When Noelle Overly emailed and invited me to ride "shotbun" in the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile in Chicago's St. Patrick's Day Parade I was sure it was a prank. I demanded her phone number to make sure she was official. As soon as it was clear she wasn't punking me, I immediately swabbed myself in mustard and emailed all my friends to make them jealous. I filled the letter with all my worst puns: "You know I'm going to relish this!" "Come to the parade and ketchup with me!" I gloated.
The first Wienermobile was the brainchild of Oscar's nephew Karl Mayer, and in 1936 the 13 foot hot dog built by GM started cruising the streets of Chicago and the Midwest. Today's marketing experts consider it one of the most successful gimmicks in history.
There have been several models since, and today there are six copies of the 2004 issue cruising the nation bringing delight to children and hot dog lovers like Meathead. The fiberglass 27' hot dog rests on a toasted bun wrapped around a Chevy W4 Series chassis powered by a 300 Vortec 5700 V8 engine with a 4 speed tranny and anti-lock brakes. It is equipped with a bitchin' sound system and wireless microphone and external speakers. There's a hot dog shaped instrument panel with voice activated GPS, an exterior rear view camera, a "bun roof", gull wing door with retractable steps, and a horn that toots the Oscar Mayer Wiener Jingle.
The interior is plush, carpeted, with comfy mustard and ketchup colored captain's chairs for six, and a blue-sky ceiling dappled with clouds. Surprisingly, there is no fridge or grill on board. In 2008 the company also launched a mini Wienermobile that are only 15' long built on a Mini Cooper chassis.
As we waited for our turn to roll out the iconic vehicle was surrounded by laughing kids and parents posing in front of the giant orange sandwich. Even the Miller Light girls checked us out and posed with the public (right).
The large Wienermobiles are staffed by two "hotdoggers" hired right out of college for the world's best first job, motoring across the country collecting waves and smiles. Driving on this bright clear sunshiney 40-something Saturday, March 14, 2009, was 22 year old Molly Fergus of nearby Des Plaines, IL, a recent journalism graduate of the University of Missouri, of Irish descent, from County Mayo no less. Her partner was Amanda Maurer, 23, of Yorktown, PA, and a marketing grad from James Madison.
Along for the ride were Molly's Mom Peggy, Dad Brian, and Brother, my friend and guest, Mary Ann Brauneis, the now retired owner of a landmark Southside pushcart, and Sunshine, an eight month old Yellow Lab my wife and I were raising for Leader Dogs for the Blind. In the picture, that's Mary Ann on the left, Molly's brother, Molly, her Dad, Mom, and in the bun roof, "Hamanda".
As we headed down Columbus Avenue through Grant Park behind the Art Institute, Amanda scrambled up on the roof with her microphone and led the crowds in singing the jingle and chanting. "I say Oscar and you say Mayer" she exhorts" and the five-deep crowd dressed in green responds every time. "Who likes mustard?" she asks, and they cheer loudly. "Who likes ketchup?" and they boo louder. Then she sings the jingle and the crowd joins in:
Oh I wish I were an Oscar Mayer wiener,
That is what I truly want to be.
Cause if I were an Oscar Mayer wiener,
Everyone would be in love with me.
The girls clearly love their job because after months behind the wheel, Molly still smiles broadly and sings the jingle even without the loudspeaker, even when nobody is watching. Sadly, they do not publish their schedule on the web because it brings out the PETA crazies. You know, the ones who protested when President Obama killed a fly.
How did I wangle the invite? I think it had something to do with the fact that I gave their new formulation of the all-beef "Premium" Frank a good score in my blind tasting of 30 franks (the other styles they make did not fare so well). Click here to see my frankfurter ratings.
Now that I've been in the St. Pat's Parade, and I've ridden in the Wienermobile, I'm thinking my life is complete. What could be cooler for a guy nicknamed Meathead?
I must have been quite a sight with my head sticking out the bunroof grinning ear to ear. Have you ever sausage thing?