Sunday, February 21, 2010

Thoughts of St. Louis

I'm just back from the St. Louis pipe show. I have less money and more friends, which seems like a fair tradeoff. I'm also coming back with a lot of tobacco, some old favorites to stash away, some new blends to try, and an old favorite that has become a rarity.
Rather than tell you in great detail how great a time I had, because it seems only natural that a piper immersed in pipes and tobaccos would have a good time, I'd like to tell you about the people I met.
Pipe people, as a rule, are generous, friendly and welcoming. It is their distinct honor and pleasure to speak with you, not because of who you are or aren't, but really just for the conversation. They are there for the good time, which is also a time of relaxing, mental renewal and camaraderie. Of course, you're reading this because you're one of them, so you already know this.

The fun part of the pipe show, meanwhile, is that it starts before it starts. On Friday night, with the main event still more than 12 hours away, hotel room doors were propped open for anyone wandering by to stop in. Inside, they have a chair and some chatter. Maybe they have their wares out for early sales. Maybe they have some food or drink. They'll share stories and smoke and for a little while you'll forget that you're far from home, living for a night or two in a place where sheets are changed en masse and breakfast is free if it's continental. You wander from door to door, stopping in to say hi, introducing yourself, trying to figure out if your paths will cross in the future and hoping they do.
As the show starts, you wander some more, stopping to say hi the the people you met the night before. They remember you, and you notice that some of their wares have been claimed by eager buyers. And you also notice that you're happy for them, rooting for people you didn't know the night before because they are now among your friends, joined by a common practice. Walking around the tables for the fifth time, because you keep seeming to miss things, you admire the carvers, who will be glad to tell you about their labors. You've seen their pipes before, but you never really appreciated them until you saw them in the carver's wrinkled hands.
The knowledge in the room is overwhelming. There are people who have been carving most of their lives, or blending, or puffing. There are experts in everything from tampers to corn cobs to all of those wonderful blends a new smoker will probably never have the opportunity to try. You leave the show with a full bag, full of pipes and tobacco that will bring back memories for years. You also leave with an empty wallet, but who could blame you in that wealth of artistry and passion for a shared hobby. You also leave rich, filled with the experience and knowledge you gained over the span of just a few hours.
The Chicago pipe show is in May. Kansas City's is in June. Both should offer more of the same.

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