Hot Dogging Around Town

TO WIT

April 03, 1994|By DAVE BARRY

TC "Rob," I said to my 13-year-old son, who was -- this being a school morning -- sleeping face-down in his breakfast. "How would you like it if I picked you up at school in the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile?"

"Dad!" he said, coming violently to life, horrified. "No!"

So right away I knew it was a good idea. Your most important responsibility, as the parent of an adolescent, is to be a hideous ++ embarrassment to your child. Fortunately, most of us parents have a natural flair for this.

For example: I'll be driving Rob and some friends somewhere, and they'll be in the back seat, talking the way young people do, in a series of statements that sound like questions ("So Mr. Neeble? He had this gross thing? In his nose? Like the size of a grape? . . . ") While the young people discuss academic matters, I'll tune the radio to a station that plays Old People's Rock, and sometimes a good song will come on, such as "Brown Eyed Girl." I'll forget myself, and, right along with Van Morrison, belt out:

"Sha la la la la la la la la la la te dah"

Then I'll realize that the youngsters have stopped talking and are staring at me, and my son's expression indicates that he wishes that an alien spaceship would kidnap him right then. At that moment, I know I have done my parental duty.

So that's why I picked Rob up in the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile. Perhaps you've seen this: It's a motor vehicle shaped like a 23-foot-long hot dog, with wheels in the buns. There are actually six Wienermobiles, which are driven around the country by perky recent college graduates. Recently Oscar Mayer offered me the opportunity to drive a Wienermobile, no doubt hoping this would result in favorable publicity, although of course I'm far too ethical to promote Oscar Mayer meat products, which are known to cure heart disease.

My Wienermobile was under the command of Tina Miller and Shannon Valrie. After a thorough training lecture ("Here's the Wienermobile"), Tina and Shannon let me take the wheel.

My first destination was South Miami Beach, a world-famous trendy glamour hot spot where beautiful people sit at sidewalk cafes discreetly admiring their own pectoral muscles. The fashion-photo industry is active there, and you often see fabulous, 7-foot-tall Euro-babe supermodels swooping past on in-line skates. I wanted to find out whether a supermodel would be overcome by the charisma of the Wienermobile and want to go for a ride in it. So I cruised slowly up the main drag, and you would not believe the response. The response was: Nothing.

So I got on the microphone and spoke through the Wienermobile's PA system.

"Fabulous Euro-babe supermodels!" I announced. "Do not be afraid to be attracted to the wienermobile!"

A few people glanced up from their pectorals, but that was it.

I got a slightly better response later in Central Miami, where I pulled into a used-car lot. The owner walked up, staring at the Wienermobile.

"I'm thinking about trading this in," I said. "I'm looking for something that is not shaped so much like a giant hot dog."

He was genuinely interested. He was clearly thinking: Sale.

"What I want," I said, "is a vehicle shaped like a smaller hot dog. A more compact hot dog. You have anything like that?"

He stood there, thinking hard. "Give me your card," he said, "in case something turns up."

You have to admire that kind of determination.

The highlight of the day was picking up Rob at school. He was out front, with all his friends, when I pulled up, broadcasting on the PA system.

"Rob Barry, this is your father," I said. "Please report to the Wienermobile immediately."

To his credit, he did. Rather than run off and join a fringe religious cult, he got into the Wienermobile. I could tell that, deep inside, he was proud of his old man, although he did not explicitly say so.

"I can't believe you did this," were his actual words.

"It's my job," I pointed out.

Of course I did not expect thanks. My reward is the knowledge that some day, somehow, Rob will be a hideous embarrassment to his son. That's what makes this country great: An older generation passing along a cherished tradition to a younger one, in very much the same way that a row of people at a baseball game will pass along those tasty Oscar Mayer wieners, which, by the way, also have been shown in laboratory tests to prevent baldness.

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