A Great Weekend at the Chicago Show
by Todd L. Platek
A Chicago Show virgin no longer.
Made it to the Chicago Show for the first time. Between the Tent, the Mega Center, room-hopping and excursions outside, I covered plenty of physical space. But it was the camaraderie of it all, everywhere, that was overwhelming, and I’m still on a high.
“What are you telling me I don’t already know?” you ask as you read to this point. If you don’t care to read further, that’s fine. Skip to some other article. Far be it for me to waste your valuable time. You won’t hurt my feelings.
So, you didn’t move off yet? Then let me share with you some moments from the first weekend of May, 2009.
Start first with Dave Neeb of Milwaukee, who was kind enough to recommend a place in St. Charles to stay, and then schlep me back and forth to Pheasant Run. Great guy, fellow lawyer, sells some fine pipes. Wonderful smoking and drinking buddy and master conversationalist, with a gusto for life as long as his frame. Add to Dave, so many others of you who attended the Show and whose enthusiasm was through the roof, too many to name and do justice. “E. Andrew” who has such wide, smiling eyes that if he put on another hundred pounds he’d make a fine “happy Buddha” whose belly would escape no one’s good luck rub. Gee, I should have practiced on Brian Ruthenberg! Well, there’s next year. Lee Von Erck, the orneriest-looking sweet guy in the Great Lakes area. Dave Wolff, bushy eye-browed and mustachioed prince repairer of broken hearts and briars. The Neatpipe.com gang, whose tight shirts I couldn’t even have squeezed into when I was 15! Do they ever eat? J. and Louise off the Hermit Farm, smoking, selling and playing groovy music. Maxim Engel, looking his distinguished self as he plied his steady gaze throughout. Marty Pulvers, as pleasantly excitable as a cheery firecracker. Genod’s Jacque Craen, and the Butz Choquin and Chacom directors, whose enchanting old briars were my father’s favorites 50 years ago, and whose taste still tickles my taste buds. After all, La Pipe C’est Mieux! Ian Walker and his delightful wife, fresh ashore from merry old England’s navigable waters. Baldo Baldi, peering inscrutably from beneath his masterful brow, and I’m still wondering what he said to me, but it sounded authoritative. Alberto Bonfiglioli, Chief of “Alberto’s Team,” who spoke equally authoritatively, and made himself crystal clear. Russ and the tobacco gnomes of Hearth & Home kept me in leaves to burn. Lots of brilliant talent who tease the briar into brave new shapes.
There were all my NY Pipe Club mates who made the Great Trek westward in search of Mr. Goodpipe. A marvelous time was had by all. Say, where do Peter and Jon Guss get all that energy from? They make this native Manhattanite feel like he needs to mainline Geritol. Dom, Arthur, Harvey, Larry, Rob, Dave, Hank, Eugene, and Andrei, all spreading NY good cheer over the crowd.
Two more people deserve most honorable mention, namely Vernon Vig and Andrew Marks. Vernon gives of himself generously, unselfishly and uncomplainingly,
despite all the years he’s lived in New York and could have learned to complain as much as I do. Then again, as a native New Yorker, it’s my inherent right to complain; as a Midwestern transplant, Vernon had to submit a special application to City Hall, so we can excuse him for being so positive, and grinning and bearing it all with aplomb. Few people manifest their fascination for this hobby and unceasingly contribute as much of themselves to it, and us, as does Vernon. For him, a good pipe is a great pipe, and to smoke it is to imbibe the joie de vivre.
Andrew Marks made his too-long-awaited exodus from the verdant Vermont forest. The fascination he found in the Show seemed a confirmation of his 40 years of devotion to pipe carving, and I hope it signals his return, as one of America’s leading-edge and earliest pipemakers, to the public eye. Andrew and I spent hours each day exploring the mysteries of existence while smoking and drinking. We didn’t solve all the mysteries because we ran out of booze and time. But it will happen, either in his haunt in Vermont, or at the next pipe show, or in my homes in New Jersey or China, if he makes the journey. Andrew’s sentimental reunion with Lars Ivarsson and Former Nielsen after 36 years was absolutely palpable to everyone in the room. And Andrew was awestruck to meet Joe Giordina.
Talking about China (well, the Far East, anyway), Vernon, Andrew and I were eating at the Thai restaurant across the street from Pheasant Run, when we began joking about whether in the Far East it is appropriate to show one’s appreciation for the meal by making a certain loud noise that originates somewhere in the stomach. Being a self-professed maven of Orientalia, I said that it’s not a custom, just a habit for those who don’t cover their mouths at the time of eruption. Nevertheless, I had to have my fun. At the end of the meal, on handing the exquisite waitress the payment, I leaned forward and with the innocent, respectful look I reserve for judges during oral argument and my wife when she asks whether I bought yet another pipe, I asked, “May we burp?” Vernon’s reaction was lightning quick! Ouch!! He slapped my arm and said paternalistically,“Stop it!” Andrew looked shell-shocked and his eyes tripled their normal size. The waitress genuinely couldn’t understand my question, and politely inclined her head forward, blinked and asked searchingly “Excuse me?” Equally doe-eyed, I smiled and said “Never mind.” Can’t take me anywhere. We then returned refreshed to smoke, drink and talk into the early morning hours.
What a great weekend! How soon can we do it again?
Berkeley Heights, NJ
May 6, 2009