I don't smoke anymore but in the 90's it was still considered to be cool to smoke. Not Marlboro Man riding on a horse cool, but there was a certain something to seeing someone leaning against a wall dragging on their smoke.
I didn't start smoking to be in, or cool, I started how everyone else started. My friend offered me a cigarette at the bus stop.
As the legal age to buy cigarettes was 18 and I was maybe 15 at the time, we had to find creative ways to get our hands on that magic killing machine that are Marlboro reds or Newport light menthol 100, Virginia Slims, Winstons... hell we used to scrounge butts out of my parents ashtray whenever we got the chance.
The main source of our cigarettes as I mentioned briefly above, was my parents. Picking though ashtrays filled with cigarettes that were squished and broken just to try for a chance at a few drags was a miserable experience.
Stealing one or two smokes was trickier than you'd imagine. Occasionally you would find your mom or dads pack laying on the coffee table as they were off in another room, but you had to make sure there were enough left that they wouldn't notice AND do it quick enough as to not get caught in the act.
Black Russian cigarettes, to me, are the gold standard of cigarettes. I have no idea where my dad got them, but they were hidden away in the top drawer of his dresser. As soon I discovered them, I snuck two, which was borderline insane. My review? HEAVEN!
I would legit start smoking again if somebody handed me a black Russian cigarette. I can't even really say what I liked about them, they were just different and holy shit were they good.
They came in a cardboard box and had more than the 20 that a normal pack had. After having those first two, those were the cigarettes we wanted to smoke. I stole maybe 8-10 out of that pack before I realized that any more I'd be risking life and limb. The last 2 cigarettes, we saved those for months.
There were still cigarette vending machines.
Though smoking was still going strong in the 90's, buying cigarettes when you're 15 or 16 at a store was next to impossible. So when we found two vending machines that dispensed cigarettes, we were on cloud nine.
The first vending machine we found was at Pilgrim Sands Motel, which is still around btw, though I am sure, they are without said vending machine. This machine looked exactly like the one above, you'd put your money in, pull the tab, a pack of cigarettes would drop out and you'd run for your goddamn life.
The other was at a rest area off of the highway.
Now being 15, without a license, if you wanted to get anywhere, you were riding your bike, plain and simple. Pilgrim Sands was a good 12 mile bike ride. The rest area... 5. So 9 times out of ten, the rest area was where we'd get our smokes.
There were a few problems with this however, the least of which was the constant flow of people coming in and out.
The big issue was that the machine was directly across from the front desk of the customer service booth.
This particular machine looks exactly like the picture above, only the bottom row was all cigarettes.
So my friend and I would ride our bikes out to the rest area to "hang out" because you know, that's a place normal teens go. We'd hover over this damn machine, I mean for hours sometimes. When we'd actually get the courage to put money in the machine, half the time we would get a bag of chips and saunter away defeated.
When we did get the cigarettes though, you had to have a plan. That plan consisted of getting random snacks, a bag of chips, a candy bar, a soda, another candy bar, two more bags of chips... then finally, hitting "E3" for the pack of Marlboro Lights. Then you'd "hide" the cigarettes in the grocery store pile of candy and snacks and walk out like it was no big deal.
In hindsight this was so stupid. If I were the person behind the desk and actually cared, if I saw a bunch of kids putting $40 into a damn machine I'd be a little suspect, just saying.
You'd have to find creative ways to smoke.
Getting our hands on the cigarettes was only the first step. Actually being able to smoke the cigarettes was a whole different ball game.
During the summer it was a lot easier because we could just hang out at night sneak off into the woods to smoke a cigarette and then emerge from the shadows like nothing had happened.
The winter was trickier. Telling your parents you're going out for a walk when it's -15° out, drew awkward stares but was usually not denied. The problem here is it got dark at 4:30, there is snow everywhere and you're freezing your ass off.
There was a house down the road from me that had been on the market for quite a while. Next to the house was a small metal shed. In the winter time we would go into the empty shed, pretend we were warm, and smoke cigarettes.
When you're freezing your ass off all you want to do is get warm and get out of the cold as quickly as you can. This meant that they usually casual smoking experience turned into a mad rush to finish your cigarette as quickly as humanly possible. Now if you don't smoke all the time, smoking two cigarettes to completion in a matter of about 10 minutes, is not going to go well at all. To make matters worse, we had just smoked TWO Camel NON FILTERED cigarettes!
I don't think I've ever been so sick in all my life. It was almost enough to make me never want to smoke again. Only it didn't...
I quit only because I could feel myself getting addicted.
Fast forward five years, I'm out of high school I have a full-time job in tech-support where my commute is an hour to an hour from work. What does one do with all this extra free time? Smoke cigarettes that's what you're freaking do.
So I would have two cigarettes on my way to work and two cigarettes on my way home from work. No big deal, it was only four cigarettes a day. The only other times I would smoke was if I was drinking with my friends and it wasn't like that was a daily thing.
So the fateful day that I will never forget. I've smoked my last cigarette on my way into work and about halfway through the day right before lunchtime I began to have a small mini panic.
You see I only had just enough money to either buy a pack of cigarettes or to eat lunch. It was one or the other, I couldn't have both in my brain was going back-and-forth on what the hell I was going to do.
I got to the cafeteria and sat down at an empty table without any lunch because goddamnit I needed those cigarettes. Lunch was a half an hour and the more I sat there alone at an empty table with nothing to eat, watching other people scarf down their lunches the more I realized how ridiculous it was.
It was then and there that I realized that I was addicted to cigarettes. It was also then and there that I stop smoking and went and got myself probably the best tasting lunch, that I can remember.
Shawn McGovern grew up on a farm 15 miles from Toledo OH. His life long dream is to one day visit that magical city and tell all of his friends about it.