The Big Q | Click and Clack from Car Talk
Tom: It was a big place. And cheap, because it was a dump. It’s not there anymore because they tore it down. [Laughter.]
Ray: It was condemned by the city. [The garage is now in a new location.] After a while we realized a couple of things: Number one, we weren’t going to get rich; number two, we couldn’t wear the lab coats because it turned out we had to help. I mean, we had some great customers, but we also seemed to be a magnet for every nincompoop, misfit, and moron in town. They seemed to think that being under our roof would give them some kind of knowledge. They would come in, and even if they didn’t have this knowledge, they thought it would be imparted to them by us, or if they screwed up that we would be there to fix it.
We never left before 11:00 at night. There was not one night I got home and caught Johnny Carson’s monologue, and that came on at 11:30. I was so tired when I got home that I couldn’t even take my clothes off. My wife wouldn’t let me sit anywhere. I had to sit on a plastic thing on the living-room floor, and I’d fall asleep there. I’d wake up in the middle of the night, disrobe, and take a shower before getting ready to do the whole thing over again. We killed ourselves, but we laughed our butts off.
Tom: Remember the guy who jacked up his Lincoln Town Car from the oil pan? There was oil everywhere. [Laughter.]
Ray: Gradually the garage evolved into a regular repair shop. And the show kind of evolved too, because the original shows were all guys in their driveways who were taking something apart and they couldn’t get it back together. We’d walk them through it step by step. It was great for that one person; it was boring for everyone else. And it was boring for us.
Then women began to call, and fewer do-it-yourselfers. We still get those other kinds of calls. Now they call the shop [the Good News Garage]. Somehow they find out that I’m still there three days a week. If they call and I’m not there, the guys say, “Oh, Ray will be in on Thursday. Call back then.” So I get the droners: “I got a ’68 Dodge Diplomat, slant-six, and the number-five spark plug keeps blowing out.” [Laughter.]
A lot of times people call in [with an automotive question] and they really want to talk about something else. Today there was the girl who asked about giving a cat a tranquilizer. She and her husband were driving from the Berkshires to Boulder, Colorado. He was going to drive a U-Haul and tow her car. She was going to drive his car with their two cats. She wanted to know if there were any tranquilizers we could suggest for the cats because she thought the trip would be hard on them. Over the years we’ve often ventured into areas about which we know nothing.
Tom: When someone asks a question, we have to give an answer!
Ray: Right. Women can say, “Well, I don’t know,” but men have to give answers. It’s male answer syndrome. One time a guy called in about electric brakes on a cattle trailer. I didn’t even know what a cattle trailer was.
Tom: We didn’t know what electric brakes were!
Ray: But we gave him an answer. And then a week or two later we got a letter from a guy named Andy–that was the only way he identified himself. He wrote a very articulate letter about how it’s possible for two people to know less about a topic than one person. [Laughter.]
Tom: If one person were fielding that question, he just would have said, “I don’t know.”
Ray: But while [Tom] is asking the caller, “How heavy is the trailer, and how many cows are you going to put in it?” I’m thinking, How could they possibly work, electric brakes? And then you start formulating some BS.
Tom: I still don’t know what electric brakes are. Do you?
Ray: I still don’t know what a cattle trailer is! [Laughter.] People who call from rural areas definitely have a different take on things. They tend to be more self-reliant and resourceful. It’s not unusual to find them still fixing their own cars. Remember that guy Dave from Bemidji?