Happiness Is a ‘38 Chevy (If it’s Air Conditioned)

by Professor Patricia Dillon

When it comes to summer break, faculty get a bad rap. The old adage about teachers enjoying a nine-month job at a twelve-month salary is just plain fiction. As any Scripps faculty will tell you, most summer hours are not dedicated to hammocks and socializing and catching up on cable TV. Rather, summer is the only clear time to actively make headway in personal academic projects and research pursuits. However, it is possible to enjoy a few precious hours of fun. Below, Patricia Dillon, Gabrielle Jungels-Winkler Professor in Contemporary European Studies, reminisces about her favorite summer adventure-in a hot rod.

I didn’t want to go on Americruise. There would be 3,000 street rods at the fairground in Lincoln, Nebraska, home of heat and mosquitos. A lot of old guys, I thought. In bad hats and bermuda shorts. But I went, armed with Turandot and Bach and Tina Turner (the car has a CD player).

Picture it. You’re flying along an open road in the wilds of Utah (and Nevada, and Colorado), powered by a Chevy 330 small-block V-8. You’re one of 2 string of several dozen colorful street rods that grows longer at each rest stop, and by Nebraska, you’re 50 in number. It’s like Gandhi’s march to the sea. The Chevy is deep blue, with flames. Nearly every ordinary car that passes contains someone who smiles, or gives a thumbs-up, or honks. Even teenagers laugh and wave. At every service station some old fellow sidles up and says something like, “Thirty-nine?” or, to a young charge, “Grandpa had one of those once. Rut no flames.”

I am proud to say that my picture (with lots of other people and car) made it into Rod and Custom.

It’s amazing that the car provides a bit of pleasure to so many people. It went nearly 5,000 miles on that trip, back to California on surviving parts of old Route 66, the Mother Road. More recently. it picked up another 2,500 visiting the Oregon coast.

Trips short or long are fun in the Chevy. Complete strangers feel free to ask questions and make comments, or just say, “Cool.” And it is.