Gary Conkling Life Notes

Mostly whimsical reflections on life

Once Upon a Time, There Is Car Talk

Car Talk‘s Click and Clack were no strangers to critics, which they took in stride and often agreed with. But few critics were as pungent and pointed as Melissa Wilson of Seattle.

Click and ClackMs. Wilson sent a scalding letter to the Tappet brothers, saying their radio show was so awful, even her dog hated it. She said they gave rotten car repair advice and insulted callers. She questioned whether they really were mechanics and doubted if anyone “in their right mind” would take their cars to their shop.

After reading a letter purportedly from a dog that liked Car Talk, Click and Clack fielded a call from none other than Ms. Wilson herself.

“Did you write this letter?” they asked her. “Yes,” she replied.

“Did you mean it?” they probed. “Yes,” she said matter of factly.

“How old are you?” they inquired. “Twenty-two,” she said.

“You don’t sound 22,” they noted. “Okay, I’m 13,” she responded.

The conversation continued and Click and Clack invited her to join them in their radio studio on a broadcast. “Would you like that,” they asked.”You could be like a consultant.”

“Sure,” she said, “but you would have to buy my plane ticket.”

“Have you ever heard of Greyhound?” they wondered.

Exchanges like this one – and another later in the show about a man wondering if the soul of his 1988 Isuzu Trooper is in the vehicle’s engine that has a friend motor – have made Car Talk a weekend staple  since the show was picked up by National Public Radio in 1987. Except Tom and Ray Magliozzi retired in October 2012 and all the Car Talks since then have been stitched together from previous programs. It is a radio re-run.

For a lot of NPR addicts like me, it seems like the self-deprecating, MIT-graduate master mechanics are still at the wheel. Or at least, I like to imagine they are.

In addition to being hilarious, the show evokes a time when most people tried to fix their own cars. Grandpa Conkling specialized in dismantling Studebakers and reassembling them proudly with parts to spare. We always made a point never to accept rides in Grandpa’s reconstructed rides.

Buying a new or used car was a ritual for asking “to look under the hood.” Many onlookers, including me, had virtually no idea what they were looking at. We instead mastered the art of asking questions that didn’t unmask us as an automotive moron.

When I look at cars nowadays, I don’t even bother to open the hood. When a salesman insists, I’m relieved when I see a metal cover hiding most of those mysterious parts that make the car run and hold the fluid to clean your windshield.

The advice administered by Click and Clack combined art, science and metaphysics, which always struck me as what we needed to diagnose a car problem, fix it and live to tell the tale. Or as Ray counseled a caller, “You probably can’t remove the transmission in your vehicle without a car rack, unless you cut it in half.”

whistoryI tried to dig through Car Talk records to find out whether Melissa Wilson ever made it from her home in Seattle to Cambridge to “consult” on the show. Or whether it was just a stunt to impress her friends – or get even with her NPR-listening parents. Maybe she has her own radio show or designs airplane wings for Boeing.

Some admirers put the Magliozzis on the same comedic pedestal as Mark Twain and the Marx Brothers. Melissa Wilson, in fun, pegged them a whole lot lower. Yet, here we are, nearly two years after the funny guys with the wrenches and puzzlers hit the road, still listening to their every whirrrrr.





One comment on “Once Upon a Time, There Is Car Talk

  1. Bruce Bishop
    September 2, 2016

    Chuck Sheketoff is the only voice on Car Talk I ever recognized. I think he had a Jaguar problem. I also think he knows about as much about cars as you. I’m sure he thinks otherwise.

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