Monday, November 28, 2011

Giving + Thanks + Pipes

Part of the Thanksgiving season is giving, whether this giving comes in the form of thanks or otherwise.

Not that long ago, I found an opportunity to give and forward the pipe lifestyle at the same time. I simply could not pass it up.

While in school at Washington University in St. Louis, I have worked as a host at a local Scottish pub called The Scottish Arms. I've now been a host there for around four years, with minimal breaks to focus on school.

When I first started at The Scottish Arms, it had a smoking section and a non-smoking section; sadly, the smoking section is now also called 'outside', as St. Louis City no longer allows smoking in the vast majority of restaurants.

A couple of months after I started working there, I picked up my first pipe, a pipe that is still known by the other employees of The Arms as my 'Gandalf pipe'. In reality, it was a long tavern pipe, which makes it rather understandable why it got its nickname.

Starting to bring in my pipe to work was one of the greatest discoveries since the fact that I can read on my Kindle at work and no one really notices. Slow times at work were much more pleasant when I could enjoy my pipe and get paid for it. It was also a wonderful environment for my earliest days of pipe smoking: in a pub, with beer and scotch flowing, music ranging from Miles Davis to Flogging Molly, and a kilt – don't forget the kilt!

My ability to pass the duller hours with a pipe has since been stripped from me, leaving me fondly remembering the good ol' days.

Luckily, I have substituted my smoking a pipe with discussing my pipes. A rather surprising number of employees at The Scottish Arms have recently taken an interest in pipe smoking. I have written previously about a gentleman named CL, a bartender at the pub, who has now gotten into the full-swing of pipes, sampling Escudo, Westminster, Peterson's Christmas Blend, and much more.

A newer devotee is another bartender, Jeff. He approached my one day while I was working and asked me if I knew where he could get a good starter pipe. Apparently, he had puffed on someone else's pipe – an old Savinelli that I had given to him a couple of months earlier – and had thoroughly enjoyed it.

I ticked off a number of great brands with fine pipes under $100: Peterson, Stanwell, Neerup, Savinelli, etc.

There was a twinge visible on Jeff's face and I soon knew why. I toss out $100 as being a great price for a reliable pipe because I know that to be true. As I have said earlier, a good pipe costs good money and one does not want to run the risk of starting off with a poorly made pipe.

An initial investment of sixty to eighty dollars is a lot to ask, though. I suggested Missouri Meerschaum corncobs and a number of other options, but I could see the enthusiasm dripping from him like sap from a tapped tree.

That's something I refused to let happen.

I went onto one of my most visited websites, Smoking Pipes, and found the gift set they have known as the Collegiate Starter Set. They have a long and in-depth description of the product, which is something that I love about the people at Smoking Pipes, and the write-up starts as follows:

You love the delicious, fragrant aroma of pipe tobacco. You admire the refined, classic look of a pipe. Perhaps you've even fathomed, once or twice, of trying your hand at the hobby. Where do you begin?"

This is the situation in which Jeff found himself and he turned to me for a little advice. I may be known as the weirdest member of The Scottish Arms's workforce, but I also know a fair amount more about pipes and cigars than most people there.

Since Jeff put his trust in me, I refused to let him down.

I quickly ordered the starter set waited.

Finally, the set arrived in the mail, all of the items – pipe, cleaners, tobacco, stand, tamper, and leather pouch – packed snugly in a cardboard box designed to look like a present, complete with a ribbon printed on the box.

Next, I had to find a time when Jeff was working, as we rarely work at the same time.

Eventually, I went in to work to grab a drink after class and there was Jeff, discussing the value of original Bob Dylan versus any cover of his songs.

I ran out to my car to grab the box, which I had brought with me for just the eventuality. I sat down at my table, the box sitting at the edge, and waited for Jeff to come by.

“Can I get you a drink, young sir?”

Jeff is about five years older than me, but manages to make those years seem like decades. He's a jovial man with a sense of humor that borders on the absurd. He is, if anything, an extremely kind man.

“Yes, sir! I will take an Arcadia London Porter and you will take this.” I handed Jeff the box, which he looked at with a perplexed stare.

Once he opened it, he face lit up.

He thanked me profusely and walked away from the table with a big smile on his face. He was still beaming when he brought me back my beer and told me it was on the house.

I have yet to be able to see Jeff smoke his pipe, as smoke-breaks at restaurants are rarely long enough to enjoy a bowl. He has, however, shared his experiences and confusions with me and I can tell that he has enjoyed his new-found hobby, approaching it with enthusiasm and curiosity.

It felt good to fan the flame of his interest in pipes. So much of the writing and discussion about pipes is often directed towards those who are already interested in pipes. This makes sense, as very few people with no interest in pipes would care to read a blog about them. We should, however, be sure to invest time in encouraging those who will carry on the torch (or the Old Boy or the Zippo) for years to come.

A little while later, Jeff came up to me and started talking about his experiences with his samples of tobacco.

“I'm really liking the Altadis Night Cap. It just smells and tastes great!”

“Oh, absolutely,” I said. “Aromatics are always a crowd-pleaser.”

“I do have one question about aromatics, though.”


“Is there anything wrong with liking aromatics?”

Short answer: “No.”

Long answer: ...In a later post!


  1. This is a great story.

    I have yet to find someone that's willing to accept such an altruistic gift, however, my friend/co-worker, Ian, asked me to find him a 3/4 bent billiard (my guess from his description), which someone on the forum happened to gift me, and my best friend Tom, also a co-worker (both at the Hub Coffee Company), who I told where a beautiful Comoy's estate for $10 happened to be...

    ...needless to say, once in a while I can find them puffing away on some tobacco I have given them, or they thank me for my finds and leads I had for them.

    I believe one of the most significant and outstanding notions of pipes and pipe smokers is the sheer generosity, both in kindness, information and sheer giving of "pipe things" that exists. Sure, there's stingy or rip-off jerks out there (thanks, Internets) but not even they, the small minority, can sully the many pipers that seem to have commonplace and connection no matter who they are, how long they have smoked or what their general personality.

    This amazes me.

  2. Kyle,

    Great comments! I know a lot of people who hesitate to accept gifts like that, but I think that when it is given with a big smile, most people will accept it, because it is clear that their accepting it will make you happy. At least that is my experience.

    The pipe community truly is wonderful and I get extreme joy out of giving/being given pipe related items from other pipesters. There is something special in the transfer of something so dear to one's heart.

  3. I contributed to this, a long list of similar types of stories, that would be more appropriately added to by your friend who the gift was for--talking about his first pipe and how you gave it to him. These are kind of our "lineage," if you ask me.

    Wonderful stuff, wonderful folks.

  4. I have actually asked him to do that. I will be getting a picture of him with his new pipe sometime soon!