A vaping podcast, an entertainment podcast, a way of life podcast

Totally Vaping Awesome is vaping's premier entertainment source. Combining humor, world affairs weekly segments and vaping; TVA provides continuous quality programs but be warned... these podcasts are not safe for work... and they're really really handsome...


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Episode Overview

Each week we break down the topics discussed on the show and give listeners an overview of what they can expect on the program. From the humorous, to the bizarre and all the stinging rant filled awesome you can stand. Join us on the episode overview and get a first hand account of the inner workings of the TVA show featuring MoocH 1 and Freeze.

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A shapely woman cautiously exited her car. The three pm sun banged harshly off the asphalt and painted her face in June rays. She shielded her eyes… in a salute motion… and positioned to look inside a store window. Barely making out the figures through the glass, she quietly inventoried the fog that waited on the other side. This wasn’t her first visit to the Winston Salem store. Just last month she had sat in a parking space two rows over… and performed a strange “goodbye” ceremony with the last cigarette in her “camel menthol” box. It was flipped upside down and it bounced from one corner to another as she moved the box back and forth in her hand…she imagined a better song on the radio for her “last smoke” … and that was all the omen she needed… the tobacco gods weren’t ready to return her soul back to the earth.

Today she couldn’t feel their breath on her neck…so she stood and read over the purple words on the sign,

“…Vapes…”
Inside the store music beat against the wall… vacant looking youths sat at a table clanging screwdrivers into the tops of their box shaped devices… a brute from Vallejo smeared his gangly beard into the reflection of a glass counter, drenching the case with a tidal wave of vapor, until the items inside were invisible to the human eye.

 

He grunted glee and looked the room over to see if someone noticed. Empty couches sat in a corner.


The shapely woman took this all in.
It had been twenty three years of swift smoking. Some of it not so bad. She’d come to enjoy the social aspect of being outside on “smoke break.” She liked the mini world she and her coworkers had created, sitting at the chipped wooden table outside of their offices. She didn’t notice the health issues that were surely gnawing at her in quiet.
But her mother, smoker of thirty six years, hadn’t survived her battle with cancer. Nor had her uncle.

Vaping wasn’t a promise of a long life, but it certainly offered a better chance. She had tried a gas station e-cig one morning while purchasing her pre-work coffee. It was exhilarating… inhaling indoors and feeling rebellious at her desk… but by noon she was back at the aging wooden table, her throat feeling dry and chain smoking to make up the lost time.

She had seen other devices though. Friends and strangers dripping liquid into mini tanks and producing substantially greater clouds. They told her about the variety of locations that sold products better than the gas station could offer…and that lead her to the store nearest to her home. Many times she had said goodbye to smoking and looked for the courage to learn something new…. but she couldn’t bring herself to do it.

Now, standing inside the weird room, she wasn’t even sure she wanted to. Her thoughts must have been burning for three minutes or so before she realized that no one had even said hello.

The vapor was all at once and beating one sense too harshly while the music was slamming a different sense altogether.

The man at the counter was adjusting knobs on a silver, flashlight looking model. His dress code was identical to the clientele …and while that had never been an issue in her mind before, she found a weird irony in discussing “smoking cessation” with a guy in a sideways hat, black band tee and khaki shorts.

She wasn’t against this world…it just wasn’t accessible. It didn’t feel available to all people- just the people already there. It was exhausting…and she needed a cigarette.

…and no one said goodbye as she walked out for the first and last time.

Industry or Culture

From the very onslaught vaping has been in a civil war. Culturists and entrepreneurs wage verbal assault on forums throughout the world claiming territorial supremacy over the landscape of hobbyist vaping.  As vapers broke away from the Blu mall kiosk model, modification and DIY rigging became frequently traded information all over the world. This created YouTube sensations, vaping networks and known personalities. Yet the ease with which one can make a reputation in the online society of vaping is the same sword one may land upon on the way down. The loud voice of the online vaping community can come with unbridled hatred towards the business side of our culture…and due to its growth rate (both in average consumers and die hard enthusiasts) this grating voice is starting to echo in the vaping stores themselves.

Maybe it was the constant defending of the vaping alternative…
… or the questionable trade of high end devices for sick profits in the name of “health.”

…Maybe it was the fear of the FDA and a yet to be quenched angst…

…or the never ending bullshit spewing from the media…

…but somewhere in these concerns,  a breed of vocal internet collectives began beating about the idea of greedy vape profiteers. Their witch hunts would culminate in twisted rituals… tarnishing the reputations of their foes like rabies infested,  flesh hungry dogs.
The very individual traits that make the vaping community so unique and unlike other industries,  often manifests itself into a self-preserving “institution.” This institution downsizes as often as it initiates…and it’s not always a bad thing.

It’s becoming harder and harder to be a “real vaper.”
As the market for “returning customers” increases, so does the catering to an already vape knowledgeable crowd.  A proverbial “real vaping stores must have:” checklist has crept up that goes beyond regular and needed inventory. Couches, TV’s, cloud competition walls… atmospheric conditions that have become synonymous with vaping stores on the wings of trends.  It’s an impossibly thin rope to walk;  store owners catering to the elitists in the vaping culture, the trendy, the reviewer and all the while looking to survive by marketing to the new customer. Not to mention the expenses and renovations.

Our strange rituals are a rite of passage. Our swayed interests and googly eyed fascination with gadgets, a given; our contests, competitions, tutorials, tinkering’s and fine assortment of cottons …legendary.  We’re a hodgepodge of the video game culture, the techies, the marketing persuasion, the hipster and the everyman philosopher…and we’ll remove the scalp of any evil doer who attempts harm on our kind… if we don’t kill each other first… saith the Sioux.

But have we become too exclusive?  Did we become unapproachable in preparing for regulatory battles?  Are we asking stores to concede to our whims and purities at the expense of new vapers… are we pushing them away…

It’s starting to look like a choice…either ignore the constantly changing demands of the internet vapers (and risk complete alienation from them) to focus on a majority market of new consumers…or be a business completely centered around the vape aficionado. A difficult decision is emerging for the business owner…do they create establishments that alienate first timers or focus solely on the existing (and enhancement driven) established customer? Worse yet…will they be ostracized from the culture for attempting to do both?

To some of the more outspoken of us…it’s unacceptable to do both.
That thought process has finally caught up to my town.

Stranger in a Strange Land

Before August of 2011 the triad of North Carolina was known as “Tobacco Country.” On a cold night, when the wind wafts slowly in through the windows… with the right set of ears and a hearty appreciation for fear…you may hear the wailing of Richard J Reynolds. Reynolds, The founder of RJR; maker of the most popular cigarettes in the world, chose Winston Salem for its railroad hub. His crafty business acumen and sharp eye for trends proved too much for his rivals. Ironically, his choice of proximity would later become the very reason for the success of a mega industrial boom for electronic cigarette businesses in the Winston Salem surrounding areas. It makes perfect sense…the place with the most smokers has the greatest potential for vaping customers. It was either genius or insane to build a vape store in Richard Reynolds’ backyard.

However, in August of 2011, that’s precisely what Todd Webster did. There was no guarantee of success. Especially in the sleepy, winding hills of King, North Carolina located right beside Winston Salem. Before “King Vapes,” the triad area (Winston Salem, High Point, Greensboro) was a virgin to vaping stores, meets and strange vaper politics (save for a few residents already accustomed to the bickering).

For people like myself- A Winstonite suffering the long pauses between Alt Smoke’s online shipping times and vaping 1.5 bridgeless atomizers from a bolt (a hand me down at that) hearing of a Winston Salem store…even one located 40 minutes outside of Winston… was some sort of miracle from on high. I knew we were behind the eight ball in the vaping world. Despite our having to catch up, the audacity of building a store in Tobacco Country was all the motive I needed to make the trek.  Todd was about to usher in a new model of business…and with it he would unknowingly invite the circus…of which I am a clown… my soul to keep, Amen.

King Vapes looked mean from the outside. Even the bricks had a countrified snark to them. The entire business consisted of a glass counter top, one wall for shirts and knick knacks, a round table with a hand towel roll and a sign that read “ Stokes County Militia ask for info and apparel.” These were serious people. Good people…but not without the ability to rip the tip of your skull clean off- in a single shot- from an assortment of weapons kept behind the counter. Todd didn’t look at me as I came in. I knew that he had seen me though. I had the feeling that no one person made it from their car to the glass door without being surveillanced thoroughly. The store, although fairly new in concept, had a lived in feel to it. Todd wasn’t being impolite as much as he knew everyone that went through the door…possibly everyone in town…and I was not from “in town.”

He was pouring a sequence of plastic containers into smaller bottles. This was the first time I witnessed “juice making.”  Todd’s ball cap fit tightly over his eyes and he wasn’t about to break concentration for some boot wearing, wristband having, sunglasses in door type.

“This is your juice?” I questioned pointing at the list of catchy titles written on sheet of paper.
“Yep.” Todd said without looking up.

“I need a high nicotine…something to knock your dick in the dirt. Can you make me a 36? Preferably menthol.”

“yep…” Todd didn’t flinch, “what will you be using it on?”

“Just an old atomizer.” I shot.

Finally Todd looked up from his seat. He peered at me for a moment. Who was this gibbering yankee in King- By God- North Carolina? What was he doing here…and what good could come from giving him 36 milligrams of smack you in the throat menthol?

“Are you being funny?” Todd asked, meaning “stupid” instead of funny.

“I am not,” I answered, “ I’ve never been funny a day in my life…Funny people have no business in my America.”

Todd looked me over some more.

“I’ll make your 36. You want a flavor with that?

“Green apple… but mostly kick you in the dick menthol.”

As Todd went to work I looked the joint over. Aggressive stickers touted about “This country” and warned “don’t tread on me.”

The door swung open and a bigger man swayed in and shot behind the counter. Todd didn’t look at him either. Come to think of it, he may have been looking over my shoulder and anticipating the man’s arrival.

 

The man stood still, but friendly enough, behind the encased mods. He was slick bald, as was I. We are of a certain disposition; the bald men. We’re doers… enraged egotists and capitalists. We know what we know. The large bald man toyed with the rims of his glasses and commented to my boots. He was a jovial sort but cautious…with the same arm’s length friendliness that cops use before they put the night stick to you. And all to the better because not long after a few barbs to and fro about my footwear the man identified himself as “a cop.”

“…You know…but I work here too…” he said.
Todd finished my order and stood ready. I felt somewhat relieved as I opened the exit door. I had just deflated my puffed out chest as I heard Todd yell,

“Hey!!!”

He removed his cap and revealed his bald head.

“Nice haircut.”

I moved into the thick Summer air…

I would be back in less than a week to try some manipulations to our menthol concoction. This time Todd greeted me standing and he refused to let me leave without taking free samples of other juices “just to be sure.” I didn’t know it yet, but Todd was living with a very real paranoia. Any customer, me included, could be his first competitor. If he said the wrong thing or offered too much…it could be handing a live round to the enemy. It was inevitable… it was Todd vs time. He was dancing with  Cinderella and midnight was coming.

Todd knew that his success came at a price. It taught others to “get in the game” without truly assuming risk…not the risk of innovation.

That’s the stale premise of most vaping stores. But for notable exceptions, they don’t risk innovation. Is everyone doing couches now…we’ll have couches…is everyone doing large screen TV’s ? We’ll do large screen TV’s… is everyone doing cloud competitions?  In the next year, especially in Winston Salem ,anyone could enter the vaping market and succeed. Anything could be a store- anyone a business owner. No one could fail and every customer was new.

Todd didn’t…and never really did… have that luxury. Todd didn’t invent the wheel- but he brought it to horse country and said “whatcha think of this?” He knew it would mean constantly being ahead of the curve and that maybe, by being so far from the city,  it wouldn’t hurt his brand when the chain stores came to town. Maybe he could stay away from the online “he said/ she said” and the hipster trends.

In 2011 none of that mattered except in his mind… because King Vapes was the only vaping store in tobacco country. But he knew competition was around the corner. The direct beeline that everyone made to his self-made store would someday be paved with the lights of “now open” signs and new locations.

“probably one of my own customers… who could blame them?” he once told me in those first few months.
“naw,” I retorted in our normal shorthand.

He was right though…they were already there.

Needing the Bigger Boat

King Vapes has moved twice and twice in size since those early days. Now we’re in the whirlwind. Some life sized version of a YouTube review. The explosion was brilliant. Stores of every color and model. Signs dazzling above the air proclaiming theirs to be “The best Vaping Lounge” in North Carolina…complete with some threatening wordplay…

“Wally’s Wild Statutory Vape-land”
 

It was a beautiful mixture of first time business owners and kitchen juice makers living out fantasies of corporate power. Even some of the folks from the older forums started getting into the Triad area game…and they were ready…positioning pawns, gnawing at the counters, just knowing that the politics of the internet community would show up at any time. It was peacetime in those days. No mention of lab tests and facilities to tattle about. No squabbles about “who loved the business” and “who was a blood sucking dingo.” It was white hot consumerism; mom’s and pop’s, the curious and the relieved…all in the same line putting their money down on the hopes of better breathing. There was just enough for everyone…and for a bizarre second… we had that “community” everyone chatters on about.

It wasn’t safer or cleaner. And it wasn’t without faults… but in some tormented way it was better…
…and then…

In the same way he had inadvertently found himself in the position of “trailblazer,” Todd would be the first target that signaled the end to the peacetime festivities. He would fire back a shot that would break the only ground holding back hell… and I would help him load the gun.

End Part One

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