It was a rainy late afternoon, work was done early for the day, and a trip to the local lounge was clearly in order before heading home for dinner with the wife and kids. I pull up to my local brick and mortar, dash in from my car to avoid getting too drenched, and push past the front door where the all-too-wonderful lounge aromas greet me with their regular enthusiasm. Ahh, the sacred haven away from home where I truly feel relaxed and where all is right with the world!
The tobacconist at the counter greets me with her ever cheerful hello. “Hey Jody!” I reply as I make my way to the walk-in humidor. That first step into this particular part of the shop is still such a quiet thrill for me. I always pause for a brief moment to take in that cool, humid, cedar blast that waits to flood my senses as I come into this holy of holies. And there they all are! Shelf after shelf of meticulously prepared delicacies, each one more enticing than the last. Sultry, oily maduro wrappers glisten in the humidor lights. Soft and baby smooth shade wrapped sticks promise gentility and subtlety. Deep nutbrown stogies with whimsical pig tail caps suggest a boisterous personality. Just walking around in here gets me in a good mood with all the sights and smells to be savored.
Now, time to focus and make the proper selection for the day. Something a little strong, but not too spicy is what I have in mind. I do not really feel like alcohol as my pairing for today, but a nice hot cup of coffee really sounds appealing right now. I want to therefore pick up a stick that would marry well to the hot brew. I agonize a bit over the process, but finally decide on the JFR Lunatic Torch. A very robust stick with reliably pleasing flavor, great balance, and lots of character with an exposed shag foot. I carefully lift a good looking one from the box of its brothers and take it to Jody at the counter to pay before sliding gratefully into the well-furnished lounge.
This being a weekday, there are just a few other patrons already indulging in their smoky bliss: a handful regulars who are here every damn time I walk in, a couple of newbies struggling to look like they have smoked more than twice in their lives, and one older gentleman who I do not recognize in the corner looking very comfortable but somewhat lonely. I snip the cap off my stogie with care as I ponder where to take my seat and turn to pour a cup of java elixir at the beverage counter. This lounge, as all good lounges, always has complimentary coffee and iced tea available for their customers. I grip the unlit stick in my teeth and walk past the two newbies, giving them a nod and an “afternoon, gents”. This is something I try to do when I notice new smokers at a shop. I was of course a new smoker once upon a time and having a seasoned regular register my existence with a greeting went a long way with me feeling more comfortable in the lounge. Thus, I said hello to these dudes which immediately makes them look far more natural and relaxed.
I eventually make my way to an aged and well-worn leather chair — still comfortable despite its obvious experience — diagonal from the lonely looking senior smoker. I torch my cigar gently, take my first puffs and gently lean back in my seat to recalibrate my view of the lounge. After a few moments I casually look over to the older gentleman on my left and start the conversation with the old reliable, “What are you smoking today, sir?” He cheerfully responds with his choice: the Fuente Curly Head. This eases into further conversation about other sticks we both like, where we live, what we do, where we’ve been, and so on and so on for another 90 minutes. His name is Manny, he has two grown children, is divorced, worked as a manufacturer for 39 years and lives alone, retired, often with too much time on his hands. All this came out effortlessly, organically and comfortably without fear of judgement or disdain.
Interspersed in my chat with Manny, I cannot but help overhear the adjacent conversation of the five regulars to my left. This one was political in nature, focusing on an often controversial figure. While clearly on opposite sides of the spectrum, the conversation was robust and blunt. Not quite heated, but definitely spirited. No consensus was ever really reached, except that they all still liked and respected each other despite the myriad variances in their political persuasions, allegiances, and affiliations.
It struck me at this point just how what treasures cigar lounges are to us. It’s not just a place to purchase our favorite tobacco products, but a genuine sanctum of solace. A small palace of unparalleled trust in each other and enjoyment of their company. Nowhere else have I found complete strangers volunteering their life stories, or political identities clashing without hatred, or even just the relaxed joy of people sharing with others the things that they hold dear. This is arguably the last place of authentic civility in today’s society, where all patrons approach their fellow man with respect, honor and love. Understanding that the common ground of their love of the leaf supersedes any other differences and renders them largely irrelevant.
That is what the smell of cigar smoke means to me; it is the smell of peace, of love and fraternity. This is the treasure that brick and mortar shops offer us, and we must guard and revere them accordingly. Cigar lounges desperately need us to survive, that is clear. More importantly, we too would be lost as a society without them and the bliss they afford us – all of us – without regard for what world we each step out of when we step into the shop.