Image from http://www.unitedpipeclubs.org
Last November while visiting family out of state, I received a private message on Instagram from a fellow Chicagoland pipe smoker by the name of Michael. I hadn’t chatted with Michael much other than the two of us mutually following each other and liking posts, but I enjoyed his feed so I eagerly checked his message. After introducing himself, Michael invited me to attend the Chicagoland Pipe Collectors Club’s next meeting. Michael thought I’d enjoy coming to the club and join the members in some pipe smoking and pipe talk. Now, I knew there was a Chicago Pipe Club, but hadn’t done the research in finding it. Immediately I went to the CPCC site to read up on it. I discovered that the CPCC ran the annual Chicago Pipe Show, an event that I dream of attending some day. Needless to say, my interest was piqued.
As a pipe smoker, it’s rare to come across a fellow piper out in the wild. If it’s a good year, I see one pipe smoker out and about. But here was a rare chance to sit down with fellow pipe smokers and talk about the hobby while enjoying a pipe. Indoors no less! I have no one in my neck of the woods to share a pipe with and talk about these things.
Pipe clubs have always held an allure over me since I was a teenager sneaking onto the Pipes.org Readers Digest archives. Here I was regaled with tales of men and women coming together, swapping pipes and tobacco, and discussing all things pipe related. I could imagine it all in my young mind, sitting in a tobacco shop with pipe in hand, talking about blends I enjoyed with likeminded people, my people. At the time, it was just a pipe dream, but like becoming a pipe smoker, this too could become a reality!
So I replied to Michael saying that I’d definitely come to the next meeting that was open to me. He said I wouldn’t regret it, and I began looking through the pipe club’s calendar, searching for a time I’d be able to make it.
Soon November became December, then January, February, March, and so on. Any time the date for a club meeting would arrive, I would inevitably have plans that day without fail. I’d get invites from Michael, and have to decline them a few days beforehand. I even had to drop my plans to attend the Chicago Pipe Show due to circumstances out of my control. I began wondering if I’d ever make it to one of the CPCC meetings.
That changed for this past meeting. For the first time since I was initially invited, I didn’t have any obligations in the way of attending the club. I wouldn’t be able to make it until after the meeting started, but I could go. So I grabbed my messenger bag, loaded a few pipes and tins of tobacco, and drove an hour to the tobacco shop the pipe club met at for their meetings.
I arrived at 8 to 8 Tobacco precisely at 8, about a half hour late for the club meeting. I sat in my car looking at the clock and contemplated just driving back. This might not come as a surprise, but I’m a terribly shy introvert. I get nervous when I know everyone in a room is looking at me, and I knew that would happen the moment I walked inside. I texted my wife asking her whether I should just come home. Bless her, she urged me to give it a shot, saying I’d regret it if I didn’t. So I sighed, hefted my messenger bag on my shoulders, and moseyed inside to face my fears.
As soon as I walked inside the shop I was met with a cloud of pipe tobacco haze. Over twenty men sat at a U shaped table with their pipes and a few cigars as the club presenter went over the club news for the month. As overwhelmed as I felt, the overall atmosphere put me at ease. I knew I was around my people. Most of the men who were at the meeting were older in age, but there were a few younger pipe smokers dispersed amongst the pipe table.
Since I arrived late, I stood in the back, as I wasn’t sure where to sit and didn’t want to cause a disruption. Truthfully, I felt intimidated to make the move on my own, and decided to wait until an appropriate time. Once the speaker finished his talk, another member pointed me out, and the speaker turned to me, along with the rest of the club.
“Are you here for the pipe club?” the man asked me.
“Yes I am,” I replied simply, knowing there was nowhere to run or hide. The man smiled and pointed over at the table.
“We have a few chairs open, feel free to take a seat and join in,” he added, before giving me a raffle ticket for a prize drawing.
I nodded sheepishly and made my way to the closest chair before sitting down. I reached into my messenger bag and pulled out my Lane poker and jar of Peter Stokkebye’s Bullseye Flake. When I packed my pipes and tobacco, I forgot my Kraken tobacco mat, so I began rubbing out the circle flakes into the jar and began loading my pipe as the speaker continued onto the next topic of business. I’d like to say that I calmly and coolly loaded my pipe like I do at home, but this was not the case. Being surrounded by other pipe smokers and feeling like all eyes were on me was a bit too much for me to handle at the moment.
Another quick fact about me, I don’t hide my nerves very well. I’d be a terrible poker player, as I’m sure I’d telegraph my moves despite my best attempts. My arms would not stop trembling, and bits of tobacco fell more onto the table than into the bowl of my pipe. I felt completely embarrassed, and I had to just stop what I was doing and put my hands on my knees, trying to get them to stop shaking.
I’m pretty sure the people around me knew I was having a rough time. When the time came for the raffle, an older gentleman sitting beside me turned and asked if I had my ticket. I produced mine and showed it to him. He nodded and smiled before saying he hoped that I’d win. I thanked him, and told him I hoped he’d win as well.
Neither of us won the three drawings, but it didn’t matter. That one act of kindness helped settle my nerves, and soon I was back to filling my pipe. After the drawing, the speaker stood back up and asked me to introduce myself to the club. I happily obliged and gave a short introduction about who I was, how long I’ve smoked a pipe, and how I found the club. The group politely listened to my rambling, and welcomed me to the club.
Once I finished, I was finally able to light my pipe and contribute to the pipe smoke haze. The speaker announced that the news portion of the evening was over, and that we were welcome to chat and smoke until 8 to 8 Tobacco closed at 10 PM. I wasn’t sure how the rest of the evening would go, but I was prepared to just sit back and listen to people chat about pipes and tobacco. This didn’t end up happening thankfully.
See, when pipe smokers get together, they enjoy chatting about pipes as much as they do smoking them. The gentleman sitting next to me turned and began talking to me about how I got into the hobby. I ended up spending the rest of the evening talking with him and the other men around me about our pipe history and the various blends we enjoy smoking. I can’t stress enough how wonderful of an experience this was for me. All I’ve done as a pipe smoker is talk about pipes and tobacco with others online. While this is great, nothing beats having the conversations with another person next to you.
For example, I was talking with the gentleman sitting next to me from earlier, and he started talking about how much he enjoyed Davidoff’s Royalty Mixture, his favorite English blend. I mentioned that I hadn’t tried it (much less any Davidoff blend), and he proceeds to pass his tin to me and told me to fill a pipe of it. I obliged, and filled my bent Bones pipe with the blend. Sure enough, I found that I enjoyed the blend as well. This beats hearing about a blend on a message board; you can try the blend right there! Another member insisted that I try his own personally blended English blend, and proceeded to fill a small ziplock bag with a few bowlfuls of tobacco. I’ve since had a bowl of it, and I can tell you it’s very good.
The hour and a half sped by faster than I had hoped, and I wish I had been able to get to the meeting earlier to join in with everyone. I heard tales of blends long gone, as well as how people first started smoking a pipe. I can never hear enough of these tales, so I listened eagerly as I puffed my pipe.
When there was about a half hour left before the store closed, I got up and checked out 8 to 8’s pipe tobacco selection. While they mainly catered to cigars, there were enough new blends for me to pick from and try. I ended up buying a tin of Samuel Gawith’s Golden Glow, a broken flake tobacco that piqued my interest. I showed my new purchase to my fellow pipers and offered a sample, though no one took up the offer. The same went with the other blends I brought, but there’s always next time.
By the time I ended up leaving the meeting, I left with some new pipe tobacco and a few issues of The Pipe Collector that another member generously gifted to me. The members I chatted with asked if I’d come again, and I promised that I would. I meant it, too, as this was one of the best pipe smoking experiences I’ve ever had. Besides, Michael, the Instagram member who invited me, didn’t make the meeting, and I wanted to meet him in person.
I loved my time with the Chicago Pipe Collectors Club, and I definitely plan on attending their meetings as long as I’m in the area. I meant to take a few pictures of the event, but I had so much fun at the meeting it honestly slipped my mind. If you smoke a pipe and live in the Chicago area, I can’t stress enough what a great time it is.
If you’re interested in attending, visit www.chicagopipeshow.com for more details. The meetings are held at 8 to 8 Tobacco in Villa Park, IL. Meeting dues are $10 per meeting, but the first visit is no charge to those checking the club out. I hope to see you there at a future meeting! I’ll be the shy guy with the old timey beard and flat cap. Feel free to pull up a chair, light a pipe, and chat for a spell.
Happy puffing to you!
Note: I would be shortsighted of me not to express my condolences at the passing of the CPCC President Michael Reschke to his family, his friends, and the CPCC. He sadly passed away a few days after the meeting. I believe Michael was at the meeting and introduced himself to me, though I’m regretfully bad at remembering names and faces. Regardless, I am sorry to hear of his passing, and while I didn’t know him personally, I wish to thank him for his years of service with the club. If you wish to read more about him, the note of his passing is below: