That Cigar Was Definitely More than Just A Cigar
Posted: May 14, 2007 12:11pm ET
In 1986, I was living in France, trying to earn a living as a freelance writer. Through some old contacts, I wrote a number of pieces for the New York Times Travel section. On a whim, I proposed a story for a column that always ran on the last page of the section, usually a personal reminiscence about some experience in some far-flung place. I suggested a piece about dining in France, and how a cigar was an integral part of the three-star restaurant firmament: it ran in October 1986 and was headlined, “Where a Cigar Becomes More than A Smoke.”
If I recall, I received all of $250 for the piece, which didn’t cover the personal expenses of the dining, or the cigars. But I was thrilled to get it published, and, given my growing fondness for a great cigar, I figured I was ahead of the game. The assignment also provided a good excuse to make friends with Marc Meneau at L’Esperance in Vezelay, France, at the time one of France’s great three-star restaurants on the edge of northern Burgundy. In our interview, he actually taught me some things about cigars, including the role that a milder cigar can play at certain times of the day.
But like any journalist, the piece was written and pretty much forgotten, relegated to my clip book as an example of what kind of writing and reporting I could do.
Little did I know that the article would change my life.
Four years later, to put it kindly, I was floundering a bit, trying to combine my professional expertise with some personal passion too. I had dabbled again in the news biz (Newsweek), a fledgling on-line company and a trade publication. Nothing worked very well. In a series of serendipitous events, however, I ended up at lunch during December 1989 with a search firm representative who I had been using to hire young journalists. In recounting my career in that brisk once-over kind of way, she said, “Wow, I have a job YOU might be interested in.”
A week later, I was sitting in front of Marvin Shanken after already having seen his top editorial executive, Michael Moaba. Mr. Moaba, in his infinite wisdom, had placed the New York Times article on the top of my clips, which are a part of the standard package journalists submit when looking for a job. I can’t recall Marvin’s exact words, but it went something like “I remember this article.” There was the inevitable negotiation and tough questioning about my background, but a week later, I had an offer, and two weeks after that, on Jan. 15, 1990, I started working for M. Shanken Communications as the editor of a trade publication that covers the alcoholic beverage industry.
Cigar Aficionado wasn’t even on the drawing boards at that point. But to this day, Marvin says he hired me as a result of that New York Times article because in the back of his mind, he was already shaping the concept of a cigar magazine.
Like I said, sometimes a cigar is more than just a cigar.
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