Sunday, July 12, 2009 By Aaron Brown
The Wienermobile rides full circle
By Aaron J. Brown
You may have heard that the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile was in northern Minnesota recently. Specifically it arrived in Grand Rapids a week ago, opening all sorts of jokes about wieners and the parts of the Iron Range west of here. I shall not partake. The main idea is that the symbol of America’s love affair with vague meat products (or at least we are told it is meat) was here. Or at least near here. Near enough to drive.
My wife and I brought the kids. I wish I could say this was just some novelty event for the children, but for me it was more than that.
It all began in the 1988. I was a second grader at the old Forbes Elementary south of Mt. Iron, loosely Southeast of Hibbing, the last year the school was open. I entered the Weekly Reader National Invention Contest. For those not familiar, Weekly Reader is a kids’ news publication tailored to social studies and English curriculum in schools across the country. With each advancing year kids get more news with bigger words until eventually the kids read newspapers online, strangling the news industry with their lack of paid print subscriptions. It’s the circle of life, Simba. The circle of life.
Anyway, it’s important to note that in 1988 seatbelt safety was not what it is today. Here on the Iron Range, car safety – including seat belts, child car seats, and functional catalytic converters – was a thing of fancy, something for the city folk. This was certainly true of my family living on our family-owned Iron Range junkyard. Sometimes I would ride to functions in the “way back” of our station wagon sitting on a bean bag. I suppose the bean bag would have helped in a crash, at least more so than a giant stone or sack of nails. But in terms of what the old gray-haired vaguely famous guy on TV would say in 1988, the situation was unsafe. Buckle up, we should have.
My invention was a seatbelt cover that would encourage kids to buckle up. On one side would be an image like a dog or duck. On the other would be a doghouse or pond, respectively. The kids would have no choice but to put the dog to the doghouse, the duck to the pond. We were kids. We always responded to the satisfaction of pleasing our elders. Or at least I did. And anyway, I won. I got called to the principal’s office, no small thing for an upstanding nerd, for a phone call from a kindly gentleman informing me of my prize. My family and I would travel to Washington, D.C., to meet with our senators and congressman, to tour the capital city, and to receive numerous accolades from the American inventors’ community.
That was all nice. What really got my attention was the proposition that we then head to New York, to appear on “Late Night with David Letterman” as a “kid inventor” but then, for the real prize, appear in a New York parade riding in the Wienermobile. Me, a working class kid from the Iron Range, would blah blah blah blah RIDE IN THE WIENERMOBILE!
Unfortunately, there was a Writers Guild strike in 1988 that cancelled that particular episode of the Letterman show, thus cancelling my appearance in the Wienermobile. I did go to Washington, D.C., in a trip that I later learned would change my life, to see the capitol dome, to stand in the House chambers, to see a world beyond my own, a trip that would set my sites higher than the junkyard. I’m really grateful for that, but my 1988 kid self still laments the loss of that Wienermobile ride.
Until last week. I took my family to see the Wienermobile in the parking lot of a grocery store in Grand Rapids. It was great. Maybe you didn’t know this, but the workmanship on the Wienermobile is really spectacular. It is truly a sleek, shiny hot dog on wheels capable of highway speeds.
However, I share the complaint of my four-year-old son Henry. Why didn’t they let us ride in that Wienermobile? That would have been awesome.
Aaron J. Brown is a columnist for the Hibbing Daily Tribune. Contact him or read more at his blog MinnesotaBrown.com. His book “Overburden: Modern Life on the Iron Range” is out now.