Medvick brought the Wienermobile to Storrs earlier this year and gave her advisors, theater professors Lindsay Cummings and Michael Bradford, a ride. "They were so influential in me getting this job. They believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself," says Medvick.
Gabriella Medvick ’18 (SFA), aka Grillin’ Gabz, was one of the 12 lucky hotdoggers hired to cruise the 27-foot-long bright yellow and orange Oscar Mayer Wienermobile cross country for the past year. So far she’s driven from Texas to Maine at speeds up to 75 m.p.h. (abiding by the speed limit of course) to get the word out about Oscar Meyer’s new preservative- and nitrate-free hot dogs. Before hitting the road, Medvick took serious driving lessons at “Hot Dog High” in Madison, Wisconsin, where she also learned more than a few hot dog puns. We caught up with her when the tour brought her back to UConn. As the first alum to be hired for this position, Medvick says she couldn’t wait to show UConn Nation her new set of wheels and ketchup with her fellow Huskies. “My UConn education was so hands-on — it gave me the right experience to cut the mustard and drive the Wienermobile,” she says.
Being one of only 12 lucky dogs picked to drive the Wienermobile this year makes you a real wiener. How many applicants were there?
There were more than 3,000 applicants last year!
How did you learn about the job? Was it something you always relished doing?
I found out about the hotdogger position when I was 12 and I saw the Wienermobile with my mom for the first time. Ever since then it has been something that, quite frankly, I’ve always wanted to do.
When was the Wienermobile born?
Be frank, there must be some mishaps driving a 27-foot long hotdog? What’s the craziest thing that has happened on the road?
I remember we were in New York to do an interview with the Major League Baseball Network and we gave a ride to hosts Lauren Shehadi and Harold Reynolds on the Wienermobile. We opened the sun roof and started singing “Take Me Out to The Ballgame” through a microphone as we were driving. It was cool because they’re so popular in the New York area and people immediately recognized them. But driving through the streets of New York was crazy from start to finish. The streets were so narrow and there were so many people and cars. It was different since 95% percent of our driving is done on highways or residential streets where there are no people and not many cars. While at Hot Dog High, they warned us about this situation, but in New York we finally experienced it in real life. And we came out accident free.
What kind of training did you receive at Hot Dog High?
Our driver’s training starts off with two weeks at Hot Dog High with Madison, Wisconsin, PD who taught us how to drive the 27-foot long hotdog. One of the ways they try to recreate cityscapes is by having us drive through the middle of University of Wisconsin Madison Campus where there are plenty of students. This trains you to watch for people crossing, the bike lane and so many other things. It’s not identical to New York, but it’s nice that they tried to set us up for it.
What’s the weirdest thing you learned at Hot Dog High?
How to measure things in hot dogs! The Wienermobile’s dogmensions are 27 ft tall, 11 ft high, and 8ft wide. In hot dogs that’s 60 hot dogs long, 24 hot dogs high, 18 hot dogs wide. It also weighs 140,000 hot dogs.
Did you undergo pun training?
We love to talk in puns — it’s buns and buns of fun! Throughout our training we had a presentation about puns and one day was even dedicated to just learning how to talk about the Wienermobile. After a few days, the puns just start to come naturally.
What was it like to return to UConn on your new set of wheels?
It definitely was one of my biggest dreams since I got involved with the Wienermobile. I was able to show it to my advisors, Lindsay Cummings and Michael Bradford, from the Theatre Department and even give them a ride. They helped me write my cover letter, edit my resume and overall were so influential in me getting this job. They believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself — especially since I was in the theatre program, seeking a PR position.
Your UConn education was no baloney. How did it help you score this job?
Every door was open for me at UConn, if I wanted it to be. Beyond educational experience, I gained life experience. I worked for Connecticut Repertory Theatre in their seam shop and shows, at an on-campus restaurant and as the baton twirler with the UConn Marching Band, where you must always be ready to talk to people. It’s just like that with the Wienermobile. You’re pretty noticeable when you drive a 27-foot long hot dog, people definitely want to talk to you.
Are there any skills you learned being a baton twirler that now transfer to being a hotdogger?
In band it’s all about putting on a show and pleasing the crowd. It’s the same with the Wienermobile. We get to do a lot of parades and have to interact with the crowd. The confidence the marching band instilled in me definitely transfers to my job now. But also, all the other skills you get from band like hard work, persistence, and time management, all transfer to a job like this where you’re away from home full time.
What locations have you been able to visit so far? Which was the most bunderful?
My first task included covering the south, anywhere between Tennessee and Texas. Then I moved to the northeast from Ohio up to New England and as low as Maryland. The most special place I’ve been to so far has actually been back home to Ridgefield, Ohio. I got to take the Wienermobile during Christmas and show my entire family, who has been so supportive of me being on the road and just giving me up once again since I also left to go to UConn.
Your family was on board with this job?
I think there was a touch of apprehension since it’s just me and a partner driving a giant vehicle across the country. What parent wouldn’t be apprehensive? But they were super supportive and have taken advantage of it. Whenever I’ve gone somewhere cool that my mom or grandma hasn’t been, they come to spend time with me. At Thanksgiving my mom came to New Orleans and then we spent my mom’s birthday in Louisville, Kentucky. So, I think they’re going to miss the opportunity to crash at my hotels with me.
I imagine being on the road can sometimes be the wurst. What do you do on your days off?
Something I dedicate a lot of time to is reading and working out since it’s a reminder of things I would do at home. I’ll find a workout or yoga class. We also love to explore every city we’re in. Right now, we’re in Allentown, Pennsylvania so we just went to their local farmers market. When we were in Hartford, we made sure we went to Milkcraft for ice cream.
What’s the most challenging part about being a Hotdogger?
Constantly being on the road away from home. It’s so different from college where you can just walk out the door and see someone you know. The hardest days to get through are when all my family is together in Ohio and I’m not. Recently it was my grandma’s birthday and they had a huge party. Meanwhile, I was doing another grocery store event. I love my job, but there are just days where I would rather be home.
Do people’s reaction to the Wienermobile cut the mustard?
People always smile. My favorite is when people tell us how they remember the first time they saw the Wienermobile three years ago or when they were a little kid and they can’t believe it’s still around. Some tell us they drove two hours just to come see us because it was on their bucket list. You feel like you made their life better and all you did was drive a giant hot dog.
Do you often find yourself in a pickle trying to find parking? Or stuck in traffic?
You have to call ahead and ask if places have big parking lots. Being stuck in traffic is more entertaining in the Wienermobile because you can look around and see people’s reactions to being stopped next to a giant weenie. For the most part we have fewer problems driving than people expect since we’re the same size as most RVs.
What does a typical work day look like for you to make sure the Wienermobile stays on a roll?
We oversee everything from maintenance of the Wienermobile to television appearances. So a typical work day for us includes going to our events, which could be anything from a grocery store, car show, parade or festival. We also reach out to local media in the town we’re in and ask them if we can be in their newspaper or news segment with the Wienermobile. We book all our own hotels and look up our routes to make sure we can go on certain roads. We have to take it in every 45 days for preventative maintenance, just like anyone else gets their oil changed and checked every couple months. We also have to make sure the Wienermobile stays clean. We have a vacuum on the Wienermobile and we have several outlets inside, which is a really cool feature. We also have to wash the outside since it’s 11 feet tall and we don’t fit in car washes. Sometimes it’s a bucket of soapy water in a hotel parking lot. We always have to make sure our weenie shines.
What does the top dog on the road look like on the inside?
We have six captain seats, we’ve spilled a little mustard on the floor, but if you look up it’s always blue skies on the Wienermobile. If you’re looking to get one of those iconic wiener whistles you can always check the inside of our bun box. The best feature of the Wienermobile is the horn that plays the beginning of the “Oh I wish” jingle. I knew the jingle beforehand, but it’s something we all have to practice before hitting the Hot Dog Highways.
I’ve heard the public can “lease” the Wienermobile on Twitter. How can a hot-dog lover get to ride shotbun?
You can request the Wienermobile at events and every year Oscar Mayer hosts a couple social media contests where winners get to ride in the Wienermobile. I got to give a ride to a family in Port St. Joe, Florida, whose town had been devastated by Hurricane Michael.
What are your plans after leaving the days of Grillin Gabz behind you this summer?
Those are going to be some hard days. But I would definitely like to get into something within public relations, especially in the entertainment field. I’m open to any adventure — kind of how I ended up here. As my year comes to a close, I am constantly reminded that this was and still is, my dream job. It was only made possible by my friends, family, and education at UConn. Especially the love and support of my biggest cheerleaders, my mom and grandma, and the unending guidance from my advisors in academics and life, professors Lindsay Cummings and Michael Bradford.
By camilla vallejo ’19 (CLAS)
Photo By Peter Morenus