Category Archives: Things to Do in Dallas When You’re Dead

The Aftermath: 500x Gallery Hot & Sweaty 2019 Open Show

After years of little weekend shows and events, the Texas Triffid Ranch has arrived: enclosures exhibiting in an established gallery. The 500x Hot & Sweaty open show, at one of Dallas’s most famous galleries, had a wide variety of submitted art in different media and formats, but I was confident at the beginning that it probably wouldn’t have any science art or science-inspired art. At the Hot & Sweaty opening on June 8, not only did that make the two submitted enclosures unique, but the response suggests a combination of art show and museum exhibition, with either interactive displays or live provosts to explain the science side of displays for those unfamiliar with the background.

Hot & Sweaty 2019 ends on June 23, but don’t let that stop you from coming out during the week and weekend. The 500x is open on Saturday and Sunday from noon to 5:00, and open during the week by appointment. If you’ve wanted to view a Triffid Ranch enclosure but haven’t been able to make an open house, here’s your chance.

State of the Gallery: June 2019

 It’s hard to believe what’s changed with the Triffid Ranch since 2015: it was four years ago this month that wandering through an ArtWalk at Valley View Center meant coming across a freshly vacated space at the dying mall that looked like a perfect place to start a carnivorous plant gallery, and everything snowballed from there. Four years of late nights, early mornings, mad dashes to the space after the Day Job was done, road trips for plants or gear, massive remodelings and rearrangings, and it’s all been worth the effort. The gallery isn’t absolutely perfect (I certainly wouldn’t complain about another 1000 square feet for growing area and a loading dock), but compared to where it started, it’s getting there.

The irony of the situation is that getting word out about the gallery requires leaving it. For all of the noises about online promotion and publicity, people have had nearly a quarter-century to get used to ignoring online ads, and nothing beats getting out for shows and events and letting them see what makes the Triffid Ranch unique. The plan all along was for the gallery to act as a base for shows throughout the area and the state, but who had any idea that things were going to get so busy this year?

As for those shows, things go fast and furious in June. The last Garland Urban Flea in downtown Garland, Texas was flooded out, and the makeup day was held at the same time we were already scheduled for an event in Denton. (Let us not talk about the event in Denton: there’s a big difference between an actual music festival and a gaggle of hipsters who decide “Let’s put on a show!”) The Urban Flea is getting back onto its normal schedule, though, with this month’s event on June 8 from 9:00 to 4:30, right in the middle of downtown Garland. And speaking as a proud resident for the last near-decade, if your sole impressions of Garland come either from passing through in the 1980s or that quip in the movie Zombieland, I think you’ll be nicely surprised. (As always, with any outdoor show, serious weather may delay or shut down the whole thing. The good news is that as of June 4, the Dallas area gets a lot of rain before and after, but Saturday should be absolutely beautiful. As always, though, we’ll see.)

In unorthodox events, right after packing up everything at the Garland Urban Flea, it’s time to head back to old stomping grounds in Dallas’s Exposition Park. The 500x Gallery on Exposition Avenue, on the approach to the north entrance to Fair Park, just celebrated its 40th anniversary, and its Hot & Sweaty show every year is famous for its opening to anybody willing to drag art through the front door at the scheduled times. While the show runs every day from 12 noon to 5:00 until June 24, the opening on June 8 runs from 7:00 to 10:00, meaning that it’s a perfect opportunity to come by and view two sample enclosures for those who haven’t had the opportunity to come by the gallery. Besides, speaking as a resident of Exposition Park in the early 1990s, it’s always good to get back to the neighborhood.

(And the work keeps coming, by the way: after the 500x opening, it’s back to the gallery to finish up a slew of commissioned works, and to allow official Triffid Ranch photographer Allison David to get good photos of the current enclosures for a portfolio going out for the official fourth anniversary in September. To steal from the famed comics artist Matt Howarth, it may stop, but it never ends.)

The weekend after this gets even more interesting, as it’s time to go back to the Swizzle’s Tiki Lounge in Industry Alley Bar just south of downtown Dallas for the Swizzle’s Waipuna Tiki Flea on June 15. Last year’s show was unexpectedly show by comparison, as I was told by organizers and attendees alike, probably due to the cold drizzle running all day and most of the night. This year, there’s  no excuse, weather-wise.

After that, it’s time to take a break for one weekend, if only to mow the lawn and brush the cats. That breath-catching is in order to finish up everything for the next Triffid Ranch open house on June 29 from 6:00 to whenever we kick out the last people. If you’ve been out already, you already know the drill, but for those popping into Dallas for work or fun before the heat really kicks in, this is the time to see the plants in air-conditioned comfort among fellow carnivorous plant enthusiasts.

Oh, and before I forget, one extra bit of good news. One of the many pleasures of this last May’s Texas Frightmare Weekend (and we’re already gearing up for the 2020 show) was running into Bunny Voodoo of Blood Over Texas in Austin, and Bunny had the particulars on this coming November’s Horror For the Holidays show. It’s still running the weekend before Thanksgiving, but because of its increasing number of vendors and attendees, it’s moving from Come and Take It Live to the Travis County Expo Center. That means that Horror for the Holidays runs for both Saturday and Sunday, this year, meaning both that attendees have more flexibility with their schedules and we vendors don’t have to set up and tear down just in one day. This means that you can expect a lot more surprises this November, but you’ll have to wait until then to find out what they are. This also means that the Triffid Ranch is moving further out of Dallas proper: between this and the Oddities & Curiosities Expo in August, this marks two shows per year in Austin, with plans to move to Houston and San Antonio as soon as venues and opportunities allow.

And on the subject of August, the Triffid Ranch will go a little quiet in July, partly because of the heat and partly because of the need for new enclosures after this sort of June. However, it’s going to be busy from the beginning of August all the way to the end of the year, so keep checking the event calendar. It’s going to fill up: mark my words.

The Aftermath: Texas Triffid Ranch Gallery Open House -May 2019

Best-laid plans and all that: after the last few blowout shows, it was time to come back home and let showgoers see the larger enclosures and talk about commissions. No huge new enclosures to debut: this was going to be a quiet open house, with no drama or outside influences. We knew that we might get some rain, but we had no idea how much rain.

Shortly before the open house started, pretty much everything in a line from South Texas to northern Iowa was blasted with a line of thunderstorms that threatened to blast everyone in its path to Oz. (Well, everyone else was hoping for Oz: I had bets on Lankhmar, Imrryr, or Ulthar.) This, of course, followed a four-year tradition of open houses and ArtWalks scheduled months in advance that coincide with flash floods, so we were prepared. Not so much the rest of Dallas: half the city faced blackouts, mostly due to falling or flying trees, and we’re still cleaning up broken beleanches, downed telephone poles (are they still used for telephone lines, I wonder?), and mudflats.

Even with all of that, it was still an enthusiastic turnout, seeing as how we still had power and thus refrigeration and air conditioning. (After a storm of this magnitude, the general air quality in Dallas is best described as “too thick to breathe, too thin for waterskiing.”) Naturally, we welcomed anybody willing to brave subsequent storms, and a grand time was had by all.

With luck, the next open house will be past storm season, although surprises aren’t unheard of. After shows at Punk Palooza in Denton on May 25 and Swizzle’s Waipuna Tiki Flea on June 15, the next open house is officially scheduled for June 29. After that, well, we’ll figure it out if I don’t wake up after the next storm in the gardens of Dhamsawwaat.

The Aftermath: Texas Frightmare Weekend 2019 – Finale

With special shows, it’s all about the preparation. Oh, and the time for the preparation, which is never, ever enough with shows that keep growing every year. At the end of Texas Frightmare Weekend, there’s always a bittersweet tang of not wanting the party to end versus figuring that another two days of this intensity would probably kill us all. Well, Frightmare 2019 is over, done, swept up, and put away, and now it’s time to start getting ready for 2020. Approximately 350 days to go: that just might be enough time, if someone will kindly provide me with a vaccine for sleep. See all of you next year.

Fin.

The Aftermath: Texas Frightmare Weekend 2019 – 8

Some people brag on the cast and crew at Texas Frightmare Weekend. Others want to join. Me, I just do my best to spoil everyone by bringing donuts for everyone on Sunday morning, when the end is in sight and they just need a little boost. It’s the least I can do.

To be continued…

The Aftermath: Texas Frightmare Weekend 2019 – 7

The second question I’m regularly asked, after “So why are you selling plants at a horror convention?”, is “So when is Texas Frightmare Weekend moving to a new venue?” I’m not privy to any discussions as to the future for Frightmare, nor would I presume to have any knowledge one way or another, but what I can share is that the host hotel is undergoing a massive renovation that should be complete in time for the 2020 show. This thrills me for multiple reasons, as I have history with this hotel that goes back a full 30 years this month. Besides being a guest at several conventions at this hotel during my pro writing days in the 1990s, a show in 1989 was where I first met the individual who later introduced me to my wife. To blatantly steal from the comic artist Sam Hurt, it’s not so much a small world that’s folded over a lot.

The Aftermath: Texas Frightmare Weekend 2019 – 6

Ever since the beginning, there’s always something new at the Triffid Ranch booth Texas Frightmare Weekend, and that’s very deliberate. Frightmare will always have a large selection of good beginner carnivores: as I keep pointing out, it’s not fair to you and it’s not fair to the plant to sell you a plant that requires more maintenance than you’re capable of handling. Increasingly, as regular attendees master the beginner plants, more exotic species and hybrids enter the mix: that’s the reason why two tables are necessary to show everything.

The real fun, though, is watching someone fall head-over-heels in love with a long shot. Terrestrial bladderworts are a tough sell for beginners: without a microscope or at least a good magnifier, you’ll never see bladderwort traps, even after washing the soil away, and you’ll never see the traps in operation. However, watching someone go absolutely goopy over bladderwort blooms is worth all of the effort: I brought one Utricularia calycifida “Asenath Waite” purely to show what it looked like, and had no idea as to the response. Next year, available room willing, it’s time to expand the bladderwort section.

The Aftermath: Texas Frightmare Weekend 2019 – 5

The ongoing normalization of fandom in all of its forms is a bit of a mixed blessing. For the most part, it’s thrilling: being seen at a science fiction or horror convention is no longer a career or social liability. (In tech, that could be a liability on multiple levels: I once had a supervisor who nagged me about my not being at a local big-media show, and got angry when I told him I was having breakfast with Harlan Ellison at the time.) The only issue, especially as a vendor, is when you try your utmost to separate Day Job and show time, especially when a cheerily drunk coworker walks up and says “You look like someone in my department, but I know you’re not him!”

To be continued…

The Aftermath: Texas Frightmare Weekend 2019 – 4

Texas Frightmare Weekend offers a lot of reasons to attend, but one of the best is the effortless community it engenders. There’s literally no telling who is going to show up, where they’re from, and what they’re looking for. Over and over, I’ve watched two complete strangers meet while discussing the plants, hit it off right then, and get into animated conversations about their other shared interests. In many cases, they’ll show up years later, still the best of friends, and I’ve even been introduced to longtime couples showing off their first children. And yet I’m still asked by people unfamiliar with the Frightmare family, “WHY would you want to sell plants at a HORROR CONVENTION?”

To be continued…

The Aftermath: Texas Frightmare Weekend 2019 – 3

Every once in a while, I’m asked “so why do you take pictures of your customers at Triffid Ranch shows?” Well, it’s for three reasons. The first is because all of you are the best customers a boy could ever want, and I know plenty of you who are just tickled to see your photos posted every year. The second because it’s even more fun to watch everyone grow up, change hair and makeup, and generally hop down the timestream. For me, as I’m on the downward slide toward 60, these are also a handy memory device. I’m not being rude when I don’t remember someone from five years earlier: it’s just I’ve probably met a few dozen thousand people and slept once or twice since 2014. With a photo archive, I can go back and exclaim “So THAT’s who you are!”

And the third? It’s funny how many people, especially at Texas Frightmare Weekend, recognize each other from the photo archives and make a point of introducing themselves at the next show. That’s me: responsible for a multistate rampage of lifetime friendships, relationships, and the occasional child. We all should be this lucky to see this happen over a decade.

To be continued…

The Aftermath: Texas Frightmare Weekend 2019 – 1

A quick discussion about “water weight.” Anyone working with plants at any given time will relate that water weighs more than most people expect: carrying around 18-liter (5-gallon) jugs full of rainwater is a great way to build up biceps and triceps without benefit of a gym. Combine lugging tubs of carnivorous plants with severely low humidity, both in and out of air conditioning, and it’s possible to lose nearly five kilos just from sweat. At the very least, now you know why they’re called “sweatshirts.”

To be continued…

The Aftermath: Texas Frightmare Weekend 2019 -Introduction

Ten years. A solid decade ago, a hobbyist carnivorous plant grower with delusions of expansion signed up as a vendor for a fledgeling horror convention, then located just outside of DFW Airport, on the idea that “horror film and literature enthusiasts might like carnivorous plants, right?” Based on previous shows and crowds, a decent selection of beginner plants, all crammed into the back of a PT Cruiser, should get the job done, right? And at the end of three days, when packing up the literal handful of plant containers that didn’t sell, I sighed and figured “Next year, I’ll be more prepared. It can’t get any larger than this.”

That’s the story every year: coming out with my $150,000 in jelly beans to drop them at the feet of what is easily the best and most enthusiastic audience a carnivorous plant rancher could ever want. Every year, I start earlier and earlier to prepare for the crowds, and every year I run out of time when facing even larger audiences. It’s a matter of watching people who casually walked by and wondered “Who’s the weirdo with all of the terrariums?” five years ago who now run to the back of the hall first thing on Friday evening to see what’s available at this show. It’s a matter of teenagers at that first Frightmare show who come by to introduce their own kids. One of the reasons Texas Frightmare Weekend is so ridiculously successful is because of its sustained efforts to encourage a gigantic virtual family, and most of that family stops by the Triffid Ranch booth to catch up.

This year’s show…this year’s show was HUGE. At a time when national and local conventions continue to implode, Frightmare continues to grow, mostly because its founder and staff continue to push the limits of what they were told the could and couldn’t do. Most three-day shows of this sort start to wind down by noon on Sunday, as everyone checks out of the host hotel and prepares for the long car or plane trip back home. A tremendous number of Frightmare attendees, though, stay until Monday just to recuperate and commiserate, leading to jokes of how many of us would die of exhaustion if the show ran for four days. We all laugh, both because many of us know we have to go home and because most of us want the party to continue for just a little longer.

For anyone who had any questions, it’s a foregone conclusion that the Triffid Ranch will be back in 2020. Approximately 360 days until the next show…I can be ready, even if I’m already running behind.

To be continued…

State of the Gallery: May 2019

So there’s no State of the Gallery report for April 2019. This is completely my fault, mostly due to my addiction to gas station sushi, but I have an excuse. After a little over ten years of trying to turn the Texas Triffid Ranch into a viable and sustainable business, the last month is where things got busy. VERY busy. The show and open house calendar is now so packed that there might be a break around Canada Day.

(And as a note, you may notice that the photos in this posting are much better than average. This is deliberate: after years of doing for carnivorous plant photography what Jeffrey Dahmer did for vegan cuisine, it was time to hire a professional who could capture the look of Triffid Ranch enclosures. Allison David not only is a consummate professional, but she and I ran in many of the same circles with the same people that make Dallas so interesting and yet never ran into each other before now. Expect to see a lit of her photos in upcoming Triffid Ranch promotional material, particularly press releases and portfolios, and feel free to contact her for your own photographic needs.)

 

To start, most activities for the past two months have gravitated around getting everything ready for the Triffid Ranch’s tenth year at Texas Frightmare Weekend, running the weekend of May 3 at the Hyatt Regency DFW Airport. I think the only person more shocked than I at the incredible growth of Frightmare is Loyd Cryer, the founder and grand poobah, and he has every reason to be proud of this monstrous baby of his. As I write this, the plants are potted and awaiting loading, and now all I’m doing is waiting for the inevitable potential disaster to start off what turns into a spectacular show. In 2016, it was having the truck struck by lightning as I was arriving: so what happens in 2019?

Most years, the weekend after Frightmare is dedicated to quiet introspection. Well, if lying on the floor and twitching all day Saturday is introspection, I’ll take it. However, it’s time to take a lead from the title of my most-missed 1990s-era glossy magazine and plan for the next weekend. This time, it’s a matter of putting down roots in my home town, as the Garland Urban Flea opens its may event in downtown Garland, Texas on May 11. Previously, work schedules and weather conspired against setting up a tent at Garland Urban Flea (when the National Weather Service describes the day’s weather by running clips of the Star Trek episode “The Doomsday Machine,” odds are pretty good that nobody is coming to the show unless they own a bathyscaphe, as I’ve learned to my sorrow in the past), so here’s hoping that the weather that Saturday is clement and calm. And stop laughing: Texas weather isn’t THAT bad.

The next weekend is a quiet one, right? Noooope. Because June promises to be even busier, we’re holding the next Triffid Ranch open house on Saturday, May 18 from 6:00 to closing, with the opportunity for those previously unfamiliar with the gallery to view new plant enclosures and arrangements. No theme this time: it’s all about being glad that you’re coming out to take a look.

The next weekend is Memorial Day weekend. That’ll be a weekend to relax and recuperate, right? Well, maybe on Monday, but Saturday, May 25 is dedicated to the Triffid Ranch’s first-ever show in Denton, Texas for Punk Palooza.  This is going to be a return for a lot of reasons, the least of which being in a very disturbing alternate reality, I’d be returning to the University of North Texas to celebrate the fruits of either my journalism or my Radio/Television/Film degree from UNT. Yeah, that’s an alternate reality that keeps me awake at night, too.

And after that? June 1 and 8 are reserved for private events at the gallery, but then it’s back on the road for Swizzle’s Waipuna Tiki Flea in Dallas on June 15. Those who may remember last year’s Swizzle event may remember how much fun it was even with rain and a cold front coming through, and June in Dallas is generally noted for “warm and sunny.” Besides, having several friends in the tiki bar culture gives then excuses to visit Dallas, so everybody wins.

Well, that’s about it for the next six weeks: after that, it all depends upon the weather and whether we have a reasonably mild summer or another repeat of 2011 or 1980. If the former, lots of long-range travel is in the forecast. If the latter, guess who’s getting additional air conditioning units for the gallery and stocking up on frozen blueberries?

The Aftermath: Social Science “Science Fiction” at the Perot

Texas Triffid Ranch display at the Perot Museum

It’s been four months since the last Social Science presentation at the Perot Museum of Nature & Science, and things ran swimmingly for April 26’s “Science Fiction” event. Temperate carnivores such as Venus flytraps and North American pitcher plants were emerging and blooming, outside temperatures weren’t a threat to the tropical carnivores, and the trip down Central Expressway to downtown Dallas was painfully slow but not impossible. Combine that with large and enthusiastic crowds, and everything was perfect.

Carnivorous plant selection at the Perot Museum

Dallas weather always offers a challenge with raising and displaying carnivorous plants, and this time the challenge was when the last of the big cold snaps came through. Since Sarracenia pitcher plants bloom first and then produce traps, since many prey insects are also their pollinators, it’s always a gamble: spring temperatures are too warm, and flowers are spent by the middle of April. One good cold front dropping things to freezing in March, and the plants won’t have fully grown traps by May. This time, everything worked perfectly, with several species and hybrids with blooms and early traps, allowing everyone to see both at once.

Sarracenia pitcher plant blooms at the Perot Museum

Another change from previous Perot presentations was access to both a video camera and a big flatscreen monitor, which allowed hourly Venus flytrap feedings for large crowds. Every hour, I gathered a volunteer to drop a canned cricket leg into a trap, with everyone watching a closeup of the mechanism and the closing action without being crowded around a single plant. This worked so well that investing in a similar arrangement for other Triffid Ranch events and shows might be an option in the future.

Triffid Ranch banner at the Perot Museum

As for next time? That honestly depends upon the event and the opportunity, but I’m glad to have had this chance. I’d like to thank both the staff and the volunteers at the Perot for their assistance, as well as everyone who attended. Next time should run even more smoothly than ever.

The Aftermath: Dallas Oddities & Curiosities Expo 2019 – Finale

 

And so it ends. Many thanks to the Oddities and Curiosities Expo staff for putting up with me, many thanks to the staff of Fair Park for putting up with me, and even more thanks to the attendees for making this one of the most pleasurable and memorable one-day events I’ve ever attended. For those with means to get to Austin this summer, the Triffid Ranch sets up at the Austin Oddities & Curiosities Expo on August 17, and coming back out for the Dallas 2020 Expo isn’t even a question. Between these, the Spooky Spectacle in Fort Worth in September, and the next Blood Over Texas Horror for the Holidays show in Austin in November, it’s going to be a good year for road trips.

The Aftermath: Dallas Oddities & Curiosities Expo 2019 – 9

One of the funnier questions of which I’m asked is one that doesn’t seem funny: “Do you take cards?” It’s funny in context of the last half-century. 50 years ago, ATMs were science fiction. 40 years ago, temporary venues could run credit card machines, but only if they could get a telephone line over which to transmit transactions. 30 years ago, mobile ATMs were a standard, but individual vendors generally stuck with cash unless they had access to a dedicated credit card processor, which was ridiculously expensive for small and medium-sized vendors. 20 years ago, card readers were cheaper, to the point of anybody registering a business license for any sort of retail was flooded with spam calls offering “reasonable” prices for card transactions. Ten years ago, small vendors could do the occasional card transaction, but that was dependent upon specialized readers that only worked with certain PDAs and phones, and everything was dependent upon cellular phone networks that didn’t like each other or buildings with walls thicker than toilet paper. Now? Now, when I’m asked “do you take cards?”, I just laugh and ask “What do you think this is: the Twentieth Century?” Watching the incredible changes of the last half-century, can you blame me for being fond of the phrase “I love living in the future”?

(Seriously, for both vendors and attendees of events, try to keep your payment options diversified. For vendors, this means having a good card reader through a phone or tablet AND having plenty of change for those still paying with cash. For attendees, this means having a couple of options as far as cards are concerned: many banks will shut down transactions on a card that appears to be used across multiple states or countries, even though you physically moved only a few meters. As for cash, be kind and try to diversify: the only thing that will make a vendor hate you more than trying to buy a $2 item with a $100 bill is buying an expensive item with rolls of coins. One is a surprising prevention for the other: I give change for cash in dollar coins, partly because kids love them, and partly because the person facing getting back a kilo of change suddenly either finds a smaller bill or finds a card.)

To be continued…

The Aftermath: Dallas Oddities & Curiosities Expo 2019 – 8

Having been selling plants at shows and events for a decade, many beginning vendors ask for advice on which shows and events they should attend. Never you mind that asking my advice about shows and events is like asking for vegan recipes from Jeffrey Dahmer. Unlike so much of the advice requested by beginning writers and musicians, the question isn’t “how can I skip to the front of the line?” The question is, essentially, “How do I minimize my losses and my pain?” And that’s a really good question. It’s just a shame that nobody has a good answer for it. 

Part of the problem with answering that question is that every show is different. EVERY show. Even if you’ve been vending at the same show every year for a decade, all you need is a change of location or even a good impending storm to throw off everything. Competing shows deliberately scheduling opposite your show, a glitch in advertising, an accident on the highway that slows or stops incoming traffic for a few hours, a hotel name change…any of these can throw off attendance of an event, and I’ve come across all of these and a few more. Don’t even get me started on events with management changes between the last and the next show, where the only thing in common between the two shows is the title. (For that reason, one bit of advice I can give is to be really leery of events using the name of a once-beloved event that’s been dead for a while. The name was purchased for name recognition, but the odds of the new show having even the remote possibility of the audience of the old one are extremely remote.)

 The other part? It’s all about the intended audience. Some shows thrive on vendor variety, where attendees look forward to something new in each and every booth or tent. Others…well, not so much. My wife once slogged through a long weekend at an Oktoberfest show where the only potential customers she saw over three days were drunken fratbros looking for a traditional Oktoberfest “chicken hat“: they weren’t willing to pay more than $3 for one, and they had no interest in purchasing anything else but beer. On the other, her first big show was at a convention for mystery writers, where she and a friend were the only vendors carrying anything other than books. Until just a couple of years ago, this was her biggest grossing weekend ever, because family members and friends of the main attendees saw jewelry and exclaimed “Finally! Something other than books!” (Sadly, this show didn’t lead to future success at subsequent shows: one of the convention organizers was one of the book dealers, and since he felt that any sales going to anybody else were sales that weren’t going to him, he made sure that non-book dealers weren’t allowed back.) It’s Schrödinger’s Show: until you put the money down for a booth fee, take the time from your day job, arrive at the venue, and get set up, you have no idea how it’s going to go. That can even apply on individual days during a three- or four-day show: everyone who has been traveling to events for more than a few months will have stories about Friday and Saturday audiences being dead, only for Sunday’s crowd to converge and strip out everything before closing.

 And this advice for vendors applies to attendees, too. I can tell you about fellow vendors whose inventory may be enticing, but the only way you’ll find out which events would be worth your time is by hitting a lot of them and finding what works the best for you. Yes, that might cost money, but would you rather stay home and spend the rest of your life wondering on what you missed out?

To be continued…

The Aftermath: Dallas Oddities & Curiosities Expo 2019 – 7

And for this installment, a discussion of alcohol. Increasingly, as Texas’s and particularly Dallas’s alcohol sales and distribution laws start to enter the 18th Century, more local events with vendor spaces are allowing and encouraging beer and wine sales. Contrary to the panicked liturgies of Those With Authoritah, removing the patchwork of “wet” versus “dry” areas in Dallas and allowing every grocery store in town to sell beer and wine didn’t cause the city to become a booze-fueled Mad Max horrorscape. Well, that still happens every year with the Lower Greenville St. Patrick’s Day Parade in March and Texas/OU Weekend in October, but sane and tasteful people avoid those mass midlife crises anyway. Everywhere else, with events that aren’t already associated with projectile vomiting competitions, it’s nice and mellow. Yes, people will drink, and they’d probably smoke as well once Texas finally legalizes recreational cannabis. I can’t do either, so I figure “More for everyone else.”

That’s probably one of the best things about various events in the last decade: the easy access to well-controlled and well-monitored beer and wine as anxiety and shyness self-medication. Occasionally vendors get accidental spills, but not often, and the whole purpose behind drinking is to relax, not to get messed up. Even better, there’s no pressure to indulge, so those of us who can’t or don’t aren’t ostracized or needled into participating “because everyone else is doing it.” Dallas’s Fair Park held two events for two completely different audiences last weekend: the Oddities & Curiosities Expo and a “bier garden” beer tasting event. Want to guess which one had a crowd of socially lubricated and extremely pleasant attendees who knew better than to drink and drive, and which one was responsible for the dolt in a Lexus (but I repeat myself) driving the wrong way on a busy street who nearly hit me and three other people as I was leaving the Expo? The choice is simple: when your alcohol consumption makes the shade of Hunter S. Thompson yell “GET TREATMENT, NOW” in your ear, heed the advice. You’re harshing it for the rest of us.

To be continued…

The Aftermath: Dallas Oddities & Curiosities Expo 2019 – 6

From a vendor’s perspective, one of the biggest regrets on being on that side of the cash register involves getting to visit with other vendors in a particular venue. Oh, YOU may be done and ready to go an hour before the door opens, but not everyone is that lucky, and interrupting fellow vendors while they’re trying to get the last touches in place is really bad form. The real irony is that the only chance most vendors get to talk to their neighbors after the venue opens to the public is if the show is horrible and the public doesn’t show up. At a good show, if you’re very lucky, you might get the chance to wave at neighbors once or twice in momentary slowdowns (and I really mean “momentary”) before the rush hits again and you start playing the game “What Character From The Walking Dead Are You?” (For the record, I’m Glenn. I’m always Glenn.)

 The particularly good news at last weekend’s Oddities & Curiosities Expo was that I’ve known my across-the-aisle neighbor for nearly 30 years, back from when he and I were neighbors in Exposition Park in the early 1990s. Jason Cohen of Curious Garden has been a fellow Dallas troublemaker for longer than I have, and I’m proud to announce that he’s hosting a repeat of last year’s carnivorous plant workshop sometime later this year.  The exact details are still open: right now, we’re both trying to get through the spring season rush with all of our tendons and ligaments still attached, but we’re trying to wrangle a time in the schedule, probably in mid-May. Details will follow as I get them.

To be continued…

The Aftermath: Dallas Oddities & Curiosities Expo 2019 – 5

Another business proposal to fill my voluminous free time: unique enclosure decorations for smaller containers. Just as how a vast untapped market for darker garden decorations exists that isn’t being serviced by standard garden centers, and how so many of us have to hope that Halloween decorations from Target will survive an entire summer of sun and rain, the decorative options for those making indoor gardens from converted fishtanks and sushi trays is generally limited to the twee. Not that there’s anything wrong with fairies and forest animals if that’s your kink, but it may be time to consider a line of gonzo terrarium ornaments, both UV-resistant and leach-resistant, for the more discerning customer. It may be time to discuss licensing deals with a few artists or their estates, particularly Wayne Barlowe, H.R. Giger, and Charles R. Knight.

To be continued…

The Aftermath: Dallas Oddities & Curiosities Expo 2019 – 4

A side venture inspired by a lack of a certain behavior at the Oddities & Curiosities Expo: I’m going to move into the carnivorous plant fertilizer business. In the last few years, several safe and effective foliar fertilizers for most carnivores have hit the market (whatever you do, never EVER try to fertilize sundews or butterworts, no matter what), but I’m looking at an effective name. After doing a bit of research into existing and lapsed copyrights (among other things, I discovered that the copyrights on several magazines and a weekly newspaper for which I worked in the 1990s were allowed to lapse, and I could buy them up with petty cash if I wanted to waste money and sanity trying to revive them), I’ve found a perfect one: a tie-in with a 20th Century Fox movie of the last decade. With the recent purchase of the vast majority of the former Fox empire by Disney, that property is now managed by a team very much willing to work with vendors willing to pay for limited product licenses. I don’t expect to make a lot of money off the fertilizer itself, but at shows where half of the attendees see carnivorous plants and start yelling “Feed me, Seymour!” at the tops of their lungs, I can hold up a big bottle of branded carnivorous plant fertilizer and yell back “Brawndo’s got what plants crave!

To be continued…

The Aftermath: Dallas Oddities & Curiosities Expo 2019 – 3

A minor observation based on years of anecdotal data: Dallas may have considerably more esoterics and nonconformists than what the city’s promotional bureau may want to advertise, but Texas’s real freak capitol is Houston. Oh, Austin has a reputation that precedes the 1960s, but when it comes to any gonzo event, Houstonites outnumber Austinites by about 30 to one. Even better, Houston folk see nothing wrong with hopping in the car or heading to the airport and taking a trip to get their esoterica fixes. In the last ten years since the Triffid Ranch started, some of my most enthusiastic and energetic customers, as well as some of my best and dearest friends, were Houstonites who came tearing up I-45 to see what Dallas had going on. Starting this year, I no longer have any excuse not to return the favor: Dallas isn’t the city everyone thought it was 25 years ago, and neither is Houston, and if the Oddities & Curiosities Expo sets up shop in Houston in 2020, I’ll be one of the first vendors applying for a booth.

To be continued…

The Aftermath: Dallas Oddities & Curiosities Expo 2019 – 2

One of the more surprising aspects about last weekend’s Oddities & Curiosities Expo wasn’t the gigantic crowd. The surprise is that in spite of huge turnouts, events such as this are downplayed in Dallas under the idea that “Dallas is a really conservative city, so there’s not much of an interest in weird stuff.” Loyd Cryer, the founder of Texas Frightmare Weekend, heard the same thing over and over when he was first trying to get Frightmare off the ground. Today, if Frightmare isn’t the biggest horror convention in the country, it’s definitely in the top three, and easily most of its core audience hails from the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex. Considering the number of events intended for that perceived traditional Dallas audience that crash and burn, it may be time to acknowledge that my home town is a bastion of nontraditionals, and let our freak flag fly high and proud.

To be continued…

The Aftermath: Dallas Oddities & Curiosities Expo 2019 – 1

Ah, to describe the general attendance at the Dallas Oddities & Curiosities Expo…well, everyone understood why the aisles between vendor rows were so wide, because otherwise whole sections would have been impassable. According to those who had been waiting in the cold and rain to get in, the line for tickets stretched around the Centennial Hall as late as 3:00 in the afternoon, and both the parking lots at Fair Park and the DART Green Line trains stopping at the Fair Park station were packed. Not that it was possible to see this, because Every vendor in the place was lucky to leave his/her booth until Fair Park security started shooing attendees toward the door at closing. In my own case, I came out with what I thought was a reasonable collection of plants, with a booth arrangement that could handle a reasonable crowd. When the crowds formed lines to get through booths, and customers were reaching across booth walls to view other vendors’ goods because they simply couldn’t get in, it wasn’t hard to make allusions to George Romero movies. Considering the general vibe of the show, and considering the crowd attending, those allusions were GOOD things.

To be continued…

The Aftermath: Dallas Oddities & Curiosities Expo 2019 – Introduction

To say that encountering the Oddities & Curiosities Expo was a surprise understates the case. This time last year, nobody within a wide circle of fellow Texas vendors had even heard of this traveling show: the first I personally had heard about it was an announcement of a show in Austin in November 2018. Considering that it was a week after the Blood Over Texas Horror For the Holidays show, I regretfully skipped on it: one round-trip drive to and from Austin is rough enough, but two within five days for two one-day shows would be pushing limits of endurance, and I had another show scheduled for the same weekend. Besides, after a punishing run of underwhelming first-time shows over the last few years, what were the chances of a first-year show in Austin, especially a traveling show, being worth the trip?

 That munching sound you hear is the sound of your humble proprietor eating crow. It’s not just that the show for which I skipped the Austin Oddities & Curiosities Expo was an unmitigated disaster: pulling off a big crow drumstick with 11 herbs and spices had to wait until the Expo came to Dallas at the end of March. I’ve made some spectacularly dumb mistakes in my life: assuming that Make magazine was going to be a failure, passing on buying $10,000 in Apple stock at the end of 1997, and attending my sister’s wedding, among many others. Missing an Oddities & Curiosities Expo in Texas will rate at least on the level of the wedding, based on what happened in Dallas.

 The show started easily enough: easy access for loading in plants on the Friday before, with cloudy but warm skies and an enthusiastic show staff to manage things. At first, especially with a venue as big as Centennial Hall in Fair Park, it seemed a little sparse, with lots of aisle space compared to the vendor booths, and about half of the booths were still empty. No big deal, I thought: lots of folks would arrive on Saturday morning before the show opened, and that’s precisely what happened. Even then, setup was easy, and when it was time to clear the area on Friday afternoon, everything went smashingly. A few things still had to be done, such as completing new signs and notices, so Friday night was spent working on organizing everything that would be out there at opening. 

(Incidentally, a major addition to the Triffid Ranch booth is an entry into the 21st Century: QR codes and more URLs in place of postcards and business cards. Part of this was due to comparing notes with fellow vendors about “card collectors,” who grab up cards and anything else that’s free and never return. The biggest reason, though, is that by the end of this decade, a phone that can take pictures isn’t a luxury: it’s an essential accessory, and someone visiting the booth is much less likely to lose a business card than to lose a phone. This is part of a general experiment, and it seemed to work remarkably well over the run of the show, especially for those who wanted to get more information but didn’t necessarily want to come in too close.)

 Saturday, though, started out rough. The National Weather Service warned about the cold front passing through that morning, but nobody was expecting the rainstorms that came with it. With shows of this sort, vendors worry about rain, especially cold rain, because a good stout storm is enough to convince most potential attendees to stay home. The Expo opened at 10:00 for advance VIP ticket holders who paid extra to get first dibs, and we vendors noted that the crowd appeared to be friendly and enthusiastic but a little sparse. There was a little time to get something to eat and drink or hit the restroom, and boy oh boy were we all glad to do so, because when the doors opened for general attendees at 11:00…

To be continued…

The 3rd Annual Manchester United Flower Show: Early Days

What’s probably the last freeze of the season just finished passing through, Daylight Savings Time starts this coming Sunday, and experts are predicting what may be the greatest explosion of bluebonnets and other Texas wildflowers seen in generations. (No sightings of bluebonnet-colored rattlesnakes: I wonder why that is?) This means that it’s time to announce that the third annual Manchester United Flower Show, a celebration of the blooms of the world’s carnivorous plants, starts at the gallery on Saturday, April 6 from 6:00 to whenever everyone goes home. This won’t be all: the idea is to premiere two new large enclosures, including a particularly challenging commission. (Being more of a Dell Harris/Doug Chiang/Ron Cobb kind of guy, attempting a Nepenthes enclosure with a Georgia O’Keefe influence led to a LOT of research, but it’s worth it.) Either way, the event is free, and it starts at the tail end of the Deep Ellum Art Fest and Scarborough Renaissance Festival, so feel free to come in and overload on bladderwort and butterwort blossoms. In the meantime, back to the linen mines.

The Aftermath: Groundhog Day 2019 Open House

Even if the tradition behind Groundhog Day made any sense, North Texas weather throws the tradition under the bus. This year, the groundhog wouldn’t have seen his shadow, because the thick fog that morning would have had him screaming “THERE’S SOMETHING IN THE MIST!” That fog stuck around, too: as odd as it was, at least it beat the deadly cold up in Chicago: I survived the Blizzard of 1979, and that experience is a big reason on why the gallery is titled “the Texas Triffid Ranch” and not “the Illinois Varga Shop.”)

Fog aside, and aside from the local missing stair who was removed in short order and told not to return, the latest open house was a grand success, including one family that drove from Tulsa just to attend. Thanks to everyone who made it, other than the missing stair, because you were all braver than the groundhog this year.

The date for the next open house is in flux, dependent upon getting confirmation on an upcoming event. When it’s nailed down, though, read about it here.

The Aftermath: Perot Museum Social Science “Wild World”

perot02012019_3It’s been three years since the last time the Triffid Ranch was invited to show plants out at the Perot Museum of Nature & Science in downtown Dallas, and making a late evening of the Social Science 21+ museum event was a perfect way to finish off January. Just me, the provosts and staff, and a few thousand interested bystanders…the theme of this month’s Social Science event was “Wild World”, and carnivorous plants were just part of the fun.

perot02012019_2The relative lack of photos from “Wild World” had less to do with photographic aptitude and more to do with the sheer size of the crowd. When the official “everyone is worn out and going home, so you can break down” time was 10:00 and patrons were still asking enthusiastic questions at just short of midnight, it says a lot about the energy at the sold-out event. As it was, getting photos was a bit problematic, especially when people were crowded so thickly around the Triffid Ranch table that we occasionally blocked off access to the elevators. Every guest presenter at an event like this wants to make an impression upon its audience, and with five to ten people listening in on every answered question, the carnivores apparently made quite the impression. The crowd rushed in right at opening, and the only chance to get photos of the table itself was when everyone had cleared out for the night.

perot02012019_4perot02012019_1

Anyway, thanks to the multitudes of energetic and wildly curious attendees, this was a great way to start the 2019 Triffid Ranch show season, and I wish to thank everyone who made it. For those who couldn’t, get your tickets for the April 26 Social Science, “Science Fiction,” before they sell out, too.

The Aftermath: Dallas Fantasy Fair 2018

The last few days after the end of the Dallas Fantasy Fair revival have led to a lot of soulsearching and evaluation of life and business needs. This includes an evaluation of the differences between being an attendee and later a guest at the tail end of the Twentieth Century, and being a vendor and business owner and operator in the Twenty-First. This includes looking past lots of good memories of the shows and remembering that while I attended back then mostly to see friends and cohorts that now are all over Facebook, both those friends and I were there also because we could afford admission and not much else. This includes a note that since science fiction, fantasy, and comic conventions have evolved drastically in the era of eBay and YouTube, vendors shouldn’t get nostalgic for the days when dealers’ rooms were dependent upon the latest fads and speculation bubbles. The last Dallas Fantasy Fair ran in April 1996, just as the big mid-Nineties comics speculation boom was collapsing (it’s hard to believe today with Avengers and Spider-Man movies released seemingly every month, but Marvel Comics was very close to Chapter 7 bankruptcy this time 22 years ago, and the idea of the whole of Marvel’s comic characters being sold to the WWE as wrestling characters was pretty reasonable at the time), and things have changed a LOT since then.

 Not to beat on the Fantasy Fair revival: attendees were happy, it was good to run into people I hadn’t seen for nearly half my life, and those seeking vintage comics seemed to find exactly what they were looking for. It’s just that a combination of too many related events in the same month (friends who have been involved in Dallas fandom for 40 years related that they’ve never seen so many events scheduled for a November before, across the DFW Metroplex and north to Denton) and a lack of name recognition with anybody under the age of 40 led to, shall we say, a much smaller crowd than had been promoted.

 Right now, the talk about the Fantasy Fair is optimistic, with one once-influential retailer talking about how the show may be a must-attend event in another ten years, and may even regain its place as second only to the San Diego Comic Con as essential attendance for anyone in the industry. I truly wish well of everyone involved, and hope that these predictions come true. In the meantime, though, with the exception of Texas Frightmare Weekend, it’s time to move away from conventions. It made sense a decade ago, but it’s time to move on.

The State of the Gallery: November 2018

It took long enough, but summer is dead. Deceased. It’s not pining for the fjords. Its leavetaking proves that there’s still room in Hell. It’s GONE, MacReady. The heat is gone, defunct, bereft, and on its back and kicking like a dying cockroach. We won’t have to start worrying about oppressive heat in the Dallas area for another five months, and for a couple of weeks, we might need coats after the sun goes down. We’re gonna FREEZE!

Seriously, this November is shaping up to be a typical one. No unnatural heat the way we had in 2016, but also no significant chance of snow and slop the way we had in 1993. (Subfreezing temperatures and sleet on Thanksgiving evening and nearly impassable conditions for Dallas the day after: that was a wonderful mess.) We came close to snow last week with the cold front that passed through North and Central Texas. Even that was sporadic and fleeting, and we went back to our typical windy and sunny before anyone realized the bitter cold was gone. For those of us with fashion sense that includes motorcycle jackets and heavy boots, it’s been a little touch of heaven, and we still have December and January to go.

(And on the subject of motorcycle jackets, I bought mine 21 years ago this month, and it’s a little jarring to realize that I have friends and customers whose main interests were cell division and limb gene expression when I purchased it. I had at least four people ask me what I did to get it that wonderfully broken in and character-ridden, and I had to tell them “Just get one and wear it until it’s old enough to buy booze in the US.”)

Out come the jackets, in go the temperate carnivores, unfortunately. As of now, don’t expect to see any Venus flytraps, temperate sundews, or Sarracenia pitcher plants until at least the beginning of April, and even that may be delayed with last-minute blue northers hitting in February and March. The spotty frosts we’ve received over the last week have stopped any new growth in the flytraps and pitcher plants, and they’re now taking a much-deserved rest to recharge for spring. If we get just the right combination of sun and cold for the rest of the winter, next year’s blooms, especially with the purpurea pitcher plants, will be spectacular.

Just because they’re asleep doesn’t mean that everyone can’t have fun with carnivores until spring. The tropical carnivores are still busy and a bit obnoxious, so we’re going to be focusing on them all winter long. And oh, they’re going places.

The first place they’ll be going is to the revival of the Dallas Fantasy Fair, running November 24 and 25 at the Irving Convention Center. November is already a month packed with fannish events (I haven’t seen a month like this in Texas, and my memory of related events goes back 35 years as of this weekend), but setting up a booth at the Fantasy Fair seemed both like an opportunity to run into people I haven’t seen in two decades and give them a chance to see a cross-section of what the Triffid Ranch is trying to accomplish. Either way, look for booth #406: in a room full of comics professionals, a space dedicated to carnivorous plant enclosures is going to stand out.

Next, the Nightmare Weekends Before Christmas open houses at the gallery are going to be a little truncated this season due to conflicting schedules. Instead of running every Saturday in December before Christmas, we’re going to have two: December 15 and December 22, both starting at 6:00 p.m. and ending when everyone’s done. In addition, anyone purchasing an enclosure at either of the open houses gets free delivery within the Dallas/Fort Worth area if you really want to surprise someone. (Note: between prior commitments and the open houses, time for custom enclosures will be at a premium, so get requests out NOW.)

After the holidays are finally over, it’s time to go back to a venue we haven’t visited in three years. The Perot Museum in downtown Dallas still has its bimonthly Social Science 21+ late-night events, and the Wild World event on January 25 includes viewings of Nepenthes and Heliamphora pitcher plants and other carnivores. The contract is still being negotiated, but expect to see a redux, with North American pitcher plants, for the Social Science “Science Fiction” event on April 26. Apparently that’s the one where I’m going to get alternate movie quotes thrown at me about triffids.

And on a last note, the touring Oddities and Curiosities Expo runs in Austin this weekend: as tempting as it was to head back to Austin for a weekend, my loyalty lies with the Blood of Texas Crew for the Horror For the Holidays event. You can imagine my surprise at discovering that Oddities and Curiosities is hitting Dallas on March 30, and of COURSE the booth fee has already been paid for it. Look at it as a teaser for Texas Frightmare Weekend on May 3 through 5, including having special news for Frightmare attendees who are also hitting Free Comic Book Day at local comic shops that weekend. Details will follow.

And that’s about it for now. Staying warm?

State of the Gallery: October 2018

“We are now approaching the end of 2018, and will be crashing into 2019 shortly. Please return your solar cell array to its upright position, stow all weapons and sublight propulsion devices in the bins provided below your seat, and place your order for drinks or objective reality inhibitors with the flight attendant at this time. If you are a native to a reality with more than a 45 percent difference in strong nuclear force or Hawkwind music catalog from your destination, please let the flight crew know at this time to prevent spontaneous explosion when disembarking. Your checked-in luggage has been sprayed for most animal and plant pests, parasites, and symbionts, but please check for nanometal phages in a safe location in any reality with a tech rating above 3.73.998. We thank you for flying with us today, and a special message for Lanny: stop it. Stop it NOW. The authorities already know, and they’re not giving it back.”

 

Twelve weeks to the end of the year, and this is when life starts getting lively out at the Triffid Ranch. For the temperate carnivores, we’re only about six weeks away from the beginning of the traditional winter dormancy, which means the Venus flytraps, North American pitcher plants, and triggerplants are about ready to sleep until April.  The tropical plants in the gallery already think it’s winter, with lights set for a December 21 photoperiod, in order to encourage them to bloom around the beginning of March.  Pretty soon, the dragonfruit cactus by the front door comes inside, the next batch of hot pepper seeds go into propagation, and this year’s collection of Sarracenia seeds go into cold storage until March. That’s not even starting with the new plants grown from cuttings for next year’s show season.

 

A lot is going on besides getting the greenhouse winterproofed and the Sarracenia pools mucked out, too. The fall show season starts on October 13, with an inaugural tent set up at the Garland Urban Flea in downtown Garland, Texas, with the usual bets as to how the weather will go.  The default assumption for autumn in North Texas is “cloudy and a little cool in the morning, with temperatures dropping significantly with any storm front.” In other words, bring a jacket just in case, and come out to see Sarracenia pitcher plants in full fall color. 

 

After coming out for Garland Urban Flea, take the next weekend off. Seriously: take it off, because the gallery will be closed that weekend. That’s because the next Triffid Ranch open house opens on Friday, October 26 at 6:00 post meridian, and a lot is happening in the intervening week. This includes the premieres of several new enclosures, including a commission for a longtime Triffid Ranch supporter, and the last big flytrap and Sarracenia display until next year. Traditionally, open houses run on Saturday evenings, but on the request of several longtime customers (including one that has been visiting the booth at various events for the last decade), we’re going to try Friday night so as to free up Saturday night for Halloween events.

After that, it’s a matter of getting ready for November and December. November is a month of shows, starting with the Blood Over Texas Horror For the Holidays show in Austin on November 11, for the third show in a row. After that, November 24 and 24 are spent closer to home, with the resurrected Dallas Fantasy Fair at the Irving Convention Center. Once we’ve swept up the broken glass and discarded pizza boxes from that one, it’s back to the gallery for the return of the Nightmare Weekends Before Christmas, with the gallery open every Saturday evening from December 1 to 22. (For those who want to purchase a particular enclosure but don’t want to ruin the surprise, we’ll deliver in person on December 23 and 24, so feel free to ask for details.)

 

On the newsletter front, the Texas Triffid Ranch Occasional Newsletter and Feed Lot Clearance Sale continues, especially as Facebook continues its descent into emulating LiveJournal. (And lower than that I can’t get.) The big Harlan Ellison giveaway for subscribers is done, but expect a slightly more scaled-down version with every issue of the newsletter: I haven’t had this much fun putting together this big a collection of packages in years, and that’s nothing compared to the glee of those who receive them. If you haven’t subscribed yet, there’s always time, as a new installment comes out this week. It may also be time for an archive, too.

 

And that’s about it for the moment. What’s up with you?

State of the Gallery: September 2018

It’s midway through the month already. We’re now a little over a week away from the official autumnal equinox, and just over six weeks until Halloween. Next thing you know, the calendar will have switched over, we’ll be looking over New Year’s Eve 2631, preparing for the Gorash Annexation to set up outposts and the occasional clearance outlet on the other side of our galaxy, and wondering if it really was such a great idea to de-extinct the moa and let them go feral in the Canadian Rockies…but perhaps I’ve said too much.

Over here at the Triffid Ranch, frantic work for the next open house is the order of the day, especially with the number of outside shows and events between now and the end of the year. After a lot of deliberation, particularly with input from people unable to get free on Saturdays to attend previous open houses, the next open house is scheduled for October 26 from 6:00 to 11:00 CST. Yes, a Friday night. Depending upon the success of this open house, we may try a few mid-week open houses as well, especially as football season gets going and Dallas traffic goes from “typically abysmal” to “blow up every highway in the state and require everyone to ride a bike for a month to learn some humility.”

Related news: partly to improve opportunities for people to see the latest Triffid Ranch enclosures outside of open houses and appointments, and partly to help fill a niche with the best damn reptile and amphibian shop in the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex, the Texas Triffid Ranch is now partnering with DFW Reptarium in Plano to offer new carnivore enclosures at the Reptarium. For those who haven’t visited it already, the Reptarium is a  herpetophile’s joy, starting with the store’s mascot: an absolutely stunning crocodile monitor named “Whisper” who lives in the front window. In addition to the store’s assemblage of panther chameleons, arrow-poison frogs, emerald tree boas, and the world’s most mellow frilled dragon, the Reptarium now has the Nepenthes bicalcarata enclosure “Hans-Ruedi,” and more will be available based on customer response. In other words, this holiday season is going to be VERY busy.

In the interim, October also features an outdoor show on October 13, thanks to the Garland Urban Flea in, unsurprisingly, Garland, Texas. This marks the first Triffid Ranch show ever held in Garland, and the weather should be absolutely stunning. The October Urban Flea runs from 9:00 am to 4:30 pm, so feel free to stop by for the last of the season’s Venus flytraps and threadleaf sundews.

And for those who might be coming across these missives via Facebook, be warned that a Triffid Ranch Facebook presence is shrinking and will continue to do so. The constant push to boost FB page posts was already becoming annoying, as they still weren’t reaching the people who chose to receive page updates. Now, new posts disappear immediately after entering them, only to pop back up days or weeks later. And then there’s Facebook’s page messaging system, which penalizes page owners if they don’t respond to any message sent to the page within minutes. This means either hiring someone to manage a social media presence (which I suspect is the hope), or get dinged for getting a message minutes after going to bed for the night and answering it only after waking up. Either way, it’s once again time to note that no such problems exist with the Texas Triffid Ranch Occasional Newsletter and Feedlot Clearance Sale, of which a new installment will be out very shortly. Go forth with the clicky to get newsletter-exclusive news and commentary, and occasional cool and educational prizes.

Well, back to the linen mines. Expect a few new enclosure premieres before the end of September, including a fun little commission: it’s either ramping up the enclosure releases or having a really slow holiday season. And on the holiday season, expect some extra surprises with this year’s Nightmare Weekends Before Christmas events. It’s absolutely amazing how much you can get done when you’re not unpacking from an unscheduled move…

State of the Gallery: July 2018

It’s dry. Not standard “Dallas in July” dry: that still implies a touch of atmospheric humidity. We’re talking “the grass along the highway is a grassfire waiting to happen” dry. It’s “sweat bees want to be your bestest friend” dry. It’s “are you washing your clothes or debrining them?” dry. These sorts of dry summers happen very rarely out here, even in the worst brutal heat: even when the temperatures hit “cook your brain like an egg,” there’s usually enough moisture in the air that sweat is visible for at least a few seconds. Not this week. This is the week where getting out during the day leads to salt crusts on clothes and at the corners of your eyes, and where an evening shower isn’t an extravagance but a necessary removal of the day’s mineral carapace. Combine that with an equally dry south wind running day and night, and you can almost hear trees and bushes shrivel. I know this firsthand, as do my poor Sarracenia, because just one day led from “happy and hydrated” to “almost too dehydrated to save”. And so it goes.

Not that this is going to last: with the exception of 2011, where we went from April to Christmas Day with no rain except one fifteen-minute cloudburst in September, we can get sudden thunderstorms without warning. The National Weather Service is making promises of severe thunderstorms through the week, and we don’t blame the weatherfolk for rain predictions that don’t pass. You can bring up weather radar showing a gigantic bank of brutal storms around Fort Worth, and watch them shrivel and evaporate in real time the closer they get to Dallas. After a while, it gets to be a game, where everyone has to take a shot if the storms are deflected north or south. In some years, you’d swear that your neighborhood had a giant glass dome over it, where you can drive through rain coming down so hard that visibility is next to zero to a destination that didn’t get a drop.

Well, that’s Texas for you, where you can either sit and suffer until October, or you can find a good reason to get out, preferably after dark, to keep from growing roots into the couch. Let’s help out with that.

Since the urge to stay inside works for the gallery as well, the next couple of months will involve new enclosures and new commissions, and that’s why we’re having gallery showings. The first is the Late Canada Day show on July 7, with an emphasis on the legacy of Michel Sarrazin. If that’s not enough advance notice, the Triffid Ranch’s third anniversary gallery show is scheduled for Saturday, August 18, from 6:00 until whenever everyone goes home. At this point, the Triffid Ranch has been in its new location exactly as long as it was in its old space, so we have more reasons to celebrate than usual.

In other developments, the carnivorous plant workshop at Curious Garden was enough of a hit that it led to an interview in Richardson Living magazine, now on stands everywhere in the city. With luck, this might tie in to other events in the Richardson/Garland area: keep an eye open for particulars as they happen.

And other news? The trip to the International Carnivorous Plant Society show in August had to be cancelled due to finances (I could do it or pay the booth fees for next year’s Texas Frightmare Weekend show but not both, and next year’s Frightmare is the Triffid Ranch’s tenth anniversary out there), but a slew of carnivorous plant growers and enthusiasts are talking right now about a Texas meetup to share notes and cuttings. As soon as I have more details, I’ll pass them along, because a Texas carnivore conference would be the greatest thing to happen to me since the invention of the casual dresscode workplace. Again, check back for details, because this will be GLORIOUS.

The Aftermath: Carnivorous Plant Workshop at Curious Garden

Waking up on a summer Saturday morning in North Texas is hard. It’s bad enough that this time of the year, the big yellow hurty thing in the sky races to emerge before you can finish your coffee (or, in my case, Dr. Pepper) and blast your reason for living to ash. It’s not just that the local air quality moves from “sultry” to “too thick to breathe, too thin to plow,” or that the filth in  the air conditioner’s air filter makes you wonder if the cats took multiple dumps in it. By the first weekend in June, the only willing people up with the sun on a Saturday are farmer’s market vendors, air conditioner mechanics, and masochists whose gimp suits are at the cleaners. The rest of us are smart and get everything done under soothing moonlight, draw the blinds, and sleep until the worst of the heat passes. Yes, it’s that much harder to readjust come Monday morning when the day job calls, but the people fussing about this aren’t the ones who have to live with it.

That’s why it was such a pleasant surprise to see the crowd already lined up for the first carnivorous plant workshop at the newly relaunched Curious Garden on June 9. After the success of its recent taxidermy workshop, Curious Garden was a perfect locale for discussing the vagaries of carnivores and helping the participants go home with a carnivore of their very own.

As to new workshops, that depends upon upcoming schedules, but they’re very likely. Keep an eye open for updates, and register quickly when they appear: this one was large enough that we almost needed a larger space to hold everyone.

Upcoming Events, June 2018 Edition

A month after Texas Frightmare Weekend, and things in the gallery are finally under control. New and reworked enclosures are going strong, the propagation area is full of new and exciting species, and the deep freeze in the back is full of frozen blueberries. (Take this from a longtime resident: about the only thing that makes summer in Texas livable is the explosion of East Texas blueberries in farmers’ markets and grocery stores, and the only thing that makes July and August tolerable is knowing that June was spent filling every refrigerated space in the vicinity with June’s and April’s and Melissa’s blueberries. By the time the blueberries run out, the local craft stores are full of Halloween stuff, which is usually enough to get through the last few weeks of baking heat before things start cooling off. This routine works until the day it’s possible to live like an African lungfish and aestivate in mucus and mud cocoons until the rains return.) This is the time of the year where everyone knows firsthand what a grasshopper on a griddle feels like (there’s a very good reason why sheepskin car seat covers were popular in Dallas in the days of vinyl car seats, especially for those fond of shorts), so the idea is to offer events and activities either indoors or after dark, and preferably both.

One of the advantages of emulating a Gila monster in the summer heat (living underground, emerging only to suck eggs and swallow baby bunnies whole, and dealing with interlopers with a venomous bite) is having plenty of time to organize for the days when the sun’s default setting drops below “supernova”. 2018 has been interesting in that regard: this year’s Deep Ellum Arts Fest was an anomalous combination of torrential rains and near-freezing temperatures, so registering for the 2019 Fest wasn’t even a question. This is also the year to see about admission to the famed Cottonwood Art Festival down the road from the gallery in October, as well as a lot of smaller shows and events through the area. The first showing at the Deep Ellum Art Company was a hit, and that may be a regular showing venue as well.

As far as the traditional Triffid Ranch shows are concerned, things are lively. Texas Frightmare Weekend’s open call for vendors starts soon, with notice on acceptance usually arriving in August. That’s also about the time for applications for the Blood Over Texas Horror for the Holidays show in Austin in November, and two weeks after Horror for the Holidays is the two-day revived Dallas Fantasy Fair at the Irving Convention Center. That last one is going to be the most interesting, especially since I was a regular guest during my writing days through the first half of the 1990s until the original convention imploded in 1996. On one side, even the kids who were at the last few Fantasy Fairs are in their thirties and forties now, and nostalgia from the older fans might not be enough. On the other, Dallas still has precious little to do on Thanksgiving weekend that doesn’t involve movies or malls, and the Thanksgiving Fantasy Fair weekends in the Eighties and Nineties made that weekend a lot more tolerable for those of us without family plans (or those with families they had to escape for a while). Either way, let’s see what happens.

(As an aside, while it’s great to get invitations to attend other shows as a vendor, please understand that being able to attend is a combination of logistics and scheduling, and those can collide with interstate regulations, weather patterns, or the laughable concept of “personal life.” Please also understand two things, the first being that my having to reject a vendor request almost always isn’t personal, but that every show requires about a week before the show to prepare and a week after to recuperate and reorganize. Therefore, every two-day or three-day show effectively cuts out three weeks per month that could be used to create new enclosures or perform essential maintenance at the gallery, which is why we schedule the regular gallery shows for the months where we aren’t running an outside event. The second thing is that whining, guilt trips, or pushiness, especially of the “don’t you owe it to yourself to come to our show?” type, WILL guarantee a blacklist on even the remotest possibility of coming out to future events. This is a roundabout way to recommend not following the lead of Fear Con in Salt Lake City and taking a lot of care with vendor contact information. Unsolicited entry into a mailing list is bad enough, but texting when the mailing list wasn’t getting an immediate response? Oh, that’s a blocking.)

And for the regular gallery showings? Scheduling conflicts kicked in for the end of June, so the next Triffid Ranch gallery opening has been moved to Saturday, July 7. It’s a touch late for Canada Day, but as a chance to see Michel Sarrazin‘s namesakes in the pulp, it’ll still be worth the trip. Expect details in the very near future, as well as a few surprises, and some might even include blueberries.

The Aftermath: Texas Frightmare Weekend 2018 – 8

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And that about closes it out for Texas Frightmare Weekend 2018. 350 days to go before Texas Frightmare Weekend 2019, and I can only hope to top this year’s show.(Maybe next year, I’ll be hit by an asteroid.) Many thanks to everyone who came out for this show, innumerable thanks to the staff and crew at Frightmare, and a sincere promise of reparations to the fellow vendors who had to listen to me all weekend long. I truly apologize for your pain.frightmare_2018_78frightmare_2018_79frightmare_2018_80frightmare_2018_81frightmare_2018_82frightmare_2018_83frightmare_2018_84frightmare_2018_85frightmare2018_59

The Aftermath: Texas Frightmare Weekend 2018 – 7

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To be continued…

The Aftermath: Texas Frightmare Weekend 2018 – 6

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To be continued…

The Aftermath: Texas Frightmare Weekend 2018- 5

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As an aside, for those unfamiliar with the Shirt Price policy, buying a Texas Triffid Ranch shirt (or other item of clothing) and then wearing it to a show or gallery event not only makes you the subject of envy and admiration, but it imparts several special abilities. Firstly, the money from the purchases supports local Dallas artist Larry Carey. Secondly, wearing that shirt to an event gives an automatic price discount on all Triffid Ranch purchases. Thirdly, as was the case this weekend, Triffid Ranch shirt wearers received extras, in this case a Venus McFlytrap Monster High doll. People should be rewarded for being unconventionally stylish, right? (And many thanks to the people who had no interest in plants but who wanted to buy a Triffid Ranch shirt anyway. Getting to share Larry’s artwork is a big deal for me, and has been for the last decade.)

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To be continued…

The Aftermath: Texas Frightmare Weekend 2018 – 4

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To be continued…

The Aftermath: Texas Frightmare Weekend 2018 – 3

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To be continued…

The Aftermath: Texas Frightmare Weekend 2018 – 1

frightmare_2018_7This being the tenth Texas Frightmare Weekend show for the Triffid Ranch. the dynamic of the crowd coming by the booth is changing, and all for the good. Teenagers who came by to peruse in 2009 are now bringing their kids by, and others bring by pictures of plants purchased in previous years as if they’re showing off grandchildren. Sometimes the shock is how much the kids have grown in just a year. A lot of Frightmare regulars will relate how so many of the attendees are like family, and that’s a fair assessment: I’m just the uncle who sits near the end at Thanksgiving dinner and makes those seated at the kid’s table ask “How DOES he manage to get that soda straw that far up his nose?”

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To be continued…

 

 

The Aftermath: Texas Frightmare Weekend 2018 -Introduction

So. About last week’s Texas Frightmare Weekend show. I could talk about the extra weeks spent on making sure that everything was done in advance, so I could roll up a truck and head out early on Friday morning for load-in. I could bring up the ongoing tradition of Dallas getting heavy thunderstorms during that weekend each year, one of which led to my nickname among the convention staff as “Sparky” after the truck was hit by lightning. I could mention that after my left ankle decided to go in directions not recommended by the rest of my skeletal structure, I’m putting down nonskid tape on the front steps of the gallery this weekend so slipping on rain-slick concrete on those front steps never happens to anyone else. I could mention how after having to miss load-in on Friday, the Frightmare crew helped get me in early on Saturday morning, with everything up and ready literally as the first crowds came rushing back. I could mention that nine hours of standing while talking with customers isn’t bad, except that favoring an injured left ankle puts all sorts of stresses on one’s right knee. I could, but why belabor my failings on what was probably the best Frightmare yet?

As a vendor, I look at each year’s show with surprise: it’s hard to believe that the show runs this smoothly every year without some sort of public incident, but there you have it. When the biggest complaint is the relatively high cost of hotel food, and this is NOTHING compared to comparable costs at various convention centers in which I’ve set up booths, you have a show that should be emulated by everybody in the science fiction/fantasy/horror convention circuit. Events run within a couple of minutes of the stated time, instead of “when we damn well feel like it.” The registration crew handles general queries and emergencies with the aplomb of a tapdancing brain surgeon, and with a lot less mess. Convention security is practically invisible except when needed, and then they cloud up like a bee swarm and take out the issue right then. The promotion is savvy and understated, since the best promotion is word of mouth, and this year’s attendees were a great mix of first-timers and decade-long vets. After decades of conventions with far too many attendees and staffers assuming that Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas was an instruction manual, there’s something incredibly relaxing as a vendor in knowing that everyone is watching out for each other, and that’s Frightmare’s greatest strength. All of this needs to be put at the feet of founder Loyd Cryer: every time a reporter notes that he had serious questions from loan officers about the viability of a horror convention in the Dallas area when he started in 2005, we all just laugh and laugh.

In return, as befitting such a great venue, the plant selection rose to the challenge, especially with the number of longtime attendees finally ready to move to more exotic and challenging species. The new butterworts were a huge hit, especially after pointing out the containers full of Utricularia calycifida “Asenath Waite” to the H.P. Lovecraft fans. A wider range of highland and lowland Nepenthes to go with the beginner’s plants, and the first time the Triffid Ranch table had Heliamphora on display…oh, and a starting selection of hot peppers, with both “Numex Halloween” and “Carolina Reaper” catching everyone’s eyes. This year, the problem wasn’t with having enough for everyone. The problem was illustrated by the people who came by later on Sunday because of the crowds four and five rows deep in front of the booth on Saturday.

As with each previous show, the aftermath of this year’s Frightmare tested new display concepts, highlighted the need for new ideas, and emphasized the need to get rid of ideas that no longer work. This means a lot of work between now and next May 3 to finalize such things as QR codes on both individual plants and groupings by genera, leading to pages on basic care in order to make it easier on the folks on the outer edges of the crowds to get information. It means updating display shelves, both for improved access to the plants and for improved weight management. (The only thing heavier than glass is glass full of water and sphagnum moss, as my biceps keep telling me.) It means alternate lighting systems, such as a heavy-duty battery for venues where access to electricity is either unavailable or ridiculously expensive. It’s a lot of work, but now that the gallery is reasonably under control, it’s time to focus on upgrading the off-site presence.

And the really surprising part? It’s a matter of looking back over the preceding shows to see how far it’s all come. That first show in 2009, with all of the plants that could be shoved into the back of a PT Cruiser, a big bookcase full of vintage gonzo gardening books, and a lot of stuff that simply wasn’t necessary or got in the way, was pathetic compared to last weekend. It’s a shock as to how far it’s all come, and that gives incentive to push even harder to get to where it’s going.

To be continued…

State of the Gallery: May 2018

Well. With Texas Frightmare Weekend recently ended (and photos and discussions on same will be online shortly), it’s time to shift gears, relax, and take a couple of weeks off to recover. And if you believe that, I have some great converted shopping mall live/work spaces at the bottom of the Trinity River that I’ll regretfully let go to someone who will appreciate them, too. Right now, the clock starts for preparation for the next Frightmare, and the real trick is to get everything else done over the next year as well.

Because of preparation and arrangement time, May and the first part of June will be relatively quiet as far as gallery events, but that’s because the Triffid Ranch goes mobile over the next two months. The fun starts with a showing at the Deep Ellum Art Company on Sunday, May 20, focusing on larger enclosures, from 2:00 to 6:00 that afternoon. Three weeks later, the Triffid Ranch gets much more hands-on with a workshop on carnivorous plants at Curious Garden and Natural History in Lakewood, including leaving with your own hand-planted sundew or butterwort enclosure. For the latter, contact Curious Garden to reserve your space in the workshop: the fee for registration and supplies is $30 per person.

This doesn’t mean that the gallery is abandoned: the next big gallery event is scheduled for Saturday, June 30 as a very slightly early Canada Day celebration. This includes a celebration of the famed French doctor and naturalist Michel Sarrazin, for whom the genus Sarracenia is named. Yes, that means lots of North American pitcher plants, as well as some other surprises. As always, admission is free, with lots of plants available to take home.

On the convention circuit, things will be quiet for the rest of the year, with one possible exception. After founder Larry Lankford’s death in 2013, an absolute on Dallas conventions with the older crowd was reminiscing about the long-defunct Dallas Fantasy Fairs, which ran three times a year from the mid-Eighties until their demise in 1996. A few members of that old crowd would make noises about reviving the shows every once in a while, but those noises remained such until about two weeks ago. That’s when the first formal announcements of headliner guests announced the 2018 Dallas Fantasy Fair, scheduled for the weekend of November 23-25 at the Irving Convention Center. It’s still early days yet, so the convention has little more than a Facebook page for further information, but the con organizer is already taking vendor requests for more information. If nothing else, a convention the weekend after Thanksgiving is a good way to get started with regular weekend openings at the gallery all through December. Details will follow as they arrive.

And on longterm trips, it’s official: the 2018 International Carnivorous Plant Society Conference is running the weekend of August 3-5, and the Triffid Ranch is heading to California to hear what the real experts have to say. This is purely a factfinding expedition: no plants, no displays, nothing but notebooks and lots of business cards, just in case. That works out the best: I haven’t been in the Bay Area since the beginning of the dotcom boom in 1996, so it’ll be nice to see it without prior job interview commitments or any other commitments.

Finally, the just-concluded Frightmare show marked a solid decade since the first Triffid Ranch show, and the size of the crowds and their needs confirmed that it’s time for a revamp of the show table look. Among other things, it’s time to enter the Twenty-First Century as far as information and organization is concerned. As before, details will follow as they arrive, but let’s just say that attendees at Texas Frightmare Weekend 2018 will have the opportunity to get questions about plants answered so long as they have a smartphone. Considering that the crowds were four and five rows thick through most of the last show, a change is essential before the next one. This doesn’t even start with a project inspired by Demetria at The Curiositeer, which should go live soon. Oh, this one will be entirely too much fun.

State of the Gallery: April 2018

Nearly a third of the way through the year, and April 2018 is already shaping up to be a lot less exciting than April 2017. Of course, this time last year involved frantic shelf-installing and box-unpacking after the move from the old gallery space at Valley View Center, so it’s all a matter of perspective. (And if anybody had any doubts about not getting involved with the Rock Candy Mountain promises of artist spaces opening up at the Midtown project allegedly replacing Valley View, they’re gone now.) Yes, the weather keeps fluctuating between “typical” and “too cold to get out of bed right now,” but we haven’t actually gone below freezing…yet.

As far as last weekend’s Manchester United Flower Show was concerned, April follows in the tradition of last February: announce a gallery event, get everything ready to go, and then watch the weather feeds for impending catastrophe as a sudden atmospheric fewmet comes to visit for a while. Last February, it was a last-minute ice storm that hit north and west of Dallas, making a lot of potential attendees understandably reconsider a trip into Dallas if the roads were going to be frozen over by the time they attempted to return home. This time, Friday festivities were greeted with tornado sirens going off over most of North Texas: we got a bit of heavy rain for about an hour, but a friend coming in from Chicago found shelter with a multitude of others in a furniture store north of here, and folks to the south and the west had their own issues with hail and lightning. What issues Friday brought were mitigated on Saturday, where chilly but otherwise excellent weather brought out lots of first-time visitors and Valley View regulars. If nothing else, the weather caused reevaluations of having an outdoor event in spring, because any tents set up in the parking lot would have been blown to Oz and back. Maybe next year.

And on that note, further events in April will be restricted due to the need to get ready for Texas Frightmare Weekend on May 4 through 6, and then things get interesting. It’s too early to discuss particulars, but everything leads to a gallery show on June 30, just in time for everyone uninterested in traveling out of town for the July 4 weekend. The subject of that show is a secret, too, but let’s just say that anyone attending can say with authority that they’ve never been to an art show like this one.

Lateral shift to go back to talking about Texas Frightmare Weekend: the vendor map and listings arrived yesterday, and we’re back on our favorite row. As for most of the decade, the epicenter of Frightmare is at the Hyatt Regency DFW in DFW Airport, thus making the entire wing of DFW Airport by the hotel available parking for the convention. As in previous years, the Triffid Ranch and Tawanda! Jewelry tables will be in the back of the Made In Texas Hall in the hotel basement, right next to the signing lines. Since this coincides with the first-ever Triffid Ranch show a decade ago, those already taking advantage of the Shirt Price discounts have an extra incentive to wear their Triffid Ranch T-shirts to the show: while supplies last, everyone showing up in a Triffid Ranch shirt or purchasing a shirt at the show gets a special present, no additional purchase necessary or needed. It’s just an extra bit of thanks to those who have not only made Texas Frightmare Weekend one of my favorite shows, but who have made the previous nine shows so much fun.

One ancillary note about Frightmare, not for this year but for next year: I’m regularly asked about getting vendor space at Fan Expo, the local convention that inspired the “Malcolm Rule” mentioned a few weeks back. I’ve balked for many reasons, and now my refusal became personal. Ever since the old Dallas Comicon was purchased by out-of-town convention accumulators and turned into Fan Expo, it and its associated Fan Days events always conveniently scheduled themselves against other similar events so that local attendees could do one or the other but not both. (Longtime fans may remember when the Dallas Fantasy Fairs did the same thing in the early Nineties, stunting or killing up-and-coming conventions that simply couldn’t compete against the Flimsy Fair hype machine and guest lists. Those fans who aren’t longtime fans might not be familiar with the name “Dallas Fantasy Fair,” as the Flimsy Fairs blew up very spectacularly in 1996 after choking out all other competition, just in time for the big comics speculation bust that caused Marvel Comics to file for bankruptcy at the end of the year.) Five years back, Fan Expo’s parent company offered to buy Texas Frightmare Weekend for a pittance, and when told no, attempted to run a horror convention within the main show that was an unrelenting disaster. Since then, Fan Expo management concentrated on scheduling opposite the A-Kon anime convention, ultimately causing it to move out of Dallas entirely, and then settled for running two weeks after All-Con.

Well, that was 2018. You can imagine the surprise vendors at Fan Expo 2018 had when they received advance registration forms for 2019, and discovered that Fan Expo had moved its date to the first weekend of May. Not only does this directly conflict with Texas Frightmare Weekend, forcing attendees and vendors to choose one and only one, but May 4 is also Free Comic Book Day across the US and Canada. Frightmare never competed against the many comic shops in the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex participating in Free Comic Book Day, but Fan Expo’s list of comic artist and comic adaptation film and TV star guests does, and not just with comics dealers and stores having to man a booth at Fan Expo during their stores’ busiest day of the year. Fan Expo management hasn’t released a statement as to why the schedule suddenly needed switching, but I’ll bet $10 that when it’s finally released, the statement will bray something along the lines of “this is a pure coincidence.”

I’m sure it is. Of COURSE it is. Likewise, it’ll be a pure coincidence that everyone involved with Frightmare, from staff to vendors to guests to attendees, will spend the next year doing nothing but amping their games so Frightmare isn’t just the biggest show in Dallas on that weekend, but the must-attend show of its kind in all of North America. It’ll also be pure coincidence that so many of us involved in Frightmare will do our utmost to have the backs of our comic shop brethren when May 4, 2019 comes around. Refusing to advertise with venues that continue to do business with Fan Expo, for instance, or otherwise demonstrating with dollars or shoe leather that scheduling opposite established events with the attempt to create a monopoly may not turn out the way everyone expected. After all, the Dallas Fantasy Fairs attempted to create a similar monopoly, and a little voice should have told their organizers what Fan Expo management really needs to hear:

And now on a purely friendly note. It’s been about three years since the last Cat Monday event on this site, mostly due to the time taken by the gallery, but its main subject, Leiber, is still going strong. As of Friday the 13, Leiber turns 16: he’s still the so-dopy-he’s-cute FreakBeast he was when we adopted him in August of 2002, but he’s a little stiffer today. Aren’t we all. Those who have met him are welcome to wish him a happy birthday, although he’ll probably only care if the person offering the wishes brings cat treats as well. And so it goes.

Upcoming Events: The Second Annual Manchester United Flower Show and Other Vagaries

One classic comment about life in Texas states “If you don’t like the weather, hang on five minutes. This ties directly to a less commonly stated but equally apt phrase, “Don’t count on Texas weather.” Getting the reminder that some 12 tornadoes passed over my house six years ago this week, while Day Job co-workers and I huddled in a building seemingly made of nothing BUT windows, and the admonition “keep watching the skies” isn’t just for bicycle commuters. As of right now, the National Weather Service is predicting near-freezing temperatures for Friday and Saturday nights, along with a wind advisory and thunderstorm watches for all evening Friday. Considering that this is the time where traditionally all of the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex outdoor festivals and events start, I truly feel for everyone who has to be outside to run those outdoor festivals. A shoutout to the folks running the Deep Ellum Arts Festival, in particular: last year’s event was so absolutely perfect that it’s heartbreaking to realize that the weather will only be decent on Sunday afternoon. (incidentally, don’t let that stop any of you from going out there: just make sure to bring a coat and a plastic sheet for any art you bring home.)

This, of course, doesn’t affect the gallery: the Second Annual Manchester United Flower Show still runs tonight and Saturday, even if our wild fluctuations in temperature over the last month mean that some of the carnivores are being tetchy about blooming. The Venus flytraps, which normally have full and lively flower scapes by this time of the year, are only now starting to bloom, and don’t even get me started about the hopes for Australian pitcher plant blooms. On the brighter side, this is a good year for Heliamphora pitcher plant blooms, for the first time since the Triffid Ranch started, and the Sarracenia pitcher plants are currently going berserk. Okay, so the flytraps and sundews are delayed, but seeing why Queen Victoria so loved the flower emblem of Newfoundland and Labrador makes up for it. There’s no point in hyping up the bladderwort and Mexican butterwort blooms, because this is definitely their year.

After the flower show, expect a bit of radio silence, mostly because it’s time to get caught up on seriously delinquent support work, especially as far as plant care guides are concerned. That’s because as of today, we’re only a month away from Texas Frightmare Weekend, one of the largest horror conventions on the planet, and it’s time to amp up the Frightmare booth to a whole new level. Expect to see plants that have never appeared at a previous Frightmare, along with ones that most Americans have never seen, as well as other surprises. (Now’s the time to mention that not only do Shirt Price discounts apply at Texas Frightmare Weekend, but I have plans for special surprises for attendees wearing Triffid Ranch shirts that are just a perk.)

And after that? It’s time for a road trip. The original plan was to visit Chicago during the Independent Garden Center show in August, but the 300-pound Samoan attorney is still in the shop and rentals are prohibitively expensive. That’s when a much more lively event opened up. This year’s International Carnivorous Plant Society conference is being hosted by the Bay Area Carnivorous Plant Society on August 3 through 5, which means (a) being in the vicinity of California Carnivores with an expense fund, (b) a demonstration of imposter syndrome-inspired meltdown in the presence of some of the greatest experts on carnivorous plants in this arm of the galaxy, and (c) an extra day in San Francisco for my beloved’s birthday. Working vacations are the best, and the plan is to come back to Dallas with an even larger collection of plants in time for the Triffid Ranch third anniversary party on August 25. August may be a slow month for art galleries, but not here.

And after THAT? well, that depends upon the weather, as always. Details will follow, but expect some surprises for September and October in addition to the annual November drive to Austin for the Blood Over Texas Horror for the Holidays show. We have such sights to show you…

The Aftermath: All-Con 2018 – 3

One of the regular discussions among vendors at last weekend’s All-Con was whether science fiction/fantasy/horror conventions have hit what’s generally referred to as “Peak Con.” The basic idea is that the convention boom that first started up around 2003 is finally reaching saturation, and it’s all downhill from here. For those too young to remember the previous booms and busts, this appears valid: attendance numbers are way down on a lot of shows, and I get notes from friends every other week about one new convention or another blowing up on the pad or facing class-action lawsuits after a disastrous weekend. I particularly wince at the events that were less conventions than displays of organizer hubris, where the vendors had to sleep with their tables because security couldn’t be found and guests woke up on Monday morning to discover they had no way to get to the airport because their contacts couldn’t be reached. Yeah, this is happening a lot…and that’s why I’m enthusiastic for the future.

A lot of the concern at the moment is due to a lack of perspective. The current convention boom has gone on far longer than most others: in my lifetime, I’ve watched three booms and two busts, and the booms generally last about five to six years before the inevitable crash. Three to five years after the bust, and things start to rebuild, mostly with people who saw the last bust and want to do better. The reason why this boom ran for so long is multifold: fandom didn’t “go mainstream” so much as it was folded over into general popular culture, so a lot of attendees jumped in on the idea of “Oh, what the heck, let’s go grab some friends and have some fun.” The boom in costuming had a lot to do with it, especially with social media allowing enthusiasts from all over the planet being able to exchange tips and notes on new materials and techniques. Social media were also responsible for the promotional booms: we’ve gotten inured to television advertising, radio advertising is a joke, and newspapers are pretty much the province of boomers who can’t bear to give up their dead-tree editions, but Facebook and Twitter went everywhere.

The seeds for the boom are also the seed corn for the bust. As big media conventions took off, with ever-increasing lists of big name guests, attendees discovered that they simply didn’t have the money or time to hit every last show in their own area and had to consider their options. Fans were also getting older: hitting three conventions over three weekends sounds great to an 18-year-old, but that isn’t an option to a 30-year-old with three kids and a limited number of vacation days at the day job. (A regular lament about the really big and crowded shows, “I’m too old to be crammed in with that many people,” has particular pertinence here, especially for those potential attendees having to watch kids. A major factor in my refusing to get vendor space at one big convention is what I refer to as “the Malcolm Rule,” after the son of two friends who spent an absolutely miserable time last year at one show where all he could see were the butts of the people in front of him. Any show so determined to shoehorn attendees into too small a space that kids are in danger of falling and being stomped by people behind them is not one in which I care to participate.) The big media conventions are having to reach for more exclusive guests as interest in the previous headliners fades, and the cost of getting them to participate requires larger and larger crowds. And there’s also the issue with goofballs who assume that a convention is an excuse to print money and poison the well with a show purely intended to pull the fillings out of the attendees’ teeth.

Social media is helping with the bust, too: not only are bad conventions getting called out earlier, thereby warning away people willing to take promotion at face value, but we’ve gotten used to ignoring ads, and it’s no longer possible to attract 10,000 people with $1000 in Facebook ads. (One of the funniest not-funny events I’ve witnessed at a failing convention was with the con organizer getting angry over how 2000 people liked his Facebook page but only about 100 of them actually came out for the convention. He did no other advertising, not so much as a postcard on display at local comic shops, and the failure was obviously due to Facebook algorithms instead of his producing a convention that gave nobody a reason to want to deal with Dallas summer heat to see it.) Sooner or later, enough people decide that they’ve had enough and ghost from fandom, and that’s when everyone around them notices “It’s no fun around here any more” and bail out themselves. With every inhalation must come an exhalation, and the decay of the old fan scene produces the loam for the next movement to sprout.

I won’t deny that the current boom and impending bust aren’t rough on vendors. The typical content of a dealer’s room has changed almost beyond recognition in the last fifteen years, and arguably for the better. Amazon wiped out the need for attendees to tolerate obnoxious booksellers, and eBay did the same for vintage comics vendors. The days where a vendor could clear out the local Walmart of Star Trek and Star Wars toys and sell them at conventions at a 500 percent markup died with the last century. Since any vendor’s selection on current licensed products of a fannish bent can be outstripped by the local Hot Topic, there’s no point in trying to compete, especially since any attendee can look at a particular item, pull out a phone, and order it online in seconds. The ongoing trend is toward handmade or otherwise unique items of all kinds: back in the Eighties, the main draw of any dealer’s room was toward being able to find items that you simply couldn’t find back home, and we’ve gone full circle. The difference now is that the creator is right in front of you, ready to answer questions and take commissions, and that requires a level of salesmanship and customer service previously barely known in conventions. That’s one genie that isn’t going to get back in the bottle without a war.

And for the future? Expect a lot of marginal conventions to collapse in 2018 and 2019, either two months before or a few hours after their next scheduled event. People who depended upon conventions for the social aspects, particularly costumers, will probably move to one-day pop-up events that don’t require the logistics of a full-sized convention. The guests will go back to their jobs, hopefully saving enough from these salad days that they’re doing all right in a few years. Vendors that aren’t dependent solely upon showing their wares at conventions will move on to other venues for a while: ones so specialized that they can only sell at conventions will either shut down or pare way back. The smart ones will emulate African lungfish, buried in drying mud in anticipation of future rains, and continue to improve their skills and their inventories. When the rains return, and they will eventually, not only will they be the first to repopulate as new conventions start up, but they’ll be the ones setting the standard of what a dealer’s room should be like. I can’t wait.

The Aftermath: All-Con 2018 – 2

Okay, so the hotel was a nightmare. That happens. Even so, All-Con is one of the two shows guaranteed to have a Triffid Ranch booth every year, and it’s because of the attendees. Not only does the crowd cross all sorts of demographic borders, but they’re also so relaxed. After a while, that relaxation is addictive. For those of us who thrive on peoplewatching, you can’t go wrong here.

To be continued…

The Aftermath: All-Con 2018

Ah, All-Con 2018. A lot of bad craziness happened at this year’s show, mostly involving the host hotel. Said hotel changed its name and ownership the week of the show, where potential patrons looking for the “Hotel Intercontinental” were understandably confused. There’s also something to be said about hotel upgrades that weren’t even close to being finished by the Thursday morning the show started, with lighting fixtures missing, exposed wiring hanging from the ceiling, elevators of dubious functionality that closed on entrants without warning, and the main escalator leading to the second level broken and blocked off. Inside the main dealer’s room wasn’t much better: the carpet in the main banquet hall was freshly installed, sure, but one of the vendors played a game of “How Many Razor Blades and Screws Can We Find On The Floor?” and picked up two full handfuls of broken and dulled razor blades within about fifteen minutes. (The carpet HAD been vacuumed beforehand, as installation was being completed as vendors started moving in stuff on Wednesday night, but with a vacuum that had seen a significant portion of the Twentieth Century firsthand. Besides, that vacuum would have been hard-pressed to clean up the cocaine that flowed across that part of North Dallas and Addison in great rivers during the hotel’s prime, much less the amount of metal left in that carpet, so everyone spent the rest of the weekend joking about who was going to be the poster child for the “Telethon for Tetanus.”) And then there was the parking…

Oh, the parking. One of the grand mysteries concerning convention hotels in this foul Year of Our Lord 2018 is the assumption that people will keep coming back to the hotel for future events when the parking situation assumes that the current year is 1974. The number of hotels in Dallas that barely offer enough parking for hotel guests and staff when the venue is half-full, and then advertise their availability for conventions and conferences with room for three times that count, just beggars the imagination. To make matters even better, most of these hotels automatically assume that convention and conference attendees have their own transportation: Addison has a DART bus hub not far away, but the space between the hub and the hotel last had sidewalks put in back in the 1980s, back when “pedestrian” was a local euphemism for “too poor to afford the valet” and accessibility wasn’t even remotely considered. (By way of example, that immediate area is full of “sidewalks” with telephone poles planted right in the center, requiring users to walk into the street to get around them, and you can imagine the sheer fun faced by those with disabilities trying to get back onto a sidewalk that’s lacking ramps and inclines.)  Combine that with a frantic construction boom in that vicinity, where the slightest rain turns an entire block into a morass of slimy, clinging mud with no option for getting past it without walking into the middle of a busy street, and it’s no surprise that a lot of potential convention attendees circled around the hotel, gave up when they saw that even the valet spots were full, and went home.

That said, for all of the nightmares of access, those of us who came out for All-Con, both vendor and attendee, made the best of the situation. Yes, the total attendance numbers were way down from previous years. That just meant having more of an opportunity to talk to regular attendees, including several that have been coming by the Triffid Ranch booth since the beginning of the decade. THAT made hotel incompetence and stupidity worthwhile, especially with the patrons now raising their own families and bringing their kids by to see plants for themselves.

To be continued…

State of the Gallery: January 2018

Doom and Gloom (mostly gloom) in Dallas in JanuaryAnd the holiday season is over. Well, that’s not completely true: we can’t forget the importance of February 2, when Sid Vicious rises from his grave, looks down for his shadow, and learns if he has to wait six more weeks until spring. The decorations are down, the last of the leftovers are dispatched (unless your grandmother is like mine and wants to see if she can make turkey-flavored Jell-O out of the carcass residue left in the refrigerator), the more gothically inclined are building dinosaur skeletons with the chunks Grandma couldn’t use, and everyone in retail can get rid of that twitch from overplay of the mandatory Christmas radio station. True, you don’t want to go anywhere near a gym for the rest of the month, especially in the parking lot as everyone fights for the closest space to the door, and we’re all keeping an eye on the skies for that one falling snowflake that convinces the worst drivers on the road that they need to switch things up by driving with their buttocks. All things considered, though, things are good.

Out here at the Triffid Ranch, it’s time for introspection, renovation, negotiation, and potential amputation. We may have 295 days until that happiest holiday of the year, but the work starts now. This includes cleaning and prepping new glassware, potting new plants, scoping out new shows and new venues, and trying to limit nervous breakdowns to every other Tuesday. In other words, just like every year since the gallery first opened. The highlights:

First and foremost, the emphasis in 2018 is finishing new enclosures, and that starts with getting commissioned enclosures out now. (A friendly reminder for those who purchased Nepenthes pitcher plants at Triffid Ranch shows in the past: now’s the time to ask about upgrades to give your plants more room.) This includes getting more photos with those enclosures, in order to enter enclosures in regional and national art shows and inform local media outlets of those shows. Right now, everything is being kept on a winter lighting schedule to encourage growth later, but when the timers switch to spring hours in March, the fun really begins. It’s not just a matter of viewing Nepenthes blooms, but trying some luck with pollinating flowers in order to develop a few new hybrids.

On the subject of shows, it’s no surprise that the first big Triffid Ranch show of the year is All-Con on St. Patrick’s Day weekend. The surprise was discovering the new venue for the 2018 event. For years, All-Con ran at the increasingly cramped Crowne Plaza hotel, but size limitations required a move to a larger venue. Two years ago, it moved to a much larger space with a bit of a parking problem: hotel management promised to augment its tiny parking area with access to the parking garages of the office buildings around it, which was a surprise to the owners of said office buildings. A majority of attendees discovering that parking options consisted of a muddy field across from the hotel wasn’t enough to kill the convention, and last year’s All-Con returned to the Crowne Plaza, which was now charging for parking when it wasn’t hosting meth labs. This year, though, All-Con moves to a MUCH larger venue, the Hotel InterContinental in Addison, right along Dallas North Tollway.

Why is this such a big deal? Well, for starters, the InterContinental, formerly the Grand Kempinski, is a legacy of Dallas’s great oil and development boom of the 1980s, back from the days when it was the tallest building in the area. Because the old Grand Kempinski was intended to compete for convention and conference business with the Anatole and Fairmont hotels near downtown, this meant having an absolutely gigantic ballroom on the second floor and an equally expansive ground floor atrium. This means that instead of fighting crowds in the artist’s alley section to get to the main dealer’s room, we have room to stretch out. Even better, this is one hotel where the promise of “multiple restaurants within walking distance” is quite actually true, and more than just a McDonald’s or Jack In The Box. (The hotel is just off Addison’s impressive Restaurant Row, which includes pubs, novelty venues such as the world-famous Magic Time Machine, and even a Whole Foods within a ten-minute walk.) A convention with food options other than the hotel restaurant and a convenience store? The mind boggles.

For vendors, the situation gets even better. The Hotel Intercontinental features two large entrances, big enough to allow two-way traffic while loading and unloading, and a large elevator sits right by the escalator leading to the second floor. (Those familiar with the absolute mess at the Crowne Royal can understand why this is a big deal.) With most of the club and Artist Alley tables on the ground floor, all groups involved won’t be fighting for room, especially close to opening hours. Parking is voluminous, and the loading lanes are big enough for small aircraft. Miss this one at your peril, because with the convention running during Spring Break for most of the high schools and colleges in the greater Dallas area, we’re going to see crowds at sizes we could have only dream about seeing at previous shows…and they’ll all have elbow room.

Not that All-Con and Texas Frightmare Weekend are the only shows outside of the gallery for 2018: these are just the only ones that can be discussed at the moment. Right now, the greater Dallas area has an excess of riches as far as art shows are concerned, and while the Deep Ellum Arts Fest isn’t an option this year, a lot of other events are going on at the same time. Right now, it’s all about confirmation, as well as making sure that schedules don’t conflict. Keep checking back for more details.

With the carnivores, the biggest change in the Triffid Ranch involves an expansion into Mexican butterworts and terrestrial bladderworts, two traditionally neglected groups of carnivorous plant. As mentioned before, this is just a continuation of plans set for last year before the gallery move, but with the advantage of many of the new species of butterwort exploding with new plantlets over the winter. Even better, both butterworts and bladderworts are now big and sassy enough to bloom in spring, adding an extra angle to the planned Manchester United Flower Show showing in April. Again, details as the date gets closer.

In hot pepper news, it’s time to start the new year’s first batch of pepper seedlings, and it’s time to make an admission. Namely, Carolina Reaper peppers are the Venus flytraps of the Capsicum world. Want to thrill me? start a discussion on comparing the colors and flavors of Black Pearl and Numex Halloween peppers both ripe and green. Compare the dishes best using Uba Tubas versus Trinidad Scorpions. Share a flavor combination for salsa with Bhut Jolokias that works even better than mango. (This may not be possible, but I’m always open to argument.) Carolina Reapers, though, are a one-trick pony. They grow to an impressive size in cultivation, but nothing about their foliage nor their shape distinguishes them from other peppers. The fruit, ripe or green, is only marginally more interesting than a standard green bell pepper, and once you get past the “you’ll pee fire!” heat, they taste like tomb dust. Aside from the subjective and often dubious Scoville Scale ranking, the Carolina Reaper has precious little distinction in growth, flavor, or idiosyncrasy. But what’s the one pepper EVERYONE asks if I’m growing? Ah well.

And if this is a roundabout way of hyping up the ZestFest 2018 spicy foods convention (https://zestfest.net/) at the Irving Convention Center at the end of January, so be it. ZestFest has a grand supply of salsa and barbecue sauce vendors pushing “no pepper is too hot for ME to eat!” neural overloads, but its main emphasis is on flavor, and the danger isn’t in not finding anything that tempts enough to buy a case or two. The danger is in not bringing a basket with wheels, because it WILL fill up by the time you reach the end, and all of those glass bottles and jars are heavy.

In any case, it’s time to get back to the linen mines. The plants won’t water themselves, and one of the new enclosure elements requires lots and lots of tumbled glass shards for the proper effect. Pictures will follow: I promise.