A remarkable thing happens when a 27-foot-long vehicle, resplendent in the colors mustard yellow and hot dog red, and shaped like a giant sausage tucked into a bun, rolls through the streets of Salinas: Grown-ups turn into children, complete with squealing, jumping up and down and lots of pointing. They divert from whatever route they’re on and follow along. They whip out cell phones to take pictures.
And they sing. Joyous and off-tune singing, but singing nonetheless, of an advertising jingle that people of a certain age will remember: “Oh, I wish I were an Oscar Mayer wiener, that is what I’d truly like to be. ‘Cause if I were an Oscar Mayer wiener, everyone would be in love with me.”
According to the National Hot Dog and Sausage Council – yes there is such an entity, and it’s based in Washington, D.C. and it tweets questionable statements such as “No, a hot dog is not a sandwich” and promotes the hashtag #showusyoursausage to encourage consumers to post pictures of meals that include a cha-cha-cherry black bean and sausage melange – Americans consume 20 billion hot dogs a year.
That works out to about 60 hot dogs per person each year. Also, the council maintains that hot dogs are served in 95 percent of homes in the U.S., so if you’re one of those people who claims to not eat hot dogs, the council is basically calling you a liar.
Back to the vehicle. The 27-foot-long, sausage-shaped vehicle better known as the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile rolled into the parking lot of Meals on Wheels of the Salinas Valley promptly at 9:30am on Nov. 12, just one stop on its weeklong Tour d’Hot Dog on the Central Coast. There are six Wienermobiles around the country, each staffed by a team of two whose title is “Hotdogger.” On this day, the Wienermobile is staffed by a man who goes by “Saucy Spencer” (real name Spencer Bernhardt) and a woman who goes by “Mayochup Molly.”
Mayochup Molly’s real name is Molly Swindoll. She has a master’s degree in security and intelligence from the University of Glasgow. (Bernhardt, no slacker either, has degrees in Spanish language and literature, and also a business studies certificate from Universidad Complutense de Madrid.)
Each year, when Oscar Mayer parent The Kraft Heinz Company invites would-be hotdoggers to apply, an average of 7,000 people, mostly recent college graduates, send in applications. From those 7,000, the 12 are chosen.
Swindoll’s application: She mocked up a picnic basket, with her resume rolled and inserted into a clean Heinz condiment bottle labeled “relishing resume.” For her cover letter, she removed the processed cheese slices known as Kraft American singles from their wrapping and inserted her letter, cut into neat little squares, into the plastic packaging.
She started the one-year gig as a Hotdogger in June.
The point of the Wienermobile coming to Meals on Wheels is the point of the Wienermobile coming anywhere: For 49 weeks out of the year, the Wienermobile drops in on various communities, partners with local nonprofits or agencies and spreads hot dog joy – while enabling some nonprofits to raise money.
Meals on Wheels Executive Director Regina Gage and a few volunteers piled in to deliver meals to clients. With the Salinas Fire Department, the Wienermobile parked outside the Salinas Police Athletic League on Sunday, Nov. 16, for a hot dog fundraiser. Elsewhere in the county, the Wienermobile auctioned off an “experience” (essentially, a ride-along) to help a kid raise money to buy a guide dog.
Josh Hostetter, president of the Salinas Firefighters Association, says the event in Salinas raised $1,600 in three hours, and the union and Family Auxiliary will use the money for their annual holiday toy drive for children.
“I don’t think there are two things that make people feel more happy than fire engines and the Wienermobile,” he says. “It was a winning combination.”