November 8th, 2014


The Passing Of America's Philosopher King

Thomas Louis Magliozzi (1937-2014)

Tom and Ray Magliozzi, aka Click and Clack, the Tappet Brothers, hosted Car Talk on NPR -- an American institution for 37 years. In the last nearly two years, they cut back (retired), using their immense inventory of calls to keep us entertained.

Well, this week Tom, the older brother, died from complications due to Alzheimer's. Ray pulled himself together to put out a clip show today of the wit and wisdom of Tom Magliozzi. Probably 50% of the show was Tom's wonderfully melodic and infection laughter. They even included some singing of "Coney Island Baby".

ABC News photo of Tom and Ray in the studio.

Funny thing, I remember almost all the longer pieces. And the long running jokes. At one point, their mother was on the phone and Tom said something and the next thing you know, all three are laughing uncontrollably and we learn where that laugh came from.

Thing is, I know what it's like to have two people trying to read something where you are laughing so hard tears are practically streaming down your face and breathing becomes difficult. Once when we were in Medina, my Mother and I were`reading Winnie the Pooh aloud and got to the Hephalump story. "Hoff, hoff, a hellable horalump!" (hee-hee) We were unable to contiue for fifteen minutes. On Car Talk, such outbursts were a feature, not a bug.

Yet for all the humor, these two knuckleheads -- their words not mine -- were actually educated and erudite. And as MIT graduates, they had a healthy appreciation of higher education, along with amusing realism of how things really work, which meshed with a broad swath of the NPR demographic.
After Tom's death, the show's long time producer Doug (the "Subway Fugitive") Berman said that Tom, "...and his brother changed public broadcasting forever." “Before Car Talk, NPR was formal, polite, cautious….even stiff. By being entirely themselves, without pretense, Tom and Ray single-handedly changed that, and showed that real people are far more interesting than canned radio announcers." "Every interesting show that has come after them owes them a debt of gratitude." “The guys are culturally right up there with Mark Twain and the Marx Brothers,” Berman said. “They will stand the test of time. People will still be enjoying them years from now. They’re that good.” -- Wikipedia
Though not a part of the clip show, they received calls from various NPR people and celebrities -- Danial Pinkwater was a favorite -- and prank calls from outrageous locations such as Antarctica and the International Space Station, plus a question on winterizing a pair of custom vehicles... from JPL regarding the Spirit and Opportunity rovers on Mars.

Millions of people tuned in every week -- Saturday at 10am ET for us. Fun, a weekly Puzzler quiz, and god help us, actual real advice on real car problems. After years of listening, I could often predict correctly which way the answer would go, proving my point that I knew enough about everything to be dangerous. (grin) Or that I had had enough old vehicles break that I had lived through these diagnoses. (double-trouble-grin) Also, marriage and relationship advice, the raising of children, regional spellings of names like Cathy/Kathy, the perfect car for you, relaxation in the form of car restorations/repair that will take forever, the idiocy of certain types of drivers and plenty of jokes about themselves.

"Well, it's happened again — you've wasted another perfectly good hour listening to Car Talk."

Tom, we will miss you. Ray, you have our love and sympathy -- hang in there, man.

Dr. Phil

PS -- The title of this blog entry comes from a line where Tom had thought about what career he should have that didn't involve Work -- and he settled on being America's Philosopher King. This idea was vetoed, but in a way, Tom's life was his dream-fulfilled.

Entropy Still On That Winning Streak

Speaking of car repairs -- the previous post being on the passing of Tom Magliozzi of Car Talk -- the 1996 Blazer decided it needed some attention. And boy was it a wingdinger.

Wednesday, I am getting ready to leave Western to get up to Grand Valley's downtown campus so we can go see Interstellar, and I dump my bag on the front seat, offload the walker's wire basket to the back seat, wheel around to the back, hit the button to pop open the tailgate window, hear the actuator... And the window is stuck.


Try it again. Same result. Did I not hit the door power unlock? Or did I lock it by mistake -- and good thing I left the driver's door open, because I had tossed the keys on the front seat... Nope. Door opened. Doors unlocked. Pressed the tailgate window release button the dash... same result. Go back, try pushing the button while yanking on the window. Not. Moving.

Take a breath. Okay, this is the 767 of walkers -- widebodied. Can I get it in the back door AND on the seat? In theory yes. But in picking up the folded walker -- why doesn't the damn thing have a catch instead of feeling like you're herding cats -- it's long enough that I can't lean on the door. And without support of cane, walker, something to lean on, I can get the walker almost in, but I feel too unstable to lift it all the way in.

I put the walker down and try to figure out another, safer strategy... "Dr. Phil, do you need some help?" It's two guys from one of my classes. Between the three of us, we get the walker in the back seat.

Thursday morning, we drop off the Blazer at Chevy. How DO you open the back? We had a failure of the tailgate window in the '79 Suburban long ago, so you couldn't open the tailgate. But you had to disassemble the tailgate from the inside and I knew two of the screws were stripped, so I never had it fixed. But the Blazer? I'm handicapped. What if it the walker had been trapped inside? Yikes.

So yes, the mechanic had to climb over the stuff in the back, open the panel on the tailgate from the inside to release the window and open it.

Poor design. What if the back was filled with a Laz-y-Boy and there was no room? I suppose they could drill the lock or break the window, but geesh.

However... the actuator lasted for 18 years and 326,000 miles, so things wear out. With an oil change, it was about $348. Not too bad, given the labor.

Of course auto repairs cluster. Monday the same Blazer goes in to get four new Goodyear Silent Armor Wranglers and front/back brakes. Tuesday we may get our first real snow... Whee! THIS will be expensive. Still, Chevy's price on the Silent Armors -- wonderful tires by the way, I don't stint on tires -- is less that the Goodyear store, so I'm good.

That and gas pretty much takes care of my part-time salary for the semester. Why am I teaching again? (grin)

Dr. Phil

The Fall of Fall


2014 has been a spectacular year for local produce, made even better because I missed so much in the hospital for 5½ months in 2013.

Since September we've celebrated the last of the summer tomatoes and the end of tomato sandwiches on the weekends, oh, three or four times. But by using different farm stands, Mrs. Dr. Phil has stretched the season. Today, Saturday 8 November 2014, we were down to one last tomato. It was smaller and had a bad spot that had to be cut away and it was a little overipe, but Mrs. Dr. Phil was off for a Turkish cooking workshop, so it was all mine and I didn't have to share. (grin) It was good. (double-plus-good-grin)

I commented earlier that the nectarines were terrific.


Really pretty butternut squash arriving. We'll be eating those for months.

Last weekend Mrs. Dr. Phil brought home the first box of clementines. They were small and I suspect they were real clementines -- they got popular a few years ago and suddenly all sorts of small orange fruits were being sold as clemetines or had acquired trademarked names like Cuties. At any rate, these were fabulous in flavor.

And last weekend Mrs. Dr. Phil made a pumpkin pie. Why? Just a crazy idea that we didn't have to wait. Or maybe it was because it was Halloween and the end of Daylight Saving Time. Who knows? You never know what's possible until you ask, Why can't we have a pumpkin pie? Oh yummy yum yum.

Yay, Autumn.

Dr. Phil

For Once

It's 3:30pm EST and ESPN2 seems to be actually covering the Michigan at Northwestern football game in Evanston, "Just 4 scant miles from downtown Chicago."

And it's a windy, chilly day at Ryan Field (Dyche Stadium). Having been to a few games at Dyche, I have to say that it's a wind tunnel and that when the sun is behind the clouds and the wind blows and the temps drop into the 40s, it feels like the steppes of Siberia. The late afternoon sun is playing hide-and-seek. A 3:30 game is a lot tougher than a 1pm game.

Of course, it turns out we have a secret weapon -- a walk-on player in his first game, 33 years old with a wife and kids. And... is an active-duty Navy SEAL. You gotta love NCAA eligibility rules.

I have no expectations for this game. I've seen Michigan get trounced by a few teams this year and the newspaper coverage has been despondent outrage, but I guess they won last week, so the fans of the Maize and Blue feel that something still might be salvageable. As of last week, NU was still in the middle of the pack of their division, some good wins, some losses.

Both teams are in jeopardy of not getting a bowl bid, even with all the bids that the Big 10 seems to rack up every year. After suffering through years of being bowlless, the Wildcats have gone at least somewhere in each of the last seven years. Whoever wins this game might be able to help their case for a bowl game.

I'd like it to be Northwestern. I'd like it not to be Michigan -- I've always favored State in Michigan. But, of course, once we get to the bowl games I am all over the Big 10 teams.

Of course II, no doubt I am jeopardizing the chances of things going my way by my anti-Schrodinger Field -- if I observe a game, I lose. But if I don't observe a game, I never get to see Northwestern!

We'll see...

Dr. Phil

EDITED: Of course it's the week after Halloween, weeks before Thanksgiving, so naturally since this is a Northwestern game we are getting flooded with Give A Large Cadillac SUV For Christmas commercials. I'll grant them that the shiny red ones are a good color, but it is still too early for sleigh bells, faux Christmas music, beautifully wrapped packages or entertaining the thoughts of buying a fucking new Cadillac for a Christmas present. (Ran that sucker at least four times.)

EDITED 2: "And we are in Evansville, on the shores of Lake Michigan." Uh, no. Evansville is in far southern Indiana, almost to Kentucky, and some 290 miles south of Lake Michigan. I tell you, Northwestern gets no respect. (It's the 3rd quarter and the score is still 0-0. Both teams have had turnovers, NU blocked a field goal. Ooh, Michigan just bounced a snap off one of their men, recovered by Northwestern.)

UPDATE: Sigh. I didn't see the end of the game. NU tried to pull it out, trailing 10-3. Scored a touchdown, 10-9, and went for a two-point conversion with three seconds to go. Needless to say, NU lost to Michigan 10-9. Several news sources described it as "an ugly game."