Tom Magliozzi of Car Talk died yesterday, and I’m sad.


I’m actually a little surprised at how sad I am, because I was not at all a faithful listener of Car Talk. Still, I always felt happy when I was driving on a Saturday morning, and they happened to be on NPR. Happy and reassured. I have a friend from Wisconsin who didn’t “get” them. She thought they were rude. I guess she didn’t get East Coast humor. Behind the teasing was sincerity, kindness and integrity, which is always the foundation of the best comedy. We’re vulnerable when our cars are acting up. How will we get to work? Who can we trust? Are the guys at the auto shop trying to cheat me, especially if I’m a single woman? We all needed Click & Clack on our side. Honest car guys, looking out for us. And they reminded us, too, that misbehaving car be damned, life is not as serious as all that.

Tom and Ray and “Car Talk” also represent some old reliable things in life that are fading away, like cars that could conceivably be maintained and repaired by a mechanically-savvy amateur. A friend of mine who made his living for a while as an auto mechanic said that he couldn’t work on his own cars anymore because they were run by computer. Fuel injection and all that, it was a new world. And now there’s they hybrid, which takes it to a whole nother level.

When I moved to Minneapolis nine years ago, newly separated and on my own, I needed to line up all my new service providers: doctor, dentist, hair salon, and among the most important, auto repair shop. That, the prospect of finding an honest repair shop, filled me with anxiety. I was driving the 1997 Toyota Camry that my mother passed down to me. So I went online to do some research and was reassured to see that the Car Talk had a website with discussion forums, one of which was people recommending car mechanics in their area.

So I found one with some raves: Amigo Service Center, on 36th & Lyndale in Southwest Minneapolis, my neighborhood. I went to Amigo for nine years of oil changes and repairs small and large. I could walk in, and Todd and Pete would call out, “Hey, Barb, how’s it going?” I could stop in on my way to work and immediately get a tire checked and pumped that I thought looked a little flat, or a tail light bulb replaced. They never tried to pull anything over on me or recommend any extras, any upcharges. If anything, too many things slipped by unchecked because they would never do any work you didn’t ask them to.

I always felt comfortable — happy, in fact — sitting at Amigo waiting for an oil change or a minor repair. Women were made to feel comfortable there, there was an array of magazines, including women’s magazines. The TV was usually tuned to CNN or in the afternoon, the Oprah Show. In fact, it was at Amigo that I watched Oprah’s last show. I was going to call it their “waiting room,” but it wasn’t. It was all one small room there, the counter right there, Todd and Pete talking to customers in person or on the phone. For a long wait, it was understood you’d probably go to “the coffee shop,” Gigi’s Cafe, down the block. They always hurried my job because they knew I was alone and would have to wait.

This past summer the Camry finally died, at age 17. Or rather, it had one too many repairs needed, another repair that would cost more than the value of the car. Darn, and I had just bought a set of Michelin Defenders. I believe in conserving, repairing things, but it got to where it made no longer made sense. So I had to say goodbye. Goodbye to the car my father had driven, to the car that my son, John, and I drove across the country from Colorado Springs back to Wisconsin as John wrote and recorded multi-layered songs on my laptop on GarageBand. Songs I still have.

So I finally bought the hybrid I’d been wanting for some time: a new Toyota Prius, both for ecological and economic reasons. The car salesman was slick, and so was the dealership, and I entered a shiny new auto world with no personal touch, in a suburb, where the motive was to get more of a buck from the customer. I do love the Prius, though. I’ll say that.

Today I took the Prius in for its first maintenance visit: a 5,000-mile oil change, tires rotated, liquids topped off. I didn’t know where anything was: how to find the service entrance and once I did, how to find my way through the huge hallway of service desks and the efficient “customer care representatives” or whatever they called them, and the sterile waiting room, much as I enjoyed the free coffee and cookies.

I could have cried at what was lost: old cars and friendly car mechanics who know you, a homey little waiting area with Oprah on TV, “Hey, Barb, how’s it going?” and Click and Clack, the Tapett Brothers. Rest in peace, Tom Magliozzi. Rest in peace, ’97 Camry. Rest in peace, that phase of my life.

The ’97 Camry, right before taking it to the dealer to be traded in:

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