When a man approached Oregon High School graduate Nina LeBrun at a nursing home earlier this year, he had a sad story to tell.
When he was seven years old, he wanted to see the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile at a local grocery store, but needed to wait for his dad to get home from work for permission. When he got the go-ahead, he ran to the store as fast as he could, only to see the taillights pulling out of the parking lot in the opposite direction.
But 60 years later, that disappointment was finally made right as the man got to tour the Wienermobile, get a trading card signed, a commemorative wiener whistle and a Hot Wheels car.
These types of experiences are common for Oregon native LeBrun, who is spending a year on the road as a “hotdogger” for Oscar Mayer.
“He had such admiration for the Wienermobile, he was so excited,” she said. “To feel like we could give him the full experience felt so good.”
Growing up, LeBrun’s dad brought the job to her attention several times. As her final semester as a pre-med student at Bethel University in Minnesota approached, her dad sent her the press release in January looking for this year’s class of hotdoggers.
LeBrun sent in a “funny” hot dog themed cover letter and resume in January, had a phone interview in February, and was scheduled for an in-person interview in March. The night before she was set to fly to Chicago for that interview, it was canceled because of COVID-19.
She ended up doing a video interview, which tested a variety of her abilities. She had to prove her Spanish speaking abilities, write a Twitter tweet, write an Instagram caption and participate in a mock news interview.
Unlike many applicants, she did not have communications or public relations experience. However, LeBrun’s interview was a success, and she was chosen as one of just 12 hotdoggers out of 6,000 to 8,000 applicants, she said.
“My parents were so excited to get to live a year vicariously on the road through me,” she said.
Although they’re not just living vicariously, they’re also using her adventures as an excuse to travel to see her on vacations.
The 12 hotdoggers were brought to Verona, where they were trained in public relations and how to drive the mobile. Part of that training included driving an SUV with blacked-out side and rear windows through obstacles in the Epic Systems parking lot. This simulated the Wienermobile, which drivers cannot see the rear or back sides of. Retired police officers helped with the training and were “good coaches” LeBrun said.
LeBrun is paired with one other driver and they are piloting one of six mobiles on the road around the country now through next June. The pair arrive in a new city on Mondays and then take Tuesdays and Wednesdays off, before participating in marketing events and outreach activities from Thursdays through Sundays.
That can include posting-up outside libraries, craft shows, food truck rallies, museums, nursing homes and apple orchards.
But LeBrun and her partner are never truly off duty.
Even if it’s 11 p.m. and they are just stopping to refill their gas, if approached by a kid, they have to get into PR-mode.
“It might be your first time seeing the Wienermobile, it might be your only time,” LeBrun said. “No matter where we are what time it is, we show you inside and give you a whistle.”
While the two girls that make up the “Midwest Team” from June 2020 to June 2021 sleep in hotels, not the mobile, it is still their only means of transportation.
“It’s not a weenie-bago, but we do take the Wienermobile everywhere – we take it to the gym, the beach, grocery stores,” LeBrun said, who can be in Toledo one week and Traverse City the next.
She keeps from being homesick by FaceTiming an hour or two every night with her parents, boyfriend or roommates.
While her role as a hotdogger has taken her to a variety of new places from Kansas City, which had a “really fun, gorgeous downtown” to Des Moines where she “left with a super full heart” – it’s been the familiar communities that have made her experience most worthwhile.
“The most fun for both Barb and I was to take it to our hometowns and college towns,” she said. “It was a dream come true to drive it up my driveway and see kids I used to babysit. Both of us getting to see a lot of friends and families with the vehicle has been super fulfilling and the highlight of our year.”
Being the face of Oscar Mayer at all times took some time to adjust to.
“It takes a little getting used to, but knowing that you might be the most joyful thing people might see in months is really rewarding,” LeBrun said. “People have been so isolated that seeing a giant hot dog roll up – as silly as it sounds – might make them the happiest they’ve been in months.”
The Wienermobile has been at the center of memories since the first one hit the road in 1936.
Apart from wiener whistles and Hot Wheels cars, visitors are given beanie babies known as “weeny beanies” and also a collectible sticker of a Wisconsin license plate, that says “WEENR,” one of six Wisconsin plates on the back of the sextet of Wienermobiles.
While June is still a long way off, LeBrun has been accepted into the physician assistant program at Bethel University and she’d begin classes three days after her last day as a hot dogger. She is also waiting to hear back from University of Wisconsin-Madison before deciding her next career step.
For now, she’s just living an “absolute dream come true,” she said.