Big Smoke Trip

Whew… it is all over and I am back home and back at work. Every year for the last 4 years, I have taken a long weekend in November to attend the Big Smoke with Rodney R. Fournier, my business partner in ClusterHelp.com.
 
Last Thursday, I took a late flight to Las Vegas for Cigar Afficianado’s Big Smoke and then met a drunk Rod at the airport and drove us both to the hotel. The Big Smoke is held in several locations during the year, but the Las Vegas one is really extra special because it has events for the entire weekend. The Big Smoke is held on Friday and Saturday night for 3 hours each night. Then, if you get the entire package, there are events during the day Saturday and Sunday.
 
Friday was a busy day. We had to get up earlier than I would normally when traveling to catch a bus to the municipal airport. From there, we caught a plane to a ranch in Arizona. From there, we rode ATVs down a trail and into the Grand Canyon. What a blast! We got some great pictures. The trip down the Grand Canyon was pretty good, but the trip back to the ranch was even better. On the way back up, I was really getting comfortable with the ATV and worked hard at spinning the tires to create huge dust clouds. After cleaning up, doing a little skeet shooting, and picking dust balls from my nose (I had a terrible cough, too – way too much dust), it was time to go back. The pilot didn’t want to take off because the horses and cows were too close to the dirt runway. They chased them off and then we flew back.
 
Back in the hotel, I hit the shower and then got some dinner. Did I mention that we had the joy of staying at the Hooter’s Casino? What a great place! Hot wings 24 hours a day!  Hooters Girls 24 hours a day! Heaven is very much like that in my imagination. After dinner, it was time to his the Big Smoke. After meeting so many cigar vendors and legends in the industry, picking up lots and lots of samples, and smoking, it was time to hit the casino tables. I managed to keep my losses pretty low.
 
Saturday morning, it was time to get back to the cigar show and sit through some seminars. More free cigars. Yum! Not just cigars, but damned good ones. I had a chance to talk to some of the greats, most of them I have met before. I also got a chance to talk to Tatoo Pete himself, Pete Johnson, of the Tatuaje cigar brand. He is a great guy. Lucky for him, he has had a chance to work with many of the current leaders in the industry and has been lucky (and skilled enough) to market a wonderful blend. His cigar definitely has a wow factor. Pete’s baseball Jersey, though, is what I really wanted. He said he got it at the World Baseball classic. It is a Cuban jersey with the number 4 (his ranking for the year for his cigar) and Tatuaje on the back for the name. It was perfect.
 
Saturday’s lunch was good. I sat at a table with one of the Altadis VPs. She was very nice and our table had a great conversation. Afterwards, I made sure to visit with some of the legends. I made sure to shake Carlos Fuente’s hand (Senior) and thank him for showing me how to pop the cap off of my cigars using just my thumb nail. I thanked his son, Carlito, for being such a great blender and for making such great cigars. Then I stopped and said hello to Charlie Torano (my friend Rod gave him one of his older cigars that was about 9 years old and blew his mind), Ernesto Carillo (one of my favorite people as he is so incredibly friendly), and a slew of others including some people from CAO that I have gotten to know over the years.
 
After lunch, we hit a couple of the parties for some of the cigar manufacturers. CAO’s party was awesome. Great food (catered by Wolfgang Puck’s), a couple of great cigars (Supranos Soldiers), and some champaign.
 
After the party, it was off to have dinner. Rod purchased tickets for the Soprano’s Last Supper. I still can’t believe they didn’t have any baked Ziti – WTF! The show was OK. The dancers were extremely hot, though. The food was so-so. All in all, it wasn’t worth the money. After the show, it was back to the casino tables.
 
Sunday morning breakfast at the Big Smoke has always been the high light of the weekend. Charlie Palmer does an incredible job! This year, he gave away copies of his new book, The Practical Guide to the New American Kitchen. Breakfast included more cigars.
 
After breakfast, Ernesto Carillo ran the cigar rolling session. In this session, you get a bundle (filler, binder, etc) and a wrapper leaf. They then talk you through rolling your bundle using the wrapper leaf. It always turns out to be fun. Rod still sucks at it after doing it multiple times over the years. After the cigar rolling, they had a session on Cognac. The speaker, while knowledgeable, sucked at presenting.
 
Dinner was next. Tapas at Firefly has always been a good choice for dinner. They have so many great dishes. Lots of food later, it was time to hit the shows.
 
Carrot Top – OK, I have to admit that I have never been a real big fan of his, but he really put on an awesome show that had me laughing constantly. My favorite line was when he was talking about gays and rainbows (it was started with Jeff Gordan and Nascar). He said, that if you are a man that has a dog smaller than a cat, you need to put a rainbow sticker on your car. Of course, since that applied to Rod, I had a good laugh at that one.
 
Fantasy – What is it about Vegas and half naked show girls? Oh yeah, never mind. I remember now. Anyways, I really like this show! the lead had an incredible voice and the dancers… well, ummm, they danced!
 
After the shows, it was time to hit the Casino again. I still managed to keep my losses down. I would tell you a funny story about what happened later that night, but to protect myself and my involvement, I shall take the fifth.
 
Monday morning, we had breakfast, and then we met with one of Rod’s former co-workers who now is the IT Manager for Hooters. He gave us a tour, and then it was off to the airport to return home.
 
That was my weekend – so what did everyone else do?
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