The official announcement came out today, so it’s time to note that the Texas Triffid Ranch returns to the Oddities & Curiosities Expo in 2022: Dallas at Fair Park on March 26, and the Palmer Event Center on June 18. And now to start getting ready.
Category Archives: Shows
One of the biggest surprises about the dealer’s room at Armadillocon 2021 is how much things have changed since my last visit in 2000. For the longest time, the main dealer emphasis at litcons (conventions where the main emphasis was on printed fiction and nonfiction instead of other media) was on books and periodicals: back in 2000, convention dealers were the main access to rare or obscure books and almost the only way to learn more about up-and-coming magazines. Obviously, a lot has changed in the intervening two decades: book purchasing is a matter of a quick Amazon search, and the crash of both traditional magazine and zine distribution in the early Aughts is why so many new short fiction outlets are online-only, with the occasional hard-copy Kickstarter so the publisher isn’t stuck with cases of unsold copies. Both of these developments mean that the current dealer pivot is toward art, reference materials, and inspirations, and carnivorous plants seem to be quite the inspiration.
As to what the future holds, that’s a really good question. On an immediate level, everything with Armadillocon’s schedule depends upon availability of Austin hotels, which are apparently packed every weekend with football-obsessed alumni this time of the year. The general response to the Triffid Ranch table was overwhelmingly positive, but the biggest issue involves getting down to Austin in the first place: if subsequent shows are held in October, this isn’t a problem, but if the 2022 convention runs at the end of August, unfortunately the heat risk to the plants is far too high, We’ll figure it out.
In any case, many thanks are owed to the folks who came out to Armadillocon this time around, particularly longtime online cohorts who finally had the chance to make in-person acquaintanceships. Special thanks to Lillian Butler for making the dealer’s room situation happen, and now it’s just a matter of waiting for a final 2022 schedule. As far as other litcons are concerned, the schedule for 2022 in-person and virtual lectures and presentations is currently open, and for those who couldn’t make it this time, make plans for the Blood Over Texas Horror For the Holidays show at Palmer Event Center in downtown Austin on Thanksgiving weekend. And so it goes.
For those unfamiliar with driving in Texas, the phrase “What a trip” has multiple levels of meaning, even if that meaning only involves transportation. Many moons back, on a trip in Massachusetts to visit Black Jungle Terrarium Supply, I overshot a bit heading west from Boston. Exactly how far “a bit” was came up when the radio station started running ads for a show at SPAC, the Saratoga Performing Arts Center in Saratoga Springs, New York. Without intending to do so, I’d come within a couple of kilometers from the New York state border, so I turned around and retraced the route, eventually discovering that while the turnoff needed to get to Black Jungle was very well-labeled with appropriate signage when heading east, it had NOTHING on the west route. This led to terrified shrieking from my hosts when getting back: “You went across the whole state?”, and explaining “Aah, that’s nothing. I go further than that to trips to Houston.” This was absolutely true: hitting the Arkansas border from Dallas at Texarkana is a 6-hour drive, and hitting either the New Mexico border at El Paso or the Mexico border at Brownsville is eight to nine hours of hard driving. Only north is a relatively easy trip out of Texas: eight hours of driving north can get you to Kansas City, Missouri or even the outskirts of Denver.
Thankfully, Austin isn’t that far, but it’s still enough of a haul, especially with a van full of carnivorous plants, that it makes you realize exactly how far away everything was before the advent of motor vehicles. Dallas and Fort Worth are practically sister cities, but they’re still at least a day’s ride by horseback from each other. Austin is nearly five times that distance from Dallas, and it’s a rough trip in summer even with cruise control, air conditioning, and cold drinks.
(Also for those unfamiliar with Texas, the midway point between Dallas and Austin is the town of Waco. Officially, the name is pronounced “WAY-co,” but you’re forgiven for the more obvious pronunciation. In the last five years since the first gallery made regular plant shows in Austin and Houston a practical option, the highway I-35 that connects Duluth, Minnesota to Laredo, Texas is the only practical path between Austin and Dallas. In the last five years, I-35 has been under perpetual construction through the middle of Waco, it’s no closer to being completed now than it was in 2016, and it’ll probably still be under construction when dinosaurs return and duke it out with the cockroaches over who gets to rule Earth after humanity’s big extinction event. Suffice to say, that construction means that Waco has a perpetual traffic jam in most hours, and any time and fuel savings on the increased highway speeds in Texas Hill Country are completely eliminated by sitting in Waco for an hour to two hours at a time, waiting for people to stop texting and drive. Some people argue that the logjam is very deliberate: considering that Waco is home to Baylor University, they suspect that the motivation is “If we suffer, everybody suffers.”
(Anyway, the one upshot to realizing that there’s unused space in the van and leaving the gallery late in order to fill it is passing through Waco at the only time when it’s not suffering from vehicular constipation: after dark on a Thursday night. The day of the Armadillocon jaunt wasn’t particularly hot anyway, but this is essential knowledge for future trips.)
Another advantage to Armadillocon switching its scheduled date from August to October was that when the hotel couldn’t allow setup until Friday morning, the plants could set outside overnight without the surrounding van turning into a convection oven at dawn. This made setup particularly easy, and the plants themselves meant that hotel patrons tended to move out of the way in a manner usually reserved for fire and radioisotopes. Either way, by the time the convention doors officially opened at 2 pm, everything was ready for the rest of the weekend.
To be continued…
It’s been an interesting year for out-of-Dallas plant shows, what with last June’s Oddities & Curiosities Expo and the upcoming Blood Over Texas Horror For the Holidays in November, both in Austin. Considering the size and spread of both of these, the decision to crash a small literary convention like Armadillocon might seem a bit counterintuitive, but I had my reasons. The first was that with the last 18 months’ cancellations and delays, this was an October event that didn’t directly conflict with other events. The second was that Lillian, the dealer’s room director, asked nicely, and Lillian is one of those people who brings out the best in everyone. The third was that as opposed to its usual date over the last 25 years in the middle of August, its rescheduled weekend in October meant that bringing a van full of live plants into Austin equaled “LIVE plants” instead of “random chunks of steamed and broiled charcoal.” (Yes, Austin in August, especially during the afternoon and evening, is that bad.) The biggest, though, had to do with back history.
Longtime customers and visitors to the gallery might know about your humble proprietor’s previous career involving professional writing for various now-long-forgotten magazines and other publications, ranging from the beginning of 1989 to the middle of 2002. The unfortunate side effects involved three books, including one written about Armadillocon 13 in 1991 (illustrated by the one and only Ernest Hogan) that didn’t rest well with certain elements in science fiction fandom at the time. Two subsequent books, full of gibberish written before and during the early implementation and popularization of the Internet, came out in 2009 to much acclaim but precious little sales, and aside from a few relapses, that’s all anybody’s going to get. The biggest reason to come out, besides aggravating an increasingly small group still grumbling into their Metamucil (thus explaining the phrase “I feel like Anton LaVey getting an invitation to the Pope’s bat mitzvah”), was to get back in touch with a slew of former colleagues, compatriots, and fellow pains in the posterior whom I’d only see at conventions such as this. In that case, this whole gig worked even better than expected.
Being away for so long had its own Cinema Paradiso moments. The hotel in which the convention generally runs has a long history, starting with the completely random reservation getting the same exact room where I stayed with my best friend and then-girlfriend when crashing the convention in 1990. Some things have changed (the grand piano in the lobby was replaced with multiple flatscreens sometime after my last visit in 2000), and others. well, were pretty much encased in amber from the early 1990s. Not that this was a bad thing: the hotel fit the convention and the convention fit the hotel, and everyone was happy.
As far as the plants themselves were concerned, they made quite the impression. Many of those aforementioned old compatriots hadn’t been able to stay in touch since 2002, so they were delightfully surprised to see what had happened since then. Others who had kept up via online sources finally got the chance to see so many of them in person. Best of all, other attendees were drawn in: if next year’s Armadillocon runs in October again, then they’ll probably be waiting at the door to see what’s coming out of the truck this time. And then there were the people just wandering in as the convention was shutting down on Sunday, who really lost their minds at the idea of someone selling carnivorous plants next to the banquet room hosting friends’ weddings and the like.
To be continued…
While Texas Frightmare Weekend always starts off with the hope that it could go on longer, like for a week, the absolute reality is that by the time things close down on Sunday evening, we’re kaput. The staff has been running on pure adrenaline and doughnuts for the previous week, and that’s not talking about all of the prep necessary to get things organized in the first place. Some of the attendees stay for an extra day or so at the hotel, taking in the luxury and the company of fellow late-travelers, but the overwhelming majority have work, school, or other obligations on Monday, and they need a week to recuperate. The vendors…well, many of us have day jobs as well, others have to get going to get to their next show, and still others have to go back to workspaces to make more items for the rest of the season, as Frightmare patrons have cleared us out. With the Triffid Ranch, there’s the additional aspect of having to get remaining plants under lights, so Sunday evening after the vendors’ rooms close is a matter of packing up glass, plants, and water as best as possible, getting it loaded into the truck that brought everything out there, getting on the road east toward the gallery, and hoping that no idiot on the highway decides to check his brakes for no reason. The excitement doesn’t stop when the show’s over, and it’s only time to relax after the plants are loaded at the gallery, the truck gets returned, and the only vital activity remaining is to brush teeth and go to bed. Oh, and dream about plans for the next year.
The official announcement on the 2022 Texas Frightmare Weekend hasn’t been made yet, but all of us vendors are awaiting word to reserve our tables, and everyone else is making plans for accommodations and travel. Since TFW won’t be facing anywhere near so much competition for time next May, as so many other horror conventions will be spread out over the year instead of concentrated in September and October, expect a lot of old and new faces, and expect vendors pushing themselves to the limit to bring out the best they can get. At this end, this of course means lots of new plants (I’m waiting to see how Genlisea and Roridula seedlings turn out, and if we don’t get another massive freeze in February, expect a sideline of hot peppers), lots of new concepts, and a serious need to both wear myself out and recharge over those three days in April and May.
Finally, this proprietor wishes to thank everyone involved with Texas Frightmare Weekend and the Hyatt Regency DFW, particularly the security and support crew. You lot work harder than anyone else, and I’d bring steaks instead of doughnuts on Sunday morning if I thought any of you would take the time to eat. Take care, and we’ll see you next year.
Two stories to explain why Texas Frightmare Weekend works as well as it does, and one involves doughnuts. The other, more important story involved a remembrance. With Frightmare running for 15 years, it’s inevitable that attendees, guests, and staff would have died in that time, and Frightmare took the time to remember them. It wasn’t just about remembering big stars who died in the last decade, such as Angus Scrimm and George Romero, but everybody who was touched by Frightmare and in turn remain in our memories.
One of the most touching involved the first security chief Jeb Bartlett: Jeb was such an integral part of what made Frightmare work that when he was diagnosed with cancer in 2018, we all came running to help. The last time I saw him was at the 2019 Frightmare, still giving grief to those of us who deserved it (and he was one of those guys who ribbed the people he liked the most, and we all loved him because he kept us honest), but he would have wanted to have been involved with the proceedings in 2021. In a way, he was: some of his ashes were scattered around a tree outside the hotel where he could be found during his breaks, because it just isn’t a Frightmare without Jeb in it.
The other story is much more minor, but one in which I’m involved. The second year that Frightmare ran at the current hotel in DFW Airport, Caroline and I were picking up a few items in a grocery store on Sunday morning before heading out for the convention’s final push, and I noticed a big box of doughnuts lying next to the checkout where someone had discarded them. Instead of simply cursing out someone’s laziness in not returning them, I figured “I wonder if anybody at Frightmare needs breakfast” and bought them. As it turned out, several of our fellow vendors hadn’t had the chance to get breakfast, but the security crew really needed a boost, and that empty box was left spinning like something out of a Chuck Jones cartoon. From then on, the message was clear: “Bring doughnuts on Sunday, no matter what.”
2021’s last day started the way I had hoped 2020’s last day would have: an early trip to our favorite doughnut shop in Garland, picking up six dozen random doughnuts for the staff and a dozen for fellow vendors, and dragging them down to the lower level of the hotel to pass them out. You have no idea how much both newbies and experienced staffers looked forward to a bit of extra energy to get them through the day, and those doughnuts didn’t go to waste. Even at the end of the show, when everyone else went home and only we vendors working with glass or heavy gear or both were still breaking down, the support crew that came in to break down the pipe and drape cleared out what was left.
That’s what makes Texas Frightmare Weekend unique among Texas and particularly Dallas conventions: the sense of community. In nearly 40 years of Texas science fiction/fantasy/comic/horror conventions, I couldn’t think of another that would have gotten together for a tribute to absent friends, or at least a tribute without drama. So many of the attendees and vendors had been going long enough that we knew each other by first names, and legitimately worried if someone was all right if they didn’t show. Fall 2021 is full of horror conventions and shows in Texas and elsewhere trying to make up for lost time, but you didn’t hear complaints about vendors and guests having to cancel because they had other obligations elsewhere. (Or, if complaints were made, they weren’t made in public.) Instead, the general attitude was “Well, we’ll see them next time,” with a firm understanding that they were coming back at the first available opportunity. The overwhelming emotion at Texas Frightmare Weekend 2021 was of a big and scattered family that was just glad to be able to get together again, and hoping that this would be one of many.
As it turns out, while it’s not announced on the Web site yet, expect 2022’s Frightmare at its usual date of the first week of May. All of us are making plans, and there’s always room for new folks.
To be continued…
At my age, it’s always a little scary when something you love celebrates an anniversary in the double digits, because you’re always afraid that this might be the last one. That’s happened a lot in the last few years, especially in the last year. The very good news is that this isn’t happening with Texas Frightmare Weekend, either right away or in the foreseeable future. As someone with nearly 40 years of conventions and events under his belt, and someone who plans to celebrate the thirtieth anniversary in November of the one of the worst convention experiences I’ve ever endured, Frightmare is how you do it, folks. This is how you balance the needs of attendees, vendors, guests, staff, security, and hotel employees so everyone is happy, and any convention chair whose excuse for failure is “Well, at least we TRIED!” needs to talk to the Frightmare crew, at all levels, to rectify that or else have everyone assume that they like things broken and dysfunctional.
A discussion on why Frightmare works so well is upcoming, but the proof is in the pudding. At a time when many conventions, big or small, are lucky to celebrate three anniversaries, Frightmare reached 15 in 2021. Sure, it was a little late due to extenuating circumstances, but even during the worst of the lockdown, this was a convention that organized virtual events and outdoor events to keep up a lively and diverse community. When your weekly Twitch streams are so much more lively, friendly, and respectful than the 2020 Hugo Awards presentation, that’s a sign that you’re doing things right, and if conventions were run this well back in 1990, I would have spent my twenties being considerably less angry.
One really serendipitous situation with 2021’s Texas Frightmare Weekend being rescheduled for September? Most years, as much fun as the Sarracenia pitcher plants are, they’ve only just finished blooming (some years, because of late freezes, they’re still blooming when they arrive), and Sarracenia generally only start growing pitchers after they’ve finished blooming. Well, not all: Sarracenia flava tends to be an early bloomer than other species, and it usually has well-developed traps while other species still only has bloom spikes. This may be an adaptation to keep down hybridization: Sarracenia generally bloom first and then produce traps because their pollinators and their prey tend to be many of the same insects, and pollen is a good source of nitrogen, so flava catching insects loaded with other Sarracenia pollen has a dual benefit. S. flava’s early blooming offers one additional benefit at Frightmare: while other North American pitcher plants smell sweet, flava blooms smell like cat pee, and people attend Frightmare to get away from the smell of anime conventions.
The real benefit of a September Frightmare was that for the first time, attendees could see Sarracenia in their full late summer/early fall glory, instead of the botanical equivalent of bed head. This also led to object lessons, such as an attendee pointing out the caterpillar happily munching away on a young pitcher. Yes, it was hastily chucked down another pitcher, and the plant already had four new immature pitchers, but it’s the spirit of the thing. It may also be yet another sign of climate change: in their native habitat, Sarracenia are beset upon by a species of moth whose caterpillars eat young pitchers, climb into older pitchers, chew the inside so the top of the pitcher collapses, and then pupate in a handy new protective tube until emerging in spring. As if we don’t have enough to worry about.
To be continued…
I’d be remiss in not mentioning that Texas Frightmare Weekend shows are joint efforts, with the lovely and talented Caroline of Caroline Crawford Originals right next door. This comes in so handy for bathroom breaks, spare change, and potentially dangerous levels of snark. Every Frightmare, we have a friendly wager on who has a higher total when we finish adding up sales, and every Frightmare, she smokes me. Understandable, really: every Friday evening when the doors open for general admission Frightmare attendees, the ones running to the back to see her latest work discover the VIPs who arrived an hour earlier grabbing the newest necklaces and rings, because they know they won’t see them again except worn on someone else.
In some relationships, this sort of gentle wager might turn toxic, but it all evens out. There’s a reason why we also work the open houses together at the gallery: visitors with no interest in the plants tend to latch onto the jewelry, and vice versa. It definitely makes for interesting customer conversations.
To be continued…
It was a monumental effort by everyone involved with the show, but 2 1/2 years after the last one, the 2021 Texas Frightmare Weekend happened. After repeated cancellations and reschedulings, after understandable concerns about further lockdowns and insufficient social distancing space, Loyd Cryer and crew pulled off the biggest convention in the Dallas area since the beginning of lockdown in 2020. As such, everyone involved deserves sustained applause, because I don’t think anybody else could have made it work and made it work as well as it did.
For those unfamiliar with this greatest of horror conventions, Texas Frightmare Weekend celebrated its fifteenth anniversary this year. Normally, it runs on the first weekend in May (most of its crew are haunted house organizers and workers, and the idea was to hold a show that didn’t conflict with their getting ready for the Halloween season), but the decision last spring was that vaccination rates were high enough to give it a chance of running in September. Hence, we all piled into the Hyatt Regency DFW at DFW Airport, suitably masked and slathered with hand sanitizer, and conducted what had to be the most mellow convention I’ve seen in nearly 40 years. Naturally, carnivorous plants contributed: the Triffid Ranch location in the back of the Lone Star Hall meant that everyone got a good dose of green, whether or not they were expecting it as they came around the corner.
To be continued…
Six years ago this month, things changed drastically for the Triffid Ranch. That was when we signed the lease for what turned out to be the first gallery space, out at what was Valley View Center in North Dallas, and started to put together the first gallery. It took a while – nobody expects the effort necessary to get set up from scratch until they get started, which might help explain why so many art galleries shut down within their first year – but we went live two months later, and never looked back. Now, just over four years in our current location, things are busier that we ever could have predicted back in 2015, and the rest of the year is going to get even weirder.
To start, after years of only being able to squeeze one event per month due to day job schedules and learning curves on enclosure construction, we’re now at the point of having regular weekly events, which is about as much as anybody can handle. (Having the gallery open on a daily basis simply isn’t an option right now, both between day job demands and customer interest, but we have PLANS.) The Porch Sales that started last year have become so popular that we (that is, both the Triffid Ranch and Caroline Crawford Originals in the front) kept them going, and now they’re moving inside for the duration of the summer. Keep checking the schedule for all of the details, but through the rest of the month, based on customers asking for non-Sunday events due to work schedules, we’re alternating back and forth between Saturday and Sunday open houses. This culminates with the Carnivorous Plant Weekend on September 4 and 5: holding these on holiday weekends has been enough of a hit that they’re going to keep going through the rest of the year and beyond.
In slightly related news, thanks to a very considerate series of contributors, a brand new custom Nepenthes enclosure is going in at the Heard Natural Science Museum and Wildlife Sanctuary in McKinney, and attendees at weekend events get to watch its construction in progress over the next few weeks before it debuts. It’s simultaneously a brand new construction challenge and a concept that’s been rattling around in my head for the last three decades, and it should surprise everyone once it’s complete.
And then we have the traveling lectures. After discussing this with owner Jason Cohen (and boy howdy, is he regretting not killing me when he had the chance when we first met 30 years ago this October), we’re going to try another run of the popular Carnivorous Plant Workshops at Curious Garden near White Rock Lake. The first will be a limited run on August 7 (contact Curious Garden about reservations), and then we’ll attempt more through the rest of the year, schedules and COVID-19 willing. Keep checking back for particulars. (This is in addition to the DFW Tap Talks lecture on August 20: that really will be on the gallery’s sixth anniversary and two weeks after Caroline’s birthday, so we have to plan something impressive.)
As for going on the road, things are tightening up for the upcoming Texas Frightmare Weekend on the weekend of September 10, and I didn’t realize how many people needed Frightmare this year until it came out over and over at the last Carnivorous Plant Weekend. Well, we’re going to be out there, along with several new enclosures debuting for the show (including one specifically intended to horrify planned guests Clive Barker and David Cronenberg, both of whom unfortunately had to cancel due to other issues), and a lot of Sarracenia starting to produce their fall pitchers. TFW has always run in the end of April/beginning of May for the last 12 years the Triffid Ranch has had a booth out there, so this should be intriguing.
Speaking of returns to old friends, the forms are filled out, the booth fees paid, and plans made for a return of the Blood Over Texas Horror For the Holidays two-day weekend in Austin on November 20 and 21. Three trips to Austin in a single year: maybe it’s time to try setting up a show outside of Texas for the first time…um, before the Chicago Worldcon in September 2022, anyway.
And now the last bit of news, which was only confirmed today. People who remember my sad excuse for a literary career between 1989 and 2002 have reason to chuckle about my getting confirmation as a vendor at Armadillocon 43 in Austin: most use the term “Anton LaVey getting an invitation to the Pope’s bat mitzvah” when they aren’t laugh-crying about the hotel room. Well, it was a request by an old and dear friend planning to revitalize a longrunning literary convention getting everything in stride after its forced shutdown last year, and it’s also an opportunity to get back in touch with old friends in the science fiction literature community who lost touch after I quit pro writing. Yeah, and it’s also an excuse to show off plants and enclosures and talk everyone to death about carnivores, so it’s time to pull ALL of the stops. Best of all, this is scheduled for October 15 through 17, when Austin is at its most comfortable before the blue northers start blasting through in November, and I’ve desperately missed the days of October Armadillocons for precisely that reason. (Well, that, and a lot of people who couldn’t attend for business or health reasons when Armadillocon would run in the middle of August, the weekend before classes started at UT-Austin, now have an opportunity to come out for the first time in decades. We’re going to boogie ’til we puke.)
Come into the story midway? Try starting at the beginning.
And in the end, the Austin Oddities & Curiosities Expo was over. Eight hours after the doors opened, the gigantic crowds finally trickled out, and all of the vendors took assessment of what we had left and what we had to replace before our next shows. I just looked at one neighbor and said “If I’d sold just a little bit more, I could leave the van and fly home.” Slight exaggeration, but it came close.
Obviously, everyone who came out was VERY happy. It wasn’t just a matter of people wanting to get out of the house: The Expos keep proving that not only is there a market for the macabre in Texas, but that audience keeps growing. Between these and Texas Frightmare Weekend, Halloween really will be that day when we let the amateurs have their fun. As someone who took decades of grief over “why can’t you just be normal?”, vindication is sweet, especially when it’s shared with friends, cohorts, and fellow unindicted coconspirators.
With such a massive show, many thanks are in order. Obviously, the crew behind every Oddities & Curiosities Expo deserves accolades for pulling off such massive shows without so much as a hiccup, but the fellow vendors do as well. (A tip: go check out Nicole Pangas Ceramics not just because her work is fascinating, but because we Michigan kids stick together. Meanwhile, I’ll always plug The Curiositeer because you always take care of your little sister, even if neither of you share common DNA.) An additional plug for Green Mesquite BBQ on Barton Springs: I only survived breakdown on Saturday evening because I knew I had a few kilos of sausage and pork ribs waiting for me at the hotel once I was done. Most of all, thanks to everyone who came out, whether or not you bought anything, because your interesting and unexpected questions are why this whole shebeen goes on tour. Now to get back to work and finish restocking, I haven’t come back from a show with so little since Texas Frightmare Weekend 2018, and this was after just one day, not three. I don’t think any of us would have survived if the Expo had run on Sunday as well, although I’m willing to test that in Dallas next year.
Come into the story midway? Try starting at the beginning.
Visitors to Texas in May and June might notice what appears to be snow accumulating in random spots, particularly in places near water. No, this is not snow, and natives and longtime residents will scream that fact with an underlying cosmic horror. THIS IS NOT SNOW. What you’re witnessing, as I personally experienced when stepping outside my hotel room for the Oddities & Curiosities Expo in Austin, is the reproductive cycle of what could qualify as the most typically Texan lifeform in existence, the cottonwood tree (Populus deltoides).
Most residents have a decided love-hate relationship with cottonwood trees, and take great pains to relate the “hate” part. P. deltoides is found all over Texas and New Mexico, usually concentrated around water in otherwise dry areas. They’ve found a second life as opportunists in urban and suburban areas, where their roots head straight for the nearest water, gumming up sewer and drainage lines. The trees themselves are very short-lived on average, and tend to drop large branches during storms, usually directly atop houses. The “fluff” transports seeds long distances, and after the seeds drop off in gardens and on the edges of ponds and streams, the fluff clogs air conditioner vents and car air filters. The fluff also sets off allergies and contact dermatitis among those sensitive to such things, and most summers are spent fighting horrendous itches that only get worse after a shower or swim. The wood is so lightweight that downed branches make poor firewood, and burning green cottonwood makes everything smell like cat urine and/or an anime convention. They choke out other trees, destroy sidewalks and driveways, and cut off light to gardens. Worst of all, they grow so rapidly that someone who accidentally lets one grow next to their house finds out the hard way exactly how expensive they are to remove, especially when grafted into a sewer line or (worse) septic tank.
And then there are the positives. Yes, cottonwoods are very short-lived, but in the process, they produce valuable habitat for everything from beetles to raccoons, through all stages of their life cycle. The seeds borne on the fluff are a valuable food source in summer for birds and ants, and many late-nesting birds use the fluff for nesting material. The trees provide shade without killing the grasses and bushes underneath, and usually come back from storm damage faster than introduced trees. They take in tremendous amounts of water, but through transpiration create microclimates for other organisms that otherwise couldn’t handle Texas summers. The wood that’s so terrible for firewood makes great habitat for everything living and growing around a decaying log, and ultimately breaks up Texas clay and chalk and produces increasingly rich soil in the end. The Spanish word for cottonwood is “alamo,” and many Texas cities started around missions and villages founded around the water sources that the cottonwoods revealed. (As palaeontologists are sick of repeating, the titanosaur Alamosaurus wasn’t named after THE Alamo, but after Ojo Alamo in New Mexico, which translates to “Cottonwood Spring.”) Yes, they’re cantankerous and annoying, but ultimately they do good, like so many of the humans here. I just wish the fluff wasn’t so ridiculously itchy.
To be continued…
Come into the story midway? Try starting at the beginning.
There’s a lot of good things to be said about the general organization of the touring Oddities & Curiosities Expo shows from an attendee’s POV, but most people don’t have a perspective from the vendor’s side. There’s a lot to be said about the professionalism and efficiency of the Oddities crew from setup to final breakdown, but they do one thing I’d love to see at other events, all over the place.
Complimentary cart service.
You see, Oddities & Curiosities vendors carry all sorts of interesting stuff. Besides the narcissistic jerkwad with the carnivorous plants at the Texas shows, you have everything from ceramics to vintage taxidermy, and not all of it is easy to move. Unless you came prepared with a cart, this is a major problem for a lot of customers, where they’d love to get something nice and hefty but don’t have any easy way to get it to their cars, and it’s way too heavy to carry. The vendors would love to help, but between surging crowds and only having one person to watch the booth, the only option is to arrange pickup after the room closes for the day. If that’s not an option, then the customer walks away from something they really want, the vendor watches a sale walk away, and nobody’s happy. This is especially bad at events such as reptile and amphibian shows, where the critters aren’t anywhere near as heavy as new cages and accessories. The world for a handcart and someone to hold open doors.
That’s where the Oddities & Curiosities crew particularly excels. As I watched, several members patrolled the aisles with handcarts and blankets, ready to move someone’s new purchase out front so it could be picked up and taken home with a minimum of aggravation. This was particularly pertinent to a neighbor at the Austin show, who had an absolutely beautiful hippopotamus skull for purchase but no way to break free to move it for a buyer. The Oddities crew was right on it, with everyone happy, and a crowd of interested passersby turning the trip to the front doors into an impromptu parade.
Because of the sheer glee of customers happy with their purchases, I’d like to see more of this at other shows. Speaking from experience, I’d like to see a cart rental service at ZestFest alone: you have no idea how much just “a few” barbecue sauce and salsa containers weigh until one arm is permanently longer than the other and you’re walking like a Japanese waltzing mouse for two hours after the show.
To be continued…
Come into the story midway? Try starting at the beginning.
Even with longtime and native residents, there’s always something about Texas summers that brings out the desperate optimist. It won’t be that bad this time. June will be nice, and the real heat won’t hit until July. Oh, we’re going to get a break in August. No, really: we’ll finally start cooling off in November. You know, New Zealand, South Africa, and Antarctica are really nice this time of the year. My first summer here was during the Heat Wave of 1980, which set records only exceeded in 2011, so after that trauma, it’s hard not to engage in magical thinking and see all sorts of hints that yes, it won’t be that bad.
That magical thinking doubles when traveling between cities, as with the trek between Citadel and the Bullet Farm, erm, I mean, between Dallas and Austin for the Oddities & Curiosities Expo on June 19. The trip always takes longer than predicted because the midway point runs through the town of Waco (contrary to popular perception, the town’s name is pronounced WAY-co), and any time gained from an otherwise clear highway the rest of the way is burned off from the perpetual hours-long traffic jam passing by Baylor College. Then there’s the fun of having a van full of live plants and glass, stuck in motionless traffic as the van’s thermometer keeps reminding you that the hoped-for cool temperatures for that Friday are turning back into pumpkins and mice. By the time the perpetual traffic jam in downtown Austin let up enough to allow traffic off the highway and into downtown proper, those “unseasonably cool temperatures” teased the previous Monday hit 106F (40C), and with maybe 15 minutes to unload the truck at the Palmer Event Center before they had to kick everyone out for the night. Ah, Waco. Is there anything you can’t do?
To be continued…
Come into the story midway? Try starting at the beginning.
Much is made about the perceived rivalry between Austin and Dallas, but both cities share one very important common trait: dust. Oh so much DUST. Most of the year, the southern wind that blows across the center of Texas from the Gulf of Mexico picks up untold tons of dust from the Austin area. It’s mostly carbonate rock dust, both from natural erosion of limestone and chalk deposits in Central Texas (there’s a reason why one of the major rock formations in the state is called “the Austin Chalk”) and from incessant construction, and it’s supplemented by passing over the cement kilns that make up the main tourist attraction for the town of Midlothian, which swears that the kilns no longer use toxic and/or low-level radioactive waste as fuel. It comes down in the Dallas/Fort Worth area and lingers like a hipster houseguest, working its way into eyes and throats, gumming up lubricated surfaces, and making Dyson vacuum cleaners and air filters work for their living. We get revenge, though: starting in October, the winds shift and start blasting out of the north, and all of that dust that accumulated on every surface all summer long blows right back to Austin. Enough remains, though, to remind us: when it finally gets cool enough in autumn to justify turning on heaters in Dallas, the accumulated eight months or so on heater coils burns off, and the whole city smells a little like Austin for a day or so.
All things considered, we could have worse things than dust. There’s the distinctive chemical plant fug of Manistee, Michigan, or the burned green bean aroma of the multitude of microbreweries in Portland, Oregon. We SAY this, and then we make road trips in either direction, get out of our vehicles, and spend the next six hours washing off, brushing off, or vacuuming off what was once Cretaceous seabed mixed with bits of dinosaur dung. Yeah, and it tastes like it, too.
To be continued…
With the gradual reopening of venues and events closed for the last year, one of the bigger surprises has been the rebirth of the touring Oddities & Curiosities Expo shows. Completely unknown in Texas three years ago, the Expo set up shop in Dallas in March 2019, with a subsequent event in Austin in August, and took both places by storm. Specializing in the exotic and the macabre, it was a natural for a Triffid Ranch show, and both shows in 2019 were so successful that 2020 looked like an even bigger year. In fact, because of the Austin 2020 show being scheduled for June instead of August, the plan as of February 2020 was to do shows in Austin and Houston in June, and then take a big leap with the first-ever Triffid Ranch event outside of Texas, at the New Orleans Oddities & Curiosities show at the end of August. Well, we know how 2020 turned out.
As COVID-19 vaccination rates increase, so do crowds wanting to get back out and do something, ANYTHING, far away from a computer screen. When the Oddities & Curiosities crew announced that they had worked out a post-COVID arrangement with the city of Austin and were reviving the show for June, there was no way I’d pass that up. Little did I know that a significant portion of Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, and New Mexico felt the same way.
To be continued…
And here’s where it gets interesting. Got a few minutes? Well, let’s compare notes.
To start off, as mentioned a little while back, May 2021 was the busiest month for the gallery since the Triffid Ranch first put down roots back in 2015. June already exceeded that, and we still have a week and change to go. It’s been a blowout month for commissions, the Porch Sales have been a hit, and now that outside shows are starting up again, things are getting intense. Last weekend’s Oddities & Curiosities Expo show in Austin not only was the biggest one-day show since this little carnivorous plant gallery started up, but it was the first time nearly EVERYTHING sold at a show since the first trip to Texas Frightmare Weekend in 2009. As I joked with fellow Expo vendors in the same situation, a few more enclosures go home with people, and I’d be able to fly back.
Not that June is over: aside from appointments to schedule commissions, we still have the June 27 Porch Sale to consider, taking advantage of unusually (for North Texas in summer) cool and cloudy weather this coming weekend. I can also assure new and established customers that nearly everything you see will be new, because just about everything sold last weekend and it’s time to restock. After that, it’s a matter of getting ready for the July Carnivorous Plant Weekend on July 3 (4:00 pm to 9:00 pm) and July 4 (10:00 am to 3:00 pm).
Not that everything is smooth: the Thursday evening Twitch installments will have to be delayed for a while in order to work out technical issues with the gallery’s Internet connection. (It’s the same situation at home, but here, I suspect that someone’s porn download habit exceeds everyone else’s total wireless consumption by about 5 to 1, especially in the early hours before dawn,) Once the wonderful folks at AT&T figure out why the wireless connection keeps cutting out every ten seconds during a stream, it’ll be back.
Another issue involves the Day Job, that which guarantees both regular income to keep the gallery going through lean times and job benefits. The schedule is up in the air at the moment, but trips to the East Coast might be necessary through July and August, directly affecting gallery events. Because of this, July and August might be a little quiet, but that should be rectified through the rest of the year, especially when things start cooling off.
As for outside events, the sixth anniversary of the gallery’s opening coincides with the revival of DFW Tap Talks, science lectures in a bar environment, and that first event features your humble gallery owner discussing “Insects: They’ve Got What Plants Crave!” at Rohr & Sons in Fort Worth. Naturally, as they expand events into Dallas, we’ll be trying those, too.
Otherwise, with things reopening again, it’s time to go back to old friends, which is why the Triffid Ranch returns once again to Austin for Blood Over Texas Horror for the Holidays 7, as if they could keep me away. Since two years have elapsed since the last one, expect a lot of new surprises, and not just because of the improved venue.
And one last bit. I can’t talk about particulars just yet because it hasn’t been hammered down yet, but something big, on a personal level, is coming up in October. Let’s just say that it involves a road trip from 30 years ago, an opportunity to meet old friends and annoy old aggravations, and introduce a whole new crew to the joys of carnivorous plants. Let’s also say that when I got the offer, the last time I used the phrase “I feel like Anton LaVey getting an invitation to the Pope’s bat mitzvah,” this was during my writing days when I received a critic’s preview invitation to see Star Wars: Episode One in 1999. When I can talk about it further, people who knew me back then will boogie ‘til they puke, and those who only know me as a gentle purveyor of carnivorous plants will get to see a whole new world. Details will follow.
Well, enough of that. Time to get get back to editing the photos from the Oddities & Curiosities Expo, of which there are SO MANY. Talk to you soon.
Forget March’s association with lions and lambs: April in North Texas is permanently attached to caribou, emperor penguins, Mexican free-tailed bats, and Christmas Island crabs. It’s all about the journey and the endurance. This April, after two big shows the previous weekend, the Triffid Ranch pushed for three with last Saturday’s Frightmare Collectibles Spring Slasher Camp outdoor event in Justin, Texas. Seeing as how most of the attendees were regulars for Texas Frightmare Weekend, this combined the best of a (socially distanced) Frightmare gathering with beautiful if slightly windy weather. Either way, nobody was complaining.
This was a test of the Frightmare Event System: the plan is for Frightmare Collectibles to host a much larger event on May 1, on what would have been Texas Frightmare Weekend’s busiest day. Four months before the revised opening of Texas Frightmare Weekend and six months before Halloween: for those craving plant shows with a bit darker feel than the traditional arboretum events, hie thee hence to Justin in a month.
If you can’t wait that long, keep an eye out for other events between now and May 1, as well as the regular video shows on Twitch. Now that the Sarracenia are starting to bloom, it’s time for some real fun with the latter.
Want to know how this started? Here’s the beginning.
In all of the strangeness and horror of the last year, the Oddities & Curiosities Expo show in Dallas suggested a possible end, if we’re willing to take it. Yes, Texas Governor Greg Abbott dropped statewide mask and social distancing mandates under pressure from campaign contributors wanting to go “back to normal” (translated: “back to brunch at Cheesecake Factory”), but individual businesses and venues may set up their own guidelines as they see fit. Since it’s a traveling tour, O&CE restarted this year under the proviso that mask discipline would be enforced, and vendors or attendees who violated it would be asked to leave without refund. Even so, we had a few people who acted like wearing their masks as chinstraps was somehow playing hooky (especially the ones who acted as if a mask that dropped below their noses could never be put back into place), and one bigwig who was legitimately shocked that a mere booth proprietor would dare request that he put his mask back on, but the vast majority of attendees? We may not be thrilled with wearing masks a year later, and we struggled with issues with hearing loss and terminal mumbling, but that was all so that, Elvis willing, the 2022 show wouldn’t require any.
When everything finished, one of the organizers came by as the booth was coming down and asked how all of us vendors were doing and if they could do anything differently. I was completely and painfully honest: I don’t make comparisons to Texas Frightmare Weekend lightly, but Oddities & Curiosities is Frightmare’s equal in efficiency, courtesy, and sheer fun. For those who couldn’t make it to Dallas in March, the Triffid Ranch will be in Austin on June 19, and there’s simply no way that I’d skip out on any 2022 shows in Texas. That’s the highest compliment a vendor can pay.
Want to know how this started? Here’s the beginning.
Friends from outside North Texas are always surprised to discover that Dallas has a very deep and very thorough gonzo streak. “You’re talking about Austin, right?”, some ask. Others, whose sole experience with Dallas comes from the 1980s sitcom of the same name (and trust me, that show was a sitcom), scoff “Dallas is a cultural wasteland!” While Dallas can take credit for being the home of so many forms of cultural homogenization (I once lived a literal rock’s throw from the headquarters of Brinker, the restaurant conglomerate behind Chili’s), it’s not all McMansions, bad bleach jobs, and worse cocaine. Some of the most interesting people I’ve ever met in my life either lived in Dallas or came from Dallas, and that was partly due to understanding the phrase attributed to the writer Richard Wright of “Put down your bucket where you are.”
The simple truth is that Dallas’s odd history was always either wallpapered or coopted by proud gatekeepers, so we learned to keep our candles under a bushel basket. Until very recently, VERY recently, any news coverage, either paper or broadcast, on nonconformist events was either spiked or shoved into a template of “Hey, look at the freaks!” The co-option was deadlier: get an enclave of like-minded Nightbreed situated in town, and first the area was swamped by drunken SMU brats wanting a nice slumming session on the weekend, and then the properties were bought up and gentrified all out of recognition. We didn’t have the money or the clout to fight it, so we just always kept at least one bag packed at all times in preparation for the notice that we’d have 30 days to move out before that great record shop or that wonderful band venue was razed and turned into fratbro condos.
And here’s the funny part. As opposed to Austin and Portland, whose reputations as iconoclast havens were dependent upon a constant inflow of people declaring just a little too loudly “I’m expressing my individuality,” Dallas oddballs just waited. We didn’t get a flood of hipsters and attention addicts because the people they were trying to impress didn’t care, and they rapidly flounced off to Brooklyn or Seattle. Instead, Dallas attracted and retained a crowd that wanted to get things done instead of talking endlessly about what they were going to do one of these days when the stars were right and they no longer had to wait for their inheritance. Bit by bit, so many people who really liked the good things about Dallas worked on little bits and chunks, to where we have places like the Kessler and the Texas Theater and Panoptikon and the Oak Cliff Halloween Parade and bike paths that actually go somewhere. Dallas isn’t perfect, but as someone who will celebrate a full 40 years here in December, it’s not the place in which I grew up, and we all salute the places and events that were wilonskyed and then assimilated to death back in the day that helped make this happen.
All of this is a roundabout way of saying that the touring Oddities & Curiosities Expo shows in Dallas might have done as well as they are now if they’d started in 1995, or 1985. However, now we have a large enough crowd willing to put our bucket down where we are that its success is so much sweeter.
To be continued…
Want to know where this started? Here’s the beginning.
The traveling Oddities & Curiosities Expo shows are relative newcomers to Texas: the first Dallas show was only in 2019, and the only other city in the state served by the Expos is Austin. Otherwise, they range all across the United States, spread out far enough that attendees aren’t overwhelmed by too many shows close by. The vendors all spread through the outré, from bone collectors to taxidermy restorers to Ripley’s Believe It Or Not, and each show is carefully curated (a term horribly abused over the last decade but completely appropriate here) to maximize the variety of vendors. At each Expo, attendees have the options of curios, natural history, horror and fantastic art, and exotic clothing, and two shows so far have one goofball carrying carnivorous plants.
Another aspect of why the Expos are so successful has to do with thoughtful and succinct advertising and promotion. Instead of blanketbombing an area with advertising that probably won’t reach the people most likely to attend and annoy the people least likely, the Expos work predominantly with word-of-mouth, augmented but not replaced by social media. One of the more charming aspects of its touring schedule is running new shows within a reasonable distance of a previous show, a few months later, so that those who missed one have the option of waiting a year or making a road trip. The upshot for Dallas vendors is that about a third of the attendees had been waiting since 2019 to come out again, a third were from outside the Dallas area but who wanted to see what was in Dallas that wouldn’t be in their local area, and a third would have come out no matter what.
To be continued…
One of the only issues I’ve ever had with the Henry Selick film The Nightmare Before Christmas involves the ending. For all of the celebration of Santa Claus traveling the world and replacing all of Jack Skellington’s creepy toys with traditional Christmas gifts, not one kid – not one protogoth kid – was screaming and crying and begging Santa to leave a Jack gift behind. I just picture that kid watching the Russian dolls loaded with scorpions being hauled off, swearing right then and there that when s/he grows up, there’s going to be one little part of the world where Halloween never ends, and then finding that a lot of other kids feel the same way, so they start an enclave, and that starts a movement…
Anyway. Where were we? Oh, yes, Triffid Ranch plans for November. Absolutely no connection to the previous paragraph. None at all.
Well, now that Halloween is over, it’s time to switch gears slightly as far as the gallery is concerned. No more Porch Sales until at least the end of March, both because of variable weather and because all of the Venus flytraps and North American pitcher plants need their winter dormancy. Right now, the emphasis is on introducing new Nepenthes, Cephalotus, and Mexican butterwort enclosures through the winter, as well as giving opportunities for everyone to see them. To that end, the first of the November indoor plant tours starts on November 15, from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm, and those plant tours will continue on selected Sundays until spring. (By various necessities, these won’t be running every Sunday, owing to starting a new day job in December and ongoing events with Caroline Crawford Originals at the beginning of the month, but details will be posted as they become available.)
Concerning shows outside of the gallery, everything is still in the air, in some cases quite literally. The latest news concerning a potential COVID-19 vaccine has already started a race with various venues to schedule indoor shows for 2021, and it’s the view of this proprietor that it’s far too early to discuss returning to a regular event schedule when Texas just crossed, as of today, one million known cases. Unfortunately, the combination of live plants and heavy glassware means that shipping isn’t an option, which means that online events such as the Blood Over Texas Blood Bazaar also aren’t an option at this time.
On the subject of the Blood Bazaar, one of the only bits of good news in the last eight months is the solidarity between friends and cohorts in the online community, and it’s time to return a whole slew of favors. It’s been a very long time since the last Post-Nuclear Family Gift Suggestions cavalcade of purchasing opportunities, and that starts up again as of Thursday. Expect lots of recommendations on everything from masks to toy dinosaurs, with a lot of tips on carnivorous plants and carnivorous plant accessories.
Finally, 2020 was intended to start with a serious expansion in both additional Triffid Ranch shows and local business opportunities, and the pandemic put paid to both before things got too involved for the year. Now that businesses are reopening, it’s time to announce the next phase of the Triffid Ranch business empire: the opportunity to rent enclosures. Keep an eye open for the details very soon, but for companies and individuals who would like the uniqueness and prestige of a carnivorous plant enclosure without the maintenance, or who want to switch things out on a regular basis, you now have an option. Again, details will follow very soon.
Other than that, back to the linen mines: new enclosures won’t build themselves. And if you think this is exciting, wait until December.