|Low Country Pipe & Cigar - July 9, 2010|
It’s 11:30 p.m. and after a five-hour flight I’m just settling down at the hotel that they’ve been kind enough to put me up in. Immediately, besides obvious topographical distinctions, South Carolina is remarkably different from California. A random pedestrian waved at me as I was finding my way out of the airport. The front clerk at the hotel didn’t ask to see my ID when I checked in. In the elevator, strangers talked to me in a strange dialect. And yes, it is very humid. Very humid. I’d heard people talk about how muggy the South could be, but I wasn’t ready for the real experience. Having spent my entire life in a climate as dry as California I don’t think there was any way I could have been.
I’ve just made a quick call to my wife Shelly, just to let her know that I’ve arrived.
July 9th. Last night I only slept four hours because a thunderstorm startled me out of bed obnoxiously early. The locals tell me that an early morning storm of rain, lightning and thunder is a normal occurrence during this time of year; this is summer weather out here. Fortunately, I only have a short distance to walk from the hotel to Low Country Pipe & Cigar, the brick-and-mortar tobacco emporium where Smokingpipes.com has made their headquarters.
As I reach the broad, Edwardian-era brick building, I work diligently to straighten up my suit before swallowing the nervous lump in my throat. Opening the side-door (to which I’d been referred prior), I find a warm reception and a round of introductions by the few staff that make it to the office before 10 a.m. on any given Friday. While I wait for Sykes Wilford and Brian Levine to show, I help myself to a cup of fresh coffee that’s kept readily available around here and pack a bowl of Pembroke into the Dunhill I’m travelling with. The tart coffee and the creamy flavor of cognac and latakia helps to keep muzzled my frenzied nerves.
Their work space is relaxed and inviting. The offices are soft lit with 70 watt bulbs rather than the usual, awful overheard fluorescents. The walls are dressed in moss green with soft brown crown moulding and the floors are hardwood instead of the universal dingy gray indoor/outdoor carpet. The music of Stevie Ray Vaughan is issued softly from some hidden stereo speaker. Alyson and I strike up a conversation about her cats. What a pleasant first impression…
I don’t have to wait too long before Sykes arrives. When we sit down to chat I find I’m nervous all over again. However, his casual demeanor and tremendous laugh go a long way to put me at ease as he quips effortlessly, sharing anecdotes from the ten year history of the company, as well as his schooling and familial background.
“Ready for a tour?” he asks eventually, smiling generously.
Although I don’t say it, I’ve been waiting to take a good long look around this place for a great long while.
After I’ve spent the day “getting a feel for things”, playing with pipes I’ll never afford, watching the staff work and share ideas, and glimpsing some of the fundamental mechanics of an enterprise that has, until now, only existed in my imagination, I realize my intuition is ultimately confirmed: the whole operation is incredibly fantastic and I have to find my way here. The sense of team and purpose can be discerned in their every endeavor, their every update, their every newsletter; everyone loves what they do and is proud to be here. To be surrounded by this kind of talent and passion (and this many pipes!) is a royal opportunity.
Sykes has invited me to dinner. Brian will be there too. I get the feeling that this dinner will be one of those with expensive food sandwiched on the outsides and either really good news or really bad news stuffed in the middle. Obviously, I’m now eagerly hoping for the former.