It's not uncommon to travel after graduating from college, but very few see the sights as Danny Holton has for nearly the past year: He's been road-tripping from behind the wheel of a 26-foot-long fiberglass peanut on wheels. Holton, who grew up in Los Altos and graduated from Mountain View High School, has spent the better part of a year traveling the United States as a "Peanutter," a member of the team that drives the Planters NUTmobile.
Holton was in the Bay Area last week with the NUTmobile and spoke with the Mountain View Voice about it -- meeting people around the country, promoting all things nut-related — and making lots of nut puns.
"That's part of the job, too. You have to shell out puns all day," Holton said.
He even has a punny Peanutter name: "Maca-Danny-A."
Holton's interest in becoming a Peanutter sprang from the visit, about three years ago, of the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile -- perhaps the most famous food-themed vehicle -- to a festival at Arizona State University, where he was a business sustainability major.
After speaking to one of the Wienermobile's team members, known as — what else? — Hotdoggers, Holton said the job description inspired him: traveling the country, representing the brand and being a "people person."
He said that he knew right away, "'This is for me. I love people. I love traveling. It's one of those jobs that's too good to be true."
The Wienermobile and the NUTmobile are sister vehicles, as both Oscar Mayer and Planters are owned by the Kraft Heinz company. Holton said he preferred to work as a Peanutter because the NUTmobile has a larger team — three people per vehicle versus the Wienermobile's two — which he said "offers more diversity of ideas." Plus, he said, he loves peanuts and the NUTmobile is "just funkier."
Peanutters are responsible for planning all the events in the cities where they stop, helping devise marketing strategies, keeping the vehicle clean and scheduling its maintenance, and driving the NUTmobile to all of its appearances, which include promotional appearances, as well as community-focused events such as volunteering at local food banks.
"Probably the best part of the job is everywhere we go people, when they see (the NUTmobile), just go 'what is that?'" Holton said, recalling there's always looks of surprise and smiles as the oversized peanut makes its way down the street.
Learning to drive the giant peanut-shaped car involved intensive training with the local police department in Madison, Wisconsin, where Kraft Heinz has facilities.
"It's pretty hilarious because on one day, we have all the NUTmobiles and Wienermobiles in the same parking lot, doing drills," Holton said. With a total of three NUTmobiles in the fleet and six Wienermobiles, that's a lot of giant food on wheels in one spot.
A particularly tough drill, known as the Lincoln Tunnel, places two lines of cones just inches from either side of the vehicle and requires Peanutters to drive the NUTmobile backwards for about 100 yards without knocking over any cones — a feat they have to repeat three times.
When taking the giant peanut out on the open road, just about everybody honks at it, Holton said, which takes getting used to.
"If you're driving a normal car, you'd think you did something wrong, but it's truly just people saying hello," he said.
Holton, who became a Peanutter in July 2020, said his time with the NUTmobile was cut a little short due to the pandemic, as Peanutters' contracts usually run for a year starting each June.
The usual interactions between the public and the NUTmobile, like everything else, have looked different in the past year. Appearances need to be socially distanced and rides in the NUTmobile — already rare pre-pandemic due to time constraints at each stop — weren't really possible, though they have now resumed.
"Some of the best times are when we do drive-bys. So that's when we give people rides around town," Holton said. "Last weekend we had a bunch of artists in Los Angeles, and they loved it."
The 2020-21 tour has also been unusual in that, for about half the time on the road, Holton and his fellow Peanutters were without a certain monocled mascot, whose absence has been noted by fans at NUTmobile appearances, he said.
Planters "killed off" its centenarian mascot, Mr. Peanut, in 2020 in a heroic blaze of glory during a Superbowl ad. However, his reincarnation, Baby Nut, soon sprouted up, in an elaborate origin story involving the tears of the Kool-Aid Man.
During the first half of Holton's tour, Baby Nut, who later "grew" into the teenaged Peanut Jr., was simply too young to meet his adoring public. The official story? A growing legume needs his rest.
"So a lot of people were upset because they thought that we were just lazy, we didn't want to bring him out. We were not, he just wasn't grown up yet — you gotta follow the story," Holton said.
Now Mr. Peanut is fully grown and back on the road with the NUTmobile. Like any good celebrity handler worth his salt, Holton is cagey about the specifics of Mr. Peanut's whereabouts, but does acknowledge that Peanutters' "mascot duties" are also back.
In addition to appearances out in the community, when time allows, the NUTmobile makes visits to private homes as well.
"It's really special, especially this year during COVID, we've done a lot more of those because there's not as many big events. That's how it's been really different this year because we can't do the ball games or big fairs, we're really going to do small scale. (We were thinking), 'How can we make people just as happy, but in a different way?'" Holton said.
Over last summer, the NUTmobile made a lot of appearances at events such as high school graduation parties, bringing some cheer when typical in-person ceremonies weren't possible.
"We get to be a part of the celebration for people, you get to share that experience and be out with them and laughing with the family," Holton said.
Once Holton's Peanutting duties are completed in June, he's considering several options, including teaching English abroad, potentially in Thailand, or continuing to work with Kraft Heinz, helping with the NUTmobile program or down the road, pursuing work in the corporate responsibility field with the company.
"It's still in the works, I'm still thinking about that," he said of his plans.
For more information about the NUTmobile, visit planters.com.