Dirty Brown Subaru Outback


Car Crushes

“I want to wrap / my face tight with a silk scarf and spiral    down /    a Cinque Terre highway in an Alfa Romeo,” writes Olivia Sokolowski in her poem “Lover of Cars,” which appears in the new Fall issue of the Review. And who doesn’t, when you put it like that? In celebration of Sokolowski’s poem, we’ve commissioned writers to reflect briefly on cars they’ve loved, struggled with, coveted, and crushed on.

My mom liked to call the color, half-endearingly, “baby-shit brown.” I’m told Subaru manufactured vehicles in that particular color for only one year, 2011. The biggest Outback model—far from cute. I wouldn’t say that I lived out of it, though that’s not too far off. I was in college at the time, and my living situation consisted of sleeping on a three-season porch in Colorado Springs. I bought the car in Boston, the summer before my junior year, and threw a futon mattress in the back. By the time I got to my porch, I kept as many clothes in my room as I did in the back of the car. Wherever I slept, the temperature was always the same inside as out, and most mornings I was drowning in high-altitude sunshine.

It was a dirty car. If I was with friends and we stepped out of a bar and saw a dumpster in the parking lot, someone would say, “Look, it’s the passenger seat of K’s car.” Lots of laughs. Once, driving from Colorado Springs to Moab, Utah, half the rear bumper released itself from the frame. I could see it waving through the back windshield like a shit-brown flag against the canyons and red dust. I kept promising to plastic-weld the bumper back together, but a Frankenstein-like stitch job with black tape did the job well enough. As they say: duct tape will fix anything but a broken heart. My friends took to calling the car “Dirty Gerty,” with a flair for rhyme. Why Gertrude? Who knows.

The beginning of the end for Gerty came at high speed. It’s not as frightening as that might sound. Visiting home after graduation, near Boston, I was doing eighty on Route 2 when the car stalled. I pulled over to the side of the road and got it started again. On a side street, after I came to a complete stop, the engine stalled again. It was an automatic. By the time I got it to a garage, I was basically keeping a hand, twist-ready, on the key in the ignition. Blown transmission, not worth replacing, considering the condition of the car. After three years, close to a hundred thousand miles, and nights spent in at least half of the lower 48 (MA, VT, ME, NH, RI, NY, PA, MD, VA, OH, IL, IN, IA, ID, MI, MN, MO, KS, NE, CO, UT, AZ, NM, CA, OR, WA) and five Canadian provinces (NB, NS, ON, PE, QC), I donated Gerty to charity.

Because it was a limited model-color run, I don’t see too many Gertys out on the roads. I saw one this morning. In my chest, I felt that familiar flip, my foot pressing the pedal to the floor, climbing something steep, looking over at a friend, Max or Rowan, Fiona or Hollis, with a sea of cans and coffee mugs at their feet.


Kelan Nee is a poet and carpenter from Massachusetts. His poems have appeared in Poetry, The Adroit Journal, 32 Poems, The Yale Review, and elsewhere. His debut collection, Felling, is forthcoming from the University of North Texas Press in 2024. He lives in Houston.