Monday, September 27, 2010

Collision Course



By Bill Diller

As I watched the deer approach the windshield, sideways, at a very high rate of speed, I only had time for a quick, "Uh oh!" I must have hit the brakes hard because there were black marks on the road and the eight pointer ended up in the ditch approximately forty feet from where I stopped. In the midst of the turmoil of those few seconds I don’t remember touching the brakes at all. But the evidence is there, so I must have.

The morning started like most of my Saturday mornings at that point in my life. Up at 2:30 a.m., leave the house at 3:15 a.m., and hope the papers were on time.

Delivering newspapers for a living was usually boring, the principle variables being the weather and traffic. But I love to drive and had a motor route, for one paper or another, for nearly thirty years. My routes were generally over 100 miles a day, and half of that was morning delivery.

At that time of day you saw some interesting things: Like the Holstein cow standing crossways on M-142 between Pinnebog Rd. and Elkton at 4:00 a.m.; or the young man walking barefoot down M-25 near Bay Port at 5:15 a.m., who stopped me and asked for a ride because a coyote had been stalking him all the way from Rose Island; or noticing broken windows in various stores along the route, at least three that I can remember, and having to call the police and give a report; or being gang mooned on Sand Point one Fourth of July - while driving on Crescent Beach Rd. at 3:00 a.m. I saw, how should I put this?, six or seven bare, white human posteriors reflecting my high beams, I hit the gas, they scattered; or driving into a ten-foot high snow drift in a blizzard trying to be a good paperboy - my truck ended up resting on its frame with the wheels more than a foot off the road; or, well, you get the idea.

Another thing you saw a lot of early in the morning was deer. Lots of deer! I counted, and on more than one morning I saw deer, either on or near the road, at over twenty different spots along the route. So the possibility of hitting one was a constant threat.

Early in the summer of 1986 my aunt and uncle were involved in a freak car-deer accident just outside of Bay Port which left my aunt blinded. Her condition comes to mind every time I see a deer on or near the road. I try not to dwell on it, but the thought is there.

Sometimes, when I'd been behind the wheel for a while, the windshield took on the likeness of a movie screen. The world rushed by at fifty-five miles per hour and everything was viewed at a distance. Unless it was snowing or raining nothing came close to the windshield. So when something suddenly appeared close up you noticed it immediately. If it was a leaf, or a small bird, it was usually nothing to worry about. When something larger approached your windshield at fifty-five miles per hour, you took notice. I noticed a deer! Coming at me sideways!  The eight-point buck, wasn’t really going sideways, he was going south, at a full gallop and in mid-leap. I was going west. And since I was going faster than he was, from my perspective, he was coming at me sideways, about two feet off the ground.

When you’re traveling in a vehicle at highway speeds your expectation is to continue at a smooth rate as you traverse space. However, when something as large as this deer approaches quickly, you realize that your smooth commute is about to be interrupted.

My "Uh, oh" was quickly followed by an abrupt change in forward momentum. The impact was harsh and sudden, and numerous thoughts went through my mind.

Uppermost, on a continual basis, is my relationship with God, through Jesus Christ. I try to live my life in accordance with God’s will. I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t always succeed in doing His will, but it is always on my mind. Hence, I don’t believe in coincidence. When something unavoidable happens, it’s God’s will. That was my first thought.

When I felt the impact, I was utterly disoriented. One second a deer was approaching my windshield, sideways, at fifty-five miles an hour. The next fraction of a second was a mass of confusion. There was a horrendous sound of metal meeting flesh, followed by a blaring, ringing intrusion of noise. This was accompanied by a `whooshing’ sound and a cloud of hot, acrid air. It smelled like a mixture of gunpowder and burning rubber. I thought the engine was on fire! I looked toward the engine for flames, but all I saw was gray.

My immediate thought was of my aunt. She has lived with her affliction for many years since the deer came through her windshield and I thought this deer had come through mine. I couldn’t see a thing! I was surprised because I always thought that when you go blind, all you see is black. I didn’t see black, I saw gray.

My next thought was, `I don’t hurt’. Except for my right thumb, which had struck the dash or steering wheel, I felt no pain at all. I heard no breaking glass and felt no impact other than my thumb. This led me to suspect that the deer had not come through the windshield. If that was true, why couldn’t I see? And what was that noise, and that horrendous odor, and the smoke?

All of a sudden I noticed a strip of white light appear at the top of my vision. Is this how you come back from blindness? A little strip of white light?

The white light continued to increase and became the road ahead of me. I was right, the deer had not come through the windshield - it was still in one piece.

About that time I noticed a small canvas balloon getting smaller in front of me. The air bag, of course! I felt like an idiot, I’d never even thought about it being there. I’m elated that it was. I am now a staunch advocate of air bags.

Looking to my right I realized the passengers air bag was deployed also. Why? Then it dawned on me that the car would have no way of knowing that the only thing on that seat were newspapers and a cellular phone.

The accident happened at the apex of a hill and visibility was limited. I was sitting in the westbound lane and through the windshield I could see there were no flames coming from under the hood, which was buckled. The engine felt all right, I couldn’t hear it because of the clamor, and the power steering still worked, so I pulled over to the shoulder of Kinde Rd. and shut off the motor.

The problem of my potential blindness was solved, but there was still the odor, the smoke and the cacophonous noise.

I figured the noise was a warning buzzer of some kind so I took the key from the ignition. It didn’t help. That noise was irritating, keeping me from thinking clearly. And the smoke, and stink of burning . . . something. I didn’t know what was burning, but that was irritating, too.

It dawned on me that if I got away from the noise I might be able to think better. I opened the door and, surprise, the smoke started going outside. With it went some of the stench. Well, that helped a little. But there was still that shrieking racket!

After walking about ten yards from the car I suddenly realized the noise was the horn. It was stuck on and showed no signs of giving out. My irrational thought to that was, I bet it’s really irritating to the hunter who chased that deer in front of my car.

I found the cellular phone on the floor of the passenger’s side, thrown there on impact, along with all the newspapers. Again I said `thank you’ for the air bags. I called my sister and arranged to be picked up, and then called 911.

About a minute later my father called to make sure I was all right. That cellular phone was a comfort, both to me and my family. Emergencies like this were the major reason we got one. I’m glad I had it.

It was just a matter of waiting now. But that blasted, infernal racket from the horn was driving me nuts. I poked and pushed around the steering wheel and finally got the horn to stop. Thank God! What a racket!

The deer had landed in the ditch and crawled about ten feet into a field on the south side of the road, approximately forty feet from where the car was parked. I went to find it, and as I was standing over the deer the horn started blowing again. Extreme irritation!

Tired of listening to the din I attempted to lift the hood. It was buckled and wouldn’t budge. I felt around the steering wheel again and couldn’t get the blasted horn to quit. I burned my thumb in the process, the same one that hit the dash. In frustration I kicked the steering wheel and, Hallelujah, silence.

After a few minutes the State Police showed up, then my sister, then a wrecker. Then life began to return to normal.

All in all it was an experience I don’t hope to repeat. I’m grateful to God for giving me the faith to not be discouraged by events such as this, and thankful I wasn’t inured.

I got my buck and didn’t even have to buy a hunting license. And it only cost $4,000!

I do have a suggestion for the auto makers: Look into a way to deploy the air bags without all that smoke and odor. It’s disorienting, and if someone were injured and unable to open a door or window they would have to breathe it until help arrived. I was only subjected to it for a few seconds and it left my throat raw. And, please, find a way so the horn doesn’t stick on when the air bags go off!


Text copyright 2010 Bill Diller

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