It was announced earlier this year that Car Talk, an NPR show that has been delighting audiences for almost 35 years, will cease to produce new shows later this year. With 35 years of shows, their producer will put together composite shows, that will run, as co-host Tom Magliozzi suggests, "...like 'I Love Lucy' and air ten times a day on 'NPR at Nite' in 2075."
I first ran across Tom and Ray ("Click and Clack - The Tappet Brothers" as they like to describe themselves) on a Saturday morning while turning to one of my usual NPR stations. I caught the show somewhere in the middle, and all I knew that two guys with deep Boston accents were giving people car advice such as this (Sample - not from actual show):
CALLER: My car makes this really loud noise when I go over 40 miles an hour.
TOM: Ooh. Ooh. Make the noise.
This would be followed by the caller making some silly sound and asking if they could help him (or her).
RAY: Sure. Turn your radio up real loud.
CALLER: Will this fix the problem?
RAY: No - but you won't hear the noise any more!
I'm doing the guys a disservice - they are much funnier -and upon more listens, I realized these two "dummies" were actually engineers, one of them holding a PhD in Engineering from MIT. None the less, they so much became a part of pop culture that they played animated versions of themselves in the Disney film Cars, with their signature sign-off advice.
TOMMY: Don't drive like my brother.
RAY: And, don't drive like my brother!
They also became a regular part of my Saturday mornings. Certainly, with webcasts and such, I could listen at any point during the week, and would if I missed them on Saturday at 10AM. However, that hour and day seemed perfect - not too early to start off the weekend, not too late to get out and do things on a nice Saturday. My weekend was guaranteed to start off with a belly laugh or two, and not many things make me belly laugh, but in no week did I not find myself truly laughing out loud (no, not LOL - the real thing).
Their self-deprecating humor (they have a "Hate Mail" section on their website) was in full swing a few weeks back when a listener wrote in saying he wanted to start a boycott of the show, but had no way to reach their audience, and could they help. Sure enough, they read his letter!
I got to thinking about Tommy and Ray, and their last original shows, as I thought of what element of the insanity that was Haebing to cover next. Without a doubt, motor vehicles were a large part of the insanity, much of which I chronicled in Part 2 of this series.
The first incident could have been a call on "Car Talk," from one of our favorites on the Korean crew, Yu Bong. It would go something like this:
RAY: Hello, this is "Car Talk." Tell us your name and where you're calling from.
CALLER: My name is Yu Bong.
TOMMY: Yu Bong. Let me guess. Is that Y-O-U B-O-N-G
YU BONG: No "u".
TOMMY: (laughing) : No, "you". You're the one calling.
YU BONG (laughing - he had a very cheery disposition and would instinctively laugh with you, even if he didn't get the joke): Yes, me!
RAY: Where are you calling from, Yu Bong?
YU BONG: New York City.
TOMMY: From your accent, Yu Bong, I take it you're not originally from New York.
YU BONG: No, I'm from Busan.
RAY: What brings you to New York Yu Bong?
YU BONG: I'm working on a television show, and I'm working with some fun people from New York. They told me something and I wanted to find out if it's true.
TOMMY: Ah, so you have some doubts about something one of your American co-workers told you.
YU BONG: I hope it's true, because it is pretty good - for me, I mean. I was about to leave work the other day, and Peter, our production manager, asked if I could take the 7-passenger van with me. At first, I didn't really want to drive any more, but then he said it could be my van to use after work.
RAY: So, he offered for you to use it for your personal pleasure, is that it?
YU BONG: Yes, like that.
RAY: And, what, exactly, if I may ask, is your personal pleasure, Yu Bong. (Tommy and Ray can be heard laughing at this point).
YU BONG: JB - he is the American boss - he tells me that 7-passenger vans are "Chick magnets."
RAY: "Chick magnets?"
YU BONG : Yes, that's what he said. He seems to have been around, so I expect he knows.
TOMMY: Oh, really. What did Peter say?
YU BONG: Peter must have known as well, but he forgot to tell me, because once JB mentioned it, Peter starting saying, "Yeah yeah. It's a chick magnet!"
RAY: (laughing) : Right, he forgot to tell you.
YU BONG: So, tell me, is this true. Is 7-passenger van a chick magnet?
RAY: It's hard to say what type of car is a "chick magnet", Yu Bong. My brother Tommy has, however, discovered every car that is a "chick repellent."
TOMMY: Yu Bong, let me ask you. Does your leg hurt?
YU BONG: No. My leg feels good. Why?
TOMMY: Because I think that knucklehead JB is pulling your leg.
I have no idea whether Tommy and Ray would have told him the truth like that, or kept him going, but we always had one vehicle too many, and it seemed a harmless, white lie, in the grand scheme of things, might help to solve things with a minimum of muss and fuss. Yu Bong started taking the 7-pass - whether it ever fulfilled his wished, I don't know.
The other incident would be too weird even for Click and Clack.
At one point, I apologized to the manager of the van and truck rental service we were using. A good deal of their work was with the film business in New York, and they had seen everything, but the constant switching out of vehicles, the constant nicks and dents (the Koreans were not good at our road rules) exceeded even the poor returns to which they had become accustomed.
Peter had one of those dispositions where he might be fuming or worried inside, but would force himself to act calm. There was a lot of George Kostanza in Peter, though he was a good deal younger.
One day, I heard his voice get increasingly louder as he searched through papers on his desk frantically while talking to one of our drivers on the phone.
PETER: "Where are you?" (Pause). "Ireland?" (Pause) "What island?"
I start mouthing some possibilities. City Island? Coney Island? Long Island? Please don't let it be Governor's Island, as there is no reason in the world why he should be there. Then again, we weren't scouting any of the others, either.
We finally established that it was Long Island, but where exactly where was still undetermined (we started running through towns, then exits on the Long Island Expressway).
As I noted earlier, the Koreans insisted on having their drivers go out, even though many of them spoke little English, so road signs often meant as little to them as Korean road signs would mean to me.
PETER (into phone): OK, get in the car....you're in a truck? What truck?
Again, Peter tried to determine which truck he might be in. He mentioned traffic, so maybe the Long Island Expressway; bad, but not as bad as if he was on one of the Parkways, which are off-limits to trucks or commercial vehicles (most of our rentals, even the small vans, had commercial plates).
I asked Peter if he was okay, but, as I would have imagined, Peter had already determined that he was - that's the first thing we ask. Vehicles can be fixed and replaced.
PETER (into phone): Now, I don't want you getting back in the car....I'm sorry truck...until we know where you are. Parkway? What Parkway?
Oh, this wasn't good. His license permitted him to be driving, but not on the Parkway with a commercial vehicle. I started preparing my mea culpa to the nice Nassau County Highway Patrolman who was sure to be the next call.
PETER: (into phone) Ok, I don't want you to get back on the Parkway in the truck...wait, I thought you said it was a truck? Convertible? What convertible?
Now, I was really confused. We had rented a lot of vehicles, but, as far as I could tell, even the picture vehicles weren't convertibles. What were we doing with a convertible?
PETER (into phone): Give me the plate number. The plate number. (Pause) We don't have a convertible!
Peter listened closely, and it seemed that he had a revelation. His expression first took a turn for the worst, but when we met eyes, a strange thing happened. He started laughing uncontrollably.
If there was something funny here, I was missing it. However, Peter's attempt to clarify with the driver made it all clear to me. Peter was now letting me in on what was happening.
PETER: (into phone): So, there is no roof on the cab of the truck....No, not cab, truck. The front part of the....How did the roof come off? (Pause). Did you realize you weren't going to be able to go under...Okay, Okay. Just stay where you are. We're sending someone to pick you up. (Pause) Yes, the convertible, too.
The Southern Parkway on Long Island has many wonderful features. It also has some low overheads, which is not usually a problem, as trucks are not meant to be on the Parkway. Our driver could not imagine why there would be overheads too low for a truck, and by the time he had discovered that there was, it had sheared the roof off. Amazingly, my driver was able to pull the truck to the side of the road, and neither he nor anyone else was hurt.
As I later learned from the manager of the rental house, the tow truck driver told him that we all got lucky because the roof 'peeled back like a sardine can .' It had not fallen onto the roadway. All of that was too difficult for our driver to convey in the little English he had at his disposal; "convertible" was the only word he could think of, and if driving with an unencumbered view of the open sky above was one of those definitions way down in the dictionary of a convertible, our driver was, technically, correct.
From that point on, when Peter or I told the manager at the rental place that we had to bring in a vehicle, he would ask things like, "can you drive this one in, or do we have to pick it up," and " does this one have a roof?"
Yeah, the joke was very much on us.
And don't drive like my Korean drivers.