Monthly Archives: June 2016

When?esday.

clear traffic

I’m in Plainfield, Indiana, about 35 minutes south of Indianapolis.  I stop here because it’s out of the way and rather peaceful.  I stayed once in downtown Indy and I was so disappointed I vowed never to do it again.  Cramped rooms, noise all through the night and a huge bill at the end of the stay.  Not at all worth it.

Normally something of interest happens during the day where I can glean a post from.  But today was just plain blah.  I suppose you could say that I had a smooth trip down here.  Very little traffic.  But what’s newsy about that?

Too, I came here to fulfill my monthly obligation to see all my shops at least six times a year come hell or high water.  I did that, save for a few that are on the edge of extinction.

the cigar box

I did make the trip to visit The Cigar Box on Shadeland Avenue in Indy.  I’ve been trying to get a cigar into that shop for the longest time, but the owner is a bit on the traditional side so what I show him has little interest.  But lately his son has been at the shop and he, by far, has become the voltage to movement to speed up the shop’s acquisition of new, boutique cigars.

So I went to see him and he’s very interested in the Leaf by Oscar, plus a few of the other brands that I represent.  But, as I suspected he had to run it by his Dad and who knows what his answer will be.  But, this is the closest I have gotten to get my cigars in the humidor and this time I think the influence of his son will be a primary factor in a positive decision.  But still no sale.

And I suppose the fact that another shop took on the Daddy Mac is a good sign that the stick has begun to reach the public in more ways than I could ever manage.  In short, the owner heard about the cigar from a guy who tried it in a shop close to Kentucky.  I could tell there was interest when the owner read the material and took the cigar in hand and gave it the once over.

“I’ll take this.”  I was surprised.  Usually I hand out the samples and the visit is over.  Today that didn’t occur another good sign that things are changing in the Hoosier State.

I’m drinking a Pepsi at a Taco Bell on Michigan.  I’m not supposed to have caffeine because it gets me jittery.  But sometimes I do things that are not allowed.  It makes life interesting.  And the jitters do eventually go away.

me drivingA few glitches along the way, one owner was supposed to be there from 11 until close but the sign on the door lists the hours from 2pm until 11pm.  It was 2:30 when I got there. Where the hell is he?  I tapped on the window several times and looked in.  But the place was dark.

It’s stuff like this that permeates the day and you just have to go with the flow.  I used to take it personally but I could give a shit now.  I do my due diligence i.e. scheduling and calling and if the party I have an appointment with is unable to make it, that’s life.  My percentage is pretty good, but no one has a perfect record.  No one!

So I’ll head to the hotel and get supper probably KFC.  The pot pie is the best.  Less greasey more flavor, come back , and write this.  This is the life of a cigar broker folks.  It isn’t all glitzy, sitting around smoking cigars and bullshitting the day away.  Even if it were, that would drive me to a rubber room after a while, that can get mighty boring, especially when you’ve been traveling for about four hours to get to your first destination.  And please don’t give me that asinine phrase, “Living the Dream.”

espinosa

So I may have a cigar later tonight and I may go out of the country in my imagination.  I’d tell you where, but I want to be incognito, I may wear my sunglasses (like anyone will recognize me in Moscow).  It’s like at the IPCPR.  I have no problem leaving the convention center at 5pm and going back to my hotel room, getting freshened up a bit and finding a quiet place to relax to smoke a cigar.  It’s the way I’m wired (some would say, “very tight…”).  But Party, party, party?  Naw.  That gets old.  Introspection is what makes the mind absorb energy and become stimulated and renewed.

I wish I had a joke to tell you – or something fantabulous, but I don’t.

 

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Decisions Are Just That!

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Making choices in this business is oftimes easy and other times quite difficult.  This morning was a stress-free choice.  I have been altering my schedule daily since my wife’s surgery.  There are days when she needs me to stay with her a bit longer and other days when she’s kicking me out of the house.  Today was developing into the former not the latter.

It happens – these changes.  I’m not a 9 to 5 type individual, never have been never will be.  I always get whatever it is I need to get completed done – regardless of the time it takes to do it – with exceptions of course.  Schedules be damned.

This a.m., after the AC guy left, I noticed it was getting quite late.  So, I had to make a choice.  There are two shops in question.  Do I visit shop one where the manager has been a bit noncommittal, or do I stay in the office an extra hour and a half to finalize a huge order for shop two that has been pending for several months but one that I’m 99% sure will come to fruition?

conference call

I decide to take the ninety minutes and use them to polish up the orders and make them ready for shop two.  It only made sense to me.  So I called the owner, followed up on the email I sent last night and he suggested we have a conference call to go over each and every order to clarify and answer any questions that have been hanging in the wind since the originals were written so many months ago.

 

After quite a while on the phone going over the particulars, we scheduled a meeting for Friday.  Now on that same day, I already have an appointment for a morning meeting with another store owner way down south.  Way down south.  The other fellow I just spoke to has his shop way up north.  Do I really need to go this distance?  I could have made the meeting on another day – when it’s convenient.  But any good broker will tell you, you have to strike while the iron is hot (bad cliché) and literally go the distance (another horrible cliché).  But remember the Blue Vasers.  (Look it up.  Not a cliché).

Really I’m not doing anything that unusual.  Anyone in our line of work, who is worth his or her salt, will go the extra mile to please the customer.  And this is what you do again, and again, and again, and again to make the transaction simple and the customer happy.  It’s like trying to make soup with no broth.  It can’t be done.  And if you did try, the end result would be a glump of greasy goo that tastes terrible and looks bad – i.e. reschedule for convenience.

turkey lunchSo, I’m finishing this post up in the morning.  It’s gotten so late that I will have lunch here at the office.  But I know I’m headed out the door with a solid week ahead of me which will be capped off with a gusher on Friday.  I only know that the decisions I make are just that – decisions.  I’ll deal with the consequences.  Hip.  Hip.  Tally ho!

Regaining the Passion.

vanilla 2

 

They all taste the same after a while.”  I hear that often.  Even from those who smoke only a few cigars a week or a month.  What is it about the cigars they are smoking that brings them to such a critical conclusion?

Methinks they are smoking too many cigars of the same brand.

That’s right – too many cigars of the same brand.  After a while, anything can become a muddle of mediocrity.  Donuts, pizza, crab cakes, fruit – and cigars.  Yes, cigars can become a jumble of leaves without any clear cut distinction in flavor.

leaves

It’s happened to me, and if it hasn’t already, it WILL happen to you.  So what’s the cure, the remedy, the balm that will heal these bruises to the palate?  STOP SMOKING!

Gads!  Stop smoking???  That’s heresy.  It’s utter nonsense.  It goes against all religions, faiths, and common sense.  Why would anyone do that?  To regain your love of cigars.  To recapture the subtle nuances of fermented tobacco flavors.  To relax once again with a brand that brings to you the ultimate in satisfaction – even though the day before it was a banal bitter bland of rolled leaves that reminded you of raking the backyard in the fall.

So it’s a tough decision but try it.  Abstain for a month if you are able – and I know you are able.  This whole excursion into the black hole of tastelessness and antipathy has a portal where you can escape, but you must travel through hell to get there.  But once you do, it will be like Dorothy first experiencing the colors and beauty of Oz.  The curled feet in striped stockings under the house are your old tastes, now you can begin to enjoy and refine the new.  Put on your ruby slippers and start your walk on the yellow brick road to get back home.

yellow brickHow you go about it won’t be handed to you.  You won’t fall into the humidor of your choice and miraculously be drawn to the cigar of your dreams.  No.  It will take some effort.  Once you have ended your fast you begin anew.  Walk into your favorite lounge and begin to take in the fresh aroma of aging cigars.  Stand there.  As they say, smell the roses, of course in this case if you smell roses you’re in the wrong place.

 

Breathe in the sweet bouquet of a well-stocked and attended to humidor.  Look around at all the choices you have.  Slowly begin your sojourn down the aisle and just look at the colorful bands, the shapes of the cigars, the hues of the wrappers.  Touch nothing.  Create tension as you would stare at a beautiful woman from afar that you cannot touch but would give anything to be near.  Curtail your lust and just look.

560_Humidor_1

Then, as you become relaxed, begin to seriously examine the cigars by sight only.  Stop at one or two that intrigue you.  Slowly read the writing on the box.  Look at its vista and imagine yourself walking among the fields, the sun, and the breeze of whence it was originated.  Close your eyes and imagine yourself smoking the cigar on the beach, or in a lounge, or even on your patio.  No disturbances.  No airplanes over head.  No distractions.

Eventually you decide on a cigar you’ve never smoked before.  You pick it up and let its artistry meld into your consciousness and realize you have a work of art in your possession.   You move to another brand and find that it also attracts your consideration.  You gradually pick the one that appeals to your eye.  Choosing two, you are now satisfied.  You are excited again about smoking these two new gems.  You leave the shop and head for your destination.

paul smokingOnce there, the day has turned to dusk.  There is no one around.  You decided to go to your patio.   You sit down at your outdoor table.  There is no hesitation.  One of the cigars is chosen. It’s been 30 days.  It’s been difficult.  But the reward for abstaining will be such sweet satisfaction.Taking the cigar in your hand you snip the cap just right and let it fall to the ground.  And with your torch you gently singe the foot.  Instantly the aroma of burning tobacco lulls you into a trance.  You begin to draw on the cigar and the smoke enters your mouth as your refreshed palate begins to tingle with the flavors already dancing the jig.  You retro-hale and can feel your body relaxing in the chair.  You have regained your love and passion for the leaf.   And all it took was a decision to incorporate a hiatus into your rotation to fully appreciate the wonders of your passion.

 

Take A Bow Rosalia!

rosalia

La Hoya de Rosalia is an unknown cigar brand.  It is available in only one shop in the nation – William Espinosa’s (no relation to Espinosa Cigars) Trading Post on Devon in Chicago.  The Trading Post is one of the oldest shops still surviving without fancy leather chairs, cigar lockers, and an espresso machine that spurts out fragrant cups of joe.

rosaliabxWilliam, “Bill” to his friends and customers, finally bit the bullet and had a house cigar made for him – and only him.  He named the brand after his 4-year-old granddaughter – Rosalia.  She may not know it now, but she could be on the cusp of fame and glory.

The cigar is currently available in three sizes – robusto, toro, and torpedo.  (Why a torpedo is a mystery.)  The filler and binder is all Nicaraguan that comes in two wrappers – an Ecuadorian Maduro and Connecticut.

rosaliafoot

Often when a store has a house cigar “made just for them,” it really isn’t a custom blend at all but rather an overused concoction that the manufacturer offers for such requests.  But Bill went a step further and captured a blend that suited his palate and what he hopes will please the taste buds of his regulars and new customers alike.

Did he succeed?  I had both the Connecticut and the Maduro and from what I can tell, both offer a woody smoke that finishes with a spicy overtone akin to black pepper in the nose.  The construction is impeccable.  Its pre-draw is smooth and stays that way after its lit.  As you may know (and now you most certainly do) my interest in the ash is catholic in the industry.  No cigar I review can escape my obsession with the residue of burnt tobacco leaves that ultimately reveals the quality of the soil the seeds matured in, as well as how it was constructed evidenced by the strength of the ash.  Rosalia is a prime example of quality soil and professional rolling.

rosaliashThe one comment I have to make that belies all these adulations is that the cigar burns a bit hot.  It could have been the samples I smoked, but so unlikely.  When I drew in the smoke, that draw also pulled in an uncomfortable jet stream of heat on my tongue.  I decided to give the cigar a short rest and then took gentler drags and that seemed to clear up the problem – though not entirely.

Otherwise, this unique blend of Nicaraguan tobacco will attract smokers who like a medium to medium-full bodied cigar with the flavor of the forest and the spiciness of the Indies.

So you done right, Mr. Espinosa.  Even though you waited these many years to capture your private tastes and share the flavors you prefer with the public – it was worth the delay.  It might be a good idea to give your granddaughter a primer on the cigar, just in case she yaks it up at pre-school.  Fame is fame at any age.

The Anatomy of a Post.

bcnotes

What you see in the photo above is the beginning of the article for last night’s blog post written on the back of one of my business cards.  I got the idea while watching my son play at Sam Ash with his band – DoubleHawk.  It just pierced my mind like a dart into a dartboard and luckily I was able to jot down the core of the article before it faded into oblivion.

That’s how all my posts are generated and written – suddenly, fast, and with no thought of whether or not I will be able to read my notes after the pen scribbles its ink across whatever surface is available.  I’ve written ideas on napkins, matchbooks, toilet paper, receipts, magazines, newspapers, even on my hand.

fleetingMany of the thoughts I have are fleeting.  I will say them out loud so I can literally hear them or they are likely to be lost in the cacophony of noise and disturbances of everyday sounds and distractions.

Sometimes I will go to sleep and get to the point where I am so comfortable and relaxed and ready to knock off when suddenly my brain activates and I jump out of bed, scramble for my specs and write on whatever is available to me.  Luckily I’m light on my feet and make little or no noise so as not to disturb E.

toothpaste.jpg

There are no outlines, no plans, no bullets.  Posts are just the accumulation of my emotions, the juxtaposition of everyday occurrences of this cigar broker’s life, concatenating together so that when the ideas have congealed they ooze out like toothpaste from the tube.  All the ingredients are there, I just have to separate them into the right words, interesting sentences, and readable paragraphs.  Not always an easy task.

Once I have the idea, the rest can come easy or it can be like trying to find ambergris in the choppy waters of the Atlantic Ocean.  You know it’s there, but it feels as if the size of the paper is overshadowing the tiny clump of hardened gastrointestinal fluid of the sperm whale to almost convince this blogger to quit until a simpler idea comes along.

But seeing that I feed off the contrarian philosophy of life, I do not put the difficult or controversial idea aside despite its ostensible difficulty to develop it.  I attack it as fiercely as Cornel Wilde seeks freedom in the Naked Prey as the last surviving member of a hunting safari who is given “The Lion’s Chance” by the tribal leader to be hunted down by a party of tribal warriors.  Naked and weaponless he is set loose, the hunters hot on his heels beginning a life-or-death hunt through wild Africa.

cornell.jpgI am Cornel Wilde.  I will take my idea and run with it no matter how the fierce hostilities of my brain try to convince me to take the easy path, to turn around and be slaughtered by the “idea warriors’” vicious attempt to eradicate it, lest it surfaces as a freewheeling, entertaining article for others to read and enjoy.

No, writing oftimes is not easy.  Though with the technology of today, some believe they are related to Hemingway or Proust and consider that a quip or a snide remark is equivalent to Anthony Trollope’s The Palliser Novels or the mastery of John Updike’s critiques or Truman Capote’s understanding of the human mind.

wheat from chaff

I toil over each post as Julia Child labored over each and every recipe she published in her magnum opus, Mastering the Art of French Cooking.  I stop and start hundreds of times as I write to bring you, the reader, something different each time I post.  Mediocrity and grandiloquent blather is rampant today.  The trick is to separate the chaff from the wheat.  This is relatively easy to do provided you know what wheat looks like.

 

Can We Take It Back?

doublehawk

Listening to my son’s other band, DoubleHawk, I was blown away by his skill as a percussionist, better known as the drummer.  He puts everything into his performances whether he’s playing for two or two thousand – a great showman, he.

Night_Club_Tiny_

While I was sitting there with E, I began to think of night clubs.  This was a small venue; Sam Ash has an “Open Mic” every Wednesday so the band took advantage of the opportunity to play in public.  The stage was professionally made up and with the inimitable and classic Marshall amps ( Yo!  Jimi! ) to their sides, made me think of years back when night clubs were small and intimate and drew the night life as in a Russ Flint painting.

Why did this thought permeate my brain?  Cigars.  Yeah, they are omnipresent on my mind, in my soul, a part of my being like blood in my veins; I need them to really live – cigars and night clubs in New York, Chicago, Detroit, Vegas and Hollywood.  The days when the restrictions were you couldn’t say certain words, or talk about what the censors deemed vulgar.   And if you did, the police would drag you off the stage as they did Lenny Bruce when he performed at various clubs.  But smoking?  Go for it.

London HouseClubs such as Mr. Kelly’s, and the London House in Chicago, are all memories now.  The Stork Club, El Morocco, and the Blue Note in New York. History. The Lion’s Den and Club Shanghai in San Francisco, and Old Hastings Street in Detroit where haunts such as The Congo Room, and Club Paradise played into the history of Jazz clubs. Gone.

cigarette girl

What all these nocturnal hangouts had in common was they served liquor and – you could smoke inside – anything, from cigarettes to cigars to whatever else might be available.  The places were packed on the weekends.  Political correctness was an anomaly.  The beer, booze, cocktails flowed like Niagara Falls, and the cigarette girls sweetly sold their wares from a tray gently hanging from their busty displays packed with “Cigars, Cigarettes, Cigarillos.”  It was the common language of the night for all who attended.

And now, as I walked into a club the other night, I was met with ghostly silence.  Sure, the air conditioning was on, the atmosphere was elegant, but the crowd was nowhere to be seen.  Nada.  The sounds were only of silence and loneliness.  It was as if I had just walked into a wake for some poor soul who grew too old and outlived all his friends.  And this was prime time for entertainment.  This was a dead zone.

The days of lively, corrupt, and illicit activity still reign in many clubs of today, but the air is fresh and clean, the crowds dissipate after 10 o’clock.  The dress code is nonexistent, and the vibrant vibes of the multitudes that get together to let loose is all but a recollection of “back in the day.”

mort sahl 2

When Mort Sahl played New York, you could feel the club atmosphere overwhelm your body as you walked to your table.  The waitress gave you a minute and before you knew it, you had your cigar lit and a drink in your hand laughing at the commentary from one of the greatest stand-up comedians of all time.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_sRjrsK7RQo

I saw Buddy Rich at Mr. Kelly’s in Chicago, Jazz great, Oscar Peterson caress the ivories at the London House, and Jean-luc Ponté at Evanston’s Amazing Grace, and so many other classic clubs and acts.  And all the time I either smoked a pipe or a cigar.  No questions asked.  No stares.  No held noses.  We were loose and free to have a grand time listening to music or laughing ‘til you peed your pants.

congressWhere has it all gone?  We are living in a hermetically sealed, over regulated nation thanks to the wisdom of government.  What if the legislators were to ban guitars, drums, and God forbid – banjos?  Who knows what’s next.  Booze?  Juicy tender cuts of beef?  Baked Alaska?  Indie Music?  Sex?  When is it going to stop folks?  When are we going to crush the pointy, vacuous craniums of the people we elected to represent us?  When are we going to make them accountable for all the promises they made while running for office?  What I do know is that many are really voting into law the popular line to keep their seats when the next election rolls around.  Wouldn’t want to rock the boat, uh?  But you’ve heard this before, yes?  My apologies.

wax

As I sit back and enjoy my son’s brand of music (without a cigar, of course), it’s not that I’m looking to recreate a nostalgic epoch that will never repeat itself; I’m looking to reclaim the freedom we once had to do whatever the hell we want.  It’s getting worse every day.  And as long as we sit back and allow the government to slice away at our lives with its legislative microtome and can what’s left to rot on storage shelves, we’ve lost our freedom.  Maybe we DO do things that are injurious to our health, maybe we DO make egregious mistakes that will shorten our lives, and maybe we DO eat too much damn candy.  But it’s our choice.  So many have softened like a wax figure in the sun.

 

Can we be responsible after so many years of legislative interference in our private lives?  Can we slough off the government’s coddling and accept the consequences of our actions?  Own up!  Take your freedoms back!  Smoke a cigar in public!