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Karen O'Keefe of "On Second Glance"

About On Second Glance

Karen O’Keefe has been a freelance writer in Atlanta, GA and Montgomery County, MD, since 1984. Prior to that time, she worked for a committee in the U.S. House, a public relations firm and as a Congressional press secretary. Since 2003, O’Keefe has been a regular news reporter and columnist... Read more

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“Car Talk” Sadness

I lost a friend Monday, November 3, when Tom Magliozzi one of the “Tappet” Brothers, the car experts who for 25 years, hosted the call-in/talk show, “Car Talk” on National Public Radio, passed away. Complications of Alzheimer’s, which I didn’t know he had, brought about Tom’s death at age 77. The show stopped production two years ago and I didn’t know that either.

This 2003 Toyota Echo makes noises that would have engendered a funny Car Talk show. discussion.

This 2003 Toyota Echo makes noises that would have engendered a funny Car Talk show discussion.

In other words, I wasn’t friends with Tom, or his younger brother and cohost Ray Magliozzi, but they were friends with me.
Tom and Ray, who dissected and sought solutions for the car problems of listeners who called in for 25 years made me smile. They both laughed, at each other and at callers, a lot. Tom, especially, had a big laugh.
Did you ever just hear someone laughing, when you had no idea what they were laughing at – just hear someone laughing – and find yourself smiling?
Tom Magliozzi had that kind of laugh. On Car Talk, he laughed a lot. When I was tuned in, I laughed too.

I listened to their show, off and on – yet steadily – for about ten years from about 1993 until about 2009.
Stay with me here. Yeah, I know — that’s 16 years. I can’t fix cars, but I can count.
And during those 16 years, on Saturday mornings, I listened to at least ten years’ worth of Car Talk. I didn’t know a lot about cars when I started. I didn’t know a lot about cars after 16 years. But, for a number of reasons, I enjoyed being part of Tom and Ray’s extended family.
Those 16 were my kid-driving years. There was always a carpool or another kid-fueled reason – athletic, social or spiritual — to be on the road Saturday morning, with one or more of my three kids and their pals in those years. Saturday at 10 a.m. was prime drive time.

Check it out. I-270 is full of vehicles filled with kids on Saturday mornings.
Moreover, while there were many reasons to listen to the show — for me — one was not my interest in fixing cars. Yet as an adult who needed a working vehicle, I always felt that I picked up tips on the show that might one day help in a pinch, when I was face-to-face with a car dealer or mechanic. Incidentally, when I am talking to a car dealer or a mechanic – it is always a “pinch.”

They made me feel like part of the family. It was after all a family show – two brothers, talking about cars but also giving each other the kind of what-for siblings enjoy.
Tom and Ray were funny. They laughed a lot, and during some tough times in my life, they had me laughing too. Twelve years younger that Tom, and only five years older than me, Ray Magliozzi is blessedly still with us.
My three siblings are spread out across the country. I miss them a lot. Listening to the brothers on Car Talk comforted me.

Then there was the accent. The Car Talk brothers were from Boston, born and raised in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Their accent reminded me of my dad who was also from there – and who passed away when I was a teenager. Decades later, hundreds of miles from my Boston roots, listening to two guys – whom I could not see — who sounded like my memories of Dad, and who spoke for hours without needing to use the letter “r” was sometimes like finding home again.
Another big reason for tuning in was that my kids kind of liked Car Talk too – although they would never admit it. Back in the days when not everyone walked around plugged into their private iTunes universe, it mattered Big-Time what Mom had on the car radio.
Frankly, Mom did not want to listen to “their music” in those days. “They” did not want to listen to “my music.” Car Talk was a discussion of something none of us really knew anything about, and which we often did not understand – but we all liked it. Alien turf, but common ground.
With lots of laughs.

I think also that, like many Car Talk listeners, I secretly felt I had special automotive-related experience that, given the right time and the opportunity to make the call, would qualify me as a great guest on the show.
My father worked for Chrysler Corporation, selling vehicles to car dealers, when I was a kid. I thought of my brother and sisters and myself as sort of special “car kids.” We grew up playing with model cars you could not buy in toys stores. I secretly looked down at my friend’s dad, who worked for Ford, as an unfortunate who had stumbled into the dark side.
The other parts of my secret qualifications derived from the cars I have driven in my life, two of which are no longer manufactured. First, there was my association with the “Simca,” a French car imported for a time in the 1970’s by Chrysler. My dad somehow brought a Simca home in 1970, when I got my driver’s license, and for a time during high school, I commuted with my brother to school in this small French car that none of my friends had ever heard of or seen before.

Even more bizarre, the Simca had a stick shift but no clutch pedal and was the only car anybody I knew had ever encountered that was described as having “semi-automatic” transmission.
According to Wikipedia, “a semi-automatic transmission (SAT) (also known as a clutchless manual transmission, automated manual transmission, flappy-paddle gearbox, or paddle-shift gearbox) is an automobile transmission that does not change gears automatically, but rather facilitates manual gear changes by dispensing with the need to press a clutch pedal at the same time as changing gears.”
While I still don’t understand what it was, it was the only one of its kind where I went to high school, and I must admit, whenever I listened to Car Talk I hoped someone else would come on to talk with the brothers about either semi-automatic transmission or Simcas.

They never did.

My other qualifier was the 2003 Toyota Echo I drive to this day, which, like the Simca, is no longer manufactured.

When I heard that Tom Magliozzi died, I read many of the comments on the NPR website and – through unexpected tears — realized that these two men and their somewhat silly car show touched me and millions of others deeply.
I feel connected to them and all those other listeners.
Not a silly thing at all.
My condolences to brother Ray Magliozzi, the Magliozzi family and to all my fellow Car Talk fans. Bless us all.

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About Karen O'Keefe

Karen O’Keefe has been a freelance writer in Atlanta, GA and Montgomery County, MD, since 1984. Prior to that time, she worked for a committee in the U.S. House, a public relations firm and as a Congressional press secretary. Since 2003, O’Keefe has been a regular news reporter and columnist for The Town Courier, an independent biweekly newspaper based in Gaithersburg. Her blog, “On Second Glance,” explores everyday life and current events with insight, grace and humor.


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