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  • Happiness equals reality minus expectations.

    ~ Tom Magliozzi

    Tom Magliozzi, the elder Click and Clack brother of Car Talk fame, died this week, now truly unencumbered by the thought process (his motto if not his epitaph). This came as unexpected and sad news for me. I hadn't known that he had suffered from Alzheimer's disease. I miss him greatly, even though he's still on the air. Especially, I miss his effusive, cackling, infectious laughter.

    The first time I heard Tom Magliozzi's laugh I was in my early twenties and he was in his early thirties. It often echoed through the drafty metal shop where Tom, a Cambridge (his fair city) townie, was teaching a miscellany of mechanically illiterate Cantabrigians how to repair their cars. I was there because I had just purchased my first motor vehicle, a 1968 Chevy cargo van with a stick shift on the steering column and a good old straight six entombed in a well between the two front seats. My plan was to outfit it as a camper and take long road trips, so learning how to take care of this beast seemed like a good use of eight winter weekday evenings or so.

    The metal shop belonged to Rindge Technical School (later merged with Cambridge High and Latin – Tom's alma mater – to become Cambridge Rindge and Latin, Our Fair City’s high school). There were about ten of us in that uncomfortable classroom, including two or three brave women. Tom did not discriminate – he dubbed whoever asked a dumb question or gave a stupid answer a knucklehead, and then patiently explained the matter. He rubbed our noses in the greasy innards of carburetors, differentials, clutches, and brakes. We learned how to read our gauges, replace blown fuses, gap our spark plugs, advance and retard the spark on a distributor (remember them?), and to know what motor oil to use when. After all that, in the last class, he advised us to join a motor club – just in case – and mentioned he and his brother had a DIY garage should we ever feel the need for adult supervision when working on our cars.

    Tom’s tutelage helped me understand my boxcar’s needs. With frequent oil changes and some prodding it kept on trucking for five cross-country trips. Then, after 15 pretty good years, its body having got good and holy, I decided to put it out to pasture. A friend needed a van to haul materials for the house he was building, and so I reluctantly accepted $100 for my Pod. (I affectionately called the van Pod, short for "pick up or deliver," "property of Dutton," and "portable opium den.") Anyway, to show its displeasure at being sold as chattel, Pod dropped its gas tank on my friend’s test drive, as if it were marking its territory. Tom would have loved that moment.

    Tom and I last spoke when I called in to Car Talk in the 1980s. It was still a local radio show then and the brothers actually took live calls over the air. I rang Click and Clack up because my van had a perennial problem with its shifter linkage jamming. As I recall, Ray first said that this is a fairly common problem for long wheelbase trucks, and it is potentially very dangerous not to be able to change gears, so get it fixed ASAP (Ray was always the more cautious of the two). Then Tom chimed in to advise me to crawl under the car with a ball peen hammer, find the spot where the two linkage rods cross, and “when I nod my head, hit it.”

    And so, feeling unencumbered, I thank the universe for having arranged to have Tom in my life. There's nothing more I can say about him that would surpass his Car Talk autobiography (so to speak), a real refreshing respite from pathetic self-promotions and PR puffery.

    May Tom find an appreciative audience waiting in his garage bay in the sky, and may the heavens resound with his cackles.

    @image: collage showing Tom broadcasting in a WBUR studio in Boston, Tom riding a pony saying "Look Ma, no hands," and the so-called Car Talk Plaza, the Magliozzi's office overlooking Hahvahd Sqayah, its window decorated with the name of their putative law firm, Dewey, Cheetham and Howe.

    @audio: "What's so funny?" from the Car Talk Channel on soundcloud
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