By M.D. Kittle | Wisconsin Reporter
Presidential campaigns are filled with startling revelations.
And there are some real, authentic “hotdoggers” out there a little miffed that the Wisconsin Congressman and GOP VP nominee has been labeled in the press as a wienermobile driver.
“What I know about this is he wasn’t one of the hotdoggers,” Melanie Vuynovich a San Francisco PR executive told me this week.
Vunnovich was fresh out of college in 1996, taking the ride of her life and traveling the West as an official driver of Oscar Mayer’s famed, 27-foot long fiberglass weiner on wheels.
She beat out hundreds of applicants in a dog-eat-dog competition, toiled in a rigorous boot camp at Oscar Mayer’s Hot Dog High, and, sources say, got a case of badly chapped lips blowing a weiner whistle.
Vuynovich had some big internship offers after college. She could have worked for Sears in Chicago. She opted to tell the story of assorted cooked meats.
“I have never regretted my decision,” said the PR flak, who seems to have relished every minute of the patently American experience.
She’s part of a network of Hotdogger alumni who keep in touch through social networks.
A lot of them will be getting together next month in Madison, a frankly fabulous reunion marking the 25th anniversary of the Hotdogger program.
Robin Gelfenbein will be there. She wouldn’t miss it.
The New York writer/comedian and 1993 East Coast hotdogger, who does a solo show, “My Salvation Has a First Name (A Wienermobile Journey),” tells me without a laugh the weinermobile saved her life.
She says she was badly bullied in high school and college, had nearly given up on life.
Then that hot dog wagon rolled onto campus and she instantly knew she had something to live for. No joke.
Gelfenbein, who remains kosher in her heart, put together an over-the-top tap dance routine interview before an Oscar Mayer top dog. She won the job, and the job, she said, changed her life.
“It’s a very special connection you have over a fiberglass hotdog,” she said of the best friends and “brothers” that came into her life through hotdogging.
They are a battle-tested group. Gelfenbein said she and her hotdogger co-pilot were driving through New Jersey when a state trooper pulled over the plateless weinermobile (the plates had been stolen) and insisted on searching the vehicle for drugs.
It’s common knowledge among Hotdoggers that cops get a kick out of stopping the weinermobile so they can snag a fun photo.
“Do I have any reason to believe drugs are in this vehicle?” the trooper asked in Jersey-accented Joe Friday staccato. Gelfenbein quipped, “There’s no hash in this hotdog.”
The officer was not amused.
He began his search for contraband, only to discover thousands of weiner whistles loaded in the back. The vehicle would have been impounded if not for a call to top weiner brass.
So knowing the tight-knit community of Hotdoggers, Gelfenbein wrote a tongue-in-cheek scolding column for the Huffington Post on Paul Ryan’s alleged weinermobile days of yore after Ryan was tapped as Mitt Romney’s running mate.
“Over the last few days, it has been widely reported that you used to drive the world-famous Oscar Mayer Wienermobile, however, we both know that this is simply not true. You were merely a sales rep for Oscar Mayer, and you sweet-talked your way into driving this legendary hot dog on wheels (via your Oscar Mayer-employed aunt, I might add) for one lap around a parking lot,” the comedian wrote.
All of that is true.
And candidate Ryan has often said as much.
You may find this hard to believe but the Paul Ryan-drove-the-Oscar-Mayer-weinermobile narrative is the concoction of the media.
News outlets from the New York Times and Washington Post to small newspapers carrying AP fun facts about the would-be VP have depicted Paul Ryan as a real Hotdogger.
Even the YouTube video of CNN’s State of the Union in which Ryan explains he was an Oscar Mayer meat salesman who called in a favor from his aunt, a company secretary, to drive the weinermobile one time titles the interview, “Paul Ryan spent a summer in the Oscar Mayer weinermobile.”
I grilled the Ryan campaign about it all. Sent an email to spokesman Brendan Buck, Wednesday afternoon, hours before Paul Ryan gave the most important speech of his political life. I sheepishly acknowledged that the congressman probably had more important things on his plate, but damnit! This is a bigger-than-bun-sized controversy.
“Hello Matt — the Congressman has clarified this point previously, but with all the misinformation and distortions coming from Democrats we must triage the stories that need corrections. Thanks for reaching out — big night tonight,” Buck wrote, and sent me the CNN video.
Oscar Mayer would not comment. They did send me a great photo of the weinermobile.
Still, the late-night talk shows are replete with Paul Ryan weinermobile jokes. Nothing makes an arrested adolescent chuckle like the word weinermobile ( I know. I’ve been giggling like a school boy — and drinking a shot — each time I have written it).
The Hotdoggers know that Ryan hasn’t embellished his weinermobile (I’ll have another drink, thank you, very much.) experience. Besides, Gelfenbein said, the real Hotdoggers know who they are.
I’d just hate to see this media-orchestrated weinermobilegate turn ugly.
You can see the vice presidential debate. Joe Biden turns to Ryan and says, “Congressman, I knew a Hotdogger. A Hotdogger was my friend. Congressman, you are no Hotdogger.”
Maybe this cause celebre will lead to a formal investigation.
Sen. Harry Reid: “Mr. Ryan, are you now or have you ever been a Hotdogger?”
I suspect the smoke of it all will soon blow over, like a hot-coal grill bursting
with sizzling Oscar Mayer meats.
Contact Kittle at email@example.com