Car Talk: A funny story about Cambridge or ‘our fair city’

Dear Car Talk: My daughter just moved to Boston and teaches at a Cambridge elementary school. Whenever I refer to Cambridge, Massachusetts, in our conversations, I always say “our fair city.” That’s from you and your brother. You used to always call Cambridge “our fair city” on your radio show.

But when my daughter asked why you always said, “our fair city,” I realized I don’t know. What’s the origin of that phrase? How did you guys come up with it? There is no official reference anywhere. Thanks. — Jim

Jim: Well, congratulations to your daughter on educating the youth of our fair city, Jim. She’s a little too late to help me, but I’m sure plenty of kids will benefit from her work.

Every week on the radio show, we would do a “puzzler.” And one week I introduced a puzzler that went like this:

A well-dressed man walks into a bank, goes up to the teller, and says: “I’m an English professor from Northwestern University, and I’m here visiting your fair city with my wife and my two daughters.”

Anyway, for some reason, that phrase struck my late brother Tom as ridiculous. And he asked incredulously, “Your fair city??? He actually said that? Your fair city???”

And from that moment on, to make fun of me, whenever I gave out our mailing address on the air, he would barge in and interject “our fair city” between the words “Cambridge” and “Massachusetts.”

So that’s where it comes from, Jim. And now, because I’m sure you’re dying to know the rest of the puzzler, here it is:

This professor goes on to say “You see, my wife and my oldest daughter want to go shopping, and all I have is this out-of-state check. I wonder if you would be kind enough to cash it for me?”

The bank teller says, “Get out of here, you bum. You’re no visiting English professor, you’re a fraud.” And the puzzler question was, how did the bank teller know that this guy was trying to pull a fast one?

Well, the answer is that the so-called professor said he had two daughters. Yet he referred to one as his “oldest” daughter. Any professor of English would have known that it should be “older” daughter, not “oldest” if there are only two of them. So that’s how the bank teller nabbed him.

I guess we had some pretty smart bank tellers in Our Fair City, Jim. Thanks, no doubt, to all those good teachers we hire.

Dear Car Talk: I have a 2016 Volvo V60. I had been getting a message that read “low battery charge” for a couple of months. It would come and go.

I finally took it to my mechanic, and they said the battery was low, so they changed it. That was yesterday.

Today, I did some errands and it was fine for a few hours. But then when I got back in the car after coming out of one of the stores, the message was there again. It did eventually go away again.

Almost everything I research tells me that the alternator needs to be replaced and the low-battery-charge message is a symptom of an alternator issue. My car starts fine, there is no noise coming out of it, etc.

Can you give me advice as to what else could be the problem? I don’t want to spend the money on a new alternator if I don’t have to.

One other thing I’ve found is that there is a switch or something that has to be changed saying a new battery was put in the car or that there could be a problem with the wires. Thank you. — Danielle

Danielle: You want to work for Car Talk, Danielle? I think you’ve already done the differential diagnosis.

Your alternator certainly could be failing. Based on your symptoms, it hasn’t failed completely, but it may not be able to keep your battery fully charged all the time — depending on what demands you put on it.

If your alternator is slowly dying, at some point, your car will fail to start, and eventually won’t run at all. I would think your mechanic would have tested your entire charging system, including the alternator, when you came in with your original complaint. That’s standard operating procedure. If he didn’t, he should have. And he should do it now.

If the alternator gets a clean bill of health, then I’d look at the battery installation. When you install a new battery in a lot of higher-end cars, you then have to program the new battery’s “code” into the computer.

That’s because the old battery probably required more charging as it aged. And if you don’t let the computer know there’s a brand-new battery in there, it could overcharge your new battery. It’s a mystery why that would lead to a “low battery” warning light, but electronics can be odd.

The other issue we’ve run into is that some cars just don’t play well with non-OEM batteries. So, if your mechanic didn’t put an actual Volvo battery in there, didn’t program it correctly, or didn’t know it needed to be programmed, you may want to consider asking him for a refund, and going to the Volvo dealer for your battery.

It’ll require a minor draw-down of your home equity line, but it may solve your problem.

Got a question about cars? Write to Ray in care of King Features, 628 Virginia Drive, Orlando, FL 32803, or email by visiting the Car Talk website at

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