I spent my Sunday afternoon sitting in my local cigar lounge enjoying a nice Kristoff maduro cigar and a ShinerBock while watching the football action that the NFL had to offer.  On its own, that is a good day.  It is hard to beat a nice cigar with an adult beverage and some football.  But this day was different.

The cigar lounge is nice, but not large and fairly unassuming.  It is in a strip mall between a Chipotle and an ATT store, been around for over 20 years and even calling it a “lounge” is glamorous.  It is a cigar shop with 3 walls of humidors stocked with cigars of all shapes, sizes and regions with the fourth wall being an assortment of wines and bourbons.  Behind the counter is a wall of pipes and the counter is filled with the standard fair of lighters, cutters, ash trays and miscellaneous items closed off by canisters of pipe tobacco.  There is no bar, they have a mini fridge with about 4 different styles of bottled beer you can drink while there.  There are two T.V.s, one above the counter and one over in the sitting area that has three comfy leather chairs and then a couple of tall tables and bar stools.  This is much less a bar and more of a hangout.

Which is what my experience brought on Sunday.

Now I am somewhat of a regular here, by no means a stranger, but rarely on the weekends which I predominately spend with my family.  Sunday was an exception.  The holidays are officially ending and I have been home much more the last couple weeks with everyone so I decided I was going to go out for a little while and grab a smoke and watch some football.

When I arrive, the place is packed,  20 or so guys in there smoking and drinking and having a good time.  Mostly guys except for one woman; Ages varying from low 30’s to upper 60’s; an equal mixture of white and African-American.  There are military and ex-military, former law enforcement, business people, factory workers and a guy who packs his camera everywhere looking for just the right photo.

Apparently, most of these guys are here on the regular on Sundays.  They are all part of a fantasy football league together.  Most don’t know each other outside of the cigar shop, but everyone treats one another like they are the best of friends, from “normal” friend stuff to the jabbing and joking at one another’s expense, to betting a stick or a beer on whatever might be happening on the field of the games being watched.

I know some of the guys from hanging out in there as well, but there are several today that I had never met.  So after I grab my Kristoff maduro and my Shiner I grab a stool, light up and begin shaking hands and meeting the guys I haven’t met before.  Reggie, the photographer, introduces me as the preacher to everyone.  He gets a real kick out of the fact that a preacher looks like me and hangs out in a place like that, much less smoking and drinking.  Reggie is a good guy.

Over the next 3 hours we watched football, enjoyed our smokes and had conversation ranging from fantasy football to real football to law and politics to guns to taking care of one’s family to another’s divorce and remarriage and him meeting his ex’s boyfriend who she’s been dating for 7 months because they agreed to meet if any dating relationship reached 7 months because of the potential impact that would have on their son.

There was a lot of joking and jabbing and cussing and pranks, but there was also real talk.  Talk about real life and things that matter much more than football.  And there was openness and freedom.  In short, there was safety.  Safe to be real, be authentic, even be vulnerable.  It wasn’t forced or mechanical in any way,  it was natural flow.  Like family.  From joking and harassing to something serious and then back again.  Of course, not the entire store or everyone in it at the same time, but yet everyone was involved, even if not in every detail.  It was actually a beautiful thing to watch and be a part of.

It got me thinking of places like that in the past.  Places that were hangouts for all manner of people and where everyone was actually open and free to discuss anything.  The most common example that I could think of was the barber shop (or beauty salon).  The barber shop was a place where people would just hang out and chat.  One would stop by just to check in and see what was happening with everyone.  It was community.  It was inviting.  It wasn’t as much about business as it was the connection.  In fact, the connection was good business.

Today, barber shops – at least in that regard – are a fading memory.  Though I am sure there are still some out there, they are a dying breed.  In fact, any place like that is a rarity in our culture.  We “connect” through social media.  We go out for a purpose.  The two don’t seem to intertwine anymore.  And that my friends is a real tragedy.

The world has a lot going on right now, most of it divisive in nature.  And people are more divided than ever it would appear.  In a time when we need connection – especially across racial, economic and social biases – we seem to isolate ourselves from that very thing.  As a culture we seem to be doing more to self-inflict than to heal.

But today I saw something different – something better.  I saw people from different races, economic standings, social settings, backgrounds and neighborhoods, all just hang out and connect – really connect.  These guys knew one another, not because they live next door to another (quite the opposite is true), but because they have intentionally decided to find common space and share life with one another.  Did some have a couple too many drinks?  Possibly.  Is it the place and activity for everyone?  Of course not.  But for these guys it is and it works.  And we all need that place.

So I encourage you to start the new year off by actually being social, and not just on social media.  To actually get out into your community and find your barber shop where you can be real and connect and share real life with other people.  As for me, I’m just going to enjoy another maduro and a beer and engage in real life with my “brothers”.



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