Some people are experts in mechanical problems. Some people are wonderful at addressing medical maladies. There are seamstresses and ceramicists, dentists and designers, rocket scientists and waitressing wizards.

This list could go on, probably forever. There are perhaps too many things worth knowing in this world.

I would argue that in a place like New Mexico—where towns are hours apart and public transportation is sometimes extremely limited—car smart is an incredibly useful kind of smart to be.

I am not car smart, unfortunately. Writing? Sure. Narrative? Sure. Asking strangers pesky questions? Sign me up. A taillight out or a cracked windshield, and I might be in trouble. These are not even hard car problems to address (I think? Again, I am the opposite of a car expert, a car inexpert if you will).

And I am heavily dependent on my car functioning. I know this because I had to get car repairs that left me briefly car-less not once, but twice in 2020 (it wasn’t a lucky year, I’ve got to say). When I walked into the body shop last October, only a season away from my visit in spring, the very nice man running the place said it was nice to see me again. He then backtracked, acknowledging that these were perhaps not good circumstances under which to see me again.

There was no back windshield on my car at the time. It had been smashed to bits when another car had run right into the back of the vehicle. A very normal, very common, nonetheless upsetting, kind of accident.

The car was drivable post-accident, but to get from where the accident happened to where I lived meant an hour on an interstate. It was a surreal experience, interstate driving immediately post-accident and more than a bit shaken, with wind blowing in drowning out any wayward thoughts.

As car dependent as I am, it is unfortunate that I am also so car illiterate. In 2019 I drove from New Mexico to Mississippi with only a vague memory of how changing a tire works. To be clear, my dad did do the thing dads do where they teach you how to change a tire, but it was knowledge I have not retained well. Again, car smarts are a little out of my lane. I’d like to think it was more brave than foolish, but, uh, I’m not so sure anyone else would agree.

The thing that has turned out to be true, time and again, is that people with car knowledge have been generous with their time and help when I was in a moment of need.

There was the day my battery died at work and my boss at the time drove me to the auto shop so I could buy a new one. Then he put the new battery in himself.

There was the time my hood couldn’t latch (a whole story you don’t want to hear) and a friend figured out how to temporarily keep the darn thing shut so it wouldn’t fly up as I headed down the road.

A few months ago I told a neighbor that my brake lights were out. I had bought new ones but needed to google how to put them in (again, 97 percent sure this is knowledge I was previously taught but did not retain). He immediately offered to teach me how. Fingers crossed next time I’ll be able to do it myself without any hiccups.

I am working on my car know-how, doing my best to learn (or relearn) all those things a responsible car owner is supposed to know. In the meantime, I am grateful that the universe has put so many people with car knowledge into my life in the moments when I needed them.

Cathy Cook, Editor, El Defensor Chieftain