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Growing up in the A-1 Truck Stop in Waldo, FL I’d sit and watch our patrons who were vastly different than my family and our neighbors. Our restaurant seating consisted of four 36” square tables that had four chairs each and a counter where there were six stools. I’d see tourists sitting at the tables and wonder what their life was like in whatever faraway town they lived in. But it was the truckers who mesmerized me. Maybe it was because they operated large vehicles that were so big and powerful. Maybe it was because they traveled all over the country and got to see so many things I had yet to see. Or maybe it was because they looked so cool sitting at the counter of our truck stop smoking big cigars. I remember thinking that they were so successful and that one day, just maybe I could be a trucker, too.

As years passed by and I got close to my teenage years, my dad sat me down and told me that he’d better not catch me smoking without his permission. He assured me that if I came to him and let him know I wanted to smoke, he would let me. I really thought that smoking was part of a successful life, so when I turned 13, I figured I was old enough, and I told my Dad I’d like to smoke. He lived up to his word and said, “That’s fine. Go sit on a stool at the counter.” I immediately jumped up on the stool, anxiously waiting to smoke like the successful people do! My dad asked me what I wanted to smoke and I told him, “a Salem” - a filtered cigarette I’d seen many of the tourists smoke. He said without hesitation, “If you’re gonna smoke, then you need to smoke like a real man, like the truckers.” Well, I knew I didn’t want to let this opportunity to smoke pass me by and that I needed to “man-up” so I said, “OK.” He turned around and got a Tampa Nugget Cigar from the box and handed it to me. He told me how to light it, then how to inhale it, and encouraged me to do the inhaling often.

About one-half of the way thru the cigar, the room started spinning, and I knew I had to lie down quickly as I was feeling quite ill. Just as soon as I made it out of the restaurant and into our living quarters, I threw-up!! And let’s just say, it wasn’t pretty.

Needless to say, that was the end of my desire to smoke. Or so I thought….

When I entered the professional life of working for an auction company and being in the automobile business, I went to see one of my favorite high school teachers to tell him about my business successes. He congratulated me and before I left, he said, “You know Ben, if you want to be really successful, you need to do what the business leaders of our community do. You need to smoke cigars and always carry a couple in your pocket, and offer one to your clients!” I had the utmost respect for this man, and my ambition was to become a real success, so I immediately went to the cigar store and purchased a box of excellent cigars. Now, I thought, I am going to be a real success! I began smoking them right away and looked forward to being among the top business leaders.

A few years later, I began to feel physically challenged; a little bad, then, as time went on, a little worse. One day, I decided to go to the doctor and get checked out. He told me I was working too hard and was under too much stress. (He never asked me if I smoked and I never mentioned it.) His prescription was for me to take some time off! So, I did as recommended and took a vacation. But even though the vacation was enjoyable, I still didn’t feel right.

After my vacation, I went back in my office and I asked my assistant to come to my office to get some papers I had hand written (back in the day of no computers) for her to type for me. I had been in my office, with the door closed, smoking my cigar and writing over a previous couple of hours. As soon as she opened the door and walked in, she began coughing violently. Once she composed herself, she said, “Ben, why are you smoking those things? They smell awful, and on top of that, they’re bad for your health. They are going to be the death of you!”

At that moment, I remembered my 13-year-old self, smoking a cigar and becoming violently ill. This was what was wrong with me. It was the cigars.

As soon as she walked out of my office, I threw my humidor, and an unopened box of cigars, in the trash can and quit smoking cold turkey. I began feeling better, both physically as well as physiologically, almost immediately. I was now REALLY on my way to success. I was healthier and more robust because of the clean air I was breathing. That was over 35 years ago and was probably one of the best decisions I’ve ever made for myself.

As I look back on my successes, there are many examples of things I thought I had to do to be successful. But when it comes down to it, being true to myself and my values and remembering that the core of my life and business is to serve others were the real path to success.

My Dad was trying to teach me this when he had me smoke that cigar at the age of 13! I’m glad I figured it out before those cigars taught me a fatal lesson in Waldo Wisdom.

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