Driving the dream

By Jenny Hottle, senior staff writer
Tuesday, Dec. 3, 2013
Originally posted on diamondbackonline.com

When university alumnus Sam Blum takes the company car to the grocery store or the movie theater, he’s ready for the cameras to come out.

And when he drives down the highway, other drivers honk, wave or laugh. Each week, it’s a new city, but the same reactions and attention are nothing out of the ordinary for Blum, who is spending a year on the road as one of 12 Hotdoggers driving Oscar Mayer’s six Wienermobiles around the country.

“In the age of smartphones, people are constantly taking photos on the road. Sometimes it can be hard to change lanes because people are right next to us snapping away,” Blum said. “We drive it every day, but it’s something that just doesn’t come around every day, so I can understand the excitement.”

Blum, who graduated with a marketing degree in May, was selected from a pool of about 1,200 applicants for a one-year position as a brand ambassador and spokesman for Oscar Mayer. He and his co-driver, Cokie Reed, a University of Texas alumna, have visited about 15 states to promote the company since starting their jobs in June.

In a typical week, they’ll devote one day to traveling, spending four to 13 hours in the Wienermobile. They’ve been north to Boston, south to Nashville, Tenn., and as far west as Chicago. In each city, they participate in three or four days of events, ranging from parades to car shows and state fairs, where they talk to people and pass out the famous Wiener Whistles.

People in their 60s and 70s often bring their Wiener Whistles and talk to the Hotdoggers about seeing the Wienermobile for the first time as a child. Now, they bring their own children and grandchildren to see the spectacle.

“It’s awesome to be part of something that’s an American icon,” Blum said. “It’s been around for a while, but it’s still completely relevant.”

Blum is used to driving the Wienermobile — about 27 feet, or 60 hot dogs, long — but the size was a shock at first. The largest model of the 2014 Ford F-Series pickup truck, America’s best-selling consumer vehicle, is just more than 19 feet in length.

“My first time seeing the Wienermobile was actually when I got this job,” he said. “We did a photoshoot during training. I saw the vehicle and thought, ‘Oh, I can’t believe this is what I’m driving for the next year.’”

At Hot Dog High, where Hotdoggers learn public relations and marketing skills, they spend about 40 hours training before they’re allowed to take the Wienermobile out on the road.

Luckily, driving the giant hot dog is not as hard as it looks, Reed said. Powered by a Chevrolet-sourced V-8 engine, the Wienermobile feels like a minivan or large SUV, she said.

“The only thing we have to plan for in advance is parking,” Reed said. “We take up about three-and-a-half parking spaces.”

Once in a while, they’ll have to parallel park. It’s a little tricky, Blum said, but one of the partners will step outside and direct the driver to safely park the Wienermobile.

“We don’t want to scratch our buns,” Blum said. “Sorry, I’m loaded with puns.”

Driving the Wienermobile was never in Blum’s career plan. His application for the Hotdogger position was one of a long list of job applications he sent out as his graduation date drew closer. As he kept moving through the interview process and eventually received an offer, he realized it couldn’t have fit better with his interests.

“I saw two sides: I could get some practical experience with public relations and marketing,” Blum said. “I also get to have this adventure. I get paid to travel across the country, meet people and just do something different.”

Growing up, Blum was fascinated by cars, his mother said. He had a huge collection of Hot Wheels cars, including a collector’s model of the Wienermobile. But Roz Blum never thought her son would one day be driving the real hot dog vehicle, complete with a license plate that reads “WNR MBLE.”

Years later, though, she found herself riding “shot-bun” in the Wienermobile in Laurel’s Fourth of July parade.

“It was great. This job sounded like it was going to be a fun and unique experience for him,” Roz Blum said. “He really has a lot of opportunities to interact with the public, and that’s something he enjoys.”

Sam Blum and Reed will work together until January, when they’ll switch partners and move to new regions of the country. When his contract ends in June, Blum hopes to settle in the northeast and work at a public relations firm or advertising agency. For now, he’s enjoying life on the road, meeting different people and seeing new parts of the country.

Blum and Reed will be on the campus with the Wienermobile today and Thursday to share their experiences as Hotdoggers and talk about job opportunities within the company.

“After this year is up, I don’t know how much traveling I’ll be able to handle, but it’s just been such a cool opportunity,” he said. “It’s weird with all of my friends moving to New York or D.C. and starting their desk jobs. Even though I live in hotels, I get to see the country and meet all kinds of people. There’s just nothing else like this.”

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