and then the smoke cleared…

there are certain people in your world you just kind of assume will ALWAYS be there…

…and rob was one of ’em.

in hindsight it makes sense – he wasn’t in that great of shape (although he did still ride his bike regularly) and he didn’t have the healthiest of habits (being a tobacconist will do that to a guy – and despite kramer and shane’s statements to the contrary smokes and coffee are not chock full of vitamins and shit) but you still never see it coming.

and to show how my life has “gotten away from me” it happened almost over year ago.

i had tried to go by a couple times last spring and the shop was closed – but rob was notorious for keeping less than bankers hours from time to time and it always seemed to be early afternoon (when his “start time” was most questionable) that i’d try and pop by to find the place closed so i didn’t really think much of it.

but it turns out he passed from a sudden heart attack last march and then the shop was closed for three months while they dug it out (if you ever went in there you saw more than a smoke shop – you saw rob’s life, as numerous guitars and bicycles all in various states of cherry condition to disrepair filled every inch of the place) and actually opened up a large smoking lounge up front.

the stock is more sparse than it has ever been (been told they’re working on that) and rob’s widow still owns it – but the place feels definitively emptier without the big guy there…

…honestly, i still think i’m in shock (it’s been just over twelve hours since i found out that i’m writing this).

my third trip into the hill country humidor was the most memorable, and this was back in the mid-nineties when it was off the square and down the road from it’s current location in the shadow of the courthouse. why the third?

1st HCH visit – i walk in to a shop with a light haze of cigar smoke and blues music playing softly in the background. i make my way up to the front counter to find a older guy with a long hair and a long beard that looked like zz top’s sound guy reclined behind the counter snoring loudly with a cigar so large it looked like he was a cartoon (easily over 70 ring gauge and seven inches) dangling from his mouth with a small ribbon of smoke trailing off it. as i didn’t know to yell “ROB!” in these situations yet i just cleared my throat really loudly and in response got that “hmph-hack-hmmm….” and back to snoring sound that i just realized is really hard to re-create in text form. this was accompanied by a couple puffs on said cigar lighting up a cherry larger in diameter than a fifty cent piece and sending a bit more smoke into the air before he dozed back off still unaware i was even there. i left quietly.

2nd HCH visit – i love the smell of pipe tobacco. i hate the maintenance and bullshit that goes with smoking a pipe, and honestly i’ve found i really don’t like smoking the tobacco FROM a pipe. i also didn’t like learning the hard way that those “pipe cleaners” we’d built so much shit from as kids were ACTUALLY used to clean pipes, and took some effort to do so. this was before black ‘n milds (or at least before white america had discovered ’em) and so i went to rob, who this time was awake, and turned me on to “John T’s – The Crowd Pleaser” – an all pipe tobacco filler (but cigar binder and wrapper) cigar. we had a winner! (and the start of a life-long habit, it would seem)

3rd HCH visit – i walk in on rob and tell him the John T’s were good (when he saw me walk in he automatically retrieved a bundle of them from the humidor) but i wanted to try REAL cigars for a change, having done the T’s and various cheaper brands favored by my grandfather (Travis Club, King Edward, etc – all of which had contributed, via Papa, boxes to hold my school supplies throughout my youth while my classmates had yoda and shit on theirs) and so rob asked my budget. as a bundle of John T’s was (at the time) around fifteen to twenty bucks i said the latter. He took the twenty dollar bill from my hand, put it in his shirt pocket, and said as he saw the look i gave him for doing so, “don’t worry – i own the place”. he then winked, grabbed a bag, and said, “let’s go shopping” and proceeded to fill said bag with what added up to about $35 worth of cigars going off the prices on them.

“go home and smoke these”, rob commanded, “and save the bands – mark on them whether or not you like them then come back and we’ll get your second batch going based on how you felt about these…”

and so it began. twenty years ago.

my friend jennifer and i sat in there smoking yesterday and while it felt good to see her again (been since 2009) it felt weird to be in the humidor and despite the numerous pics of him that adorn the place and the painting of him hanging over us it still felt empty – and not just ’cause of the metric ton of his shit that was gone…in hindsight, in less than a year san marcos lost al (of al’s freewheelin’, the bike shop that supplied me with bmx parts in high school, a mountain bike for college, and the chopper bike that now sits behind me in my office as well as numerous parts for various project bikes around here – he passed in august of 2011), rob from the humidor (march of 2012) and sundance records closed (thankfully nobody died – april of 2012).

shit, in most ways that town is now dead to me.


me and jennifer yesterday at the “new” hill country humidor