1964: The copy boy reads first installment of his first novel in ANALOG while at work in the wire room. Photo by Rocco Morabito, a deer-hunting buddy who later won a Pulitzer for spot news photography

Fourth Annual International Pipe-Smoking Day

I didn’t even know they’d created an international pipe-smoking day til I got an email from a pipe-seller. Appears I’m not the only one who persists in this ancient and pleasurable pastime in the face of all the nicotine Nazis can throw at us. I was almost 21 the year my novel was serialized, and had been smoking a pipe since I was 14. I got a lot of grief about it from my grandfather, saying I was trying to look older. That was crap. My favorite uncle always smoked Mixture 79 when I was a small boy. I loved my uncle, and I loved the pipe-tobacco smell that infused his stylish clothing and his wardrobe. Monkey see, monkey do.

1986: Central Washington State on a video shoot for the Washington State Patrol under a federal contract to promote compliance with the 55-mph speed limit. Found the shirt in a truck stop. Photo by Jim Jenner.

When I was hired as PR guy for the Washington State Patrol in 1984, the governor (who credited his election to “Troopers for Booth,” first time troopers had been visibly active in gubernatorial politics) decreed we still could smoke in patrol cars despite the ban in all state facilities. As far as I know a non-smoker, he told me he liked the aroma of my Captain Black and thought it a shame I was banished outside for bowl. (His wife liked my beard, wanted to know if I could be assigned to her executive-protection unit. Which amused him and scandalized troopers for whom beards were verboten, and besides I was a mere civilian.) My TV commercials eventually garnered a Clio, Telly and two Mobius awards for series and writing.

A veteran pipe-smoking reporter for the Seattle Times of my acquaintance bewailed his exile for a smoke, asserting there are 20,000 words a week in that pipe! I completely agreed, since all my keyboarding, from typewriter to computer, was done with a pipe going. I puffed away, too, in three different patrol cars I drove over my time with the agency. A Dodge Diplomat with the hot Police Package; a blazing-fast Ford LTD that could cross the entire state in times so short they seemed surreal; and finally a four-cylinder Celebrity with all the amenities, after bean-counters decreed command and administrative staff didn’t need the speed road troopers did.

Florida: baseball game at high school my brother and I attended back in the day. Photo by our mother.

My trips home to Florida from the Evergreen State, my nicotine-Nazi brother had to put up with my pipe when we were either in our mother’s car (she was never without her smokes) or in a car I rented. He preferred road trips in my rental to save wear and tear on his car, so he was hoist by his own petard, so to speak. Ironically back then I was worried he was getting fat. Why ironically? The next picture shows why. Not long before it was taken I had a letter from him saying he had reduced to his football- and weightlifting-poundage of high school days and no longer needed Big-Man clothes. I, on the other hand…

Oregon: overlooking the Columbia River from a scenic turn-out in the Columbia Gorge. Cane, knee brace, thumb brace, 318 pounds. Seventy-six and still puffing. (E.A. Careys Vintage Estate) Photo by my lady love.

So there you have it, my tribute to International Pipe Smoking Day. I have written elsewhere of needing to fly from Washington to Utah to rescue my lady-love after she fell taking photos in remote Utah and shattered her wrist and broke her shoulder, a traumatic interruption of a cross-country road trip. I met her in Salt Lake City and drove her home, my first long road trip in over ten years. I had thought myself done with long road trips, perhaps incapable of one. It was heartening that, banged up as I am, I wasn’t.

She had an order of pipe tobacco she’d not got around to mailing in her car. I joked that’s what really got me moving. And enjoyed the blend, with new Missouri Meerschaum corncob pipes, as I blew north at the freeway posted speed of eighty miles an hour. The old double-nickle days seemed a distant illusion as the old muscle-memory of juggling coffee cup and pipe came back to me. Never once poured hot coffee in my groin.

I lift a bowl to the screen in a salute: here’s to International Pipe-Smoking Day on my sixty-fourth year of pipe-smoking. Back when all the panic about health related to smoking began, I said if that happened, in the end my pipe would have given me as much as it took away. With twenty books published and counting, the plus side of the register is pretty wide.

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Bill Burkett

Bill Burkett

Professional writer, Pacific Northwest. 20 Books: “Sleeping Planet” 1964 to “Venus Mons Iliad” 2018–19. Most on Amazon for sale. Il faut d’abord durer.