Out of the Humidor
From the Print Edition:
Richard Branson, Sept/Oct 2007
When I was a boy in London, it was a time when men still wore three-piece suits. My grandfather always wore a gold chain across his waistcoat with a heavy gold watch on one end and an Asprey gold cigar cutter on the other. He was given the cutter as a gift in May of 1866. After dinner the men would retire to a special room in the house where they could smoke cigars, talk and drink Port or brandy. My father eventually was handed down the cutter.
I remember before I went into the army, he took me to a dinner at Simpson's in the Strand. We ate in a huge upstairs dining room where only men were allowed. Roasts were wheeled around on trolleys with silver canopies and they cut the meat at your table. After dinner, they came around with another trolley loaded with cigar boxes. You selected one and they warmed and cut it and you smoked it. A perfect meal. Eventually I ended up with the cutter.
For 30 years I traveled and worked all over the world. Every time I went out to an evening of dining, it was with me. It always cut a perfect V and has never been sharpened. I finally retired and I now live in Arizona. My friends and I have had 20 years of cigars in bars and after dinner in some of the truly great restaurants that are here.
On April 30, it all came to an end. Arizona has banned smoking in public places. Secondhand smoke is a danger. My grandfather lived to 96, my father to 93; on that basis, I've got another 20-odd years to go. Now the cutter stays home when I go out. I have no son to leave it to as I have four daughters. I'm going to ask one of them to slip the old cutter into the box with me when I go, just in case there truly is a heaven. I only hope your magazine is in the waiting room.
Mine is a tale of the inexpensive, generic, bundled cigar. When I began smoking premium cigars, price was an issue. My online retailer sends out regular e-mail specials, and I was glad to see the low prices on what were hailed as "premium, hand-rolled, long-filler cigars."
I was ready to stock my two humidors and immediately ordered three 25-count bundles. They were all different brands, in different sizes. What they all had in common was poor construction. Nearly 50 percent turned out to be unsmokable, with the rest drawing poorly and burning unevenly. I learned a hard lesson during the time it took me to make my way through the three bundles. What was normally an incredibly relaxing experience became a painful struggle.
No more bundles for this cigar smoker. As is the case in most areas of life, you get what you pay for. While I know from reading your wonderful magazine there are bargains out there, they come in the form of name brands. I'll never skimp on my cigars again. You can't put a price on the enjoyment received from a well-constructed cigar with a perfect draw and an even burn.
San Jose, California
Editor's note: Mark, sorry you had such a bad experience. Not all bundle cigars are bad. But there's a saying I've heard related to wine—life is too short to drink bad wine. The same is true for cigars.
As the proud son of Cuban immigrants, I take exception to Mr. [Charles] Rangel trivializing the suffering of the Cuban people (inside and outside of Cuba) simply because of a comment by a young Cuban who did not know how many acres of land his family lost in Cuba. [" A Democratic View," June 2007]. I do not run across many African-Americans who know where their ancestors lived in Africa or who can tell me who enslaved them here in the United States. Slavery happened, prejudice still exists today, and I am fairly certain that Mr. Rangel fights for what he thinks is right on this topic, regardless of how inconvenient it may seem to others.
In Cuba, people still can't vote, they can't leave the island, and are jailed if they speak out against the government. Yet people like Mr. Rangel who probably deep down admire Castro want to ignore what is going on there. The liberals want to ignore the suffering of the Cuban people and reward Castro because they secretly (some not so secretly) admire him. The conservatives will likely want to normalize relations with Castro because of political pressure from business leaders.
Cuban-Americans in exile: Keep up the pressure. Nobody else cares about what is right for Cubans. Your vote counts, but it will only count if we stick together!
Editor's note: We are not minimizing the hardships of the Cuban people. But after 45 years, you should ask yourself, is the policy working? Does it create more suffering? What is your goal? Democracy's strength is its openness. Open the doors and shine its light on Cuba, and it is almost a certainty change will occur there quickly.
As I write you, I am on a 10-day trip to Hawaii. Good for me, right? But alas, I am an avid cigar smoker, which seems to be taboo here. I can compromise by not smoking on the beach, in my room, in a bar, but when I cannot even light up on the spacious balcony of my $400-per-night room, something must be done.
As I had my morning coffee, I read an article about how Hawaii was losing in the battle for vacationing consumers' dollars. I cannot help but think it could have something to do with its stringent laws on smoking. I work hard and I play hard, and at the end of the day, I enjoy a good cigar with my whiskey or brandy. The place is beautiful, but I will be taking my hard-earned dollars elsewhere next vacation.
Somehow the pursuit of life, liberty and happiness has taken a cruel turn. What's next, prohibition?
Shark River Hills, New Jersey
I would like to start off by saying thank-you for a well-done and executed magazine. My wife and I both look forward to the articles and ratings.
I was reading "Out of the Humidor" [August 2007] today and a couple of lines caught my eye. There was a post by Jason Bloom of Warrington, Pennsylvania, and I quote: "If the government cared about this country, maybe it would stop firearm sales over the Internet; maybe the tragedy of Virginia Tech never would have happened."
As a firearm retailer, I can assure you that [firearm sales do] not happen in such a carefree and loose manner. We are one of the most closely regulated businesses in the country and that simple statement from Mr. Bloom makes it look like guns are in the mail every day all over the country—like ordering a box of cigars. I can assure you that that is not the case. I am not certain of the details of that particular sale, or how it was handled, but I can tell you that someone did a background check on him and he was cleared to purchase by local law enforcement or at the federal level.
I am not here to soapbox and tell you to be "pro" gun or "anti" gun. That's not what I normally do, but I feel strongly about this. Are there problems with firearms sales in the United States? How do we judge this? Are there problems with drunks killing people with their cars? Do we ban cars or make them as hard to purchase? Guns are tools; it's that simple. There are a lot of people who cannot wrap their brain around the fact that it's the person with the gun/knife/club/rock/car that is the problem. I would offer a counter, Mr. Bloom. A student could have stopped what happened at Virginia Tech very quickly with the proper tool.