Sunday, March 16, 2008

My Favorite Mechanics

My dad's dad owned a gas station, so my father grew up working on cars. For him though, cars are not a hobby; he did not keep a clunker in the driveway to tinker on, nor did he drain his own oil. While he is a DIY kind of guy in many other respects, anything beyond a wiper blade replacement went to the shop. And thus, I didn't grow up under the hood of a car. I once expressed regret to my father that I didn't have that experience, to which he said that cars had evolved so much, it probably wouldn't make a difference. The only piece of instruction I ever got from my dad regarding my automobile was to take it into Jiffy Lube every 3,000 to 4,000 miles and join AAA.

Despite my lack of understanding about how my car functions, I thoroughly enjoy Car Talk, a nationally syndicated radio show on NPR hosted by "Click and Clack, the Tappet brothers," also known as Tom and Ray Magliozzi. The zeal with which these brothers diagnose obscure automotive behavior (or sometimes the behavior of the opposite sex) is infectious and I love to listen to them troubleshoot with a series of questions; kids could learn a lot about the scientific method just by listening to these two question their callers.

Tom and Ray are constantly expressing amazement that two blue collar guys could share the same airwaves with other hallowed NPR personalities (a typical station identification break: "And even though Susan Stamberg throws her radio out the window whenever she hears us say it, this is NPR, National Public Radio."). However, these aren't your everyday greasemonkeys.

Both brothers went to MIT. Before joining his older brother in opening a do-it-yourself car shop in Cambridge Massachusetts, Ray had majored in Humanities and Science, volunteered with VISTA (aka AmeriCorps) organizing GED programs, and taught science to kids. Tom got his degree in Chemical Engineering, did some technology consulting, taught at the university level and got an MBA then a Doctorate in Marketing from Boston University. Tom was invited to do a call in show with local mechanics, he invited his brother Ray, one thing led to another, and they had their own show. Car Talk is the most listen went on to win a Peabody in 1992.

While the show is humorous and entertaining, you can tell the guys are smart and want to educate their listeners, especially when it comes to environmentalism. Thus, it was not a surprise to see them in a guest spot with science correspondent Robert Krulwich on PBS's science program NOVA demonstrating the behavior of molecules in fuel cells back in 2005.

The boys make their another "appearance" on PBS this summer, this time in animated form and going purely for yuks with Click and Clack: As the Wrench Turns. I'll be honest, I'm doubtful it will be as successful as, say The Simpsons, or their radio show for that matter, but I wish them the best of luck. Still, I bet it is funnier than CBS's 1995 The George Wendt Show, which was pretty much based on their radio show and lives, but over which they had little to no creative control.

Knowing Ray's background and having seen them on Nova, what I really think these guys should do is a kid's show, like Mr. Wizard or Bill Nye, The Science Guy. We need more evangelizers of science who can present it in a fun and entertaining way and I think they'd be perfect. Robert Krulwich, go team up with them again! Toss in Tod Rosenberg and you've got a hit!

No comments:

Copyright 2008