I’m guessing in the early 1980s) and we were at my grandparents’ house listening to NPR. Both Grandma and Grandpa were huge fans of “A Prairie Home Companion,” and I vividly recall being practically doubled over in tears from laughter while listening to Garrison Keillor around a picnic table at a campsite. At that time, I didn’t get much of Keillor’s humor. Actually, sometimes some of it is still lost on me, though perhaps that’s because I’m not a native Minnesotan. But there was other program on before “A Prairie Home Companion” that was, well, unlike nothing I’d heard.
These guys, of course, went on and on about cars, and even though I didn’t understand much of the technicalities, they were simply fun to listen to. They had a silly way of interacting with their listeners; I remember some people thinking they weren’t always kind to some of their callers, but I always figured it was for entertainment’s sake and not out of genuine meanness. Most of all, the laughter of the brothers was contagious, as was the back-and-forth ribbing in which the duo was consistently engaged.
Click and Clack — Tom and his younger brother, Ray — had quite a run, as they finally retired just a couple of years ago. Over the years, I mostly remember listening to “Car Talk” in the car, either while driving by myself or with a family member or even a few old girlfriends (I remember often hearing another favorite NPR program, “Wait Wait … Don’t Tell Me” this way). I don’t know if I ever learned much about cars from those guys, but they always seemed to make me laugh and put me in a good mood.
A few years ago, the brothers had a very small role in the movie “Cars,” and my son Zachary (at that time about 3 years old) was quickly able to recognize their voices on the radio after seeing the film. Their brand of humor may not have been very unique — two brothers gently making fun of each other, as well as their callers’ stories — but can you imagine a radio program about auto care done dryly and being so accessible to so many? Me neither.
I haven’t listened to it yet, but sometime soon I want to cue up “We Have Learned Absolutely Nothing”: Tom Magliozzi On Decades Of ‘Car Talk,’” an NPR interview replayed Tuesday. I love the title, if only because I really haven’t learned much of anything, either, from the program. All in all, it was a pleasant — and very funny diversion — and sometimes that’s just the cure for whatever ails you.