It’s a bird. It’s a plane. No, it’s a 27-foot-long hot dog with wheels. More specifically, it’s the iconic Oscar Mayer Wienermobile — in Music City this week to visit local Krogers and promote the Oscar Mayer brand.
Fortunately, for myself and three other lucky Vision staffers, the kind folks who drive the big dog — or “Hotdoggers” as they’re officially known — sent us an email, asking if we’d like to be given a driving tour.
Obviously, we had to say yes.
Before our tour begins, we meet our Hotdogger tour guides, Rose Hutchison and Nick Koors — who let us know right off the bat they also go by “Rose Beef” and “Cheesie Nicks,” respectively.
Rose and Nick have been touring the country with the wiener since June. Nick is particularly fond of the stop in New Orleans. Rose, on the other hand, enjoyed the stops in New York City and Maine.
“It takes us to literally every nook and cranny of the U.S.,” Rose says. “This car has been to the strangest places.”
These two well-traveled Hotdoggers are part of an elite group. To put it into perspective, more people have been to outer space than have piloted the Big Bun.
And, of the thousands of candidates who apply to be Hotdoggers, only 12 fortunate post-grads cut the mustard each year.
But these two dog-drivers are even more special.
“Nick and I actually have the same story of how we got this job because we both went to the University of Missouri. We’ve known each other since we were sophomores,” Rose says. “It’s kind of unique that we’re partners because most partners are randomly picked and don’t know each other beforehand.”
The pair will continue driving the Wienermobile around the country until June, before sending off the next lucky dozen.
After introductions are made and obligatory pictures with the Wienermobile taken, we finally board the famed hot dog. Six delightfully squishy, orange and red chairs sit in rows under a painted, sky-blue roof. A carpet with a fun, squiggly mustard design lines the floor.
Once aboard, Rose invites me to sit “shotbun,” up front. Obviously, I have to say yes.
Rose picks some good tunes — yes, the Wienermobile does have Bluetooth — then stands and opens up the “bunroof.” We all take our seats, click on our “meatbelts” and the tour begins.
Within minutes, we notice how many people on the street can’t help but smile as they see the Wienermobile drive by. Several of them wave. Most snap a quick picture.
For Rose, this is the best part of the job.
“I love driving this vehicle. I love driving it past people — they’re just like so confused and it just brightens their day a little bit,” she says. “Most people have no idea they’re going to see the Wienermobile when they see it, and a lot of people chase it their whole lives, so when they get to see it in a grocery store parking lot it just makes a huge difference.”
And it’s been making a difference for a long time. Dating back to the Depression era, when smiles were scarce and in high-demand, the Wienermobile started a tradition of spreading happiness wherever it travelled.
This tradition, Rose says, has transcended generations.
“A lot of people have a really strong emotional attachment to it, which I wasn’t anticipating when I went into this job,” Rose says. “A lot of people had a Wiener Whistle that their grandparents gave to them when they were younger. We’ve been giving out the whistles since the 50s, and that’s just created a tradition on its own within families.”
We come to a gentle stop at a red light. Pedestrians crossing the street double, then triple-take. Drivers in neighboring lanes wave through rolled-down windows.
A daring construction worker, not noticing the changed light, almost gets run over while posing for a picture with the famed hot dog.
Apparently, stuff like this happens all the time.
“Even in New York a lot of people walking along the street were stopping and smiling, getting photos,” Rose says. “Several of them were like, ‘you’re getting even us jaded New Yorkers to stop and smile at the Wienermobile.’”
In what feels like too short a time, we pull back up to Belmont. The Wienermobile parks along the curb on 15th to let us all out. Before we go, however, Rose opens up the “bun box” and hands us all our ceremonial Wiener Whistles.
We exit the hot dog and watch it pull away from the curb, up 15th and finally, out of sight. This will be a day to remember.
For their next destination, Rose and Nick will head to Memphis. But before they go, the Wienermobile will make an important stop on Saturday — to host an event at the Nashville Humane Association.