Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Let's Get Ready to Rumble!

Facts are facts, and the fact is that smoking a pipe is a much rarer now that it used to be. Despite this, there are new people picking up the hobby every single day. In fact, one of the largest sources of new pipe smokers is the college campus (college is the time for experimentation, right?).

For my part, I have within the past year gotten three people to take up the pipe. Now, for you vehement anti-tobacconists, every single one of these gentleman smoked cigarettes before I ever knew them, and I think that we can all agree that pipes are better than cigarettes – if you aren't willing to agree with that, you are being willfully ignorant to the facts.

The first of these gentlemen, CL, is a bartender at the pub I work at, and he had tried a pipe once or twice before. As he tells me, his first experience with a pipe was when he and his friends were heading to a bonfire. They decided to stop by Walgreens, pick up a half-dozen Dr. Grabow pipes (the ones that are sold in a plastic and cardboard container), some matches, and a tub of drug-store tobacco. They broke open the plastic containing their pipes, blindly loaded the pipes around the fire, and puffed away.

Now, this very well may be a fun experience. After all, almost anything can be enjoyable with the right people and in the right situation. Smoking my pipe around a bonfire has been one the best piping experiences for me. However, the retelling of this story makes me shudder.

As a devoted pipe-man, I want people to enjoy their pipes. The circumstances surrounding CL's first time smoking a pipe made a recipe for disaster, however. A cheap piece of briar that wasn't broken in, loaded with a drug-store aromatic by someone who has no idea how to load a pipe. This has the potential to be a very unpleasant experience: in all likelihood, CL and his friends had a really tough time keeping the pipe lit, which led to a great deal of relights, which probably led to a hot smoke and a little bit of a burnt tongue.

So what, you might ask. Well, if this happened to you – having trouble, not enjoying it, and burning your tongue – would you ever try it again? Probably not. This is one of the downsides of the internet age with pipes.

It used to be that, even if one just wanted a cheap pipe and some cheap tobacco, there was a brick and mortar (also known as B&M) tobacconist that one could go to. These weren't drugstore tobacconists, where you could buy your cigarettes and maybe a cheap pipe or two. These were sanctuaries; these were temples. One could walk in and see rich mahogany cases filled with a great variety of pipes and walls and cabinets filled with tins of tobacco. When it was bright out side, it always seemed a little more laid back inside those doors; when it was dark outside, it was always warm and welcoming there.

Not only were they beautiful and welcoming, but the people working there were knowledgeable. Try walking into any drugstore now, getting down the plastic sealed pipe, and asking the attendant how you should load your first bowl or what the burning qualities of that tub of tobacco are. I dare you. It would be funny. If you asked those same questions at these mostly lost sanctuaries, you would often get a perfect answer. In fact, this information would often be given to you without even having to ask, especially if it was clear that you were a novice. Why did these people know about pipes? Because they smoked pipes. This is a rare site these days. A lot of attempts at tobacconists these days don't have a single pipe smoker working there, even if they sell a couple pipes. In all likelihood, the people working there smoke cigars and may know a little about pipes, but they are not the sages that used to be out there.

(Iwan Ries in Chicago, one of the few remaining real Tobacconists)

Since these places, with a few select and glorious exceptions, are dead, novices often find themselves in CL's situation, and often find their tongue blistered and burnt, and they never touch another pipe. For this reason, let me make a public plea: to any who are thinking about picking up a pipe, or if you know someone who is thinking about picking up a pipe, please take advantage of the wonderful resources we have online. Forums and blogs dedicated to the subject are overflowing with helpful and knowledgeable people. If you can't find any one of these sources, feel free to ask me! I may not be a master, but I am willing to try and will almost certainly be able to refer you to the masters.

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