Mike “Doc” Garr’s pipe smoking talents have earned him a trophy as the Northeast Regional slow pipe-smoking champion of 2008.
With two matches, 5 grams of tobacco and a pipe, the Wilkes University sociology professor can light a pipe in about two minutes and smoke it for more than an hour and a half.
Though an hour and half might not sound long, Garr cannot relight the pipe and usually eggs it on with a drawl every few minutes. Many of the competitors’ pipes extinguish after five minutes.
A pipe-smoking enthusiast for about 10 years, Garr is president of the Pocono Intermountain Pipe Smoking Enclave (or PIPE), a local club of pipe smokers started in 2002 that meets every Tuesday at El Humidor in Wilkes-Barre, PA. The club is a charter member of the United Pipe Clubs of America, a national organization that promotes the old-fashioned hobby.
Today gives Garr and his fellow pipe smokers an extra reason to light up and tell others about their hobby. It is International Pipe Smoking Day, a day started by pipe-smoking clubs to recognize and promote pipe smoking.
Garr only recently learned about International Pipe Smoking Day, and hopes to have activities centered around pipe smoking next year – maybe a smoking competition in Wilkes-Barre.
Smoking a pipe requires Garr to take a rest during his day, break down the tobacco, fill the pipe and then spend time to smoke it. These steps make it a lot more involved than popping a cigarette or cigar in his mouth.
“It is really the ritual that makes pipe smoking, pipe smoking,” said Garr, 57, of Wilkes-Barre. “It is a lot more elaborate. Because of these rituals, it leads to more relaxation.”
Other club members are looking forward to marking the International Pipe Smoking Day the only way that fits. Adam Zwolinski, a club member and manager of El Humidor, is pretty sure he’ll celebrate by smoking a pipe the entire day.
Zwolinski, 22, of Nanticoke, joined PIPE about four years ago. Since, he’s collected nearly 100 pipes in all different sizes, shapes and finishes. Garr has around 80 pipes, including relics used during the World War II-era. Pipe smokers rotate which pipe they use every day, because too much moisture can cause a pipe to crack.
Zwolinski and Garr say through the club they’ve made valuable friendships that they wouldn’t have made elsewhere. The club’s 15 members come from all sectors of the community. It boasts occupations ranging from college professor to beef jerky salesman to a retired teacher to local university students. Whenever the group meets, the guys – yes, the club is all men, but women are welcome – sit and smoke pipes for about two hours, the usual amount of time a pipe filled with tobacco lasts.
Some in the group plan to attend the Chicagoland Pipe Show, the biggest gathering of pipe smokers and tobacco enthusiasts in the United States. The event, held outside Chicago, will be the first weekend of May.
Others, like Zwolinski, don’t take the habit seriously enough to travel, but still find it a valuable part of their lives.
“When I go back in our lounge to smoke a pipe, everything is left at the door,” Zwolinski said.
For the university professors, blue-collar workers and college students who assemble on Tuesday evenings for conversation, camaraderie and food, the crucial question is their eatery choice’s position on smoking. It’d better allow it.
Members of the Pocono Intermountain Pipe Enclave make a point of patronizing tobacco-friendly places after their two-hour get-togethers at El Humidor on Scott Street.
The members are aficionados in the strictest sense: The pipe construction, the mix, quality and pack of the tobacco, even the smoking technique all are matters of vital consideration and diligent practice.
At around 5:30 p.m., about a dozen members gather in El Humidor’s well-furnished lounge. The room has the feel of a hunting lodge, with animal trophies mounted on the walls and a provocative painting over the fireplace mantle. It also boasts refined perks such as a cappuccino machine and reading material.
There, the group’s members unwind in the circle of leather-upholstered furniture, discuss the events of the day or topics of no particular interest altogether, and, of course, light up.
The members find a camaraderie they can’t find elsewhere. About half of the founding members still attend regularly after nearly a decade.
“We could be doing other things,” says “Beef Jerky” Bob Williams, “but me, I plan my week around this.”