A small set of stairs lead up to a red carpet with a single squiggled line of yellow. Six seats of the same ketchup-and-mustard colors line the van’s walls, three on each side. Instead of a traditional glove compartment, a giant, shiny hot dog sits above the dashboard.
“There are always blue skies in the Wienermobile,” said Molly Segall, one of two traveling around the country in this hot dog on wheels.
The Oscar Mayer Wienermobile rolled onto campus this week with its two operators seeking to recruit students to drive the iconic van.
Segall, a University of Wisconsin graduate, and Hannah Carlson, an MU graduate, are just two of 12 people driving a Wienermobile around the country. Oscar Mayer has six vehicles actively touring from city to city.
The “Hotdoggers,” as they call themselves, drive across the country for one year representing the 114-year-old company.
“I don't think a lot of people realize it's a job,” Carlson said. “You see the Wienermobile, and you forget someone's actually driving it.”
Carlson applied to be a Hotdogger after hearing about a friend’s experience driving. Segall knew about the position, having grown up in Madison, Wis., where Oscar Mayer is headquartered.
“I saw the Wienermobile drive around through town, and I knew this was my dream job from around age 8,” Segall said. “I was ecstatic when I got (the job); I've wanted this for a really long time.”
More than 1,500 students apply to drive the Wienermobile each year. First, applicants write pun-filled cover letters, describing why they would “relish the opportunity” to be a Hotdogger.
After a one-on-one interview with a “top dog,” the final 30 candidates are flown to Madison, Wis., for second-round interviews.
“You have to really cross your fingers and pray to the hot dog gods that it works out,” Carlson said.
Carlson and Segall encourage students to attend the Hotdogger information session at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday in 108 Neff Hall.
“When else in your life are you going to be able to drive around a hot dog and not have a home base, and also get career experience all at the same time?” Carlson said. “You're never going to have this (opportunity) again. Why wouldn't you try for it?”
For six months, two Hotdoggers travel through a region of the country. They then switch partners and regions for the latter half of the year.
Typically, weeks begin with driving on Mondays. Hotdoggers’ weekends fall on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, and Thursdays through Sundays are reserved for events.
“Sometimes it's kind of like a more normal week, where you're just visiting grocery stores, and sometimes, it's crazy and you're driving around Vegas,” Carlson said. “There's no normal day, but I think that's why we love our job so much. … We kind of have to be on our toes all the time.”
Carlson had the chance to drive the cast members of “Psych” to their premiere at Comic-Con earlier this year.
She said regardless of where the Wienermobile goes, people are always excited to see it, taking pictures and honking from their cars.
“My favorite things are when people who you don't think would love a giant hot dog freak out,” Carlson said. “We drove through the Hells Angels (motorcycle club) earlier this year — my old partner and I — and all of these huge biker dudes were just freaking out over the Wienermobile. It goes to show that everyone kind of turns into a 5-year-old when they see this thing.”
Contrary to popular belief, the Wienermobile does not hand out hot dogs. Instead, they hand out Wiener Whistles, whistles in the shape of the Wienermobile, which have been around since 1952.
“We met this man. He said, 'I've been waiting 52 years for a Wiener Whistle,' ” Segall said. “He kind of got choked up and teared a little, and that just made our day awesome. It reminded us of how special this job is, and just to make everyone happy and to give the icon of the Wiener Whistle.”