Oscar Mayer is more than a purveyor of tubed meats: it’s a triumph of American advertising. Loyal consumers have stuck with the brand for generations, and if you claim not to have the song stuck in your head right now as you read this, buddy, you’re simply lying. Bound up in that airtight branding is one iconically impractical vehicle known from coast to coast: the Wienermobile, a heaving, GPS-equipped, jingle-blasting technicolor titan entrusted to a small but mighty fleet of Hotdoggers, or brand ambassadors who pilot the vehicle all across the country to private events and promotional appearances, handing out Wienerwhistles to enraptured onlookers everywhere.
The Hotdogger program has been going strong since 1988, and this year, Class 33—the 33rd team of 12 recent college graduates selected from an applicant pool of thousands—hit the road to represent Oscar Mayer in perhaps the strangest possible year for an already strange job. Zach Chatham (Hotdogger alias Zach n Cheese) and Maggie Thomas (alias Mustard Mags) are currently making their way around the Central Region, stopping in Chicagoland for a few Halloween happenings. The Takeout was pleased to have the chance to speak with them about the Hotdogger experience.
(Sure, some of this interview reads a little like ad copy; indeed, Oscar Mayer’s “Hot Dog High” training program probably does spend a decent amount of time on brand slogans and company lines. But I can promise you that as we spoke, these intrepid young Hotdoggers sounded more genuine than you could imagine. Wienermobile drivers past and present all seem to share an unshakable fondness for their year of hot dog service, and it’s a delight to be able to share in that shine, however briefly.)
This interview has been edited for length and clarity, but most importantly, we’ve highlighted all the hot dog puns.
The Takeout: You’re currently making your way through Illinois, yes?
Maggie: Yes, and with the snow that came today, we turned into a chilly dog on our way here.
TO: Do you have some master list of wordplay that you consult, or do these puns just come from your hearts?
Maggie: [Laughs] No, it’s kind of ingrained into us now. We went through a two-week training called Hot Dog High before we started this job; it’s taught to us there, and then you pick up on it naturally. Now it just flows.
TO: Are you allowed to share the details of other things you learned at Hot Dog High?
Zach: To an extent, but a lot of it has to stay confidential, because only a very select few of us get to be chosen to go to Hot Dog High!
TO: How did each of you come to do this job that so many people consider mythical?
Maggie: I graduated from Mississippi State University in 2019. One day, my mom sent me a news article about this job opening. I thought, why not? It combines a lot of things that I love. I sent in a resume and cover letter, and the next thing I knew, I got a call. We had two rounds of interviews, and I was one of the lucky dogs that got chosen to be one of the 12 Hotdoggers that drive the Wienermobiles across the hot dog highways.
TO: Only 12 at a time?
Maggie: Only 12 are chosen every year.
TO: That must have been a rigorous interview process.
Maggie: It was. I’m really grateful I cut the mustard to be part of Class 33—that’s the 33rd year of the Hotdogger program. It was pretty intense and exciting, and I’ll never forget the day I got the phone call.
Zach: I applied online because my dad sent me the link. I basically put all my eggs in the Oscar Mayer basket. I graduated from the University of Alabama in May 2020, right in the pandemic; I was shooting for it all with this one. I had to apply, because my grandfather drove the Wienermobile back in the ’70s; he worked for Oscar Mayer for 20, 25 years.
TO: What’s been the highlight of this role, and what’s been the biggest surprise so far?
Zach: The highlight for me was definitely—and y’all covered this story!—getting engaged on the road with the Wienermobile. That was really cool.
TO: Congratulations, by the way!
Maggie: This really is the best job ever. There’s so much that I love about it. But I think one of the biggest things is simply getting to make people’s day by just driving around in a giant hot dog. I mean, the reactions we get, whether we’re driving through a city or driving to a grocery store, or to an event—that’s one of my favorite parts. So [it’s an adjustment] getting used to all that attention, all the honks and waves. Just the other day, someone followed us for, what was it, four miles? Five miles? Just so he could get a Wienerwhistle. I think that that is something that is just so special about this job: the impact that you make every day.
TO: What do you think it is about the Wienermobile that continues to capture everyone’s imagination?
Zach: For people who grew up with the Wienermobile, it has that nostalgia effect. And as more time passes, the more positive things grow in your mind; seeing it is like having a flashback. How can you not smile and just gaze at a hot-dog-shaped vehicle driving across the highway? As we say, it hauls buns. Seeing such a unique vehicle, and seeing the fun that we’re having driving it, and the interactions that we get to have with people, it’s just a naturally uplifting thing, especially during a tough year for everybody. Everyone is kind of closed in; this is an opportunity for them to get out, experience something fun, and make them smile and make them happy.
Maggie: We love to say the Wienermobile is for kids ages 8 to 88. It brings out the kid in everyone, a sense of joy. When we were in Bloomington, we met a man whose dad worked for Oscar Mayer for 43 years, and he showed us pictures of him as a little boy in the Wienermobile. You could just see that when he saw the Wienermobile again—it was his first time seeing it in years, since he was a kid—it really brought him back to that happy time in his life. It’s special to be a part of those moments that mean so much to people.
TO: I definitely remember seeing the Wienermobile outside my local grocery store when I was a kid. That weenie whistle stayed in my keepsake box forever after that.
Zach: You’ll have to come see us again!
Maggie: Aw, you need another Wienerwhistle to add to your collection.
Zach: What did yours look like? Does it just look like a hot dog, or the actual Wienermobile? The hot dog model is the oldest one.
Maggie: Now they look like the modern Wienermobile. Pretty cool.
TO: Do you both actually drive the vehicle yourselves?
Maggie: During Hot Dog High we go through training to learn how to drive a 27-foot-long hot dog. We train, we do obstacle courses, and then we hit the hot dog highways. Now we both take turns driving it wherever we go.
TO: Was that intimidating to learn?
Zach: All I’d driven in my life was a sedan.
Maggie: It was an adjustment going from a smaller car to a giant hot dog. But they’ve gotten it down so well in how they train us, so they really ease you into it and make you feel comfortable. Now, it feels really natural. Sometimes I’m driving along, and I forget that I’m in a giant hot dog, you know? They make that transition easy. It’s a lot of fun to drive.
TO: And do you just.... Fuel it up at a regular gas station, then?
Zach: Yep, we fuel up at gas stations with high-octane mustard.
Maggie: [laughs] We stop at regular gas stations, which is one of my favorite parts of the job; no one’s expecting to see the Wienermobile when they’re just filling up their car. The reactions that we get when we drive up—even the people working at the gas station will take their breaks and come out of the store just to get pictures with it, little kids get out of cars, it turns into a mini event, honestly. Stops to get gas usually turn into 30-minute stops for us, but it’s a lot of fun because of the surprise factor.
TO: It sounds like a whole added layer of promotion.
Zach: That’s right. This is our only vehicle, so everywhere we’re going, no matter if we’re technically working or not working, we’re always continuing our initiative to deliver “miles of smiles across the country.” We’re always representing the brand in a positive way, and that’s even when we’re just going to the grocery store, or the gym, or just being a normal person.
TO: You two are surrounded by hot dogs (and literally surrounded by a giant hot dog) every day. Do you have strong opinions about the best hot dog toppings?
Zach: Well, I don’t know about toppings, but I know you can do no wrong if you start with an Oscar Mayer hot dog, that’s for sure. [laughs]
Maggie: Earlier this year, we had a challenge amongst the Hotdoggers to see who could put the craziest toppings on our hot dog. I did cole slaw and potato salad, two of my favorite sides to a hot dog. It was really good! Right now, I think that is my favorite.
Zach: Coming into the year, my favorite was chili, cheese, and onion. But we did that challenge with all the Hotdoggers, “Frankly Friends,” and I did mac and cheese with ranch and bacon. I have to say, I definitely recommend it.