`Car Talk' Fans Bop to a Greasy Beat

DOO-WOPPING all night, bobby socks and socket wrenches, greased-back hair and motor oil, poodle skirts swinging, Levi's leaping! C'mon baby, let's do the twist! Welcome to the first annual Car Talk Sock Hop at the Good News Garage in Cambridge, Mass., hosted by public radio's own mechanical Marx Brothers, Tom and Ray Magliozzi. The guys who, for an hour a week, answer car questions from across the United States, and make you laugh, and laugh, and feel less bad about your ubiquitous auto woes.

Last summer one of the mechanics, Howie Tarnower, also a guitarist with a '50s band (the Blue Suede Boppers), had an idea: to throw a party in the garage. To play to a roomful of twisters and shouters, to clean the floor first. To raise money for public radio.

``It was even better than we'd expected,'' said radio producer Doug Berman, dressed in mechanic's blues, complete with name patch and greasy red rag. ``You take a chance with such disparate elements: a garage, a sock hop.'' Five hundred people showed; four hundred paid $20 each, making the take $8,000.

``Oh my gosh, this really is in a garage,'' said one woman arriving late, walking into the aluminum-sided building filled with fluorescent light. Not an easy place to find, sandwiched between an empty lot and old brick industrial buildings in the deserted warehouse district of Cambridge. Colored streamers hung from rafters and car lifts; the smell of oil, metal, and cement mingled with hair grease and sweaty dancers.

``It was a riot ... a good vehicle for raising money,'' said one of the brothers, Ray, chuckling.

``And it was fun to meet some of the people who listen to us,'' he added. ``It was a good night for it - people could spill out onto the street. It would have upset the neighbors, had there been any.''

The guest of honor was National Public Radio's Susan Stamberg, former anchor of ``All Things Considered.'' She put the brothers on the air nationally nearly three years ago.

``It was the funnest way I've ever supported public radio,'' said Dick Koehler, catching his breath.

``This music is before my time,'' remarked Kathleen Eagen, his wife, ``but it's the greatest to dance to.'' She slipped on her lettered sweater - ``I found it in his father's closet'' - and raised her heel to show off the saddle shoes she had bought that morning.

``You can't find music like this to dance to anymore,'' said Bob Tiffany. ``You know what's so funny about this? what makes this work, that we all have in common? Cars. Everybody has a car.''

At midnight, the dance hall turned back into a garage: streamers came down from the car lifts, food and beverages were cleared from the tool chests, and oil spots emerged from the floor.

``Best gig I ever played,'' said Reebee Garofalo, packing up his drums.

A bespectacled observer, Fred Glass, has known the Magliozzi brothers since 1972 when he first came to their garage and got his engine rebuilt cheap.

``I keep telling these guys they should go to other cities and do the same thing,'' he commented. ``They'd make a fortune for public radio.''

``Hey guys! Great time!'' cried a departing guest. ``When are you going to do it again?''

Stay tuned.

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