The Car Talk Plaza Memorial Party for Tommy Came With a Plaque

Jim Motavalli

Jim Motavalli | Jul 02, 2019

CAMBRIDGE (OUR FAIR CITY)—Due to the lax attitude at Car Talk Plaza, the dedication of Tom Magliozzi’s plaque in Harvard Square June 28 was scheduled for the same time as a massive, traffic-snarling City Dance Party in front of City Hall. And who ordered that “sound system”? An amp the size of a small suitcase was struggling to project the speakers’ voices more than four feet. If it was better organized, it wouldn't have been Car Talk.

Ray in full song: "Tommy wanted a plan for the rest of his life that involved working as little as possible. Car Talk was perfect--just one hour a week!" (Jim Motavalli photo)

But this was a celebration of Car Talk and the late Tom Magliozzi in particular, and none of it mattered. Had we gathered to hear speeches? Nah. In fact, it was probably just as well that most of the 1,000 or so people gathered didn’t hear Cambridge City Manager Louis D. DePasquale proclaim that despite being a native of East Cambridge, he’d never once listened to Car Talk. He did add that he got major grief from his staff for admitting that.

Confused about which Tappet Brother Tom was? Let the Washington Post set you straight, from its 2014 obit: “He was the one with the beard. He was the one who seemed a little wilder, a little less responsible. He was the one with the giant laugh. He was the one who always seemed to owe his exasperated younger brother a few dollars on a bet that he hadn’t yet paid off.”

Ray admires the plaque, which did not spell Tommy's name wrong. (Jim Motavalli photo)

There was free pizza. And local beer. And a band that sounded pretty good, the Blue Suede Boppers, who were still playing at 10 p.m. Also a 1956 Chevrolet Nomad, said to be Tom’s favorite car, though he talked a whole lot more about his (ultimately wrecked!) 1963 Dodge Dart convertible.

The plaque, when unveiled, was kinda small, but classy, with that Nomad on it. "Tommy's laughter will forever ring in our fair city," it said. The Latin means, "Unimpeded by the thought process."

“Oh, look, they spelled his name wrong,” Ray quipped. No they didn’t. No need to call Dewey, Cheetham & Howe. Whose name, incidentally, will remain enshrined in the window of the former Harvard Square office in the Abbott Building. That’s good, because they issue my pay checks.

Producer Doug Berman says the Tommy Magliozzi you heard on Car Talk was the only one there was. (Jim Motavalli photo)

According to Sam Stiebel, vice president of Investments for Regency Centers, “We are pleased to honor the contribution of ‘Click and Clack’ by preserving the iconic window. Tom’s legacy in Harvard Square and the community is not only assured by the commemorative plaque, but also by retaining this revered and hilarious landmark.”

The speeches were mostly like that, although leavened by humor. We heard from Jan Devereux, the vice mayor, since the real mayor was abroad talking about climate change. I couldn’t hear what she said--though it seemed to be "Don't Drive Like My Brother Day" in Cambridge--because I was more than five feet from the speaker. Why didn’t someone make a joke about Cambridge having a vice mayor?

I did hear Ray’s speech, which was enshrined by my editor, Connie Brichford’s smartphone and you can watch it here (starting at minute 7:55). But here’s the essence. He was introduced by producer Doug Berman, who said, “Tom was everything he seemed to be. The brothers were the same on the air as off.” I can confirm! Of course, he also said, “Ray is no better than he seems to be,” and that’s true too!

Cambridge City Manager Louis D. DePasquale admits he never listened to Car Talk, not even once. (Jim Motavalli photo)

“Tom was 12 years my senior,” Ray said. “After MIT he got a job as some kind of long-range forecaster, and for 10 years in a row he went to work in a jacket and a tie. He hated it, and wanted a plan for the rest of his life that centered around not having to work. He got another job at Boston University as a college professor, but he complained that they were working him to death. He went to our father and told him he wanted to quit, and Dad said, “Why not just go to them and say you want to work only four days a week.” To which Tommy replied, ‘But I’m only working two days now!’

“My parents were worried about him, so he called me up in Vermont, where I had a very good life, and told me I had to come back, my brother was becoming a vagrant.

“So Tom tells me he has this great idea for a do-it-yourself auto shop, with us providing the tools and the expertise. He said we’d need a wheelbarrow to carry away the money we’d be making. So I came back and crashed at his apartment, since that was the least he could do. It soon became clear that we weren’t making even enough money to buy the wheelbarrow. So it was lucky that Car Talk came along when it did. Instead of working two days a week, Tom could now work one hour a week.”

Car Talk, Ray said, “was more fun than any two people have ever had,” and he thanked everyone for “a great tribute to my brother.” Enough said. You want Ray with the verbal ticks and nuances, watch Connie's video.

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