Posted by: GeekHiker | March 30, 2012

Got A Light?

The more I travel, the more I find myself wishing that I were a smoker.

Is that a strange thing to wish for? Smokers often profess the desire to quit, but you don’t exactly hear a lot of non-smokers say “ya know, I’m thinking that starting to smoke might be a good habit to pick up.”

What attracts me, though, isn’t the habit itself. No, the addiction, the potential for lung cancer, the way the smell permeates clothing, furniture, houses, cars… none of that has appeal. Not to mention the sheer cost, which is pretty high back home in California with the additional sales taxes the state loads on to each pack to help cover the cost of health services.

Sometimes, given my natural frugalness, I think the fact that I’m a cheap-ass might actually be my primary reason for never having started.

What smokers do have that I’m jealous of is the natural, built-in social scene.

I see it wherever I go: outside office buildings, airports, hostels, train stations. Driven outside by non-smoking buildings, transportation modes, restaurants, etc., smokers congregate together, and when the do, they share. They take lights from each other, bum cigarettes off each other and, more often than not, they start to talk. Brought together by societal laws that have driven them to more and more limited areas where they can light-up smokers have, I think, a sort of bond.

Its a social bond that non-smokers don’t really share. Sure, we can go to coffee houses, bars, restaurants, dance clubs, whatever. You can sit at a diner and ask someone to pass the ketchup (or catsup, if you prefer) and maybe, potentially a conversation will start, but it’s not really the same. As a non-smoker, you can be pickier about the conditions you’re in. Smokers step outside often no matter what: like the post office, most smokers I’m friends with will light up whether rain, hail, or snow is falling.

Sometimes those conversations last only as long as the most recent cigarette, sometimes they last a lifetime. Sometimes friendships begin, or business partnerships, or even romances. The latter of those is an interesting point on its own: given how divisive the smoking habit can be, how many potential perfect romances never came to fruition simply because one smoked and the other did not?

Of course, all of those things, and all of those conversations, happen for non-smokers as well. Still, as I see my friend stepping outside for a cigarette and talking with the chap she shared a lighter with, I can’t help but be a little jealous of the instant, if temporary, social bond between them. And it’s not something I can really participate in: of course I can go outside and join in the conversation, and often do. Still, standing there, attempting to subtly move up-wind of the second hand smoke, there’s always the feeling of being an outsider.

Of course, all of this is simply pondering, and I’m not going to jump up and ask that they bring back common smoking places. Many of us of a certain age remember the (lack of) success with “smoking” and “non-smoking” sections of restaurants. Nor do I intend to pick up the habit just so I can talk to more people. Sometimes I’ll just tolerate a little second-hand smoke.

Hard to wonder, though: what potential social links might have happened in my life if I did smoke?



  1. Well, you could always carry a light. Not the same, I know, but it does at least mark you as “friendly”—and without all that annoying cancer and addiction.

  2. That’s a pretty good suggestion. I used to carry matches. It was a little quirkier than a lighter, but just as effective. Now, I find it difficult to see a cluster of smokers like the days of old. Everyone is hiding behind their smart phones 😦

    I think traveling can help you get out and be social, and it seems to be working for you! I’m so EXCITED for you! You’re doing great!

  3. I have a love-hate relationship with smoking. Like you, I can totally see the social upsides. I actually associate the smell with fun after so many nights out with smoker friends during and after college. But ugh what a disgusting habit it is. Divisive? Yes. It was one of the reasons my relationship with my college boyfriend ended.

    Miss McCracken is right though – you’re doing just fine without the cigarettes!

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