My wife and I were on the way home from a delightful anniversary trip to Charlotte. I can’t tell you exactly which anniversary it was, because I’m male. I’m sure my wife could tell you exactly which anniversary it was, because she’s the wife and women seem to have a genetic predisposition to remembering anniversaries. I’m just glad to have a calendar app on my iPhone to tell me when it’s my anniversary so I can say it first.
Here I am telling you about why I didn’t remember which anniversary it was, when you’re asking a completely different question. Charlotte? You took an anniversary trip to Charlotte? Why? The simple reason we chose Charlotte as our anniversary destination was because it allowed us inexpensively spend our anniversary “not here.” Ah, the joys of an easily-entertained couple.
There were two routes we could take to get home from Charlotte. One was to take the interstate at high speed, then turn South on US-1 which provided a nice, wide path. The other option was to take a more direct route down mostly two-lane roads and smaller highways. The actual difference in time to drive the distance was about the same, but we would be driving at night so I chose the route least-likely to be lined with dozens upon dozens of suicidal deer. From stories I had heard from others, hitting a deer with your car can be a less-than-satisfying ordeal.
Most of the trip was uneventful. There was the occasional break at a gas station. It seems that both the wife and I have bladders of small children when on a trip, requiring regular trips lest she whine annoyingly every time the car hits a bump. I mean lest WE whine annoyingly every time the car hits a bump. Of course I do.
We stopped off for a late dinner at the Ryan’s Steak House in Cary, NC. Some of you may know this particular location from the great “Ryan’s Steak House Incident” story posted to USENET a few years back.
After dinner we continued South on US-1, with our bellies full of buffet deliciousness. It being dark already, I was not looking forward to the tendency toward sleepiness that sets in on long nighttime drives. My wife, let’s call her Shannon to protect the innocent, talked to me along the way to keep me alert. Those of you who know Shannon will know how hard this was for her, as she will sometimes go entire minutes without speaking.
Somewhere in the long, straight stretches of divided four-lane that is Chatham County US-1 I heard a noise from my wife that was a little odd, followed by words that I can only suppose were “What the Hell is THAT?” Simultaneously I saw, far in the distance, a grey form that was just entering the range of my high-beams. Since I was in a 65 mph zone, I thought it might be a good idea to slow down from my 75 mph speed for safety’s sake, and hit the brakes HARD.
As the grey form came closer both Shannon and I realized that it was a deer, and a nice-sized one at that. I had hit the brakes hard enough to stop quickly, but not so hard that we would lose traction and turn a potentially bad situation into a horrible one. My brain made some quick calculations while Shannon yelled something about the grey form being a deer and to not hit it. Since the deer was in the left-lane and I was in the right my brain thought it likely that we could avoid impact regardless of the fact that the car was going to stop approximately 10 feet beyond the deer.
The deer performed some calculations in its own brain. Knowing that a stationary car is much less likely to help it in its suicidal urges, the dumb sack of tasty meat took a flying leap at the last moment in front of the car.
When I say “in front of” I actually mean across the front of. We were in a 1991 Saturn, which had a rather low front end. Even standing still the deer would probably have gone over the hood, but jumping helped a bit. Shannon is still traumatized a bit by the sight of deer belly fur before the impact. Even at the relatively low-speed of an almost-stopped car, it wasn’t enjoyable.
The deer, not being all that bright, was unable to properly measure the jump for maximum suicidal efficiency and hit the front end of the car with its hindquarters. It’s body wrapped around the passenger side of the car, cracking a large chunk out of the plastic fender and slamming its head into the passenger-side front door creating a large hole there.
When I think of what was going through Shannon’s mind when a heavy, loud impact slammed into the door mere inches from her I try not to laugh, no matter how hard that is.
Having managed to create a traffic jam of one car, the deer scampered away quickly. Upon inspection of the car we found a large piece of car body plastic and a matching piece of deerskin in the fender-hole. This bothered me somewhat as the skin is what keeps the tasty meat in place on the deer. It also made me consider that the deer may have been less scampering away than running quickly yelling, “Ow! Ow! Ow! Ow!”
After determining that the deer had only caused cosmetic damage, and that the car was still perfectly driveable, we continued our way down the highway, wondering if that cold air coming through Shannon’s door panels would ever stop.
Now, at this point I should explain what it is like to have just run into a deer in a head-on collision. It’s weird. No, that’s not right. Weird isn’t the correct word for the feeling one has in this situation. It’s freaking TERRIFYING! Almost all talk in the car had stopped. I drove along at about 58 mph, still in the 65mph zone, hunched over the steering wheel like a 4 foot tall old lady, clenching the wheel in white-knuckled hands. My eyes darted from side to side, examining every speck of not-dark at the sides of the road. My heart was beating a mile a minute, which is an entirely mismatched play on words. I’m sure you get the idea.
Fifteen minutes later we were in our home county, and I realized the exact nature of my stress. Somehow, having been driving for many years and only hitting my first deer, I was convinced that another was waiting to get me. I was actually afraid that another deer was out there, just waiting for my car to come along so it could jump out and get hit.
“Shannon,” I said, “I’m actually afraid that another deer is out there, just waiting for my car to come along so it can jump out and get hit.”
My wife, brilliant thinker that she is, responded, “Oh no. The chances against that are astronomical.”
Coming into town at around 10pm, still no other car in sight, I finally started to relax a bit and stop worrying about HOLY CRAP A DEER JUST RAN INTO THE CAR!
A deer had run out of the woods on the left side of the road, and in an amazing feat of geometric analysis and execution, slammed into the driver’s side of the car damaging two more body panels and breaking off the rear-view mirror.
I was, as you may expect, a little stressed by this latest occurrence.
The next bit was a bit of a blur, but it involved a stopped car in the middle of the lane on an empty two-lane road near town. The passenger seat contained a shivering, scared figure that had once been my wife. The driver’s door stood open and some strange man that may have been me was running in circles screaming expletives at the top of his lungs, asking every deer within the 20 mile radius that his voice could be heard if they all planned on hitting his car that night.
It was a bit surreal.
That night I told my father the story. His first question was, “Where’s the deer now?”
Tragedy is no excuse for passing up on tasty meat.