I have no interest in becoming an Oscar Mayer wiener. It is a concept that has always weirded me out. Aside from the fact that I’m a butcher-stuffed, all-beef man, the ultimate tenet of the Oscar Mayer hot dog jingle is that the person singing it is so starved for attention that he is willing to be processed into a meat slurry and stuffed into an edible collagen casing, showered in smoke flavoring, cooked, chilled, packaged, cooked again, and eaten.
That is horrifying.
Not that I’m anti-Oscar Mayer. Hot dog preferences, like religion, are very much based on where you were born, who your parents were, and what college was like for you. I was raised in the Church of Christ and converted to Buddhism in college because, for once, I felt I’d found a religion that allowed me to find myself instead of telling me to be ashamed of my genitals and the terrible things they told me to do. Likewise, I was raised on Oscar Mayer hot dogs. It wasn’t until I met my wife that I understood the next-level wienerness that all-beef can offer. Unless a hot dog states ALL BEEF on the package, it’s more than likely made up of bits of chicken and pork that are processed off the bits of bone that couldn’t be butchered any further.
It’s not a detachable sunroof; it’s a “bun roof.” Not miles per gallon, “smiles per gallon.” Top speed? “It’ll haul buns.” How much does it cost to build? “A lot of hot dogs.”
But, going into this honestly, the best hot dog I ever had was an honest to God frankfurter in the Frankfurt airport in Germany. It was served with a hard roll, German slaw, and an unnecessarily large beer for 9 a.m. Asking a meat-processing monolith like Oscar Mayer to compete with that level of excellence is a touch unrealistic.
Their hot dogs aren’t bad. You’d be hard-pressed to find a person in this country who hasn’t had at least one Oscar Mayer wiener in his lifetime, and I doubt there are a ton of people out there who’d react angrily toward the company, due in large part to two things: their oh-so-catchy jingles and the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile.
The draw of the Wienermobile was something I pored over on a cool and sunny Friday afternoon as I was stuck in traffic on my way to see it. The two Hotdoggers Atta Dog Alex and Stevie Bunder had invited Red Shtick to come by, take a look, and ask some questions. Admittedly, I was a little excited. I’d never seen a Wienermobile in person, although I’ve seen one on television.
As it turns out, there are six operating across the country at any given time. Each one comes with two Hotdoggers, usually recent college grads looking to see the country in an enviably unique way. There have been about 450 Hotdoggers since the first Wienermobile hit the road in 1936, meaning not too many more people have been Hotdoggers than there’ve been qualified astronauts.
There’s no mistaking a Wienermobile as you pull into a parking lot that has one. At 11 feet high, it towers above the majority of cars, making it easy to find when you go to the mall, as Alex would later tell me. She was standing in front of it as I pulled up, playing a tiny drum kit set on a table full of coloring sheets, stickers, and other promotional items. The gull-wing door on the Wienermobile was open and wholesome levels of classic rock were rolling out from the stereo inside of it, powered by solar panels on top of the 27-foot-long hot dog that makes up the cab.
This is the America that Europe, Japan, and Africa believe exists. An America full of smiles, rock “˜n’ roll, and Wiener Whistles.
After introductions, I began with the questions I knew she’d heard a million times before. If she had, there was no sign of it. Every response was bright, cheerful, and chock-full of “bun puns.” It’s not a detachable sunroof; it’s a “bun roof.” Not miles per gallon, “smiles per gallon.” Top speed? “It’ll haul buns.” How much does it cost to build? “A lot of hot dogs.”
These responses are woven into their normal conversation with enough of a wink and a nod that after five minutes, you’re able to suppress the groans. To be honest, it’s impossible to be annoyed by this pair of all-American kids. It’s like Oscar Mayer plucked them right out of a Rockwell painting and stuck ’em behind the wheel.
And it’s fantastic.
The two of them were unbelievably accommodating, even going so far as to offer us a ride. “Big Bun’s” interior is something Jay-Z would envy. A massive stereo on the left as you climb the retractable steps, followed by two rows of red, yellow, and blue captain’s chairs that you could easily fall asleep in. It seats six comfortably and occasionally gets called upon to take people to weddings in lieu of a limo.
The whole experience of the Wienermobile is wonderfully American. Not the “Leave It to Beaver” with a AR-15 in the closet “America” that Fox News dreams of, nor the free weed for gay baby seals “America” that MSNBC pursues. This is the America that Europe, Japan, and Africa believe exists. An America full of smiles, rock ‘n’ roll, and Wiener Whistles.
Yes, I did get a Wiener Whistle. If you’d like an idea of how big a deal that is, go online and try to buy one. There are folks selling them for $10 a pop.
But don’t buy one. It’s tantamount to buying an Olympic medal on eBay. Sure, you have one, but it’s meaningless. Wiener Whistles are given out by Wienermobiles as a symbol of your experience. Without having received it in person, via Hotdogger, then it’s just a hunk of red plastic.
They aren’t stingy with them, either. I got two fistfuls to hand out to friends, and every person I gave one to smiled about it. That’s so stupid when you think about it, but imagine getting a little plastic whistle shaped like a Wienermobile, followed by “Here, put a wiener in your mouth.”
Makes you smile, doesn’t it?
Every dirty joke that gets made around them is deflected harmlessly away as though a kung-fu master were dodging punches.
This brings up another thing about the two Hotdoggers I met. When you spend all day inside a 27-foot-long vehicle called a Wienermobile, it has to be hard not to make penis jokes. But these two are consummate professionals. Every dirty joke that gets made around them is deflected harmlessly away as though a kung-fu master were dodging punches.
Hotdoggers spend 48 weeks as a team on the road, which is where I believe this ability comes from. I’d imagine the first week together is nothing but dick jokes. By week 3, this will have become so stupid that it’s pointless. There isn’t a single joke anyone could make about what they do that they’ve never heard before, not by the end of their first month, at least.
Alex told me that gassing up usually takes about 30 minutes, not because the 6.0 Vortec V-8 requires a massive gas tank, but because everyone wants to see them and get a picture. They’ve had people follow them for an hour down the interstate, just waiting for them to pull over so they could take a picture. Cops routinely pull them over just to check it out. The Wienermobile is something pure American in a time when America is working full time to become a parody of itself.
For decades, other countries have been mocking us for being fat, lazy, and stupid. Today, you can go to Wal-Mart and watch a morbidly obese person drink a giant soda in a mobile scooter he only uses because he’s fat, while he argues with a doctor seated next to him about how “pickle juice is good for blood pressure, e’rybody know that!” That fat bastard will then roll out to his giant SUV, drive to his house and home-school his children because the public school system was intent on teaching them science. This country is working overtime to be everything the rest of the world dreams we are.
But the Wienermobile has been around since before WWII, even taking a break during the war because Wienermobiles are so American, the thought of wasting a gallon of gas that could be used to put a GI’s boot one mile closer to Hitler’s ass caused it to stall. It’s as pure as a Medal of Honor, something that could get you in a lot of trouble if you were caught with it without earning it.
I really thought I’d come away from this experience with a handful of corny jokes, but it’d be like poking fun at an old lady waving a flag at a Fourth of July parade.
Just like you can’t buy a Wiener Whistle in good conscience, you can’t buy a Wienermobile, either. The drivers allude to a graveyard where the old ones go when the new models arrive. The company is careful with them; it makes sense when you think about it, since it would only take one headline of “Wienermobile Involved in Fatal Accident” to really screw with Oscar Mayer’s stock. Hell, you can buy a space shuttle if you really want one bad enough, but Wienermobiles are special.
I really thought I’d come away from this experience with a handful of corny jokes, but it’d be like poking fun at an old lady waving a flag at a Fourth of July parade. There’s a sincerity to it that’s hard to come by in our modern and cynical age.
Yes, the Wienermobile is giant marketing tool, but somewhere inside, it’s more than that for everyone who sees it in person. It’s seriously cool in the most uncool way possible. There’s no irony or sarcasm to it. Here it is: a giant wiener that we drive.
Now here’s your Wiener Whistle. Put it in your mouth.