Thursday, June 20, 2013

Day 39 - Riding in a Wienermobile/Foot Long Brat

I have never ridden in a Wienermobile or eaten a foot long brat. Thanks to a trip to a Madison Mallards baseball game and a little bit of luck, both of those things changed today. The occurrence of these two very different, yet somewhat related events started with a planned trip to tonight's "Oscar Mayer Hotdog Appreciation Night" at the Mallard's baseball park. As a part of the event, Dachshunds were invited to the park to compete in wiener dogs races between several innings. Rachael and I knew we wanted to attend the game with one of our Dachshunds, Buddy, given his unbelievable record of winning wiener dog races in the past (our other Dachshund, Baxter, needs a little more training for such an event). As a result, we to signed Buddy up to participate in the night's events and we headed to the park immediately after I finished my workday.

Although I was excited to attend a baseball game with Rachael and Buddy on a beautiful summer night, I knew doing so would make finding something I have never done before a difficult feat. With my early morning "I have never..." plan falling through, time constraints meant I was left to find something I had never done within the confines of the Mallard's baseball park. Given I have attended plenty of Mallards games in the past, I was at a loss as to what I could experience to keep my daily "I have never..." challenge afloat. Regardless, I resolved to find something else that could fill the day's objective. Throughout the day I wracked my brain for fresh ideas with little success, until I finally settled on eating a Mallard's menu mainstay, the foot long brat, for the first time. I realized the idea was weak, but I couldn't think of any alternatives, and I knew I didn't have enough time in the day to pursue any larger "I have never..." plans.

Disappointed in my selection for the day's "I have never..." event, I crossed the parking lot outside of the Mallard's baseball park as I made my way toward the stadium entrance. My focus still directed at trying to find a more exciting "I have never..." challenge for the day, my eyes wandered back and forth across the park before me, attempting to trigger a new and better idea. With nothing coming into sight, I walked toward the ticket booth to meet Rachael and Buddy at our designated meeting spot. I moved my way through a group of people and rounded a small green building with an unidentifiable purpose before the ticket booth came into view. Scanning for Rachael and Buddy, I looked toward the park on my right and back to the booth in front of me. At first, I didn't see either of them, which prompted some concern. Still searching, I suddenly heard the familiar sound of Rachael's voice come from my left. Turning to the sound, I observed Rachael handing Buddy over to an Oscar Mayer employee for a picture opportunity in front of the unmistakable backdrop of an Oscar Mayer Wienermobile.

The Wienermobile

A flash of inspiration hit me as my pace quickened toward the hotdog shaped vehicle. "I wonder if I can get a ride in that thing..." I thought as I approached Rachael and the Oscar Mayer employee. Following the photo opportunity, I greeted everyone and chimed in with some responses as Rachael and the young man chatted about Buddy and the forthcoming wiener dog races. A few moments later, a young woman also sporting Oscar Mayer apparel approached, cuing the man to ask her if she wanted a photo with the dog. Responding with enthusiasm at the idea, Rachael and I let her know we were happy to oblige, leading her and the other Oscar Mayer employee to scoop up Buddy and line up for another photo.

With the photography session complete, I approached the young man and quickly explained my objective for the year. Handing him a card with my blog website displayed, I immediately moved to asking him if a ride in the Wienermobile was a possibility. He glanced at the card for a moment before responding, "You know, that might be possible. My boss is actually right over there. Let me go talk to her quick." Realizing the timing of my question couldn't have been better, I anxiously waited for the young man's response as he chatted with a woman no more than a few dozen feet away. I watched as the woman examined my card while the man explained my request. I knew the odds of securing a ride in the Wienermobile were not in my favor, but I remained hopeful I would be able to follow through with what I knew was my best shot at a unique "I have never..." event for the day.

After a brief conversation the man walked back to me with the card still in his hand. I braced myself for a let down as he began to speak. "A ride will be no problem! Just come back at 7:30 when we are getting ready to head out," he said. Feeling a rush from the surprising response, a smile crossed my face. "Really?! That's awesome!" I exclaimed in disbelief before thanking him for the opportunity and confirming the time I needed to meet him. I had found my "I have never..." event for the day. I just needed to make sure I arrived on time to make the potential experience a reality.

Reeling with excitement at the newfound "I have never..." opportunity, I entered the ballpark with Rachael and Buddy. The three of us immediately made our way to the designated area for the wiener dog race sign-up to lock in Buddy's position in the night's races. After being greeted by a Mallard's employee, we gave our information and confirmed Buddy's participation in the race. The employee quickly rattled off some information about the number of participants and the rules of the race before stating the timing of the event. "The first race will be at the end of the third inning," the employee said. My heart sank in response to his words. With knowledge the game started at 7:05 pm, I knew there was a very real possibility the race could be held around 7:30. Concerned, I responded abruptly, "What's your best estimate on a time for that?" Although I knew the question was one without any clear answer, my fear caused me to seek some sort of reassurance that my recently made plans would work with the timing of the race. A bit puzzled the Mallard's employee responded, "My best guess is around 20 or 30 minutes after the start of the game. So, 7:30ish, I guess." A sense of defeat consumed me as I nodded and the employee walked away. My "I have never..." event on the line, I had nothing left to do but leave my opportunity to ride in a Wienermobile up to fate.

A foot long brat?!?
The minutes crept by as a Rachael, Buddy, and I walked to the concession stands to grab something to eat and drink. Coming to grips with the idea that the Wienermobile trip may not occur, I opted to order a foot long brat as a backup "I have never..." experience. The ridiculous size and deliciousness of the brat provided some temporary relief from my concern, but my desire to ride in the Wienermobile still occupied a prominent place in my thoughts. As we worked through the back half of our meals, Rachael and I chatted a bit about the timing of the night's events. Rachael's comments made it clear she shared many of the same timing concerns, which prompted us to talk about some alternatives to making both events happen. Struggling to eat the whole of my foot long brat, I rifled through some ideas and contacted a friend, Katrien, who I knew would be attending the game that night. Thinking I could ask her to help with the wiener dog race as a last resort, I sent her a vague message indicating I might track her down to ask for her assistance with the event. She responded with a statement of willingness to do whatever was needed, which lifted my spirits in the face of the likely scheduling dilemma I was about to face.

The start of an epic battle...

After finishing our meals Rachael, Buddy, and I took our seats and sat through the game's first at-bats. I checked my clock several times each minute in hopes it had moved closer to 7:30 as we watched the first inning of play. Nervousness building, I told Rachael I was going to meet the Oscar Mayer crew as 7:25 in case they were packing up a bit earlier than scheduled. Knowing the timing of the "I have never..." event and the first wiener dog race would be tight, I braced myself for the worst case scenario while doing my best to maintain a positive outlook. I watched the game and waited, hoping for extended periods of play during the first part of the game. Eventually, my clock crept to 7:25 just as the first inning came to a close. Rising from my seat, I felt a feeling of tentative relief. "I have two full innings to make this happen. That's more than enough time, right?" I said looking at Rachael. A look of concern cast across her face, Rachael didn't respond as we hurriedly made our way back outside the park.

Closing up
I approached the Wienermobile with anticipation at the sight of the crew packing things away for the night. Hopeful, I greeted the young woman in the Oscar Mayer apparel. She smiled and let me know we would be ready to go in a few minutes. I listened intently to the ballpark announcements as the two Oscar Mayer employees picked up and packed away tables and promotional pieces. My concern over timing resurfaced as I watched on, noticing a family or person approached the vehicle asking for a photo or a tour with each bit of progress the Oscar Mayer duo made.

The minutes passed quickly as the Oscar Mayer team happily accommodated each request from the passing fans. Understanding their drive to greet and help each Wienermobile admirer, I waited patiently, hoping I would still be able to make the trip before the start of Buddy's race. In a moment between visitors, the young man broke away from his tasks and approached me. He explained the two of them had a few things left to do before we could take our ride. I nodded my head in understanding before communicating my concern about the timing of the race and the ride in the Wienermobile. Without hesitation, the Oscar Mayer employee responded, "Hey, go take care of the race and come back. We can wait around. We want to see the race anyway!" With knowledge the man had already put in a long day of travel and customer interactions, I stood in amazement of the hospitality he was extending to me. Realizing the inherent selfishness in my previous remarks I replied, "Really? I don't want to be a hassle. Don't wait around because of me." Insisting I was doing no such thing, the man assured me we could make both events work. "Just go win that race! Then we can take a ride," he said enthusiastically. Grateful, I thanked the man once more and made my way back into the park just in time for Buddy's race. Thanks to the flexibility and accommodating nature of the Oscar Mayer crew, I had found a way to make my "I have never... event for the day a reality without missing Buddy's big event. Relieved, I took to field for Buddy's race ready to see him blow the competition out of the water.

Getting on board
As expected, Buddy annihilated the first round of competition, placing him in a final heat at the end of the seventh inning. With plenty of time to spare between races, I made my way back out of the ballpark to meet the Oscar Mayer crew once more. Upon leaving the stadium gates, I noticed the Wienermobile in the parking lot awaiting my arrival. I quickened my pace to a light jog as the massive vehicle's hatch door opened slowly and the familiar Oscar Mayer employee stepped out. "Come on in!" the man said as I stepped up to the vehicle. "You have shotgun, so climb up to the front and take a seat," he said as I looked over the Wienermobile's interior. I excitedly took my position in the front seat next to the female Oscar Mayer employee behind the driver's wheel. Getting comfortable in my seat, I took time to take in the sights of the hotdog dashboard, the summer sky scene lining the roof of the vehicle, and the wide mustard yellow line winding its way along the floor. As I continued looking over the interior of the vehicle, the male Oscar Mayer employee spoke up. "OK, first thing... buckle your 'meat belt'" the man said. "The meat belt?" I replied laughing. "Yeah, this is the Wienermobile. We have meat belts, the bun roof, and whole list of other hotdog-related features," the man continued.

Ready to ride!

Reveling in the humor, I buckled up and excitedly prepared for our journey. I paused for a moment as I realized I never asked the two employees for their names. "Hey, I don't think I asked for your names earlier..." I said put off by my knack for blowing introductions. "No problem! I'm Sizzlin' Stephen" the man said. "I'm Atta-dog Alex" the woman followed. Laughing at the introductions, I looked at the two employees a bit puzzled. As we started driving through the parking lot, Sizzlin' Stephen proceeded to explain that Oscar Mayer Wienermobile drivers, known as Hotdoggers, each have a unique hotdog-themed name that comes with the honor of captaining one of the famous Wienermobiles. Relishing in the concept (pun intended), I nodded with a grin on my face before turning back to the front window of the vehicle. Noticing we were about to turn out onto one of the main streets running by the baseball park, it became clear I was going to get the full Wienermobile experience.

Pulling onto the street, Atta-dog Alex and Sizzlin' Stephen explained to me they were going to take me around town for a bit so I could get a feel for the way the Wienermobile rides. We cruised down the road as Atta-dog Alex and Sizzlin' Stephen fielded my questions about their work, their journeys in the Wienermobile, and about the features of the vehicle. The two of them shared their excitement about the opportunity to work in such a unique role with Oscar Mayer. They explained their positions would last a year and take them all over the United States, to which I replied with statements of admiration and envy at their opportunity. I listened on as Atta-Dog Alex and Sizzlin' Stephen walked through how they came into their positions with the company and discussed the enjoyment that comes with driving an American icon. Still traveling down one of the main city streets, I continued to express my thoughts on their awesome opportunity and my persistent disbelief I was riding in a Wienermobile.

Rollin' in the Wienermobile

Turning attention to my ongoing "I have never..." journey Atta-dog Alex and Sizzlin' Stephen began asking me about my experiences and plans. I gladly entertained their questions as Atta-dog Alex slowly navigated the lumbering vehicle around a turn. Noticing we were turning into a residential area, I laughed out loud. "I wonder what all these people are thinking!" I exclaimed as we passed by homes dwarfed by the size of our sweet, wiener-riffic ride. We laughed about the idea of looking out a living room window to see a Wienermobile passing by as we continued crawling through the neighborhood. Passing over the city streets  gave me plenty of opportunity to take in the sights from the Wienermobile, which Atta-dog Alex eventually guided back to the street leading to the Mallard's ballpark.

About to exit...
We drove on, still engaged in conversation and still shadowed by my periodic statements of bewilderment at the fact I was rolling down the street in a Wienermobile. A few minutes later we arrived back at the entrance to the Mallard's baseball park and pulled into the parking lot. Pulling up to the main gates of the stadium, I thanked Atta-dog Alex and Sizzlin' Stephen for an unforgettable opportunity. Maintaining their consistent state of hospitality, the two of them stated they were more than willing to help me make the experience and were happy they could be a part of my journey. With the vehicle parked, I made my way to the hatch door, slowly raised it toward the sky, and exited the vehicle. As I stepped away from the vehicle, Sizzlin' Stephen closed the door and climbed into the front seat. Turning back to give the Oscar Mayer crew a wave goodbye, the familiar sound of the Oscar Mayer Wiener song began playing from the front of the vehicle. I laughed as Atta-dog Alex and Sizzlin' Stephen waved back and slowly began pulling away. Still feeling gratitude from the unique "I have never..." opportunity that fell into my lap, I made my way back into the ballpark for the rest of the baseball game and Buddy's final race (which he won, of course).

Riding into the bunset

Today's "I have never..." event was the result of a stroke of luck and a very accommodating Oscar Mayer crew. I'm sure there are not many people get the opportunity to ride in a Wienermobile, and to have had the experience makes me feel very fortunate. I thank Atta-dog Alex and Sizzlin' Stephen for their hospitality and flexibility. They helped make an otherwise ho-hum "I have never..." day into a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed the foot long brat, but it just doesn't compare to riding down the street in a 27 foot hotdog.

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