Dear Car Talk Fans:
I would like to thank you all for making the last week a little easier.
Losing my dad was tough. In the same way that you all looked forward to hearing his laugh, his jokes, and his stories every week, my family and I looked to him for laughs, love, and advice (most of which we ignored, especially if it was car advice). As we lost him over the last few years, he left a huge hole in our lives. When he passed, I didn’t know what to do. Figuring his death would get a brief mention on a few news outlets, I went online to read what people were saying. The news was everywhere. And everything I read and watched and listened to made me even more proud to be his son than I was before.
But the stuff that the professionals said about him paled in comparison to what all of you wrote. I spent hours reading comments on cartalk.com, Facebook, and everywhere else. I was up half the night after he died, and every chance I got in the following days, reading your kind words about my dad.
When it came time to write a eulogy, the stuff that you guys wrote was all I could think of. When the funeral was over and the dust settled, Doug Berman asked me if I’d be willing to share what I wrote. If there’s one thing my dad taught me, it was to run in the other direction whenever Doug asked me to do anything. But in this case I said yes immediately, because I figured it would be the perfect way to show you how your obvious love for my dad made his passing just a little easier to for us to take. Talking to the family and friends who loved him, I’m not the only one who felt this way. On behalf of everyone who knew him, thanks for loving him so much, and for sharing that love this week.
P.S. If you’re not sure if you can forgive me for totaling my dad’s Dart all those years ago, think about how happy my dad is now that he’s been reunited with it. I did it for him, I promise.
REMEMBRANCE: Alex Magliozzi
I hope no one is in a rush to get out of here, because I have a lot of stuff to say about my dad, and I inherited his love of a captive audience.
Not many people have the chance to stay up half the night after their dad dies, reading articles about what he meant to people. I’m lucky that I had all of the Internet helping me sift through memories of my dad over the last few days. I was struck by a lot of things, but two things really blew me away. The first was that in all of the articles, and the comments attached to those articles, there wasn’t a single bad thing said about him. Not one. There were no controversies, or scandals, or Internet trolls saying good riddance. Think about how amazing it is that someone can be in the public eye for 40 years, die in an era where the Internet is full of so much negativity, and not have a single bad word show up about him. Among the things I read about my dad, they were all, and I mean all, just fond memories and expressions of gratitude for what he gave the world and sadness that he is gone.
Here’s the other thing, which impressed me even more: Most of the things said weren’t focused on how funny he was, or how successful he was, or even how good-looking he was, shocking as that may be. They were overwhelmingly focused, very specifically, on how much joy he brought to people’s lives, how happy he made the little slice of the world that listened to his show. These articles, and especially the comments attached to them, were stories about Car Talk bringing people closer to their dads while they listened in the car on Saturday mornings, or people who never thought they’d laugh again laughing along with my dad during one of his hysterical fits.
Here’s a comment that someone left the day he died: "Tom and Ray and their laughter saved me. Once when I was suffering from severe depression, I decided to go on a road trip, thinking that some new scenery would heal me. Before I left, a friend gave me his collection of taped Car Talk episodes. I listened to one, then another, and eventually I began to smile, and to feel something new. I drove and drove, and as long as I didn’t stop for long, and as long as Car Talk was on, I felt better. It was just what I needed to jumpstart me to the next level so that I could get better. Thank you both. RIP Tom."
I’ve always told people that the amazing thing about Car Talk was that there were two kinds of people in the world: people who have never heard of it, and people who listen to it so religiously that their lives, and the lives of the children and spouses who are trapped in the car with them on Saturday mornings, are shaped by the show in some deep, fundamental way. All these years, I never understood why that was, why being a fan of the show was such an all or nothing proposition, until now. Being able to read what people have said about my dad showed me that what he gave the world was joy. Once people experienced the joy of my dad’s stories, wise cracks, and laughs, they were hooked.
There are plenty of people in the world who can make us laugh, but laughter is different than joy. So much humor in the world is based on making someone feel bad, laughing at someone’s expense. Think about all of the comedians who might make you laugh, but who don’t do anything to make you happy. My dad and uncle actually made strangers happier, made their lives better and brighter, and thousands of people went online in the last few days to share those feelings. I’d be proud of my dad if he were just a funny guy, but not this kind of proud.
The truth is, it has always bothered me when people focus on a person’s career successes at a funeral. In my mind, this is a time to talk about a person’s life, not his job. When I first sat down to write this I half promised myself that I wouldn’t even utter the words Car Talk. But for him there was no line between his job and his life. Not because he was a workaholic – obviously – but because his show wasn’t a job. In essence it was a window into the life that we all shared with him, that he let the rest of the country listen to. When I talk about his quote-unquote job, I’m really just talking about the time he got paid to spend with the brother he adored. His fans certainly didn’t know the whole Tom Magliozzi, but they knew the real one. The joy he brought to these strangers was exactly the same joy he brought to all of us. We just got a bigger, purer dose.
I can’t count the number of people in this room who knew him and who loved him deeply for the joy he brought them, and who have a little bit of him living inside them now that he’s gone. There’s his best friend, who has known him since before high school and stayed his best friend until the end, telling him, as he got sicker and sicker, “I’d give you half my brain if I could.” People who worked with him for whom he was more than a co-worker, and more like a great, close friend. They worked tirelessly over the last few days to manage the news stories and obituaries, because they wanted desperately to give him the send-off they felt he deserved, and they loved him enough to make sure his family was taken care of when we needed it.
But most of all there is his family, the family that he was the undisputed patriarch of. I have a two-year-old son who likes to stand with his hands clasped behind his back, just like my dad, because my dad is inside of him. My sisters and I, who look so normal on the outside, are anything but if you scratch beneath the surface, because our dad taught us how to be ourselves, no matter what. And he’s even got a nephew who, despite going to a prestigious institution of higher learning in Cambridge, is determined to be a bum in Harvard Square. I wonder where he got that idea.
When I was a kid, we didn’t do a lot of normal father-son stuff. I don’t know if we ever played catch or shot hoops together. But, when I decided it would be cool to use the front seat from a 1978 Datsun as a lounge chair in my bedroom, my old man didn’t hesitate to take me to the junk yard, have them yank the seat out of a car that was probably home to a family of squirrels, and take it home, covered in grease, so I could live the dream. He never said, “No, son, we don’t use auto parts as furniture.” He never tried to talk me out of it or try to get me interested in a more normal kind of furniture. He didn’t try to put me in a box and make me just like the other kids who spent more time on baseball diamonds than trudging through junkyards. He made me feel good and proud for not being like everyone else and helped me follow my own path.
When I came to my senses a few years later and realized that using a ratty cloth car seat as furniture was a little strange and probably wasn’t helping me with the ladies, he was happy to take it off my hands. He used it as the centerpiece of the office he created for himself in the garage, which also featured a tattered oriental rug, all of his papers, a few pounds of cookies, and enough cheap cigars to kill a horse. It was his favorite place in the world and it was a complete reflection of him. He didn’t care that the setup was weird, or that most people wouldn’t get it, because it was him, unfiltered and unadulterated. That garage was exactly what the Tom Magliozzi of his fans’ imaginations would have done. His life was his life, whether he was on the air, giving the commencement address at MIT, or sitting in his garage eating cookies. The Tom Magliozzi who brought that joy to the country was the same one that all of us got to spend our lives with.
Here’s where I get to the part where I tell you all what to do, otherwise known as the part where my dad would stop listening, or tell me to stick my advice where the sun don’t shine.
Everyone in my family has spent the last few days trading our favorite quotes from my dad. There are too many to count, but the one that has stood out for me the most since he got sick was his version of an old John Wayne quote – “Life’s hard, but it’s a lot harder… if you’re stupid.” He loved that quote, because he was anything but stupid. He was probably the smartest, most creative person any of us will ever meet. He clearly appreciated the advantages that brain of his gave him. And that quote drives home just how hard it must have been when his illness took that away from him.
You’re always supposed to say in a eulogy that today is about remembering so-and-so’s life and not focusing on the sadness of how much we are going to miss the person we lost. Everyone knows that. But in this case, I can say it without it being trite; it’s really true. It’s true of anyone who dies of this terrible disease, where you lose a little of the person you know and love every day, because when they’re gone you’re free to remember them as they were. But it’s especially true of a guy like my dad, a person who spent 77 years bringing joy to the people he loved, by using that amazing brain of his to make us laugh and think. We, as the ones who loved him, and he, as the one who suffered, are both free now. His suffering is over, which brings us all relief. But our suffering can start to be over too. We’re free, if we try, to start replacing those fresh memories from the last few years with older ones, memories of the real him. We can start to have the image we have of him when we close our eyes be the one it should be, of him leaning against one of his rustbuckets, with a cheap cigar in one hand, someone’s baby in the other, and a huge smile on his face.
Remembering the real Tommy is what we all want, and what he wants. Remember that quote, and how much it always meant to him to be able to make full use of that great mind of his, and honor him by remembering him that way. That’s how we pay him back for all he gave us.
And one more thing: I can say that the greatest gift my dad gave me was that he taught me not to follow the crowd. He taught me it was OK to approach life differently than anyone else, and to do something that everyone tells you is a huge mistake, if you believe it’s the right thing. There were times in my life where I was doing something safe, or normal, or expected, and I would picture him, sitting outside the Caffe Paradiso or the News Cafe in the middle of the day while all of the suckers were sitting in some office, and I’d remember to take the risk, to do what felt right. Now that he’s gone, we’re gonna have to work harder to remember that. So, in addition to honoring my dad by remembering him in his earlier years, please pay tribute by doing something that seems stupid to everyone but you. Let him know that we learned something from him, that we love him, and that we’ll never forget what he taught us.