A reporter's dream assignment on the iconic Oscar Mayer Wienermobile – USA TODAY

On a gruelingly hot July day, I sat waiting in the lobby of USA TODAY’s Washington, D.C., bureau. When a large flash of orange and yellow passed by the front window, I knew my ride had arrived.
My transportation for the day: the famous Oscar Mayer Wienermobile. I was setting out to meet the people — aka Hotdoggers — who drive the 27-foot long, 6-ton novelty vehicle.
Writing about a giant hot dog on wheels is not a normal assignment for me. I’m a breaking news reporter, and there’s no shortage of tragedy and heartache in the stories I usually write. Some examples of my recent work: a damaging investigation into the Uvalde school shootingthe Russian invasion of Ukraine; and a profile of the victims of a deadly Fourth of July shooting
I pitched the idea because I thought it would make our readers — and myself — smile. I’d always been fascinated with the novelty cars and the timing was perfect, as the Wienermobile just so happened to be stopping in D.C.
Who drives the Wienermobile? Inside the bun-believable lives of novelty car drivers.
So that’s how I found myself being chauffeured around by Hotdoggers Chaddar Cheese and Chili Cheez Keagz (real names Chad Colgrove and Keagan Schlosser), the “Cheesy East” Coast team for Oscar Mayer who wore matching red and yellow tracksuits with fanny packs — one of their many pieces of Wienermobilia.
They shuttled our photographer Josh Morgan and I into the car through the Back-to-the-Future-style doors of the Wienermobile. I was offered the spot of “shot-bun” in the front and reminded to buckle my “meat-belt.”
The car was decked floor to ceiling in Oscar Mayer red and yellow with numerous hot dog accents including a red ketchup walkway complete with a streak of mustard, seats embroidered with Wienermobile motifs, and a ceiling painted to look like a clear, blue sky since it’s “always sunny in the Wienermobile!” 
There’s a certain childlike, giddy joy that comes from being a pedestrian and seeing a giant hot dog driving down city streets. As we passed families of tourists, people walking their dogs and commuting businesspeople, it was hard for them not to stop what they were doing to wave at the Hotdoggers or snap a photo on their phones.
The challenge of the afternoon proved to be parking. The giant car wasn’t easy to find space for in the city, so we attempted to navigate to the Virginia suburbs, finding ourselves down by the National Mall on the way. The two drivers use an app built for truckers to find routes more suited to the Wienermobile.
As we navigated tight corners on busy district streets, I asked the Hotdoggers how stressful it was to drive the car given its size. Both drivers, who are 22, don’t need a special license.
“It’s very aero-dogmatic,” Colgrove quipped. 
But about 30 minutes in, our drive near the National Mall was suddenly disrupted by the sound of a police siren — we were getting pulled over. 
Colgrove assured me it happens every so often. “We call them ‘whistle stops’,” he said. 
A Park Police officer pulled the vehicle over for driving on a restricted roadway without a permit. He said he would be doing a Department of Transportation inspection of the Wienermobile.
The scene was surreal — a giant, famous hot dog pulled over by police on the National Mall, in plain view of the U.S. Capitol building. Even passersby couldn’t help but point out the hilarity, and one asked, “Are you guys under arrest?”
The officer instructed Colgrove to test the taillights, windshield wipers and other functions. But in an anxious hurry to flip switches, Colgrove accidentally pressed the wrong button — the one that triggered the car to play the iconic Oscar Mayer Wienermobile tune.
“Oh I wish I were an Oscar Mayer wiener, that is what I’d truly like to be…” 
The mistake unfortunately did not elicit a laugh from Park Police, but the Hotdoggers ended up leaving without a ticket, just a warning to stay off federal roads.
(But, the officer was smiling by the end of the stop and he even took a free “wiener whistle.” Before we pulled away he took a picture.)
I was quite stunned by the interaction, concerned that our presence for the interview led to a stressful and possibly punishing interaction with police. But I was even more surprised by the Hotdoggers’ unfazed demeanor: they “relished” our time together and shook off the pullover with jokes and a smile.
The levity brought me a much-needed change of pace amid the frequently depressing national news cycle. 
After my day in the sun with the giant hot dog, I will be making a conscious effort to search out more opportunities to smile, just as the Hotdoggers do.
Cady Stanton is a breaking news reporter at USA TODAY. Follow her on Twitter: @cady_stanton

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