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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Looking at the sea of confiscated Cuban cigars in the photo accompanying the article "Smoking with the Enemy" (December 1997 Cigar Aficionado) all I can ask is, "Have you ever seen a grown man cry?" All the hard labor and skill it took to get those cigars made and into those boxes just to have them seized and destroyed just because of a few special interests in the United States and an archaic law signed 35 years ago by a confirmed cigar smoker? How ironic that in this same issue of CA there is a blind tasting of JFK's preferred size, petit coronas. If he were alive now, where would he be getting his Romeo y Julieta Cedros No. 3s?
Brooklyn, New York
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I am a 22-year-old cigar lover and an avid reader of your publication. Over the past year or so, I have taken a greater interest in the acquiring and smoking of premium cigars. But, recently, I was involved in an extraordinary situation that has changed my life forever.
Soon after my wedding this past June, I received a treasured Fuente Fuente OpusX robusto as a gift from one of my best friends. Seeing as how OpusXs do not exist in Michigan, where I reside, and considering the pains that must be taken to locate such a "find," I was truly excited and full of anticipation for that first puff.
One early evening just after the dinner rush in my restaurant, which I manage, I decided to enjoy my OpusX as I was leaving the restaurant en route for home. That's when that moment occurred that would forever change my life.
Just as I had lit the cigar and begun to take my first puff, I noticed a woman who had frantically begun to shake her child and scream for help in the middle of the restaurant parking lot. Immediately I ran to her side to find her infant son choking. I had only limited knowledge of the Heimlich maneuver. But seeing that the mother was completely hysterical, I tried to help. Several times I tried the maneuver, to no avail. Seeing that the boy's lips were beginning to turn blue, I began to panic. Finally, with one final thrust, I was able to force a jellybean free from the child's throat and place him into his mother's trembling arms. An ambulance arrived and sped both the boy and his mother off to the hospital for tests and checkups.
I have yet to hear back from the boy's mother or family, but I hope and pray that all is well. The last I heard from the hospital where the boy was admitted was that he would be 100 percent fine. What happened to my prized OpusX, you ask? I guess somewhere between the restaurant and the boy I dropped the cigar in order to help.
I had never been so scared in my entire life. On that day, I had realized just how fragile a human life can be. Never again will I light up a cigar without remembering that little boy. As for the OpusX, I guess I can wait a little longer to enjoy one!
Eric J. Jones
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I'd like to respond to the George McGovern piece you ran in your December issue, entitled "Whose Life Is It?"
My parents have smoked all of their lives and continue to do so. My father was an extremely fit boxer, soccer player and athlete in his early days; he is now 67 years of age and still walks his greyhounds several miles each day as he has done for more than 50 years. My mother was an excellent swimmer in her youth and was always an active sports mom. Both of them encouraged physical awareness and participation from all six of their children.
As far as I know, both my mother and father smoked through all of our childhoods. Smoking, as we all know, is an individual's choice as is drinking and other personal interests that one chooses to follow. Four out of the six children have chosen to smoke at some point in their lives.
My brother and I chose not to smoke, apart from the five Park Drives we bought, lit and took drags from when we were about 13 years old. Our secret activity was discovered when I took the remaining two cigs home to my mother with the matches and insisted we found them, although we were nearly sick from our experience. We were NOT hooked--yippee!
My wife has smoked all her adult life and we have one beautiful, active, energetic and fit daughter who is seven years old. Although I have never smoked, I respected my wife's choice to smoke. I must admit that I had advised her of the possible complications that might arise from her smoking, but always considered her freedom of choice and defended her in such events and often became frustrated with tunnel-visioned perceptions by others. I have known friends to ridicule her for smoking, when these people should often look at themselves when they have devoured huge meals and searched for more food because this wasn't enough, and have gone from 120 pounds to 280 pounds in 10 years and still do not get the message that their own temple is being defiled by their misguided perceptions, brought about by freedom of choice. I have watched many examples of this type of judgment against those who smoke by those who have other and equally beguiling pastimes.
These days, there seems to be much less freedom of choice with much more oppression from our left-wing activists, who ravage us with social guidance and political correctness. It makes me sicker than those three cigarettes I sucked on!
My siblings and I have grown into independent and healthy adults, luckily and possibly as normal as any healthy person can be. Our ages are between 33 and 41 years; I am 37 years old and beginning to mellow out. In the past six months I have taken an interest in having a cigar and seem to like the idea of relaxing in my smoking jacket and having a puff, along with the accessories that accompany the pastime. I never imagined in a million years that I would enjoy cigars, but this has proven to be the case.
This letter is not in direct support of smoking or problems connected with it, but it certainly supports George McGovern's freedom of choice idea. It is my belief that freedom of choice is an integral part of the Western world, of modern democracy and all people. This must be maintained or else we will continue to fall into the pattern of: Free...so long as we conform!
Michael J. Stewart
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I recently took up cigar smoking. A colleague recommended a good cigar and your magazine; this combination recently made for a very relaxing evening. I would like to take this opportunity to say how much I am enjoying both.
The other reason I am writing is to comment on the article written by George McGovern in the December 1997 issue. Given George McGovern's history, I did not think I would ever find myself agreeing with him. In this particular article, however, I found myself in complete support of his views.
We, as Americans, are a pampered people and thus can afford the luxury of "micromanaging each other's lives." In retrospect, the more horrific crimes of the world go unnoticed as we are blinded by our own pettiness. We seem equally blind to the fact that Americans, by their own hand, are rapidly losing their rights and freedoms. Not from external forces, as has been feared for so many decades, but from an internal weakness of a people who have misplaced their true ideals and lost their heroes.
I would like to see Mr. McGovern's article given more attention by other publications, and appreciate your printing it.
M. L. LaQuay Mancini
Holland Patent, New York