Robin on the hotdog highway (Photo courtesy of the author)

My Dream to Crisscross the Country in a World-Famous Wiener

Robin on the hotdog highway (Photo courtesy of the author)

I couldn’t wait to get to college. I was going to study Broadcast Journalism at the same school where Dick Clark and Bob Costas went — the Newhouse School at Syracuse University. Not because I wanted to do hard news. Oh, no. I wanted to do features like interview Ricky Schroeder at the mall or be the wacky weather girl. I dream big.

Freshman year started and everything was going great. I made friends easily, I got involved in all kinds of activities, I had my first Bartles & Jaymes wine cooler and the best part? I had an awesome roommate, Mindy Cohen. Not to be confused with the one from “The Facts of Life.” Although that would have been awesome. We loved all the same things like air-popped popcorn, musicals, and Balki from “Perfect Strangers.”

I was having the time of my life until I started to hear the strangest thing every time I came in and out of my dorm. It was almost a hiss and then it grew in a menacing and chilling way. I didn’t know who or what it was, but I soon discovered that guys in my dorm were calling me “Vargas.” They thought I looked like the science teacher from “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” – Mr. Vargas. They’d whisper behind me in class. They’d yell at me in the dining hall. They’d call and wake me up in the middle of the night. Before I knew it, 60 guys were bullying me around-the-clock.

So for the next four years I never joined the campus TV or radio station because I was afraid they’d make fun of me even more. But I was determined to get my degree from the Newhouse School and by the time I was a senior, I realized what I had done. My self-esteem, my passion and my chutzpah totally plummeted. I didn’t know what I had to live for. That was, until I saw the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile.

It was a 23-foot-long hot dog on wheels and I fell in love with it instantly. I ran up to it to learn all about it and found out they were on campus recruiting for the next round of Wienermobile drivers a.k.a. “Hotdoggers.” Best. Title. Ever.

I grabbed the application and learned that the job involved getting to be on TV, radio and in the paper, travel all over North America and tell hot dog puns every single day. I thought, “They’re basically paying me to be myself!”

So I got cracking on my resume, wherein I boasted about my excellent driving record and my impending B.S.S. degree in Bologna Sandwich Skills.

Then, I crafted my cover letter, which was riddled with puns like “A hearty hot dog hello to you! I recently traveled to Europe where I got to use real French and Swiss francs. What a lucky dog I was!”

So I launched into the second song and the last line I sang was “I’m going to have this job before I’m dead.”

I knew that wasn’t going to be enough. They were choosing 10 Hotdoggers out of 1,000 applicants. I had a 1% chance of getting this job. It was dog-eat-dog. That’s when I came up with “Rockin’ Robin’s Hot Dog Holiday Favorites” – a cassette I made of me singing self-promotional songs with hits like a parody of “Winter Wonderland.”

“Oscar Mayer, do you hear me? Wanna be in that wienie.”

And a parody of “Hava Nagila.”

“Robin Gelfenbien. Robin Gelfenbien. That is my name all the time.

This job will be mine, my shoe size is nine.

I’m Jewish, but I dig on swine.”

I even drew a little Christmas tree with hot dog ornaments and a menorah with hot dog candles. Totally sacrilege, I know.

I sent off my packet and I waited and I waited until I finally got a letter saying and I quote, “That I cut the mustard.” Yes! Next thing I knew they were flying me to Madison, Wisconsin for a day of nine back-to-back meetings.

We started at 7:00 a.m. sharp and I was in the conference room surrounded by my competition. One guy for his on-camera interview created a miniature version of the Wienermobile and another one acted out a debate between Bill Clinton and Ross Perot about which topping was best on a hot dog. These people were not messing around, but I knew I was going to give them a run for their money.

All day long I walked around in my plaid suit replete with shoulder pads and my very posh green backpack, which I clutched like the Hope Diamond because stored deep inside were my secret weapons.

Secret weapon #1 – my tap shoes.

I strolled to my on-camera interview, got to the door, looked down and was horrified. “How the hell am I going to tap dance on carpet?” So I asked the cameraman to pan down to my tap shoes to show them I had gone the extra mile and I launched into my routine.

I started by singing a parody of “The Bare Necessities” doing everything I could to make up for the lack of the tap sounds. I began with a basic shuffle step and arm movement eventually building to a Charleston (a simple kick back and forth) and then the grand finale, wings. Normally this is impressive to the casual observer, but between the carpet and the business suit, I looked more like a snow angel on crack. I stuck the landing feeling pretty good about myself awaiting the thunderous applause and then… nothing.

I was crushed and knew I really needed to redeem myself because I was about to meet the man I had to impress the most, the Wienermobile Manager, Russ a.k.a. Top Dog. Russ was over 6’ tall, stoic, stocky and for some reason breathed like Darth Vader. He asked me a series of questions and then I asked, “Hey did you listen to my Wienermobile tape?”

“Oh, you’re this Robin,” he said. Then, he opened his top desk drawer to reveal “Rockin’ Robin’s Hot Dog Holiday Favorites.” My heart began beating faster. “Oh my G-d, he knows my work.”

But more importantly, I got to make up for those four years of college by making it one of the best years of my life.

“No, I haven’t listened to it,” he said.

“Well, if you want, you can listen to it on my Walkman right now,” I offered.

Then, he breathed deeply like Darth Vader and said, “That won’t be necessary.”

So I suggested, “Why don’t I sing a few songs that didn’t make it on the album? The B-sides.”

I didn’t even let him answer. Instead, I sang my heart out to him across this tiny table. I finished the first song. No reaction. I started to panic, but then I thought, “Go big or go home.”

So I launched into the second song and the last line I sang was “I’m going to have this job before I’m dead.”


I wasn’t sure what that meant, but I assumed the worst. I left feeling completely dejected convinced everyone at Oscar Mayer hated me, and I cried the whole flight home. As each tear fell, I couldn’t escape the overwhelming feeling that I had wasted what was supposed to be the best four years of my life by living in constant fear of those guys who bullied me.

When I got back to campus, over the next few weeks, I went on job interviews for things I didn’t want like Bugle Boy jeans. I had no passion for fashion. I just wanted to drive a Wieniebago.

And then a month later, I got a call. “Robin! This is Russ calling from Oscar Mayer. We’d like to offer you a position as one of our Hotdoggers.”

“Oh, My G-d! Yes! Yes! Yes!” I cried. I screamed. It was as though he had just proposed to me.

I couldn’t believe it. My dream had come true. I was ecstatic because for those four years of college I completely lost sight of who I was and going after this job helped me find that person again.

I took advantage of every opportunity while running a mobile PR firm in this meat machine. I was on the Food Network a few months into its existence, I went to Mardi Gras, I took kids to the prom in the Lamborghwienie, I visited 26 states and two Canadian provinces, I got pulled over and searched for drugs (yes, in the Wienemobile), I met MacGyver and I stood in front of hundreds of grocery stores handing out wiener whistles (which is not a euphemism).

However, the best part was getting to make people’s days everywhere I went. And I got to do something very few people get to do – experience life through the windshield of a wiener.

But more importantly, I got to make up for those four years of college by making it one of the best years of my life.

And I relished every second of it because it was truly a bunforgettable job and that’s no bologna.

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