December 2, 2020•677 words
I honestly don’t know how fast I was going when I hit the deer. My speedometer didn’t work.
The deer jumped out at me about a half-hour before dusk as I was driving down Hwy-98 between Hattiesburg, MS and Mobile, AL in my 1981 Pontiac Bonneville Safari station wagon. The car was brown-ish. I am pretty certain the deer must have been, too, but I never went to check on it. I knew it was dead. Nothing could've survived the blow, my car was a tank. Plus, some guy who apparently saw the whole thing from the other side of the highway made a u-turn just after. Ostensibly he turned around to check on me. But once I said I was fine, he asked if I was going to keep the deer. I politely said he could take it along with him.
The car's paint had faded on the hood some and sides, faded into a non-brown brown. It wasn't a wood-paneled station wagon like you think it might have been, like the "typical" station wagon, it was just brown / -ish. It was all mine. I'd saved up some money working for my dad and he advanced me the rest of the $800 for that fine specimen of a car. I paid him back. I wanted it free and clear.
Man, though, it really was a good car. The guy I bought it from was a mechanic and had kept it up. He said he bought it in 1988, saying it was almost brand new. This guy had put a ton of miles on it, but station wagons are meant to hit a lot of road! He'd changed the engine from diesel to unleaded gasoline, which made it a bit easier at the gas station. Thing is, it only got about 11-12 mpg, which was tough to work with on the little amount of money that I had/made as a teenager. But if I ever heard "I'll get you a fill-up," from my father or maybe even a friend, I took them up on the offer. God, I think it probably held about 25-30 gallons of gas.
There was a tape deck, air conditioning, rear-facing seats in the very back of the car, and a roof rack. I'd added some red fuzzy dice and a black sherpa steering wheel cover. I also put lots of goofy, dumb, and/or cool bumper stickers on it like "Visualize Whirled Peas."
It had pretty loose power steering. A friend who tried driving it said it handled "like a boat," although I don't think he meant that in a good way. I thought the power steering made the Pontiac drive really smoothly. Moving the wheel just a few degrees in either direction took you from one lane to the next with ease. A few more degrees turned you all the way around. On a dime.
The brakes were pretty crappy though. And it overheated sometimes, so I kept a jug of water and a jug of anti-freeze/coolant inside a box in the trunk on one of the rear-facing seats. It seemed fast! But there was that issue with the speedometer.
The front of the car got a little banged up when I hit the deer. A smaller, more practical car would've been totaled. But this tank got away with a 3-4-inch buckle in the front of the 70-foot hood, and a small area of the grill got knocked out.
I never really felt as comfortable driving the car after the incident. I think the combination of poor gas mileage and bad brakes was the overarching reason for getting rid of my first car, but I've always felt bad about hitting the deer. Bad mojo on that. I still have good memories of the car, and I still think it was pretty great.
I re-sold it for $800 to a step-uncle who drove back and forth between Alabama and Mexico with his wife, ostensibly doing missionary work. I never knew the real scam. He never knew about the deer.