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Wienermobile driver CJ Zabat Jr. on what it takes to be a Hotdogger

AYESHA RASCOE, HOST:

New college graduates face a big and scary world. Will they find a job? Will they master workplace responsibilities? Will they cross this big, old nation in a 27-foot-long hot dog?

(SOUNDBITE OF ADVERTISEMENT)

UNIDENTIFIED CHILDREN: (Singing) Oh, I'd love to be an Oscar Mayer wiener...

RASCOE: It could happen. Oscar Mayer is hiring for Wienermobile drivers known as hotdoggers. Many will apply, but only 12 will be chosen. CJ Zabat Jr. has been one of the few. He was a hotdogger in 2020, and he's here now to tell us all about it. Hi, CJ.

CJ ZABAT JR: Hello. Thank you so much for having me.

RASCOE: So I understand you didn't go by just CJ in your hotdogger days.

ZABAT: Oh, it's true. I was also known on the road as Chili Dog CJ or...

RASCOE: (Laughter).

ZABAT: ...To the other hotdoggers, Chili Boy. Silly Chili was a good one, as well. So yes, that was my hotdogger alias back in the day.

RASCOE: I love that, and does everybody get an alias?

ZABAT: Oh, yeah. For sure. It's one of the many ways we have buns and buns of fun on the road is having a...

RASCOE: (Laughter).

ZABAT: ...Hotdogger name.

RASCOE: Buns and buns of fun. I caught that. I caught that. So did you have to do some special training to become a hotdogger?

ZABAT: Yes. We go to a two-week training program called Hot Dog High, and so - and during that time, we learn how to drive the Wienermobile, of course. We would do a lot of teambuilding exercises since when you're on the road, it's just you and your co-pilot and the entire nation at your foot.

RASCOE: So, I mean, driving the Wienermobile - like, is it like a regular truck, or is it different?

ZABAT: It's truly unlike anything else...

RASCOE: (Laughter).

ZABAT: ...In this whole wide world. I mean, it's a 27-foot-long vehicle. There's nothing in the back that you can see out of, so you have to rely on your mirrors, much like other vehicles of that nature. But at the same time, you know, it's got this unique structure to it. You're sitting up high. You get very attached to the Wienermobiles that you drive, which is super fun, too. You can always tell them apart by the license plate, so I drove RELISHME and BIGBUN.

RASCOE: (Laughter) That is amazing. And I have to imagine that kids go crazy when they see the Wienermobile. Like, do you have, like, a favorite moment?

ZABAT: I think one of mine is when All-American Ashley and I were in Denver, and so we drove out to go see Parker the Snow Dog, if you've ever heard of him. He's the honorary mayor of a town outside of Colorado. We had scheduled a meet-up for him and for the local school kids, and so it was the biggest dog collab that you've ever seen.

RASCOE: (Laughter).

ZABAT: And so we pulled up to the town, and these kids were going crazy for both Parker and the Wienermobile.

RASCOE: So a hot dog and a mayor dog linked up.

ZABAT: Oh, yeah. Yeah.

RASCOE: (Laughter).

ZABAT: That's a good one, too. A good pun there, as well, Ayesha. Link up.

RASCOE: I got it a little bit.

ZABAT: Yeah.

RASCOE: And so what did your family think of this - of you saying, hey, family, I'm going to be a hotdogger?

ZABAT: They were a little confused at first, but they were super supportive, and they loved being able to see the Wienermobile. A lot of my family grew up in the Philippines before they came here, so a lot of them didn't really get when I described the job to them. They're like, OK, so you're, like, a driver. And it's like, yes but also, like, a marketing person. And they're like, OK...

RASCOE: (Laughter).

ZABAT: ...Like, marketing.

RASCOE: That would be confusing. If you're not familiar with the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile, it would be a confusing thing. Like, you're going to drive a big hot dog around.

ZABAT: Yes. Yes. So I was glad to be able to show them the magic under the hood. One of my favorite pictures of the year is having my dog Fifi (ph) in the Wienermobile with me.

RASCOE: And your dog Fifi is a hot dog or (laughter)...

ZABAT: Yeah. She was in that moment.

(LAUGHTER)

RASCOE: So, you know, we're talking to you because Oscar Mayer is looking for new drivers. So make your best pitch to someone who might be on the edge of just thinking about, should I become a hotdogger?

ZABAT: I mean, for me, the Wienermobile was the best year of my life, and I wouldn't have traded it for anything else. I got to learn so much about myself, and I got to learn so much about this entire country by being able to travel to over half of it. Some people think, oh, but I kind of want to have a desk job, or I want to do something else, and I don't want to do just something just for a year. I would say that that'll always be waiting for you when you're done with the Wienermobile.

RASCOE: Well, you are definitely a great representative of the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile, and you just have such a bright spirit. CJ Zabat Jr., thank you so much for talking to us about your days as an Oscar Mayer Wienermobile driver.

ZABAT: Yes. Franks a bunch, Ayesha. And thank you to NPR for having me.

RASCOE: (Laughter).

ZABAT: And hope to see you all real soon. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ayesha Rascoe is a White House correspondent for NPR. She is currently covering her third presidential administration. Rascoe's White House coverage has included a number of high profile foreign trips, including President Trump's 2019 summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, Vietnam, and President Obama's final NATO summit in Warsaw, Poland in 2016. As a part of the White House team, she's also a regular on the NPR Politics Podcast.