Actually, I have no idea of the answer to this question and won’t presume to guess the eternal destiny of one-half of the “Car Talk” dynasty. Rather, I was improvising on the old Simon and Garfunkel song Mrs. Robinson and its plaintive question, “Where have you gone Joe DiMaggio?/A nation turns its lonely eyes to you.” When many of us learned yesterday of Magliozzi’s passing, I think we realized we had lost someone special, a kind of national treasure. In the midst of all the acerbic dialogue between various contentious factions arguing online or over the airwaves, we could tune in every Saturday morning and listen to Tom and his brother Ray make us laugh over something as prosaic, but often more consequential to our daily lives, as car problems.
NPR has continued to re-broadcast old programs of “Car Talk” so we will be able to laugh and remember for awhile longer the special gift Tom and his brother Ray gave us. They not only gave us good car advice but the model of two human beings who thoroughly enjoyed both their work and each other. They also modeled two very intelligent guys doing something often thought “beneath” the intelligentsia–repairing cars. Both were MIT graduates and had careers in industry and teaching before opening their car repair shop in Cambridge.
As I reflected on Tom’s passing, I thought about how rare was the kind of humor they practiced as they bantered with each other and callers. They could poke fun without attacking the dignity of others. The humor was witty and reflected their intelligence. It was not vicious and attacking, nor was it coarse. And it gave a human face to stodgy NPR.
Car problems can be serious things–costly and dangerous. Somehow, these guys managed to talk about that without ever taking themselves seriously or fear-mongering. It makes me think about how many other matters of our national discourse could use a dose of this.
I also am grateful for the model of really intelligent guys who were never pretentious about their intelligence and who dignified working with your hands and getting them dirty. Instead of accentuating class differences, they bridged them and brought us together every Saturday around “puzzlers”, car problems, and the enjoyment of their creative “program credits” at the end of each show (we actually saw the offices of Dewey, Cheatham, and Howe on a visit to Harvard Square!).
We lost a kind of national treasure yesterday, one who stood for intelligent and rollicking good humor, bridging the social divides we love to create, and the dignity of work well done. Hopefully our reflections on what we’ve lost will also challenge us with what we need to preserve.