Sometimes You Feel Like A Nut; Sometimes You Just Drive One

Jul 28, 2014
Originally published on August 4, 2014 10:01 am

Three recent college graduates are getting paid to take a road trip. The one catch? They have to drive a giant peanut while they do it.

The giant Nutmobile is part of a brand campaign by Planters, the snack food company, which has hired the grads as brand ambassadors to drive it around the country. After all, it takes teamwork to maneuver a 27-foot-long, yellow peanut in shopping mall parking lots. But if you think handling the vehicle sounds tough, there's more.

"Today, I get to walk in the shoes of a 98-year-old American icon," says Meghan Kreuger, one of the Nutmobile's drivers. "I get to greet the customers and Planters fans as Mr. Peanut."

The three team members take turns dressing up in a 7 1/2-foot-tall, yellow, puffy-foam Mr. Peanut costume. It's hot out — over 90 degrees in the sun. But Kreuger is looking forward to it. That's because Mr. Peanut is a silent character.

"It's hard to be 'on' all the time," Kreuger explains. "So, having the Mr. Peanut moment, I can throw a thumbs up and communicate all I want, and I don't need to speak with people."

The team sets up the same event repeatedly, parking at stores, sporting events and concerts. One member dresses up as Mr. Peanut and the other two hand out coupons and samples. There are actually three Nutmobile teams — nine brand ambassadors total — that will be driving around the U.S. for the next year.

These team members beat out thousands of applicants for the job. Melanie Rodriguez, who is from the Rio Grande Valley along the Texas-Mexico border, says this made her family especially proud.

"It's like the little Hispanic girl has made it big," Rodriguez says. "That's great because it's really hard, given the economic status of that area, just to make it out. They're very proud of me and couldn't be happier."

Planters says it hired candidates who were dependable, responsible, outgoing and trustworthy. The three team members count on each other for everything from parking help to social bonding — even to assistance with the Mr. Peanut costume.

Mr. Peanut himself is a dapper fellow. He wears a top hat, a monocle and a snazzy grin. No sooner does he leave the Nutmobile than passersby react with smiles of their own, high-fives — and some concern. Rodriguez even cracks a joke about the heat in the suit: "He's dry-roasted, as we like to say."

While Kreuger gives hugs and poses for social media photo ops, Rodriguez and Mason Kerwick hand out the samples and coupons. Kerwick is also from Texas; he says the brand ambassador gig is perfect because he is hoping for a career in marketing. But he's enjoying the tour while it lasts.

"If the real world is bowling, and you put the bumpers up — this is that job," says Kerwick.

The team members are on their own and have to do grown-up things like expense reports, but they're not going to fall into the proverbial gutter of life's bowling alley just yet.

"We still have that buffer," Kerwick says. "We're not paying rent. We're not having to commute into an office and sit at a desk all day long."

After an hour in the sun, Mr. Peanut takes a break. Rodriguez helps Kreuger take off the costume inside the Nutmobile.

While they do so, Kreuger takes a moment to debrief. "I was waving a lot today," she says. "I'm really working on being more active as a peanut."

As tough as the job can be, there are also perks to roving the country in a giant peanut. Kreuger lived in Wisconsin all her life, and now she gets to see the country for the first time. A few weeks ago, the team had a gig at a stadium outside New York City. The event? A concert headlined by Beyonce and Jay Z.

"We can't honestly complain about any heat or anything for the summer," Kreuger says.

"We went to Beyonce for free. Any minor inconveniences are so small now," Kerwick adds.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

This summer, we're meeting young people who've landed unusual jobs. I should say really unusual jobs. Today we head to New Jersey where reporter Alex Schmidt caught up with three college graduates driving a giant legume.

ALEX SCHMIDT, BYLINE: It takes teamwork to maneuver a 27-foot-long yellow peanut in a Walmart parking lot.

MEGAN KREUGER: I wonder if we can just, like, move up, like, by those flowers?

MASON KERWICK: We just need to move closer.

KREUGER: Yeah.

SCHMIDT: The giant nut-mobile is part of a brand campaign by Planters, the snack food company. They've hired college grads as brand ambassadors to drive it around the country. But if you think maneuvering the vehicle sounds tough, there's more.

KREUGER: So today I get to walk in the shoes of a 98-year-old American icon. So I get to greet the customers and Planters fans as Mr. Peanut.

SCHMIDT: Yes, today it's Megan Kreuger's turn to dress up in the seven and half foot tall, yellow, puffy, foam Mr. Peanut costume. It's hot out - over 90 degrees in the sun. But actually, Kreuger is looking forward to it. That's because Mr. Peanut is a silent character.

KREUGER: It's hard to be on all the time. Like, so having the Mr. Peanut moment is just kind of like I can throw a thumbs-up and, like, communicate as much as I want, but I don't need to actually speak with people.

SCHMIDT: The team sets up the same event over and over. They park at a store, sporting event, concert. One of them dresses up as Mr. Peanut, and the other two hand out coupons and samples. They got the job out of thousands of applicants, which made Melanie Rodriguez's family especially proud. She's from the Rio Grande Valley, near the Texas-Mexico border.

MELANIE RODRIGUEZ: It's like the little Hispanic girl has made it, like, big. And that's great because it's really hard, you know, given the economic status of that area. And just to make it out, they're very proud of me and couldn't be happier.

SCHMIDT: Planters says it hired candidates who were dependable, responsible, outgoing and trustworthy. That last part is especially important. The three team members count on each other for everything from parking help to social bonding to help with the Mr. Peanut costume.

KREUGER: I can't seem to find the zipper part.

SCHMIDT: Mr. Peanut is a dapper fellow. He wears a top hat, monocle, a snazzy grin. No sooner does he leave the nut-mobile than passersby react with smiles of their own, high-fives and some concern.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: It's going to be awful hot in there pretty soon.

RODRIGUEZ: Oh, he's dry roasted. Dry roasted we like to say.

SCHMIDT: While Kreuger hands out hugs and poses for social media perfect photo ops, Rodriguez and Mason Kerwick hand out samples and coupons. Kerwick is from Texas as well, and says the brand ambassador gig is perfect since he's hoping for a career in marketing. But he's enjoying the tour while it lasts.

KERWICK: If the real world is bowling and you put the bumpers up, this is that job.

SCHMIDT: The team have to do grown-up things like expense reports, and they're on their own. But they're not going to fall in the proverbial gutter of life's bowling alley just yet.

KERWICK: We still have that buffer, you know. We're not paying rent. We're not having to commute into an office and sit at a desk all day long.

SCHMIDT: After an hour in the sun, it's time for Mr. Peanut to take a break. Rodriguez quickly helps Kreuger take off the costume inside the nut-mobile.

KREUGER: My arm's getting tired. (Laughing). I was waving a lot today. I'm really working on being more active as a peanut.

SCHMIDT: As tough as the job can be, Kreuger lived in Wisconsin all her life. And now she gets to see the country for the first time. A few weeks ago, the team had a gig at a stadium outside New York City. The event - a Beyonce-Jay-Z concert.

KREUGER: During the concert, we're like, we can't honestly complain about any heat, anything this summer.

KERWICK: Anything. It's like we went to Beyonce for free.

SCHMIDT: Just one of the perks of roving the country in a giant peanut. For NPR News, I'm Alex Schmidt. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.