I'm not a cigar smoker, but the August cover story in Cigar Aficionado on the state of the airline industry had me picking up, purchasing and poring over the magazine. I'm sure I'm not the only "road warrior" who felt like someone was finally addressing and summing up our collective airline rage. I know what I'm talking about. I log more than 150 days of business travel a year.
I have a few things to add, and I'm going to copy this to all the relevant airlines (if nothing else, I'm a pissed-off focus group of one). It's been a year now since 9/11, and my patience with waiting for it all to run more smoothly has run out. What does it take?
In a time when air travel itself has necessarily become more security conscious and difficult, the periphery should be attempting to offset those challenges. Yet, the previously frustrating ancillary parts of air travel are now even more frustrating. Don't you think potential terrorists have figured out that last-minute ticket changes are the criteria that gets someone cavity-searched on every leg of their upcoming flight? Long, expensive security lines form because of the checking of "proof of days travel" to enter the gate, yet any kid and a computer can create a viable-looking invoice that will get them through the mess. Terrorists and kids have the funding, planning and time to work around such things. Business travelers do not. Figure out what security precautions are working, and get rid of the rest.
Food: I don't care that I'm no longer served that visually and gastronomically disturbing airline meal on my flight. I understand the economics and the difficulties of making that happen. But how about something fresh and healthy? Have you tried one of the apples or bananas at an airport snack bar recently?
Airlines say they are cutting corners because all we customers care about it price. I say it is the other way around -- I only care about price because all the airlines offer the same miserable experience. I have to justify the expense of my travel to my boss and my company. If you provide a service wherein I can get more done, and arrive more fresh, then I can justify the expense. First class? Sure, that's one answer, but it is so ridiculously out of most anyone's travel budget, it can't be my answer. I pay 20 percent more for a rental car company or hotel that gives me service and reliability. I'd gladly do the same for the airlines. But pricing is so drastically different. How can I realistically justify to my boss paying $1,000 full fare when there are $250 tickets out there? Give me a 25 percent higher price, but give me minimal stopovers, a humane amount of room to work, a simple laptop hookup with an Internet connection, a kiosk to check in at, and you'll have me as a flyer all day long, all year around, provided you are going where I need to go, roughly when I need to go there.
Frequent Flyer: now there's a real artery exploder. I have tried on numerous occasions to use the half-million miles I've saved up; never has it worked for me. You can never go where you want, when you want, on a reasonable connection. (I've even said to an agent, "OK then, just tell me an island, any island in the world, that I can use my miles to get to during that two-week period.") Frequent flyer miles have become useless, and therefore they are no longer any incentive.
And that leads me to my final summation/rage: why are you making life so difficult for me, the guy who spends $50,000 per year on airline travel? I'm the easy one. I'm the one who knows to remove my belt, watch and laptop before I get to the security screener. I'm even the one who, when buying shoes, confirms that the chosen footwear doesn't have a metal shank that will set off the airport detectors. I'm the one who knows the airports and system inside and out (but could never come to know the daily inconsistencies of the different airports). I'm the one who uses the electronic kiosk and saves on the customer service load. I'm also the one who uses that travel agent to ease my burden of booking complicated tickets (the same travel agents you are no longer paying commission to). Why are airlines dropping prices to $250 coast-to-coast to lure "vacation" travelers, when I'm the one who spends 50 times that per year on air travel?
I know the airlines aren't solely culpable for this mess; it's the whole industry and the FAA's problem, too (and also the fault of the people who think we want to eat those mushy old apples). It all must be fixed. I firmly believe that the sorry state of air travel is a huge part of what is dragging down the economy. And although certainly some of the inconveniences are necessary for security, the rest are often just illogical problems that need to be addressed.
On the same flight that I read the excellent article in Cigar Aficionado, I also read, in my other favorite periodical, The Economist: "Quantas announced a 3% increase in profit…Lufthansa beat expectations with an operating profit…In recent weeks, KLM Royal Dutch and British Airways have announced profits." Now, I don't claim to understand all the economics of the U.S. air industry, but something just doesn't add up.
Cigar Aficionado's depiction of the plight of business travelers is devastatingly accurate. I have imposed my own policies for future business trips. My updated "travel preferences" are (1) call, or (2) arrange for an in-town meeting. If travel is necessary, then I drive, take a train where possible, or book only direct flights. I recently took the Acela train on a last-minute business trip from Washington, D.C., to Philadelphia. It was much less expensive ($216 versus $542), very comfortable (big seats, ample legroom, available dining, cellular phone coverage, a plug for the laptop and no restrictions on use), and faster door-to-door (this even though I work 10 minutes from Dulles Airport, and 45 minutes from Union Station). The best part was avoiding the quadruple-play security-gate-boarding-baggage queues -- a truly life-draining sequence that will ultimately drive customers to demand change. I have gained and lost premium "status" on four major airlines over the last 10 years, and I can definitely say no amount of free miles can justify this sorry state of affairs. Besides, about the last thing a business traveler wants is to have to board another plane, even for free.
San Marcos, Texas
By late September 2001, the Episcopal bishop of New York was finding that his New York clergy were reaching a point of exhaustion serving as chaplains at Ground Zero. So, a call came to my own bishop here in the Diocese of Connecticut, asking for any appropriately trained clergy to volunteer for chaplain work at the World Trade Center site. My own sense of a deep call to respond led me to follow up on my bishop's appeal. I signed up for two days, October 18 and 19, to work the 3-11 p.m. shifts. Initially, I was to serve those two shifts inside of St. Paul's Chapel, the Episcopal church that withstood the destruction of the Twin Towers though only being a block away. As many know, St. Paul's has carried out a powerful and effective ministry of care, solace, practical help, food distribution and community in the months following September 11. As the early days of October came and went, I readied myself to be as proactive as possible as a chaplain to the fire, police and rescue personnel I would encounter. On October 17, I received a call from the Office of the Suffragan Bishop for the Armed Services, the office coordinating all the Episcopal chaplains' work at that point, from our national church headquarters on Second Avenue. On this day before my trip to Ground Zero, I not only received instructions about how to get credentials, but was told that my ministry was needed, not at St. Paul's, but at Ground Zero itself.
I found St. Paul's, got oriented, hooked up with a partner, the Rev. Andy France from Pennsylvania, and made my way to the Twin Towers site. My first shift and my second on October 19 were deeply moving experiences. I stood by NYC firemen and women, their battalion chiefs and others, as they searched in vain. As I always do at burials or committals, I often offered an NYPD or NYFD friend a grain of wheat. I gave the grain to them with a quote from the Gospel of John, chapter 24, verse 12. Here, Jesus is talking about his own death, (12:24: Lest a grain of wheat fall to the earth and die, it remains alone. But if it falls, it bears much fruit-I gave the grains of wheat as symbols to whisper that by God's grace we could still grieve with hope that would triumph even over the great tragedy we saw surrounding us. One young fireman put the grain in his helmet, which he asked me to bless. Another Bronx fireman gave me, in return, a T-shirt in memory of a fallen friend.
By the end of my second and last shift, I was weary and tired, having skipped dinner to stay with the NYFD searchers who thought there might be a recovery that night. I left Ground Zero near midnight, walking back to St. Paul's Chapel by way of West Street and Murray. At St. Paul's I knew I could nurture myself with food, drink and some prayer time for the many intercessions I carried back from "The Pile." I walked back thinking of these simple refreshments, and of the brave people I had been privileged to stand with and serve as an Episcopal priest. Then, I had an unreasonable wish, that Nat Sherman's on 34th Street near Grand Central would be open so I could buy a cigar from the Hobart Selection to end the day with back in Old Greenwich. At midnight, that wish would not come true, I knew. Then, I reached the steps of St. Paul's Chapel. There, dressed in clergy clothes more dapper than what I was wearing for duty, stood the young curate from the parish of St. Mary the Virgin on 46th Street. He introduced himself, saying he wasn't too sure what he was supposed to be doing, so, he just brought a couple of boxes of cigars. "Would I like one?" I smiled out of my weariness, accepting a couple of Macanudos and a Punch, and telling the young curate he had just given some cigars to a founding member of the Anglican Cigar and Motorcycle Club.
I grabbed some food on the porch of St. Paul's, and started up a conversation with two young NYPD officers, Long Island boys like myself, who were getting some respite. We talked on as we each smoked one of the curate's cigars, and I found a little extra time to do the ministry I was sent to Ground Zero to do. It was a cherished time of listening, encouragement and solace. When I parted company with my NYPD friends, and with my experiences at Ground Zero, and was making my way back to Grand Central, I could not get over the serendipity of my wish being granted for a fine cigar to finish a challenging day. And I thought, "When God wants one of his servants to have a good cigar, God finds a way. Amen!"
Rev. Jim Kellaway
On one beautiful, warm June Havana night, I was perched atop the Focsa gazing down upon the live action, the interactive history book that is Habana Vieja. My thoughts danced above my head with the sweet smoke of my Romeo y Julieta Churchill. My palate was tingling from the silky, warm glass of Cohiba Cognac I had been nursing over the course of the last hour. My journal was laid before me filled with my joyous stream of consciousness, a rambling that was futilely attempting to capture the odd mixture of relaxation and exhilaration of my first few days in Havana. Those wonderful first days are so easily summed up in this one peaceful, unforgettable evening spent in the company of the city, and this exquisite cigar.
It is nights like this night in Havana that reminds me why many of us began to smoke cigars in the first place. A great cigar can help to punctuate moments in our lives. Whether those moments be good or bad, a cigar can bring us comfort just as easily as pleasure. Over the past year our lives and in turn the pages of this publication have been filled with politics. While I feel that politics can grow and evolve only through intense public debate, I thought that perhaps a small reminder of something simpler, something happier, was appropriate. I hope this peaceful moment in Havana helps you smile as it has done for me many nights since. I hope that next time you light up your favorite smoke, that the growing weight of our world can be lifted from your thoughts, if only for a moment.
Aaron Guy Leroux
My name is Maj. Peter H. Guevara. I am currently stationed in Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. I recently received a box of Cigar Aficionado hats that came into my hands through the efforts of a close friend in the U.S.A. First and foremost, from myself and from all the soldiers I gave a "lid" to, thank you! Your gift was quite generous. We were all very happy to know that there are people at home thinking about us. The hats indeed helped to bring a small piece of "home" to Afghanistan.
Cigar smoking is a very popular activity during a deployment. I began cigar smoking when I was sent to Bosnia in 1996. My tent mate introduced me to the pastime. The many hours I spent "smoking and joking" in Bosnia are some of my fondest memories.
Here in Afghanistan, cigar smoking has again given me many great memories. I will forget the harsh conditions here, but I will always remember the times I shared with my comrades over a smoke. I will forever remember the supportive gesture that Cigar Aficionado made to those of us here.
Thank you, and God Bless the U.S.A.
Peter H. Guevara
Major, United States Army
POSTCARDS FROM THE PAST
From the start, the editorial policies of Cigar Aficionado elicited spirited responses from our readers. Letter themes ran a wide spectrum -- from the smokers who were relieved to have a publication that championed their lifestyle to those who simply wanted to celebrate a great moment with a cigar. Others pointed out the ironies of a politically correct world that wanted to curtail life's simple pleasures. Some letters were calls to arms, while others wondered why a magazine about cigars had to be so darn political. One offered some trenchant advice -- "lighten up." We might even shorten that to "light up," while you read these letters from past issues.
As a new reader, it is very comforting to know that there are other gentlemen out there who enjoy the same vices that I have been enjoying since I was suspended from high school as a freshman for enjoying a Macanudo on school premises. I am currently a student at the University of Southern California Graduate School of Business Administration. I have finally found a crowd who can also enjoy the finer things in life -- the professors.
Your editorial in the Spring 1994 issue mentioned a gentleman by the name of Sam Crocket at the Doral Arrowwood Resort. I am sorry to say that I, like you, received a rather rude response from Mr. Crocket when I canceled a $5,000 dinner. I made the necessary arrangements to have a dinner that would compose of a waiter's wet dream. After all of the arrangements were made, totaling 30 minutes on the phone and two faxes, I happened to ask if it would be appropriate if all of the 15 gentlemen smoked cigars throughout the dinner. He stated that the restaurant does not normally allow cigar smoking.
At that point, I stated that we would not be doing business with him. We would rather drive to New York City and dine at the "21" Club than dine in an establishment that does not appreciate our business. You should have heard him grovel. "No, no, we want your business, however…" At which time I stated, "I would rather go to the "21" Club where my business is appreciated and I can be treated like a human being. I then thanked him and hung up. A few minutes later I got a call from the catering manager who stated that they could accommodate my party. I stated that "I would rather go to the "21" Club where I can eat in the dining room like a civilized human being, have the wines which I require and smoke what I wish."
One by one we shall conquer all of the restaurants which do not allow cigar smoking.
David B. Nybo
One of my friends was in a custom shirt maker's shop in New York. While waiting to be helped, he lit up a fine Dominican cigar. Immediately, the sales lady demanded he put it out. He could not "indulge in such a nasty habit" in the shop. The proprietor happened to overhear the order and broke in, "Ignore her. Here, let me offer you a light." Just at that moment, a white stretch limo pulled up up front. Sylvester Stallone strolled in puffing a foot-long import. Nothing more was said.
Whatever happened to the days of service? Shopping in an exclusive gentlemen's establishment should mean a comfortable chair, an adult beverage or cup of coffee, and yes, damn it, an ashtray.
Winston-Salem, North Carolina
I am a 26-year-old doctor, awake at 2:30 a.m. waiting to deliver a baby. What do I have on my mind? Cigar Aficionado. I read about 75 journals, magazines and newsletters a month, and I must say you have a winner. I've read the premiere issue cover to cover -- twice already.
James M. Govino, M.D.
Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania
I commute from Rhinebeck, New York, on Metro-North. I got on the train, got settled, opened the magazine, and guess what happened? A woman sitting next to me said, "You're not going to light that in here, are you?" I told her, "It's a magazine!"
Some people get so paranoid about cigars. When will we get some respect?
Rhinebeck, New York
Four women in a BMW sedan pull up in front of a restaurant. The parking valet is at the driver's door before it comes to a complete stop and informs the driver that she will have to park across the street in an unlit lot. "It's our policy to reserve our closest spaces for domestic cars, in support of American labor."
Arriving at the front door of the establishment, they are met by the Protocol Manager. "Ladies, I'll have to ask you to go home, shower and shampoo with fragrance-free soaps, change your outfits, return without perfume or makeup, and park again across the street."
To answer the stunned look on four faces, he explains:
"Some of our customers are sensitive or allergic to certain smells. They find perfume, cologne, hair spray, powders and creams to be offensive. The leather belts, shoes and purses are an obvious affront to our strict vegetarian and animal rights clientele, and quite frankly, I find the rest of your outfits visually objectionable. If any of your diamonds originated in South Africa, please leave them home, too, so as to not upset our apartheid-aware diners."
Four showers and two hours later, the women reach the lobby of the restaurant, where they are escorted one at a time to the house doctor's office to be weighed and have their blood pressure checked. "We don't want to be liable for feeding someone who shouldn't be eating our food."
Finally, they reach the dining room. They are approached first by the wine steward, who informs them that based on current standards, they will each be allowed two servings of alcohol. "Except for the driver, of course. We don't want any accidents, do we?"
Next, the waitress provides menus. In bold letters, the carte du jour advises, "No high-cholesterol meats. No artery-clogging sauces. No cheese. No butter or sour cream. No salt. No fattening desserts. No caffeine. No wine or sherry used in food preparation. No fried foods. No imported foods, No seconds. To your health!"
When the waitress serves the meals, she instructs, "Please pay and leave immediately upon completion, so as to not inconvenience our next customers, or our staff."
Ludicrous? Preposterous? Well, it's already happening. Similar rationale is used by antismoking zealots. On one side is individual freedom and pleasure. On the other side is everybody who seems to know what's best for me, and they find my pursuit of happiness offensive. Maybe they just can't stand to see anyone having more fun than they are.
Michael D. Washington
Rochester, New York
I thought you might appreciate this story. Recently I was attending the graduation of my youngest son at Harvard University. The event is held in Harvard Yard, which that particular day experienced the worst weather of Harvard's long history. My wife and I arrived early to obtain a vantage point where we could watch the procession of graduates. We were originally in the first row standing along the path. By the time the ceremonies began, we were in the sixth row of spectators as a result of the invasion of late arrivals forcing themselves in front and pushing us back.
I decided that one way to quell my nerves and possibly obtain some breathing space would be to light up a Te-Amo Churchill. Much to my wife's distress, I proceeded to do so, whereupon one of the late intruders turned to me and demanded that I "put that thing out." I responded that, to my knowledge, even in the People's Republic of Cambridge, it was permissible to smoke outside. This lady, and I use the term loosely, was further supported by her male companion, who threatened to punch me in the nose. I responded that it was my opinion that if he tried to resort to such action, it would result in much greater bodily harm to him than my fine cigar. My retort must have had a sobering effect; he and his companion promptly moved away. To his credit, I must say that at the conclusion of the ceremonies, he sought me out in the crowd and apologized.
I feel I made a small statement for the rights of cigar lovers, and I commend you for doing the same on a much broader scale.
Ernest C. Caggiano
I am a pastor of a church in Massachusetts and have a Saturday evening ritual that helped inspired many a sermon. A fine cigar is enjoyed as I struggle with the scripture and seek to bring a message of hope and new life to the congregation. I have known the pleasure, physically and spiritually, of cigar smoking for over 10 years and would like to commend you upon a job well done on your publication. The demands and expectations of a minister can be overwhelming, and there is nothing like a quiet and smooth cigar to bring me to a peaceful place.
I am careful not to smoke in front of children, and when it is offensive to someone. But the benefits of a Saturday night cigar far outweigh the detriments. In moderation, 10 a week or so, I declare is not a sin.
Gentlemen, you have my blessings. Those who do like the art and transcendental experience of smoking a fine cigar need not worry of divine retribution. I think God understands.
An inspired preacher from Massachusetts
On this matter of secondhand smoke: When I was employed by the National Geographic Society, I drove to my office each day through Rock Creek Park [in Washington, D.C.]. Cars often crawled bumper-to-bumper, our idling exhaust spreading an acrid blue pall over the morning. On the pedestrian path beside the road, I would watch a steady stream of joggers pass by, their chests heaving as they took deep breaths of pollution-laden air in their pursuits of physical fitness and longevity. Yet I'm sure these same people would insist that I was risking their health if I were to light a Macanudo or Hoyo de Monterrey in their presence. So just who is blowing smoke?
Keep up the good fight.
Alas, I am sorry to say I have a sad story to tell.
About two months ago, my longtime girlfriend and I decided to part ways. Without really looking in a few boxes I thought contained only her belongings, I sent her on her way. Later I discovered, much to my dismay, that in one of the boxes were my last few Hoyo de Monterrey Churchills that I had managed to import from Geneva when I visited there over the summer.
So, now my girl is gone and my smokes are gone. Damn, I'm going to miss those cigars.
The world is a crazy place. Within a few days of being hit with a spray bottle for smoking a cigar at the pool of the condominium in which I live, I was enjoying dinner at a fine restaurant when the following took place. I kid you not.
Dinner finished, I ordered a Calvados and, secure in the knowledge that I was in the smoking section of a cigar-friendly restaurant, I lit up a Churchill from a forbidden source. A few moments later, I noticed a woman seated on the far side of the restaurant in an animated discussion with the maÓtre d', pointing her finger at me.
I braced for the usual tirade and then noticed that she was changing tables. She was escorted to a table next to mine where she ordered coffee and an after-dinner drink. Not a word passed between us, and when she left, I asked the maÓtre d' what it was all about. "She likes the smell of a good cigar. Says it reminds her of her husbands of many years," he replied.
You figure it out. Had the woman at the pool asked, I would have put out my cigar without being treated to a free bath. Had the woman in the restaurant opened a conversation, I would have probably enjoyed talking with her about how aromas can trigger fond memories.