There is little room for debate: The coolest car on the planet has to be the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile. The celebrated vehicle paid a visit to our fair city on September 7 and I had the fortunate pleasure of getting an up-close look at the vehicle and talk to the two delightful young “Hotdoggers” who get to drive it around the country.
Having seen the Wienermobile as it passed by on the other side of a divided highway on a couple different occasions, I was eager to get a closer look. My previous glimpses did not prepare me for the magnitude of coolness this thing possesses. It is much larger that I thought: 27 feet long (that’s 60 hot dogs long in Hotdogger talk) and eleven feet tall (24 hot dogs). It weighs 7 tons (140,000 hot dogs) and gets about 10-15 miles per gallon. It is built on the frame of a 2004 General Motors RV. There are actually 12 of these babies driving around the country, each staffed by two Hotdoggers whose mission is to “bring miles of smiles to millions.” They were designed and built at Prototype Source in Santa Barbara, CA, the makers of the original Batmobile.
After getting over the initial “wow” of the size of the giant weenie on wheels, the next thing that caught my attention was the really sleek styling and the fit and finish. From the very stylized taillights to the custom embroidery on the leather seats, the vehicle is really well made. It has a rear video backup surveillance system, a sunroof (er, I mean “bunroof”) and a serious sound system that also handles public address duties at large appearances. It looks like it would be quite comfortable on a long trip, which is a good thing because that is what the Hotdoggers spend most of their time doing; taking long trips.
This particular team of Hotdoggers is made up of Camden Gilman and Heather Olson. They are two of the twelve recent college graduates who have the enviable job of driving around in the Wienermobile for an entire year.
“The selection process is extremely competitive and it’s an honor to be one of the twelve who made the final cut,” says Camden Gilman, a recent graduate University of Texas. “My mom’s exact words when she found out I had been selected was ‘You’re gonna be a weenie boy?’ She thought I was going to wear a hot dog suit or something.” Camden, an advertising major, attended “Hot Dog High” in Madison, Wisconsin, the home of Oscar Mayer, for two weeks to learn everything he needed to know to be a Hotdogger, including how to drive the behemoth Weinermobile. “We’re D.O.T. certified drivers,” he added.
Heather Olson is a recent graduate of the University of Missouri. As journalism major she finds the interaction with the news media to be excellent real-world experience to go along with her degree. She says she never tires of meeting people and she has had many wonderful experiences on the road that she cherishes. She is quick with the many slogans and puns that are necessarily part of her job (“The Wienermobile gets 10-15 miles per gallon of high octane mustard!) Her friends and family all think she has the most interesting job in the world. “When I talk to my friends they only want to talk about my job. I have to force them to talk about theirs,” said Heather.
Heather and Camden agree that the Wienermobile is a little tough to drive, especially when it comes time to park. “You have to be very careful about people who are trying to get a closer look,” says Heather. They have to fill out a log book and have restrictions on how many hours they can drive just like a big-rig truck driver. How does the Wienermobile handle? "It's like driving a bus," Camden says. At 7 tons you could imagine that it probably doesn't like hills. Heather said that on the trip to Charleston from Atlanta she had it to the floor on some of the long hills on I77 and it still was slow going.
The two young Hotdoggers are knowledgeable about Oscar Mayer’s product line and our discussion eventually came around to hot dogs. They talked about FastFranks and the cheese dogs and the footlongs. I asked them if Oscar Mayer had a premium grade of hot dog and Heather quickly informed me that they felt all of the Oscar Mayer offerings were premium grade (good answer). When I shared with them how we West Virginians dressed our hot dogs I got a mixed response: Camden said, “As a Texan, having hot dogs, chili and coleslaw sounds like a trifecta!” Heather said, being originally from New York, that slaw sound “unusual.” I pointed them in the direction of Romeo’s just in case they wanted to try a real WV Hot Dog before they left town.Even though I had only a few minutes to spend with the Wienermobile and Hotdoggers I left with a smile on my face and that little Oscar Mayer hot dog jingle on my lips. A visit from the Wienermobile is a big event wherever it occurs and the company has covered every detail (even down to the cell phone ring tone that interrupted our conversation: “Oh I wish I was an Oscar Mayer wiener…”). The Wienermobile and the Hotdoggers are a real treat for the public and a really positive image for the company. They really do bring miles of smiles.
Note: The Wienermobile will have one more local appearance at the Elkview 7-11 on Friday (Sept. 8) then it's off to a refresher course at Hot Dog High in Madison WI!