An ode to the Click and the Clack
Several years ago, when I was on a road trip with a friend and radio colleague, he turned on a public radio program that he said was about car repair, and I gave him a look like, "our cars together aren't worth the price of a new muffler, and we couldn't change a fan belt any more than we could perform a kidney transplant."
"Just listen," he barked back at me.
At first I was caught by the hosts' thick Massachusetts accents as they patiently listened to some woman caller describe a creaking noise her car was making. They asked her several questions, and she answered them. I had to admit, I was being drawn in to the mystery of it all. What could this problem be?
Then one of the men -- one of the brothers, as I would later find out -- asked her, "what color is this car?"
"White," she responded.
"Oh, sorry, we don't know anything about the white ones," they said, followed by a short pause, and cackling laughter.
I turned to my friend, and he just smiled and nodded. "Uh, huh," he said.
And I was hooked.
The show, of course, was National Public Radio's "Car Talk" with Tom and Ray Magliozzi, also known as Click and Clack, the Tappet Brothers.
These guys are geniuses. After years of listening to them, they've transformed me from a loyal listener who knew nothing about cars to a loyal listener who knows very little about cars -- far too little to actually fix anything -- but a loyal listener nonetheless!
I have picked up enough to sound intelligent, at least.
"Oh, that sounds like your heat shield is rattling," I can tell my wife.
"No, it's not hard on your car to park it with the manual transmission in gear," I can tell a relative.
"Sounds to me like you might have run over a raccoon and a little hole was punched in your catalytic converter," I can tell a complete stranger, who then gives me a weird look.
OK, so I still know very little about cars, but I wouldn't miss a week of the MIT-educated Magliozzis because their laughes are infectious, their self-depreciating humor is endearing, and because I really only get so many channels on the radio in my garage.
Listening to the boys over the years interviewing their own mother, Tommy trying to recall the previous week's "puzzler" brain teaser, their faux credits at the end, thanking people with funny, made up names, like their law firm, "Dewey, Cheetham & Howe." And their final warning of each show is priceless. One says, "and remember, don't drive like my brother," to which the other replies, "and remember, don't drive like MY brother."
It's a hoot to hear them diagnose car problems, settle arguments between quarreling lovers, gently rib the callers, and making those callers sound like idiots when the boys make them imitate the sound their car is making with their voice.
What's amazing is that without even seeing the car, they can often figure out the problem with eerie accuracy. And sometimes the show takes an odd tangent, discussing the physics of the Bernoulli effect. The other day, an astronaut called in to get advice on how to unstick some stuck bolts while repairing the Hubble space telescope.
When I pop the hood of my car, I still see a tangled mess of seemingly unconnected wires, a large engine-shaped hunk of metal, and a bunch of computers that can neither do my taxes nor allow me to play World of Warcraft. Yet I would never miss a weekend with Click and Clack.