Column: I’m broke for a month, but I did get a good laugh |

Column: I’m broke for a month, but I did get a good laugh

by Jeff Munson

It was a Click and Clack moment.

I was driving down Highway 395 Wednesday morning. The radio was turned up as loud as it could go to an old Beatles song, “Here Comes the Sun.”

I was on my way to Carson City to pay a bill, turn in some paperwork to the post office and say hello to some friends at the Nevada Appeal. Maybe even grab a bite to eat in the city that seems to have more fast food restaurants than people.

All seemed right with the world.

Doing 65 mph in the fast lane (well, maybe 70) the engine started to cut out.

I stopped singing, pulled over, gave a long, loud sigh and muttered, “Please, God, not today.”

Too late.

It was punishment for putting off preventative maintenance, I reckoned. It finally caught up with me.

Car Karma.

I went down the list in my head of what it could be. Certainly not oil. It had been changed 2,000 miles ago. The engine wasn’t overheating. There was no horrendous smell.

I got out of the car and lifted the hood because that’s what you’re supposed to do. That’s what everybody does, regardless of whether they know what they’re looking for.

With the hood open, I looked around. Looks like a car engine to me, I thought. Better check the oil. It was full, of course.

And then I started touching car parts. I don’t know why. I just started running my hands across them to see if I could feel if there was anything wrong. All I felt was my knuckles scraping against steel and my fingertips becoming gritty with grime.


So I did what I’ve seen others do on the side of the road. I crawled under the car.

My logic at the time: Maybe there’s something I can touch; anything would be worth the cost of drycleaning my slacks.

So I crawled under the car and tinkered around with things I shouldn’t have been tinkering around with. Nothing made sense. It would be like an auto mechanic sitting down at a county commissioners meeting and turning technical words into plain, understandable English.

Then this occurred to me:

“Jeff, you don’t know what the hell you are doing. Get out from underneath the car, you fool.”

I dusted myself off and looked up at the sky. I thought about how we are plagued by these cars – built to eventually fall apart. I thought about how angry people become when their cars break down. Yes, financially, a broken-down car is disastrous. To me it means I can’t take a girlfriend out for dinner. It means I have to scrimp and scrounge for a month. No movies. No skiing. No re-gripping the golf clubs. Domestic instead of imported beer.

It means that I have to resort to eating the food in the very back of my cupboards for a month.

As cars whizzed by with people on the way to pay their own bills, I thought about the countless people I never thought of before this very moment, who were once stranded on the side of the roads. I wondered why I never stopped for them.

I thought for a moment how some people would kick the dirt, yell and scream and curse at their cars, which have in many ways become symbols of our lives. I thought about the friends I wouldn’t see and the lunch I wouldn’t get to eat.

And then, out of nowhere it seemed, I heard laughter. It was Click and Clack, aka the Tappet Brothers, otherwise known as Tom and Ray Magliozzi.

For years I’ve laid in bed on Saturday mornings, half asleep listening to “Car Talk” on National Public Radio. You don’t really listen to any advice on the cars, you just wait for the punchline of their corny jokes and the laugh and cackles that follow. They’re more annoying than an alarm clock, but infectious, too. The guys are certifiable nuts and I’m a sucker for anything offbeat.

Well, I had a choice. Do I kick dirt and scream and let something like a car ruin my day, or do I laugh along with Tom and Ray and their unforgettable voices inside my head?

So, I started to laugh. Nothing forced, really, just a chuckle followed by a bellow and then a knee slap.

It felt good.

I think the highway patrolman was wondering why I looked so happy. Probably not the standard look of a stranded motorist.

“All I can do is laugh this one off,” I told him. “I’m not going to let it ruin my day.”

The estimate for the damage, a broken timing belt, came in at what I had heard it would be.

More laughter.

Not gonna let it ruin my day, I told the guy behind the counter at the garage.

He looked at me as if to say, “Are you mad?”

There’s no punchline to this story, by the way. Just thought I would share this choice I made. It made the rest of the day seem much more tolerable.

Staff writer Jeff Munson is still laughing that he has $500 less in his bank account. He can be reached by e-mail: