The CRA Freedom Tour - Day Two

Wednesday morning in New York City’s LaGuardia Airport had the elements of a mini Big Smoke, minus the cigars. Sitting in a lounge, waiting on a delayed flight to Milwaukee were Jorge Padrón, Jonathan Drew, Litto Gomez, Ernesto Perez-Carrillo, Robert Levin, Peter Banninger, Charlie Toraño and Eric Newman, along with myself. We were chatting about Tuesday’s dinner that kicked off the Cigar Rights of America tour, and eager to take off on the second leg of the show. We were also eager to fire up cigars, but we couldn’t. Talk about punishment—each guy in the group was carrying dozens of cigars, but we couldn’t light up…yet!

When the plane touched down in Milwaukee, half of us went straight for the Starbucks counter in the airport. Almost every cigar guy I know is a coffee guy as well, and half this group needs espresso like an old car needs motor oil. Refreshed, we headed to our hotel.

We lit up right outside the hotel. Jorge Padrón handed me a tidy Padrón Serie 1926 No. 6, and I was ready to go. The game plan was to get a quick bite then head to Western Lakes golf course for the CRA event where a group of Milwaukee-area cigar smokers were about to have the cigar night of their lives.

So why Milwaukee? The immediate area is home to a group of very motivated cigar retailers who joined together to create a group called C-SAW (the Cigar Store Alliance of Wisconsin). They fought tooth-and-nail to squash a Draconian cigar tax that would have made premium cigars extremely expensive.

The C-SAW group did a great job of getting out the word on CRA, and about 225 people joined us at the golf course. They puffed cigars and tucked into a few hearty brats. How could you come to Milwaukee and not have a bratwurst? It was my first visit to the city, so I made sure I had one.

I know everyone in this group very well, but spending time on the road is causing us to bond even more. We’re a bit like a band hitting the road, minus some serious musical talent. (Actually, we do have a very capable drummer—Ernesto Perez-Carrillo hits the skins very well.) This morning, we piled into a van for the ride to Chicago, cracking jokes along the way, but we’ve lost one member—Charlie Toraño had to fly to Central America to check out his factories. Duty calls.

We’ve just reached Chicago, and as we were standing in the hotel lobby, most of the other group showed up: Rocky Patel, Tim Ozgener, Paolo Garzaroli, Jose Oliva and Keith Park. They just flew in from Minneapolis where they had more than 600 cigar smokers show up for their CRA show.

We’re off to the cigar shops of Chicago and tonight’s events. Stay tuned. The tour is getting into full gear.
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