When the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile stops at your house, you have to get in it. You just have to.
Or at least I did, when the Wienermobile visited San Diego in mid-February.
There are actually six Wienermobiles currently crossing America. Each one has a two-person crew that keeps it looking “bunderful.”
For my ride, that was Stephen Hays of Medina, Ohio, and Stephanie Corte of McAllen, Texas. They were chosen out of 14,000 recent college grads to hit the open road for one year in a giant hot dog-shaped vehicle.
There are six Wienermobiles, each taking a different part of the country.
Both Hays and Corte expressed gratitude that Oscar Mayer trusts them enough to take a giant hot dog around the American Southwest.
Although the position is paid about the same as an entry level PR job, there are perks you don’t get anywhere else, according to Corte, who plans to go back to law school when her 12-month stint ends in four months.
“I didn’t expect to be treated like a rock star,” she said.
Because the Wienermobile represents the Oscar Mayer brand, the drivers have to be outgoing, friendly, and supportive of the brand. They also have to make sure that they only take it to family-friendly places and don’t drive it past 10:30 p.m.
Wienermobile drivers don’t necessarily have to eat hot dogs, though.
“They’ve had vegetarians apply,” Hays said, while parking the Wienermobile a few blocks from my kids’ school in La Mesa.
“Oscar Mayer makes Boca burgers,” Corte added.
To be a Wienermobile worker, you do have to love puns. I was allowed to ride “shotbun” as long as I wore my “meat belt.”
“We haul buns,” Corte said.
I tried to get my kids excited about the Wienermobile days before our ride. Despite numerous Internet photos, they didn’t quite get it until they walked up to it. It’s Wienermobile policy to park a few blocks from school to avoid charges of advertising to kids.
We were followed by friends I had tipped off (read: bragged to) and the crowd got bigger and bigger as kids and parents saw the Wienermobile in all its glory.
With the winter sun shining on its yellow and red exterior, she was a beautiful sight indeed.
Inside, the seats are yellow, the floors are red with a mustard splash pattern.
Although there is a closet and TV, the wienermobile workers sleep in hotels while on their 12-month jaunt around their chosen area. In this case: California, Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah and part of Texas.
Corte and Hays handed out stickers to the kids and parents surrounding the Wienermobile, but only Wienermobile riders get the coveted Wienermobile-shaped whistles (I snagged a bunch, by the way).
After letting the well-wishers see the interior and take photos with it, my kids and I got in for our ride.
What’s it like to ride in a 10-foot-long hot dog?
Let my son explain: “It’s 100 tons of awesooooome!”
But not without duties and obligations.
“You have to wave at people you notice, OK?” Hays told my kids.
They were happy to do it, as we drove up Lake Murray and around Grossmont College. I really wanted to yell “in your face!” to the spectators, but held back out of respect for the Wienermobile.
Hays says the Wienermobile holds about 30 gallons of gas and admits the mileage is similar to an SUV, but won’t divulge exact stats.
“We prefer to measure things in smiles per gallon,” he said.
Hays was nice enough to then drive over near my nephew’s junior high so he could experience the Wienermobile for himself.
While waiting for him to get out of school, a couple of people came up and asked for a ride. Hays and Corte explained that they were in the middle of a private tour.
One guy looked at me and asked, “Well, how did he get to ride?”
“He’s a journalist,” Corte explained politely.
The guy shook his head. No wonder people hate the media.
The actual routes are determined in advance by Oscar Mayer’s Hot Dog Coordinator, according to Corte. Their actual route is determined, in part, by requests sent into the company.
For instance, the Wienermobile came to town because of a request to show up at Opening Day of the Escondido Little League. They then added other ride requests, including mine, to fill out their five-day visit before heading to Phoenix.
My nephew is a cool cucumber. Not much gets him excited, but he was thrilled when he stepped inside the wienermobile and saw floors painted to looked like ketchup and mustard and discovered the horn plays “I wish I was an Oscar Mayer Wiener” when pressed.
“"I feel like a straight-up pimp thug," he said.
I understood how he felt, but was afraid my 7-year-old son would ask, “What’s a straight-up pimp thug?”
We dropped the nephew off at his church youth group and then posed for pictures with La Mesa firefighters who had followed us.
“Firefighters are our friends,” Corte explained. “When we can’t find a car wash that’s big enough, we will stop by a fire station and, sometimes, they help us wash the car.” All good things have to end eventually, and Hays and Corte drove us home and even waited when i realized I didn’t have my keys and watched me break into my house.
As much fun as it was for me, Hays let me know I wasn’t his strangest ride.
“I actually drove a bride and groom to their wedding,” he said. “She had a real puffy dress. They were the nicest people but trying to sit her in ‘shotbun’ was difficult. We drove them up to the church and then to the reception.”