Smoke ‘Em If You Got ‘Em

Few things will make a cigar aficionado’s eyes dance more than a box of Cubans. I can’t say I’m really an aficionado, but when Jorge handed me a plastic bag with a wooden box in it, I knew what I was holding. Jorge, however, had no idea what a predicament he had just put me in.  It was the morning we were leaving Havana. He met us at the airport and it was clear that he didn’t know about this pesky, Kennedy-era executive order called the Cuban Embargo. Why would he? He’s Cuban. He just wanted to give me a thoughtful gift as we were leaving to come back to the U.S. I opened the bag and saw the cedar box and knew that I was now thrust into a massive internal ethics debate as to what to do. The box said Cohiba, my knees weakened.


“Share this with your friends when you get back.”, Jorge whispered in my ear.

Not wanting to let on that I was having an existential crisis I said,  “Thank you, friend. You are too kind.”

What was I supposed to do? I was minutes away from walking through passport control on my way to Panama. There I would change airlines and fly back to Miami. If I show up in the U.S. with those cigars, I could be in deep trouble. But how was I to reject my friend’s gift? My first thought was to employ an old trick many have used to get Cuban cigars into the U.S.  What you do is simply remove the paper rings and anything else that proves the cigars are ACTUAL Cubans, put them some other kind of container and tell the U.S. Customs agent that they are Dominicans. I opted not to go with this plan, however, because I enjoy not being in jail or having to pay copious amounts of fines. Plus, I am just not going to lie or break the law for some cigars.

My second thought was to smoke them…all 25 of them…in Panama. Smoke ‘em if you got ‘em, boys.  I wasn’t too excited about that plan, either. For one, I’m not really a cigar smoker. Also, our arrival time in Panama was eight o’clcok in the morning. I’m certainly not an AM cigar smoker.

That really only left me with one logical solution. I would delay my decision until I got to Panama. There, I would immediately go to the duty free shop to discuss my options. After all, the cigars were a gift. Maybe that makes a difference. I didn’t purchase them, so maybe there is some kind of loophole giving me exemption to the decades-old embargo. If you cannot tell, by this time I was both grasping at straws and in complete denial.

The flight to Panama was long. I couldn’t stop thinking about those amazing Cuban cigars and how nice it was of my friend to give them to me. He had to have paid a small fortune for that box of Cohibas. There’s got to be SOME legal way to get them into America.

We landed in Panama, and I headed straight for the duty free shop. I asked a salesman if they sold Cubans. He said, “We do. What kind do you want?”

“Well I just have a question about this box of cigars I got in Cuba.” I pulled the Cohibas from my bag and showed them to the salesman.

He smiled and said, “You’ve been in Cuba?”

“Yes, my friend gave these to me this morning.”

I told him that I was en route back to the States and I wanted to know if he knew of any way to take the cigars back.

He said, “Do you know how much that box of cigars costs?”

I shook my head. He walked over to the counter and pulled a cedar box from a locked case. It was a box of Cohibas that looked very similar to mine.

“We do not even sell the ones you have. Your friend probably got them at a good price. These are similar, but not quite as nice as the ones you have.”

He held the box out to me and showed me the difference between the two. Then he turned his box over to show me a price tag. It said $627. I shuddered.

I asked, “Is that American dollars?”

He nodded.

“And mine are nicer than those?”

He nodded again.

He said, “You cannot take those back to the U.S.”

“I know.”

“What are you going to do with them?”

I said, “I don’t know, would you like to buy a box of cigars from me?”

“You cannot sell those. Cigars must be inspected and certified before you can sell them in Panama.”

At this point I had drawn a little bit of crowd. Some seemed interested in what was going to happen with my cigars, others just seemed interested in the Spanish-speaking red-head with the box of Cohibas. I stood there for a few silent, contemplative minutes, weighing my options. Not that there were any options. I couldn’t sell them. I wasn’t going to smoke them. Here I was with the nearly $700 in the finest cigars the world has to offer and all I would ever have to show for them is the beautiful cedar box. Finally, I came to grips with what I had to do.

I looked down at the bundle of Cohibas and untied the decorative ribbon and removed the paper in which they were wrapped.

“Well friend, can I interest you in one of my cigars? My gift to you.”

He quickly replied, “I will take one!”

I untied the bundle of cigars and began handing them out; instantly becoming the most popular man in Panama.

A few random travelers got a cigar, the other duty free salesmen got one, several members of the Venezuelan national soccer team walked by.

I asked, “Did you win?”

One player exclaimed, “Yes! We beat Ecuador!”

“Felizidades!” I replied as I handed them all a Cohiba. Their eyes widened with excitement.

Defeated, I returned to my travel partners. They could see the horror on my face as I approached with the empty box.

There’s really no good way to end this story. There’s no life application or moral to it. I simply had to give away one of the nicest, most thoughtful gifts I’ve ever received. I guess the only thing I can say is that I got to keep the box and that smoking is bad for you, kids.  Don’t do it.


83 thoughts on “Smoke ‘Em If You Got ‘Em

  1. proudcoldwarrior February 19, 2015 / 6:27 AM

    Reblogged this on proudcoldwarrior and commented:
    This story, in its own way, is a Cold War Story. The embargo started with President Kennedy. Enjoy the read.


  2. proudcoldwarrior February 19, 2015 / 6:23 AM

    BZ to you sir! You paid it forward. Just think of how far Jorge’s kindness went. You influenced many. I am quite sure they left you in a happier mood, shared this act of kindness with others, spoke to their friends about the crazy Spanish speaking redhead and those friends told someone else, etc, etc, etc. you caused a ripple in the universe with that act. May I re-post this on my blog, The Proud Cold Warrior? It is a unique Cold War story of the kind I look for to re-post.


  3. jocymedina January 11, 2015 / 1:27 PM

    I loved your story. And I am Cuban. Totally get what you went through. I read, in a very recent post regarding Obama’s proposed openings regarding Cuba, that importing Cigars and Cuban rum will be allowed in the US. If you could have just waited a little bit eh? if only life was that way…. :)


  4. Words In A Wine Glass January 10, 2015 / 1:19 AM

    Beautifully written! I scroll through tons of posts and don’t have the patience for many, but this was actually a bit gripping…. And I don’t have the slightest interest in cigars.


  5. fallowme2bfree January 7, 2015 / 11:56 PM

    i quite smoking after 30yrs just a month ago and finally am free of that ball and chain wewho


    • alwaysmadeleine January 7, 2015 / 2:41 PM

      What an absolute bummer that is. We have just come back from Cuba… amazing place. I think what you did was fab. I also think if you had smoked all of them the flight back to Miami would have been one serious head rush… not to mention the entire plane smelling like a Havana bar, which is good or bad depending on who you are I guess!


  6. sprytely50 January 6, 2015 / 11:18 PM

    But what else was there for a gentleman to do?
    You now have the satisfaction of having made all those people as happy as you were when you received the gift.
    Well Done !!


  7. pastorwilf January 5, 2015 / 6:14 PM

    It will come back to you in a bigger way!!


  8. N. of New Canaan January 4, 2015 / 10:37 AM

    This story made me smile.


  9. improud2bnaturalme January 3, 2015 / 6:59 AM

    This was an awesome story. Even though you felt personally defeated, you gave those people each an amazing gift, one beyond the amazing cigar. For many of those people, you offered them the opportunity to possibly experience a lifestyle that they never saw possible for themselves. For others you showed them the amazing generosity of one stranger that may have in some small way renewed their hope in humanity. For others, you gave a new perspective of Americans, which are often depicted as selfish takers, and you clearly are a giver. As much as it would’ve been great to bring those back, since Cubans are awesomely smooth (so I hear ;) ), the story would’ve ended with the ashes. This is so much more!


  10. sureboy360 January 2, 2015 / 7:08 PM

    I love it kindly reblogge for more details…


  11. January 2, 2015 / 6:57 PM

    Reblogged this on Captain Gino and commented:
    To know that you are about to smoke a Cuban Cigar can almost match the thought of Miss Universe wanting to have a date with you!!!


  12. kcyee January 2, 2015 / 12:58 PM

    is it legal now? That Cuba and us are talking ?


  13. matthewmallett December 29, 2014 / 5:45 AM

    Awesome story, i had a similar story with a bottle of wine intended as a gift that customs were going to simply destroy. Long story short, exited customs, asked the three customer service people who enjoyed good red and wished them a happy birthday!


  14. A City Girl December 27, 2014 / 5:13 PM

    When i was in the military we purchased boxes of cigars and mailed them home and then we found out it was illegal. We were on pins and needles thinking that not only were the feds going to get us but also get a dishonorable discharge in the process. Thank God angels were watching over our dumb butts because we never heard anything about it. Like someone else said tou paid it forward and that was nice of you


  15. luisalan December 27, 2014 / 7:47 AM

    I really enjoyed reading your story


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