Monday, June 1, 2009

Stricklands for Burgers?

In May 2003, John Ratzenberger came to Akron to tape a segment of "Made in America," a show for the Travel Channel. When the show aired the following year, it turned out to have a huge blooper. My 2004 story follows.

When John Ratzenberger came to Akron, he got a look at tire-making and a bum tip on food.
Best known for playing Cliff on Cheers, Ratzenberger came to town last May as host and producer of the Travel Channel series John Ratzenberger's Made in America. A segment on the history and making of Goodyear tires will air on the show at 9 p.m. Tuesday.
At the end of the Goodyear segment, Ratzenberger asks chief engineer Bill Egan, "Any good hamburgers nearby?"
"Oh, yes," Egan replies. "We could go to Stricklands."
Egan has since said he meant Swensons, which is known for its hamburgers. Stricklands has a reputation for its custard.
"You know, the end of a long day," Egan said to explain his error. But as someone who has eaten at Swensons, he was embarrassed. "When I first saw (the tape), I thought, 'Oh, that's terrible.' "
Ratzenberger, by the way, said he never got to Stricklands, or Swensons, because he had another commitment. He did get to enjoy the food at another local restaurant, Vaccaro's.
"It was really good," he said in a recent telephone interview from Los Angeles. "The people were really nice. And some of the other patrons sent over a bottle of wine."
The Akron trip was part of a statewide jaunt that also included stops in Dublin (for a look at Barbasol shaving products) and Jackson Center (for Airstream trailers).
"I ended up buying one of the Airstreams," he said. "I know you spend the first half of your life acquiring things and the second half on yard sales. But an Airstream is like a functional piece of art."
He said the same thing about a wooden row boat he bought 20 years ago from Lowell's Boat Shop in Amesbury, Mass. And he loved that boat so much, he made sure Made in America did a segment on the company.
As you can see, the series takes Ratzenberger around the country to visit companies large and small, detailing how things are made and underscoring the actor's own pride in American craftsmanship. Tuesday's show is a valentine to Goodyear.
Ratzenberger said he was fascinated by the story of Charles Goodyear's invention of vulcanized rubber, which began when Goodyear accidentally dropped some rubber on a stove. Made in America lingers over an exhibit marking the event in the World of Rubber museum.
"I'm a fan of garage inventors," Ratzenberger said. "I think that's what built our country."
In the show, he shakes the hand of a Goodyear statue and declares, "Thanks for being so clumsy."
Still, Ratzenberger is a fan of people who work with their hands. He grew up in Bridgeport, Conn., a factory town he said was "very much like Akron."
The factories he remembers from his youth -- plants for firearms, sewing machines and other products -- are gone, he said. But he can still point to an apartment house where he helped put on the roof while working as a carpenter.
"I still have a functioning wood shop in my house," he said. "When my children (now in their teens) were little and asked what I did, they said I was a carpenter. They didn't know I was an actor. I didn't talk about that at home."
The idea that things are made by hard work and industry sometimes gets lost, he said. "Older people understand. But the younger generation thinks things fall from the sky, gift-wrapped."
He said he sees a day when some skills are so rare that "colleges will start teaching auto mechanics and bricklaying."

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