Yes, it is a dry heat. Still, when the mercury hits 105 in September, one becomes a little uncomfortable. Water is what you're after the most. Of course, it's nice to have a Cabaiguan to go with it. And I did, courtesy of Tim Hughes at The Humidor, a cigar shop on the edge of the revitalized business district of Redlands, California.
Redlands used to be the Palm Springs of the early twentieth century, with prominent American families building luxury homes among the orange groves and pastures. Of course, then Palm Springs became Palm Springs.
The Humidor is a great stop on the way, about 45 miles from Palm Springs, or a destination itself. For people who live in this desert valley, The Humidor is a great local gathering place. Next door is a fine martini bar and you get the sense that combining a cigar and a drink is not that problematic after hours or maybe even in the cigar store's lounge in the back.
Vine Street, where both establishments are located, is part of the reinvention taking place here, causing some to call Redlands "the Pasadena of the Inland Empire." (The Inland Empire consists of San Bernardino and Riverside counties, situated to the east of Los Angeles and Orange counties. Pasadena has an "old town" section that is full of restaurants and shops.)
There's no bigger fan of this reinvention than Hughes, the third owner of this three-year-old cigar emporium in a building from 1926. Opening the store has helped Hughes discover his own cigar center.
"I spent a good 15 years not knowing what I was smoking," Hughes explained as he enjoyed a Joya de Nicaragua Antaño. He said he now finds great satisfaction in helping people pick out the right cigar for them.
"I don't want people to go through what I went through," said the former corporate warrior.
Hughes is working on dressing up The Humidor. He's got two female mannequins in the window that have become a sort of inexplicable attraction. He's got a poker tournament on the second Thursday of each month and soon will add darts. Wood floors are in the plans.
The store is busy. Customers come through the door, comment on how hot it is — and dry, did you hear? —and tell Hughes that they want something like "a 30-minute mild cigar, a Garcia Vega or a Punch." I'm sure that's the first time I've ever heard those two brands uttered in the same sentence. Hughes is surprisingly tolerant of this kind of request. He helps the guy and finds him an appropriate cigar.
The Humidor is kind of an oasis on this and most days. There's a guy on the computer in the lounge, which has WiFi. A football game is on the TV. Another visitor is in town for his son's college soccer game and has a couple of hours to sit and enjoy a smoke, listen to the blues on the sound system and then hear Hughes play a mean blues harp (harmonica).
"I can't do this where I live," said the guest, the stress melting away. He's from Calabasas, a California city that banned outdoor smoking.
Hughes just shakes his head upon hearing this tale of woe. He's heard the blues before. Now he just plays them. And he knows what he's smoking.
The Humidor Cigars & Gifts (aka, The Humidor)
12 E Vine Street