Out of the Humidor
From the Print Edition:
Sylvester Stallone, Mar/Apr 98
After reading the article on cigar smuggling in the December issue of Cigar Aficionado, I was quite understandably disturbed. Along with the unavailability of Cuban cigars, and the vast market of fakes, we now have to worry about the ATF or U.S. Customs Department invading the sanctity of our own homes. And for what? A couple of boxes of cigars? We are not drug dealers; we are not arms dealers; we do not sell government secrets to the enemy (do we have any enemies left?). We are mostly law-abiding citizens--citizens who wish to enjoy a good smoke, to enjoy our hard-earned money's worth of premium cigars. We are not asking anything of our government--not welfare or unemployment benefits. We are not taxing the economy, or our fellow citizens. Yet we are treated with indignity, looked upon as if we were common criminals who were harming the public. Handcuffs and graybars for cigars--are they kidding?
The worst part is that the agents who seek to seal our fate are smug, they think this is fun, they enjoy what they do. The system in every state of our great union constantly releases murderers and many other violent offenders, rapists, child molesters, armed robbers, etc. Yet somehow they would find the money, time and resources to catch us, prosecute us and then house us for a number of years in a federal jail. Any fine they could levy on us for importing Cuban cigars would never come within a country mile of even matching the taxpayer funds that it cost to do it all.
For more than 35 years, and eight different administrations, the U.S. government has forced this idiotic embargo on the American public. In school they teach us that this is a government of the people, by the people, and for the people. Complete horsecrap! That line is full of more inaccuracies than a tabloid newspaper. I am sick and tired of the government sticking its bureaucratic nose into my personal business. New laws, new taxes, new policies, new agendas, new sanctions and other new crap. I am tired and downcast; but, that's when I fight back hardest: I'm going to do something about this.
If the embargo on Cuba is not dropped by July, on the fourth of that same month, when our forefathers once announced that they would no longer endure mistreatment by their government, I will fire up the twin 454-cubic-inch Chrysler engines on my family's 38-foot Magnum and begin my southern trip to the sovereign nation of Cuba. I will fly my "Snake" over my "Don't tread on me!" and I will dock in Cuba, step off my boat, break the seal on my H. Upmann Corona Majors, and light the first one my hand touches. Now, alone I stand little chance of avoiding arrest upon return; but, with my friends and countrymen at my side, it gets harder. I can see it now: 200 boats, pleasure craft, fishing boats, bass boats and rubber dinghies. Sailing in defiance of a 35-year-old ban that was written by men, many long dead--a ban that violates my rights under God, as promised by the Constitution of the greatest country on this God's earth.
I say this again, I will go alone, without video cameras or news helicopters. Or I will go like the Allied Forces to Normandy. Stand with me, stand together, stand united and stand strong, and we shall prevail! For this is the American "do or die" spirit. We didn't get to where we are by sitting on our asses; we just got used to it. Now, WHO WILL GO WITH ME?
Jonathan L. Goldstein
Miami Beach, Florida
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I never really considered writing to you with my own story, but something happened to me this past weekend that I will never forget. I have been an occasional customer of an absolutely fantastic cigar establishment, The International Cigar Store, located in Federal Way, Washington. The humidor is nicely stocked, the food and beverage selection is superb, and it would be difficult to find a more knowledgeable and hospitable wait staff. On a recent Sunday, my father happened to be visiting from California; he wanted to watch the San Francisco 49ers game and I suggested we go to the ICS. I have wanted to take him there for some time, and since my father had recently retired from United Airlines with 41 years of service, I felt that it was time for him to sit back and relax.
While I was growing up, my father and I were never very close, and even now there is a bit of awkwardness when we are around each other. We never seem to be able to open up and feel comfortable around one another. I was eager to please him this visit.
As we walked in, I caught the unmistakable aroma of a fine cigar. We walked into the humidor and I selected a Victor Sinclair. My father, not being very familiar with today's quality cigars, selected the same per my recommendation. We went to the back room, with its large couch and cushy wing-back chairs flanked by small, round tables with linens and a largescreen television. After we seated ourselves, our drinks were brought, as well as our cigars, properly cut and ready for lighting.
The afternoon could not have been any better, as our every need was met. My father, who is not easily impressed, could not stop commenting on the quality of service, atmosphere and, to boot, the fact that his team was winning. What really got to me was that for the first time in my 33 years, Dad and I talked like we were old friends. It was something that we had tried to do for so long, without success. I believe that day's combination led to this. I never would have thought that my passion for a good smoke could be the key to a closer relationship with my father. That afternoon will always be in my memory. I only hope to have more of them. Just Dad and me.
Forester H. Sinclair III
Bonney Lake, Washington
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I drove to Vermont last spring with two of my friends to meet my son and my brother, who was flying in from Chicago. Together we proceeded to Montreal to visit a family friend. We had a tremendous time, including visits to the cigar stores. We enjoyed La Casa del Habano the most. They have very nice people, and we were allowed to browse, sit in some very comfortable chairs, drink free coffee and liquor, listen to great jazz and just enjoy fine cigars. They had a large walk-in humidor filled with Cuban cigars, but because of the price, I decided not to make any purchases (I have a son in college). However, my friend thought the empty Cuban cigar boxes would be novelty items and purchased two by making a charitable donation of $5.
When we later crossed the border into Vermont, we were stopped by Customs and asked if we had anything to declare. There were five of us in the vehicle, and all of us were smoking cigars (it was a nice day and the sun roof was open), and we were just having a great time. As the driver and owner of the vehicle, I replied there was nothing to declare. They asked me to park, which I did; they asked us to step out, which we did; and they asked if they could search my vehicle, which I allowed them to do (having lived in Germany in the early 1970s, I was thinking an American border stop is no big deal). They asked me what my occupation was, and I told them that I was a counselor.
I have seen the look of little children at Christmas when they rush to the tree and open a package which they had hoped (and even prayed) for the whole year. It is an amazing sight, and that was exactly the expression on the border guard who discovered the empty Cuban cigar boxes in the back of the vehicle.
Thereafter, each of us was taken individually into a room, made to empty our pockets, and watched by two guards without a trace of humor. They became particularly upset with me when they found out that not only was I an attorney, but I had a military ID card (LTC in the Reserves). They could not believe I would be smuggling Cuban cigars into America. I told them that I was not smuggling Cuban cigars into the country. If they asked me once, they asked me a half dozen times where the cigars were in my vehicle. The greatest comment was from my son, who said, "I'm sorry Dad, but I had to give you up." Nothing was found. After a wait of almost two hours, they allowed us to go to Vermont--with the boxes.
I now know that I am on a list every time I go to Montreal, but that will not deter me from enjoying a friendship and also smoking cigars.
P.S. Are Cuban cigar boxes on the contraband list?
Michael A. Noonan
Editor's note: We're sorry for your difficulty at the border. Your experience is further proof that U.S. Customs has gotten serious about Cuban cigars. And in answer to your question, with rare exceptions, any product exported from Cuba since 1962 can be considered contraband in the United States, including cigar boxes.
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I recently had a Tuesday night that I will never forget! Every evening my wife, Lora, and I enjoy a cocktail out on the front porch of our home while our two children are taking their baths. Often, neighbors will stop by for a visit, and I always have a beer and a good smoke for these great friends.
For the past five weeks I had been sweating over the future of the business that my wife and I have built over the past eight years. We lost our largest account and I had not had a good night's sleep for weeks worrying about how we were going to keep our full-time employees busy for the upcoming period, which promised to be slow.
On this particular evening I was feeling a little better because of some new business that we were getting. I took my regular spot on the porch, took a sip of my wine and lit up a cigar (I don't even remember what kind). My neighbor, Bob, stopped over to visit and I noticed that he was smoking something other than his standard Phillie Blunts. I checked the cigar band out in the candlelight and exclaimed aloud, "You're smoking a Cohiba!?"
I noticed that he had something in his free hand, another Cohiba for me. Bob asked me if I was familiar with Cohiba because he was not. He asked if it was a good cigar, if I had ever smoke one before, and where they were made. I explained that yes, they are an excellent cigar, I had smoked them before, and that they were made in the Dominican Republic. I also informed him that the real trophy was made in Cuba and although I dreamed of smoking a Cuban Cohiba some day, that as yet I had not.
I set aside my everyday smoke and inspected my cigar. It was beautifully constructed and appeared to be a shade darker than the Cohibas that I had smoked before. I then asked Bob, "Where did you get these?" He explained that the cigars were given to him by a mutual acquaintance who is the mayor of a nearby town. An acquaintance, I realized, who just happens to be Cuban. Hmmm...
I ran inside the house to get into the light for a more complete inspection. Could it be? Was it possible? Oh please, please, please. Written on the cigar band were the magic words, "La Habana Cuba"!
I rushed back outside and proclaimed to the world, "This is a Cuban Cohiba!" I was about to smoke the cigar of dictators; man did I feel good. Then it hit me. This cigar is much too rare and valuable to smoke. After all, my wife had not just given birth. I did not hit the Series-winning home run. It was not my 100th birthday. It was only a Tuesday night. Confusion set in. My wife said to save it for a real occasion. On the other hand, I knew from reading your magazine, that cigar etiquette dictated that since this cigar was a gift, that I was sort of duty-bound to enjoy it while Bob was enjoying his. I just didn't know what to do. I looked to my very wise friend Bob for counsel. "Just light it," he said.
My wife and my friend and I enjoyed a great night. I thanked God for the important gifts, a loving family, good health and great friends who care to pick you up when you're feeling down. I thanked Him also for the subtle touches that promise to fill certain days with great excitement. Touches like two simple cigars enjoyed with my neighbor on a cool Tuesday night in October. And memories that last forever.
Union, New Jersey
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