COAL: 2016 Subaru Outback – Aufschnit und Wurst

The 2016 Outback thirty eight minutes after delivery.

One of the treasured delicacies of my childhood was kosher German cold cuts – aufschnit. When I was a baby, there were several skilled butchers/charcutiers in Washington Heights left of the twelve that had existed in the heyday of the community in the 1950s.  Remaining in the 1980s, there was Schild and Gleich and Bloch u. Falk, but by my early twenties, only Bloch und Falk was left. 

Herr Bloch – Alfred – maintained the discipline of the Heimat under the supervision of the Breuer congregation as he turned out his product. Alfred made kosher mortadellas studded with olive and pistaschio,  all-beef garlic ringwursts destined for linsensuppe on cold winter nights, all-beef fermented cervelat salamis to be sliced wafer thin for real rye bread, schwartenmagen with cubed cured meats and forcemeats suspended in delicious gelatin – this was particularly treasured by me and my sisters, and was, yeah, headcheese – and real gansleberwurstchen, delicious garlicky goose liver pate that my father loved. Alfred Bloch dropped dead in the spring of 1997, and his widow sold the store on Broadway and 176th to a couple of Israelis without transferring the recipes. Needless to say, there is no more taste of kosher aufschnit except in memory, unless you dare my mother’s basement freezer.

Thirty-five year old sausage and liverwurst in my mother’s basement freezer. When I took this picture, it was twenty-seven years old

My firstborn was nearing six months old as I was finishing my third year in law school, and the first tugs of New Car Maybe began. First, it was nine years old and had ninety-five thousand miles. Second, my wife, who is a registered dietician, went back to work for her company, but her company assigned her to a new account at a Scarsdale nursing home on the end of a twenty-five mile reverse commute from Queens. Leah took the Legacy across the Whitestone twice daily for a year, while I did the pickups and drop-offs of the older boy to daycare, which was a mile walk from our apartment and a quarter-mile backtrack to the express stop on the Queens Boulevard main line.

This arrangement worked only when it wasn’t raining, because my wife resented arriving at work late or leaving work early to race back to Queens before the daycare closed at five pm on rainy days. A mile with an infant in a stroller – and a satchel filled with legal drafts, files, and my laptop – is fine in the clear, but hell in the wet.  But it didn’t burn *enough*. It’s very hard to find parking north of Queens Boulevard at rush hour, and I was practical about the imagined convenience of a second car in the face of that difficulty. 

The head gaskets were done in the early spring of 2013, and we had a Jetta rental from Enterprise, which was…I hated it.  Later that summer Leah switched jobs to work for Catholic Charities and got mileage for her use of the car as she supervised thirty residential care foodservice and clinical nutrition programs in Queens and Brooklyn, and she could time her day to pick the older boy up from daycare after she made her site visits, or leave it to me for the pickups which I did on shank’s mare and sport-utility stroller.

But in the fall of 2013 she had her accident with the Legacy on Queens Boulevard and I began thinking of buying her a new car again. We had a Passat while the collision was being repaired (the Enterprise franchise is a couple of stops away on Queens Boulevard and I had a preferred customer membership), which was okay, but Volkswagen no longer sold the Passat station wagon in North America. 

The goal was to buy a second car that could easily take over from the first car when the first car died forever, and if our incomes and working routines justified it, we’d replace the first car when it was unter zum der Erde gefahrt. The accident accelerated that timetable, so we test drove several smaller SUVs and wagon-like objects in the winter of 2014 to experiment with our preferences.  At that point in 2014, I think I hashed out five or six compact wagons and SUVs from which to shop.  Leah didn’t want a new Subaru, and she wanted to pick the car.

I didn’t want to shop the new car in New York City. I felt the advantage in dealer inventory would be offset by the easy replacement of a prospective customer, and I wanted to drive through the suburbs north and west of the city on weekends and have decent test-drives at speed on good-old broken New York pavement instead of visiting dealerships in urban neighborhoods and being stuck in stoplight traffic.

We went to a Toyota dealership in Cortlandt and drove a RAV-4, which was buzzy and tall compared to the Legacy, and which also seemed gutless and imprecise while we were creeping around the country loop near the dealership. The salesman then put us in a second-to-last generation Venza four cylinder, which was awful. It felt like driving around a hot-air balloon, and the engine had to rev hard to make it around the same loop. We tried out a Prius-V in Mays Landing, New Jersey, which had no road-feel or character whatsoever, and a Golf wagon the same day which was very pleasant but smaller than the Legacy. We tried to test-drive a CR-V at the Honda dealership in Mount Kisco, but they closed at an improbably early hour on a Saturday and I thought if they wanted the business they could be open according to their website. We test drove Foresters and Outbacks at Kerbeck in Pleasantville, but the Forester unpleasantly wallowed and the Outback with collision avoidance was in a trim level beyond my means – I intended to buy for cash.

Ultimately, we aborted the car purchase decision in 2014. All the new sausage tasted like garbage. The Legacy continued to be the sole car in 2015. The boy was attending nursery school at a synagogue much closer to our apartment, and I was working from home, which made the pickups and drop-offs much simpler.

But in late 2015, the fire was relit. Catholic Charities relinquished Leah’s division to Cerebral Palsy of New York State, and Leah’s territory expanded into Staten Island and the Bronx. Now we needed a new car that would be reliable – who could trust a twelve-year-old car on a daily basis? And this time, she let me do the shopping, since we had driven the alternatives two years earlier and found them wanting.

The goal was a compact wagon with all-wheel-drive, as before, as going back to 2003.  We foresaw having one more child but we did not expect or need the utility of a seven-seat mid-size SUV or a minivan. Thus, in late 2015, there were three options:

1) A Subaru Forester
2) A Subaru Outback
3) A Volkswagen Golf Sportwagon TDI for fuel efficiency, because I had liked the turbodiesel on an adventitious test-drive in the summer of 2015

Once again, I took a trip into the Margate Library and photocopied the appropriate pages of the New Car Cost Guide, and we set out to find the right set of ingredients for our new soup. In September, the news broke about the VW/Audi emissions testing fraud, and I figured there would be a bargaining advantage if I went into the dealerships then. I visited VW of Ramsey and they were utterly uninterested in bargaining. Their offering prices were high and did not budge, and I had an animal reaction to the culture in the dealership.

All the bored salesmen at Volkswagen of Ramsey, New Jersey, October 2015.

But the Golf Sportwagon was really very nice! I test drove it again from the dealership in Fair Lawn and had a pleasant time behind the wheel.  At Subaru of Ramsey, the salesmen – and they were all men, everywhere, nowhere was there a woman hustling to sell anything – were also disengaged, but I test-drove the  Forester again and found myself intensely disliking the bottoming-out wallowing feeling I had on a jughandle off Route 17. The Outback – the newly redesigned 2015 Outback with the timing chain 4 cylinder 2.5L boxer without the sludging issues – rode like it was on rails.

It would be an Outback, but which one, and from which dealership? I did not need the towing capacity of the 6 cylinder nor leather seats nor a moonroof and navigation. But the lowest specification that included Eyesight was the Premium – the FDD14 (2015 models) and GDD14 (2016 models). Now here was an interesting thing: in 2015, the liability and collision insurance for an Eyesight equipped Outback was eight hundred dollars per year less than an Outback not so equipped. The Volkswagen Golf Sportwagon was nearly a thousand dollars per year more expensive to insure, since it had no collision avoidance systems.

I did a little math and worked out my purchase price for a GDD14 – $27,100. I called every single dealership in a one hundred mile radius of New York City, asking for their best prices on a GDD14 Outback. I called Holman in Middletown, NY and took their price to Bill Kolb in Rockland and then took that price down to Subaru of Ramsay and the Subaru dealership in Princeton and round and around I went, making dealerships compete against each other. I got a $27,800 price from Kerbeck, and secured the car on my credit card with a two hundred dollar deposit, asked for a cash discount – I was ready to wire the balance that day, and they knocked it down to $27,000.

That morning, I dropped the boy off at Pre-K, had a cashiers check made out for $2500 and sent the wire to the dealership, ran to catch the NJ Transit bus from the Port Authority to Atlantic City, which I had not ridden in thirty-three years, and closed the deal. Again, I ate a club hoagie in the new house in Margate and drove home to Queens with my sausage.

Parked together the morning after I bought the Outback.

Two cars in New York City! Such luxury! But I had no garage space, and there was still alternate side parking regulations, which were hard to negotiate twice a week with two cars, especially if I had to go into the office or go to court. We didn’t have many tickets, but it took a herculean effort to avoid the meter maids.

The first snow baptism was three months into ownership, in the great 30 inch January blizzard. The Outback did okay, but it did not seem as sure on its big wheels as the older Legacy.


Two years later, a week and a half after I sold the Legacy, my wife went into labor with our second child. My father-in-law took the train down from Poughkeepsie to collect the older boy, and at one am on the last night of Hanukkah, on the longest night of the year, Leah and I drove into Manhattan to Mount Sinai Hospital for the birth.  I’d driven several versions of the route, and selected the Triborough Bridge crossing for the fastest progress at that hour, and got stuck on the entrance ramp to the Grand Central Parkway from the BQE because the DOT was repainting the lane markings on the Grand Central in Astoria.

Repainting the lane markings on the Grand Central, while my wife was having contractions five minutes apart.

No! But no, we did not deliver my son in the Outback, because I nimbly drove around the stalled traffic, screamed “My wife is in labor!” at the DOT crew, and took off with an NYPD escort over the Triborough. I wrote down the internal monologue I had an hour later, after I had brought her upstairs to the maternity pavilion on Fifth Avenue:

…God the air is cold after the uncontrolled steam bath on the second floor of the Klingenstein pavilion. I used to be really scared outside in Manhattan after midnight. So close to Harlem! Not really. Man it’s dead. Not a car for blocks and blocks going uptown. Like Holly Golightly Fifth Avenue dead.
So tonight’s the night! I’m glad I showered and shaved before Howard came- oh, look a parking space across the street from Labor and Delivery! Wait- dammit street sweeping at seven am? That’s impossible. What if Leah is in hard labor by then?! What am I gonna do, say “Honey, you should get the epidural, I gotta orbit the block for a half-hour to keep the spot on 102nd.”
So I have to put the car in the garage. Dammit. Which garage? The one on Park? I hope that’s-
Oh, look two drunk women coming home from a midweek night out what is this 3:15am? just about 3:15am my are they staggering let me put these dirty clothes in the car maybe I should drive the car back to Forest Hills and take the- no asshole you have to pay for parking asshole- okay is the car locked? yes. Okay, the driver’s side door is locked, oh, the women staggered into 1200 5th Avenue I wonder whose great house that was in 1920, okay maybe I should put the car into the hospital garage now, I won’t have time later those tickets are fierce-“
We came back to Queens thirty-six hours later fortified in number by one more.  We were back to one car, and by April, we had two drop-offs, although they were not nearly as onerous.

A fuller back seat.

When my younger son was two and three months, the pandemic arrived. At the beginning of March, I took the Outback into Koeppel Subaru for an oil change and a brake job – the disks had worn after 37,000 miles, just like the Legacy had, but I thought I was clever – I bought the extended warranty! Oops, didn’t read the fine print, it didn’t cover brakes. I filled the car with supplies from Costco, anticipating disruptions, and two weeks later the lockdowns arrived. Leah’s grandmother died on April 3, 2020, and I took a drive in the Outback to pick up bereavement meals from a local caterer for us and my sister-in-law’s family north of Queens Boulevard. I took the opportunity to drive past the refrigerated trailer behind Forest Hills Long Island Jewish Hospital on 105th Avenue.

The freezer truck for the dead people.

That Wednesday, Shirley was buried in Mount Hebron Cemetery next to her husband Frank. Mount Hebron is right next to the Van Wyck Expressway in Kew Garden Hills, and there was more traffic in the cemetery than there was on the Van Wyck Expressway.  The younger boy stayed with me in the car while my wife and older son attended the graveside funeral and interment, and I had the dubious honor of being one of only two people present for the funeral who attended remotely via ZOOM. My younger son watched Winnie the Pooh cartoons on a Kindle Fire while my in-laws recited Kaddish.

Shirley’s funeral.

The next week, I drove to my accountant’s condo in Rockland County to drop off some paperwork, and contemplated an empty metropolis. From Forest Hills to the entrance ramp to the Fifty-Ninth Street Bridge took nine minutes, and a further twelve took me across Manhattan island to the Hudson, and four minutes after that I made the George Washington Bridge. I wish I had photographed the empty Fifth Avenue at 72nd Street, empty of other cars north and south as far as the eye could see at nine am on a weekday.

I relocated my family to Margate for two months after the crisis had passed. I stocked the house in three trips with a loaded car, covering the 127 miles between Queens and Atlantic City in less than two hours each time. The fourth trip down, we all went together, arriving six days before George Floyd was murdered in Minneapolis.

Arriving in Margate after seventy days of lockdown in New York City.

I returned to Queens four times over the two months we stayed in Margate, collecting our mail and returning baggage to our apartment. There were trips across Manhattan from Weehawken in which I transited the Lincoln Tunnel at sixty miles per hour, alone with only one or two other cars in the tube.

Empty Lincoln Tunnel June 2020.


New York Public Library and Bryant Park from Fortieth Street, June 13, 2020

From the West Side to the Fifty-Ninth Street Bridge would take four minutes. This particular trip down Fortieth Street on the thirteenth of June went at speed. The Jeep in front of me was the only other vehicle in the carriageway.

We returned to Queens in July 2020. I replaced the OEM tires with Michelin XLTs from Costco in November of 2020, and had three oil changes since the pandemic began. The Outback has served our needs but we’ve barely stirred because of the pandemic, adding just ten thousand miles in two years, mostly on the roads of New York City. The car is now over six years old and has barely 46,000 miles. I expect that it will be the last gasoline powered car I own. But it’s been good sausage, geschmeckene aufschnit.

Packing the car to come home from Omicron covid isolation, January 9, 2022.