Friday, March 14, 2008

my hero

if you know me, and/or have read the sermonette, you KNOW how i want this car. aptly, the link was sent to me by my friend, and president of my fan club, g pickle.
Seeing a Man About a Dog
Robert Peele
Wednesday morning in Times Square a small crowd gathered in the cool shadow of ABC Studios to watch Michael Strahan, defensive end for the Super Bowl champion New York Giants, drive a car.
Not just any car: Mr. Strahan had squeezed his 6’5” frame behind the wheel of the new Mini Wienermobile, a smaller, sportier version of Oscar Mayer’s somewhat famous Wienermobile, also in attendance. Several news photographers — one of whom later told me he had left the vigil outside Gov. Eliot Spitzer’s Fifth Avenue apartment to be here — aimed their cameras in expectation. Behind them, a pack of tourists had begun to assemble and gawk. The tourists had come to the Crossroads of the World for excitement and spectacle; this would do.

Michael Strahan at the wheel of the Mini Wienermobile.
Mr. Strahan, his knees wedged beneath the dashboard, flashed his broad gap-toothed smile as he eased the car into gear, moving through the cordoned-off lane at about the same speed at which one might walk back to the huddle after an incomplete pass. A young woman in an official Oscar Mayer windbreaker ushered him forward with hand signals, gesturing him to a stop approximately one foot from the front bun of the larger Wienermobile. All told, the vehicle moved about forty feet. And that was that.
Afterward, as the ever-affable Mr. Strahan posed for photographs alongside the Mini Wienermobile, I spoke to Bill Blansett, an Oscar Mayer Wienermobile representative. Mr. Blansett, wearing a windbreaker that matched his colleague’s, was a Hotdogger, he told me — member of a team of Hotdoggers who toured the country with the six full-sized Wienermobiles and their newer, nimbler sidekick. Being head of his team of Hotdoggers, he suggested I call him Big Dog Bill.
I asked Big Dog Bill a few questions about the Wienermobiles. The Mini Wiener was built on a Mini Cooper S chassis, he told me, while beneath the bun of the full-size Wienermobile roared the essence of a Chevy W-4 series truck. This larger model was 27 feet long and 11 feet high, while the new Mini Wiener was a mere 15 feet by 8. Over Big Dog Bill’s shoulder I watched as Mr. Strahan poked his head through the Mini Weiner’s sunroof, Dukakis-style.
I asked Big Dog Bill if the smaller vehicle was a signal that Oscar Mayer was adjusting to concern over gas prices and fuel efficiency. Was this an attempt at a greener Wienermobile?
The answer was slightly disappointing. While the Mini Wiener will indeed be more fuel efficient, he said, its true raison d’ĂȘtre was to celebrate Oscar Mayer’s 125th anniversary. (Wait — you’re telling me this whole thing was just a P.R. stunt?)
A few other
Wienermobile facts:
• The first model appeared in 1936. That’s right, 1936.
• The Wienermobiles sport license plates from Wisconsin, America’s Dairyland: “BOLOGNA” for the larger model represented here, “LTL LINK” for the Mini.
• Each Hotdogger must complete a two-week course at Hot Dog High, where aspiring Hotdoggers learn how to safely navigate a Wienermobile through slalomlike cone-courses. Not incidental to their purpose, they also receive a good deal of instruction regarding the Oscar Mayer brand.
Finally the photo op ended, and Big Dog Bill escorted me into the passenger seat of the Mini Wiener for a quick spin around the block. Unfortunately I wouldn’t be allowed a test drive, he explained — insurance reasons. He settled into the driver’s seat and requested that I buckle my seatbelt. For a moment I imagined us peeling out and tearing through midtown traffic like an angry cabbie, but no such luck — the Hotdoggers are a law-abiding crew and, according to Big Dog Bill, do not push the Wienermobiles past posted speed limits.
We pulled into traffic and made a slow loop over to Sixth Avenue. The view through the windshield of the Mini Wiener was somewhat obstructed, as one might expect — it was difficult to see anything above eye level, what with a large fiberglass hot dog extending over the hood like a ship’s prow. Otherwise, the driving experience seemed fairly normal, relative to the traditional Mini Cooper. The car moved smoothly through traffic. The winds buffeting the hot dog apparatus did not threaten to topple us, nor did our aerodynamics seem to suffer.
Big Dog Bill — of whom it must be said seems to have a good sense of humor about his job — pushed a button and the Oscar Mayer theme song (the one that goes “Oh I wish I were an Oscar Mayer wiener…”) was broadcast over the Wienermobile’s external speakers. We got several stares, and a few smiles, but not the dramatic reaction I was expecting. I suppose I wanted people to pump their fists at us, the way we used to at passing 18-wheelers.
When we parked the Mini Wiener back in Times Square Mr. Strahan, as gregarious as ever, was still shaking hands and signing autographs. I thanked Big Dog Bill for the ride and said goodbye to his fellow Hotdoggers.
Then I left, looking for someplace where I could shed the skin of the sober Timesman and crack as many wiener jokes as I pleased.
[stolen from the new york times--so sue me!]

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