Saturday, November 22, 2014

Notes From My Knapsack 11-29-14

Notes From My Knapsack 11-29-14

Jeff Gill


Laughing all the way to the Pearly Gates



"Happiness equals reality minus expectations."


Tom Magliozzi may not have been the first person to say that, but I'm happy to give him credit for having done the most to make the saying widely known. That, and:


"If money can fix it, it's not a problem."


Tom died last month, as listeners to WOSU-FM and NPR stations nationwide well know. He co-hosted "Car Talk" with his brother Ray, a show that was theoretically about auto repair but branched out to the known universe and beyond. These two East Cambridge (MAaaaa, Our Fair City) natives helped teach us both that there was a whole 'nother side to Cambridge, and that MIT is in that neighborhood, too.


They were "Click and Clack, the Tappet Brothers" as part of a schtick that was largely forgotten as the WBUR show in Boston went on to become a nationwide institution as simply "Tom and Ray."


Tom was 12 years older, and had to leave the air in 2012 with a rapidly developing case of Alzheimer's disease, though the archives, Ray Magliozzi says, can carry the show forward for years.


Our memory of their laughter, and Tom's raucous hoots in particular, will carry us for years as well. There was a joy in life and an appreciation of the little things that came through whether they were talking about dealerships, or relationships.


One part of the Tom Magliozzi legacy that isn't as well remembered is his quixotic campaign back in the era of 55 mile an hour speed limits. Most of us recall the bumper stickers and song: "I Can't Drive Fifty-five," but Tom, as usual, had a different take.


Tom sporadically argued across the country for a national 35 mile an hour speed limit.


Yes, that's right. 35 mph. Nationwide.


His argument was in short: we're going too fast. Like an Italian Ferris Bueller, Tom was concerned that life goes by pretty fast as it is, and if you don't pay attention, you may miss it. His solution was: if you can't slow down life, you can at least slow down your car.


I think about this as I'm teaching my son to drive. Often, especially learning the niceties of highway driving, on ramps and off ramps and passing lanes, I'm in the position of having to say to him "speed up!"


His driving school instructor has told him the same thing: "speed up!" But he also assumes "you keep driving, get enough experience, you'll go faster: trust me." I'm sure he's right.


But what happens to "dangerously slow" if everyone has to go more slowly? I'm prodding him to accelerate because of the usual 75 mph driver coming up from behind in the 55 mph zone, and to be safe, he does need to floor it, but what if…


And there's just being a pedestrian in Granville. If someone has the green light in their car, but the parallel side of the intersection has a crosswalk with someone slowly strolling across it, you can almost count on a near peel-out from the frustrated driver who is now three to seven seconds delayed in their hurtling course.


These testy turning drivers? Don't pick on our youth, because from my spot nervously teetering on the curb, I see lots of grey hair in some of the most impatient windshields.


Tom was right. We are all in too much of a hurry. What would a nationwide 35 mph speed limit do? Would it just be a net cost to the economy in slower deliveries, or might it decrease blood pressures, lessen high speed accidents, and increase enjoyment of the landscape and the surroundings to who knows what increase in creativity and productivity?


Just wondering. And missing Tom already. His probate will be handled by a new law firm on Harvard Square: "Dewey, Missem, and Howe."


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; tell him what you're not in a hurry to do at or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.



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