Thursday, August 19, 2010

What I Learned at IPCPR


Today I finally stopped taking painkillers. Seems like the antibiotics have done their job and thoroughly kicked ass in the dense jungles known as My Kidneys. I've been taking it pretty easy since I got home from the IPCPR because, like the antibiotics I'm on, it kicked ass. My ass. Heartily. I've been smoking some cigars (Villiger Exports, nothing complicated) and ruminating on my experiences at the IPCPR. I've come up with quite a few things. If you'll bear with me, I'd like to share them with you.

Lesson #1:

Since I started smoking in '05, I've had a hard time keeping my hands off any cigar publication known to man. If it has even the briefest mention of cigars (like Golf Aficionado!) I'll usually pore over it. Thus, I've seen pictures of the manufacturers. Prominently displayed on full page ads, their lower bodies cloaked in mounds of tobacco and their heads shrouded in a permanent cloud of fragrant cigar smoke; I've seen 'em all. Rocky. Pete. Dion. Jose Blanco. Nestor Miranda. Ernesto Perez-Carillo (who is a seriously intimidating looking dude). Jonathan Drew. Marvin! Everyone. I've seen their faces. And over time, I've built them up to be huge. Not even rock-stars. More demi-gods. And I practically worshiped them. But, after the IPCPR, I've learned one thing:

They're just normal people.

I talked to a lot of people at the show. Every. Single. Manufacturer was humble and gracious. They were willing to chat, to shake hands. They joked and smoked. They shot the shit with their friends and people they've never even met before. Pete Johnson was talking to a group of guys and I was talking to my cameraman outside of their little pow-wow. He says "Hey! You want a smoke?" I turn around absolutely STUNNED. I stutter a bit and he gives a wry smirk. The guys chuckle and he reaches into a huge steamer trunk and pulls out a Tat black, handing one to both me and my camera man. The circle parts and we step in, absorbing the conversation. In the Pepin booth, he smiled quietly and raised his cup of coffee in my direction as I pored over the new releases. Dion shook my hand with a firm and practiced grip, smiling like a kid in a candy store. He patted me on the back and said how great it was to finally meet me. Guillermo Leon broke into a huge-ass smile when I finally shook his hand and said how cool it was to meet up after talking on Twitter. After meeting Jon Huber I got to walk and talk with him back to the CAO booth, chatting the entire time about social media and it's meaning to the cigar industry.

The most important thing I learned at the IPCPR, the big thing, the thing I PROBABLY should have saved for the end of this article, is that the cigar manufacturers are not just normal people...they're really nice people as well. They're honest, down to earth, generous, and kind people. I got the chance to meet so many people I once considered closer to Hercules than human and they were all great people. Blew my mind.

Lesson #2:

I didn't really want to cover this because everyone and their brother is covering it at this point but I've got an anecdote I'd like to share. At one booth (I won't say which), I stopped by on the third day to chat. I came into the booth and they saw my tag. My tag said "Exhibitor" because, technically, Drew Estate was kind enough to let me go on their docket. But, as with every booth I hit, I said hey, told them my name and explained the exhibitor tag. I'd typically give them my business card and say that while Drew Estates got me there, I was covering the event privately. I said that I run a cigar review website and opinions blog.

The face of one of the guys changed IMMEDIATELY. It went from a skeptical "what is our competitor doing here" to a dull resignation. He turned around and went to a small alcove where they stored the samples and began dutifully filling a bag. I felt HORRIBLE. Truth be told, I really felt pretty bad when people would give me samples. I couldn't really avoid it because, let's face it, I paid my way to New Orleans to pretty much be a walking, talking free press machine (or at least that's how some companies saw me). I'd chat with people, get to know them and their brand, talk shop or current events a bit. Some of them liked me enough that they thought it was worth their time to give me samples. I didn't ASK for any, I guess they just wanted me to review them. So this guy is shoving cigars into the bag and I'm horrified. The look of resignation on his face hurts not just my feelings but my integrity. Is that what I am to people? I calmly and politely it was ok, I wasn't looking for samples at all. He insisted a bit but then held off. As I continued talking with them (we got talking about dominoes, my soon to be weakness), his face brightened quite a bit. He and his associate turned with a flourish and went back to the cabinet. They put a few more in there and handed it to me. I tried to beg off but they wouldn't take no for an answer. They said "smoke it in good health and let us know what you think".

I tell you that story to tell you my feelings on being a blogger. Being a blogger is, to be absolutely truthful, FUCKING FANTASTIC. I love being able to share my opinion in such an open forum as the internet. Being able to interact with people with the same passions as I do is a wonderful feeling. If you've ever chatted with me on Twitter, you know that I can be pretty damn passionate about both cigars and alcohol. They're what I love. My smoking ritual involves torching a cigar out on the deck and reading the latest copy of whatever alcohol magazine I have: Whisky magazine, Malt Advocate, Imbibe. I live and breathe alcohol and tobacco. Hell, I'm 2/3 of the way to being an honorary member of the ATF (and my collection of shotguns is growing). That said...that's what blogging SHOULD be about. You should feel downright ashamed if you entered into this environment hoping for free shit. Would I be lying to say that I don't get free stuff. You betcha. But if you've looked at my website, I review EVERYTHING sent to me. That's why it takes so long. Good or bad, I revel in reviewing it. This blog isn't about garnering free stuff or financial compensation. Hell, I specifically state I DON'T want advertising on my front page. What this blog is about is recording my feelings on spirits and cigars, as well as broadening my palate. And the kicker is you get to come along for the ride with me. Simple as that.

Lesson #3:

This is for those of you who are going to be first-timers at the show.

When I originally found out that I'd be able to go to the IPCPR, I began planning. I copied off the list of vendors that will be there and marked off who I wanted to see. I printed off a huge copy of the map and got markers ready to color code it. A week before I got there, I decided to abandon it. It was the best choice I've ever made.

When you get to the convention floor for the first time, any and all plans you have immediately make a break for the nearest exit like their hair is on fire and the only thing that can put it out is freedom. It's almost like the first time you get drunk. You're amazed that you can feel that way legally. You kinda wobble about a bit, trying desperately to figure out what's happening to your vision. Rooms take on funky dimensions and spin a bit. It's what I affectionately dubbed "Cigar Shock". The floor was HUGE and PACKED. If you're as passionate about cigars as I am, you get in there and your mind goes limp like a ragdoll. Cognitive thoughts are impossible. Motor actions are barely plausible. Breathing and staring is your body's primary focus. Every nerve in your body cries out "SWEET JESUS YES". All other bodily functions cease to matter aside from the continued flow of oxygen to the brain and the occasional blinking to keep your eyes from turning into Ritz crackers. I was rather glad I had a cameraman. Together we were able to be semi-presentable on the first day.

Lesson #4:

Never go to New Orleans in the summer ever again.

That's about it.

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