Lessons from Car Talk

Some guy I met said it’s amazing how we use cars on our show as an excuse to discuss everything in the world–energy, psychology, behavior, love, money, economics and finance. The cars themselves are boring as hell.” — Tom Magliozzi (1937-2014)

By now I’m sure everyone has heard of the passing of Tom Magliozzi, one half of the brilliant duo that made up NPR’s Car Talk, which has been running nationally since 1987.  I’m not going to lie–I cried a bit when I found out. I was upset, like a lot of people. I can’t tell you much about cars, but car knowledge never mattered because the show has always appealed to people beyond those who are automotively inclined–the cars were secondary to the laughter and the good-natured view of the world Tom and Ray (Tom’s co-host and little brother) embraced.

Car Talk was–and is still in its archival format–this wonderful hour of shooting the breeze about LIFE, man. There are so many parenting and life-living philosophies1 out there but of all the varying methods and life outlooks there are, I think Car Talk is an underrated one.  It can be a guiding light for everything, not just car repair. The following quotes and ideas from the show are all things I’m considering framing and posting all around my house for everyone to be reminded of. Or maybe I’ll tattoo them on my forehead.2

— ∮∮∮ —

“Happiness equals reality minus expectations.”  

It’s amazing what a little lack of expectation, or low expectations, can do to make life easier. Some people might call this pessimistic–the notion that it’s better to expect nothing and be surprised at whatever happens, to see everything good as a bonus. But I think it’s marvelous. When you see everything good as a bonus, life is full of wonderful little nuggets of joy that just appear, unexpected! And you’re not always griping about things not turning out the way they were supposed to. This is a hard lesson to learn, and I’m learning it daily.  We all are, probably.

When people critique you, listen to what they have to say. 

Don’t shut them out…even if they’re a little twerp like tween Melissa who wrote in to tell Tom and Ray just how much she (and her dog) hated Car Talk whenever her parents subjected her to it. They turned around and invited her to co-host the show with them.  When it comes to addressing your nay-sayers, it doesn’t always mean you’re saying they’re right; you’re just letting them say their piece. Even if they’re a twerp.

“It is more important to be happy than to be right.”  

Uff. This is one of those relationship and LIFE skills that is so much easier said than mastered. It’s easy to know you’re right–duh, I’m always right. But it’s much harder to let go of that feeling when people think otherwise. I want to prove my rightness! Because I am so obviously right! HAVE AT YOU.3 But I’ve learned my lesson–sometimes it really is happier for all involved if I let people live in blissful ignorance to my obvious rightness. In doing so, it’s a little less stressful for me and therefore, I’m happier in the end too. Seriously though, sometimes taking the road in which you are wrong is the best road. 

“It’s only a car.”  

I already don’t care about my car. I’ve had it for five years, and I don’t think I’ve ever taken it to the car wash, now that I think about it. So this one isn’t really about cars for me. It’s a statement that can be applied to just about anything though. For me, it’s my couch and the horrible things my dogs4 do it to. But in the long run, it’s only a couch. It’s covered in dog hair, but there are worse things in life to fuss over than material goods and their inevitable state of constant decay. Stuff is just stuff. Worry about bigger things, at least some of the time.

Let your laughter bring other people up, rather than drag them down.  

Tom might best be known for his joyful, uninhibited guffaw. Car Talk producer Doug Berman5 said in a recent interview that “we talk about laughter as if it’s, you know, it’s sort of this passing thing, but, you know, life’s not always easy. And to have someone, you know, there every week who just with his presence can make you smile and make everything seem better no matter what’s going on is a powerful thing.” I’m guilty of letting my laughter be snarky and critical far too often, and that’s just no good. I think part of the reason so many people tuned in again and again was not for the car talk, not even for the banter, but for the pure laughter that was never done at anyone’s expense.    

May we all aspire to be more like Tom, laughing our asses off and making things seem just a little bit better.

  1.  French parenting, attachment parenting, free-range parenting, cage-free vegetarian-fed parenting 
  2.  Backwards so I can read it in the mirror, of course. 
  3.  dainty glove-smack 
  4.  Twerps. 
  5.  That’s Doug “not a slave to fashion bongo boy” Berman to listeners of the show credits. 
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Hayley DeRoche

Hayley DeRoche is a librarian with a penchant for cardigans and corduroys. Luckily, her professional life revolves more around technology & information than fashion.

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