Less than two weeks after we opened our cigar store in 2009, we found ourselves on the road to New Orleans to attend the International Premium Cigar and Pipe Retailers convention. The annual IPCPR gathering brings together, under one roof, nearly all the world’s cigar manufacturers and many of the country’s cigar store owners. We were excited and just a little nervous about what to expect. We were told the convention was a fantastic opportunity to meet cigar makers and learn about their current cigars and those they intended to introduce during the coming year. As the shelves in our new humidor were empty, we planned to meet as many people in the business as we could and, at the same time, learn as much as possible about their cigars. And we also planned to spend a lot of borrowed money to stock our store. That part made us anxious. The next few days proved to be so overwhelming that we never had a chance to catch our breath and relax until the long drive home.
We hit the ground running on the first day as we entered the convention hall the minute the doors opened. We had a game plan that included scheduled appointments throughout the day and a list of other cigar makers we intended to visit unannounced when our schedule permitted. Not surprisingly, we quickly discovered that our plans were overly ambitious as we scarcely had time to listen to sales pitches, test-smoke new cigars, create accounts, make decisions involving thousands of dollars, or even take a break for lunch. Unfortunately, the evenings offered no break in our routine as they were filled with dinners and socials and, of course, more business meetings. But every day was exciting. It was a cigar aficionado’s paradise to enjoy new and unfamiliar cigars, one after the other while talking about the cigar business and the plans we had for our new store. Nevertheless, the days and evenings quickly blended into a fatiguing blur, where each discussion and meeting began to appear identical to the previous ones. Even the cigars began to taste the same.
And then the convention was over. Collectively, we took a deep breath and headed for a late lunch at a nearby restaurant. As we ate we discussed the event, added up how much money we spent, and planned where we would place the new cigar purchases in our humidor. We also lamented missed opportunities represented by the large number of manufacturers we failed to squeeze into our overloaded schedule. The discussion was involved, intense at times, and diverting. And before we knew it, the sun had set. At that time, another discussion started concerning whether we should tackle the five-hour drive home or spend an extra night in New Orleans. We opted to head home.
I was riding back with my partner Rick. As I opened the passenger door and settled into the seat, a soft rain began falling. By the time we crossed Lake Pontchartrain, the sky darkened considerably, and the rain intensified with an occasional bolt of lightning. At first, we continued discussing the convention and our future plans for the store, but we soon realized the conversation was becoming tiresome and repetitious. Finally, Rick said he was tired of talking about cigars. What he wanted was some quiet. So we drove on in silence, distracted and mesmerized by the car lights playing on the dark, wet road stretched out in front of us, and the steady sound of the rain on the windshield.
We settled into the drive, and the distance from New Orleans and the IPCPR convention steadily increased. After a while, I pulled a couple cigars from my recently acquired collection of samples, broke the silence, and asked Rick, “How about a smoke?” He nodded yes, and we fired up the cigars. No other words were spoken for the next two hours as we concentrated on our cigars while enjoying the silent camaraderie. And as the calming influence of a luxuriously enjoyed cigar took hold, the intensity of the convention week began to slowly fade. Eventually, the rain stopped, and we finished. A short while later, we arrived at our cigar store, and our first IPCPR experience was at an end.
Years later, Rick and I still reminisce about our first convention, shaking our heads about how exhausted we were while laughing at our naivety. But what we remember the most about that trip was the long drive home on a dark, rainy night when we first learned about the calming effect of a great cigar—and about the way a cigar enjoyed with a business partner, even when smoked in silence, can help create lasting memories and cement the beginnings of an enduring friendship.
Originally published in Volume 10, Number 2 (February-March 2022) of Covey Rise.