Onward from Tallahassee, but no longer eastward rather southeast through Florida, bound for the most southeastern point of the U.S. at Key West.
To break up the drive we stopped off for a night in Tampa, focusing our efforts on the area known as Ybor City, a Latin American enclave.
At the end of the 19th century its immigrants–mostly Cuban–produced the top-class, hand-rolled cigars that once made Tampa the “Cigar Capital of the World”, before mass production, the popularity of cigarettes and the Depression proved a fatal combination for skilled cigar-makers.
Despite having lost its cigar monopoly, a buzzy, multi-ethnic and almost carnival atmosphere still invested the streets as we explored the cigar shops to purchase two finely crafted specimens, and settled in a bar to test them out and have a drink.
I wasn’t a smoker but after three weeks of way too much booze, bad food and not enough sleep I reasoned even the best made and most potent bad boy cigar from Cuba wasn’t going to register much of an impact.
With Hunter S. Thompson’s point of mental and physical collapse definitely closer, I felt it prudent to be making these sorts of assessments.
Pete, on the other hand, was, ever the Samoan attorney, still displaying the constitution of a belligerent Viking: “Another round, Jeffers?”
I took a slow puff; narrowed my eyes; “Roger that” (a splutter of a cough followed).
Banding around military colloquialisms was something I always tried to avoid but that cigar had gone straight to my head: the carnival had been invited in; Roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars; 81mm illum bursting into the desert’s darkness–it was all going off in there.
Those Cubans know what they’re doing–there’s a touch of magic to their art.