Happier times, the day I bought her.

I play it back in my head and wondered the “what ifs” but in the end, it’s no one’s fault but the deer. I had been at my parents’ house in Brodhead the evening of Friday, May 12th, for a pre-Mothers Day dinner, but I had wanted to get to Wauwatosa for the weekend. So, I opted for a midnight drive from Brodhead to Tosa, something I’ve done many times before. It had been a beautiful afternoon and I drove from Madison to Brodhead with the music blaring and the T-Tops off. I took my mom to dinner in the Camaro (dad drove mom’s car separately since she was on call for the clinic, and the Camaro is so low to the ground that tall folks like my dad have trouble getting into it) and had a great evening.

70 miles an hour is the new speed limit on most Wisconsin highways now, and that’s exactly what I was doing at 12:38AM outside of East Troy, Wisconsin, in the rightmost lane of the 4 lane median-divided highway. The deer caught the car directly on the drivers side headlight with a muffled WHUMP, smashing the car’s ABS plastic around the wheel down into the wheel itself milliseconds before I could jam on the brakes. Those milliseconds of 3 wheels turning and one wheel stopped was all it took to wrench me around in a sweet 180 degree loop, across the left northbound lane, and then sliding crazily sideways down the graded median into the grass filled ditch that until moments earlier, the fatal deer had been chowing down in.

I switched the car off. I felt fine. No glass was broken at all. The impact hadn’t felt serious at all to me. So I got out, took a deep breath, and went to look at the front of the car.

Deer are apparently harder than I thought

I called the State Farm accident number and told them I’d hit a deer. I was assured that since no one else’s property but my own was involved, I’d only be out the $500 deductible and they’d take care of the rest. Heartened by this, I walked up the slippery, wet slope in my own tire tracks and looked at the deer. It wasn’t moving – not very much blood though. Although I didn’t touch it to check I’m pretty sure it died instantly of having every bone in its neck broken. Poor thing – why’d you have to be eating at 1AM? Why couldn’t you have been in Deer Bed over in the forest, away from the roads?

About five different cars stopped to check on me while I was waiting for the tow truck to arrive. That was gratifying. Two guys with trucks even offered to pull me up out of the ditch but I assured them that I’d rather let the professionals, paid by my insurance company, assess the collision results exactly as they lay. A sheriff stopped by briefly, told me that it wasn’t his jurisdiction and he couldn’t stay, but that he’d radio for a guy who patrolled this area. That sheriff, an Officer Johnson, arrived fifteen minutes later and filled out the accident form (in case State Farm needed an officer’s opinion of the situation) while we waited another fifteen minutes for the tow truck to arrive. Johnson sympathized with me heartily – he was a young looking guy, maybe five years older than me, and he told me that this was the 3rd deer collision in 3 nights he’d seen. “Young pregnant females, they need to eat so much more food than usual, that they go down into the tall grass between the north and southbound roads where all the water flows – and they’re jittery and jumpy because they’re young. Not your fault.”

The tow truck operator, Kyle, and Johnson appraised the front end damage. Both seemed impressed – “huh, a newer car would have crumpled a lot more. These older GM cars; they can take a hit like a champ.” I told them I’d barely even felt the hit; it was like hitting a raccoon. Obviously the impact force was enough to fling me off the road and I could respect that, but the damage still looked a lot worse than it had felt. The deer had essentially liquefied one of my custom headlights I’d installed two summers ago; there wasn’t a single piece of it left except the wires, dangling uselessly like an ocular nerve. And the front “nose” of the car had been mildly damaged and replaced two and a half years ago. I found it ironic that the newest parts of the car were the most visibly damaged.

Kyle pulled the car out of the ditch slowly with his winch cable, and told me that State Farm had authorized him to take the car wherever I wanted at their expense. Nice of them – so I picked Sparkle Auto Body, who had done all the previous body work on the car before. 55 miles away – is that okay? No problem at all, I was told – I’ll deliver it to them right now. Johnson offered to drop me off at a nearby 24-hour Walmart, where Christine could pick me up. I sat on the uncomfortable hard plastic seats of his squad car, watching the yellow flashing lights of the tow truck disappear into the distance. I’d see her again, I told myself. State Farm told me I’d just need to pay that $500 deductible and Sparkle Auto Body does great work; she’d be as good as new – probably better.

Unfortunately….that wouldn’t be the case. When I bicycled over to Sparkle on Monday to see how the car looked in the daylight, they told me there’d be a good chance State Farm would have to declare her a Total Loss. Sparkle was estimating the damages at $6,000 – and 15 year old, 2002 V6 Camaroes just aren’t worth that kind of money, even if replacement parts were easy to find for them – which they are not. Between the obvious damage to 3-4 separate parts of the body that would require complete replacement and repainting, the warned me that the sliding down the hill sideways might have done all kinds of other possible damage to her suspension and frame that wasn’t as easy to see.

The call I’d been expecting but dreading came on Wednesday – a nice valuation on the part of State Farm though; instead of taking the Blue Book value of $1700 for the car, they actually did some research on the prices 2002 Camaroes were selling for in Wisconsin, Illinois, and Iowa, and offered me a check based on that value, which was substantially more. Heck, if I wanted to I could go out to Plymouth, Wisconsin and buy me an identical Camaro the next day, if I wanted! So…props to State Farm for treating a customer right. I don’t hold it against them for Totalling the car; insurance is a numbers game and the numbers just weren’t in her favor. It was close though, from what I found out – if the damage had been only $800-1200 less, it might have been under the red line. But “what ifs” don’t get anyone anywhere. What if I’d decided to just spend the night in Brodhead? What if I’d stopped for coffee at a gas station on the way? ….What if she hadn’t been so well built, and I had died or been seriously injured in the crash, instead of barely feeling the impact? What ifs are pointless to dwell on.

Props also go to Sparkle Auto Body, who put the car up on their lift and quickly removed the aftermarket hitch from the car for free when I asked if they’d help me out. They’ll be removing the license plates for me later today as well. Christine took me over to the Sparkle lot yesterday so I could collect my belongings out of the car and have a few final moments with her. I emptied her out, put the keys in the ignition and started her up one last time, pumping the gas while in park to hear the GMC 3800 engine roar like it did back at the Zimbrick lot in 2012. My first car! God, I loved having her. She improved my life and cheered me up to drive her, and in the end, probably saved my life as her final act. After 15 years of cruising, you deserve a rest.

Just like back in 2012

You’ll see all your old Camaro buddies from the assembly line! Where you can romp and rev…