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[whitespace] Grad takes Wienermobile for a year-long spin around U.S.

Los Gatos--For most recent college graduates, that first year out of school is one of the worst--a bewildering stumble into the undiscovered country somewhere between a steady paycheck and a career.

Jodi Rabitz, on the other hand, spent the past year driving around the in the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile.

"I got to see the country through the eyes of a hot dog," she says, sitting in the driver's seat of the behemoth wiener.

Rabitz, 23, has the big dog parked in the driveway at the Los Gatos home of her parents, Gladie and Arthur Rabitz, where there's a big backyard barbecue featuring the eponymous meat products. It's one stop on an improbable odyssey that's taken Rabitz and three other "Hotdoggers" across 22 states in the past year.

Rabitz, who earned her degree in business marketing from the University of Colorado-Boulder last year, got the job after she was picked as one of 30 grads out of 2,000 for one of six Wienermobile teams that crisscrossed the country last summer.

Together, they auditioned more than 40,000 kids for the wiener jingle and the bologna song, and handed out thousands of wiener whistles and toy Wienermobiles. After that, the company kept her on for a whole year on one of three teams promoting a Second Harvest food drive in 200 cities.

From California to Florida, from Wisconsin to Louisiana, the team covered 50,000 miles, driving through rain, sleet, snow, wind, and one of the hottest summers on record in Texas. But it wasn't always fun: the 27-foot, 10,000 pound wiener doesn't have air conditioning, and it did break down a few times.

But everywhere they went, people waved and smiled, and even told stories about seeing older Wienermobiles when they were kids.

"You really notice when everyone's honking and waving," Rabitz says. "So now, when I get in a regular car, I still want to honk and wave. Then I realize I'm way too used to it." So much so, in fact, she's even had dreams about driving it.

"The best part is the reaction you get," she says. "You could be in the worst mood when you start driving, and then you wave to five people and you're having a great day again."

On a typical day, the team is up at 7 or 8 a.m., then out on the road to either an all-day event like a fair, festival or sporting event or two events at stores or shopping centers.

After that, they still have to find dinner and a motel, then take care of the paperwork. To stay in touch with corporate headquarters in Wisconsin, each Wienermobile team is outfitted with a pager and cell phone, plus a laptop with a modem for filing status reports from the road.

When the internship ends in June, Rabitz isn't sure what's next for her, but she is certain that the experience changed her life. "The job just opened my eyes to so many different kinds of people and places," she says.

One thing she did learn is that she wants to keep traveling--and that's the first thing she'll do, starting with a seven-week trip to Australia this summer.

After that, Rabitz plans to start looking for a marketing job--hopefully sports marketing, she says--but whatever it is, Rabitz wants something where she's in the business world but not something "too corporate America-serious."
Jeff Kearns

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