(From the April 2, 2012, issue of Rubber & Plastics News)
AKRON—It's been many years since Akron could lay claim to being the undisputed “Rubber Capital of the World.”
Google the term and the top search findings still are references to the city. But even Akron's official website says the city was “once known as the Rubber Capital of the World.” In the next sentence, the city emphasizes it now is a top center for polymer research, boasting of the roughly 400 polymer-related companies located in the area.
If you get nostalgic for the good old days, however, you can take comfort that at least television still views Akron in its past glory. Specifically, the show “Hot in Cleveland” aired an episode a few weeks ago called “Rubber Ball,” that centered on Akron and the rubber industry.
For those not familiar with the show, it stars Valerie Bertinelli as one of three friends in their 40s and 50s from Los Angeles who somehow get sidetracked to Cleveland. They decide to stay when they discover that women their age still are considered “hot,” unlike in LA where youth rules. The show's gotten extra buzz because Betty White, enjoying a career renaissance in recent years, has a supporting role.
Airing on cable's TV Land channel, the show tries hard to include Cleveland references in most episodes, with mentions of the city's sports teams quite common. Bertinelli even has ties in real life to the area, married to a man from the Akron suburb of Cuyahoga Falls.
In the “Rubber Ball” episode, the show takes this tack to Cleveland's neighbor to the south, peppering it with mentions of the Firestone, Goodyear and Goodrich “families.” Jon Lovitz guest-stars as Artie Firestone IV, and there's a reference to a Barney Goodrich.
The plot has the three women wanting to join the Firestone Country Club as a way to meet rich men. Of course, there are plenty of “rubber” jokes included in the script. For example, upon reading the membership list, one quips, “Forget Porsches. We could be dating men who own their own blimps.”
When finding they can attend the Rubber Ball that weekend for a mere $5,000 each, Bertinelli's character answers, “Maybe we can pay with a rubber check.” Many of the jokes are double-entendres involving the word “bounce,” with punch lines that can only be carried off by veterans like White and Ed Asner, another guest star.
Yes, there actually was a Rubber Ball in Akron. The rubber barons and their guests wore clothes made of rubber at the long-ago charity event at the old Mayflower Hotel.
It was a bit more lavish than a sitcom set can replicate. If nothing else, though, the show pays homage to the Akron of old, if just for one night.
Meyer is the managing editor of Rubber & Plastic News.