Unloading baggage aboard the Wienermobile

The Oscar Meyer Wienermobile in Grand Rapids, Minnesota on Oct. 2, 2018. (PHOTO: Aaron J. Brown)

Your author aboard the Wienermobile.

Thirty years ago I was in second grade at the old Forbes Elementary school on St. Louis County Highway 7. My family ran a junkyard out of a trailer house in Zim, Minnesota. That year I won the Weekly Reader National Invention contest.

My winning invention was a set of seat belt covers. Colorful pictures encouraged children to use the buckles without their parents having to say so. This was a major public safety push in 1988. For the first time, but not the last, I had accidentally stumbled into the zeitgeist.

There was a trip to Washington, D.C., for banquets, exhibitions and visits with members of Congress. But for me, the highlight of the experience was going to be a subsequent trip to New York to appear on the Late Night with David Letterman “Kid Inventors” bit. That journey would also include a ride on the Oscar Meyer Wienermobile in a Manhattan parade. The 1988 writer’s strike canceled the Letterman appearance and thus ended my hopes of riding the Wienermobile as a distinguished guest.

At the time this generated mild disappointment, akin to dropping a green army man down the septic pipe. Hot rage, but momentary. And yet time only intensified the wound. I would later aspire to become a writer and eventual host of Letterman’s show. My favorite writer Dave Barry wrote a hilarious account of driving the Wienermobile around Miami. This went far beyond hot dog marketing. I had been denied passage on a ship of dreams.

People who know me heard the story and would, time to time, report to me the movements of the Wienermobile. But last month, my friend and radio producer Heidi would contact me with the opportunity to rendezvous with the Wienermobile during its next visit to Northern Minnesota. I quickly accepted the assignment.

I’d seen the Wienermobile before but I didn’t go inside. This time would be different. I was just another member of the hot dog scarfing public back then; now I could exploit my press credentials to gain deeper access.

Six Wienermobiles navigate the United States year round. Built on a custom one-ton chassis, the fiberglass bun and wiener bloats the rig to 14,500 pounds. Each Wienermobile is piloted by a pair of recent college graduates specially recruited and trained to spread the good news of Oscar Meyer’s processed meat product line. Their official job title is “Hotdogger.”

Anne “Mawiener” Harald and “Ketchup” Kyle Edwards are professional hotdoggers employed by Oscar Meyer. No really, they have cards that say that. (PHOTO: Aaron J. Brown)

Earlier this month, the Wienermobile (Code Name “Yummy”) pulled up to the Super One North parking lot in Grand Rapids. There, I had an appointment with hotdoggers “Ketchup” Kyle Edwards and Anne Marie “Mawiener” Harald. They promised full access to the inner sanctum of this motorized wiener.

The interior boasts ketchup and mustard-colored leather seats and a blue summer sky-themed ceiling. The Wienermobile features “meat belts,” a “bun roof” and “bun box.” The horn plays “I Wish I Was an Oscar Meyer Wiener” as often as you or any passing child or masochistic psychopath would want.

I quickly grew to admire the hotdoggers. They served up a near constant stream of hot dog puns and product pitches while somehow maintaining their basic humanity. We should really check on them after a few more months on the road, however, to see how they hold up.

They paid close attention to my childhood tale of wiener woe. Kyle and Anne told me I could come back at six to take a ride around the block. But sitting there in the red and yellow seats of the Wienermobile I felt content. This was closure. I’d made my peace with this processed meat wagon.

After getting my picture taken with my head sticking out the bun roof, I thanked the hotdoggers and bid them adieu. It was time to go home and make dinner.

What should I make? This was a night for my favorite meal. Boxed macaroni and cheese with a special ingredient, hot dogs cut into little chunks. And when I reached into the freezer for the dogs I realized the label bore the familiar yellow and red hues of Oscar Meyer.

Sometimes it takes 30 years to figure out the power of marketing. I realized that what happened 30 years ago was no tragedy. It was the longest commercial of my life, and it’s still not over.

And now you’re involved. You know the song, right?

Aaron J. Brown is an author and college instructor from northern Minnesota’s Iron Range. He writes the blog MinnesotaBrown.com and hosts the Great Northern Radio Show on Northern Community Radio. This piece first appeared in the Sunday, Oct. 28, 2018 edition of the Hibbing Daily Tribune.

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