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

Our Last, Best Hope for a Triffid Ranch Porch Sale: August 16, 2020

Four months of Porch Sales, and now things really start getting interesting. Part of it is due to the number of folks taking time out of their valuable Sunday mornings (and there’s no sarcasm in that statement in the slightest: Sundays are getting to be very valuable as of late) to come out to visit, and part is due to the intention. The ongoing effects of working and studying from home include a serious need for green, as well as something to have in the foreground during Zoom calls that isn’t overly distracting or interfering, means that more and more people look at carnivorous plants as an exciting alternative. The part that’s surprising is the number who are falling in love with bladderworts: at the rate things are going, terrestrial bladderworts may be most of what’s offered for Porch Sales after American Thanksgiving, because people love the idea of guilt-free carnivorous plants.

Okay, this week is going to get a little intense. For those outside of the Dallas area, the next virtual open house runs on Thursday, August 20 (the fifth anniversary of the original gallery’s soft opening), available to anyone through the Twitch streaming service. Two days later, on Saturday, August 22, we’re going to open the gallery doors for a limited-engagement open house, starting at 6:00 pm. And the next Porch Sale? Sunday, August 23 from 7 to noon, same as usual. Either way, we’ll see you then.

August Events and Activities

We may not be 30 million years past the last live Triffid Ranch event, but it’s sure feeling that way. Between the initial Dallas County COVID-19 shutdowns and the subsequent shutdowns because certain people can’t play well with others, it’s been capital-R Rough for art venues across the DFW Metroplex. Exhibitions have gone virtual (some may recognize a few of the entries in the Texas Now Online Showcase being hosted by Artspace One Eleven in Fort Worth), galleries are on severely curtailed hours, and the days of dozens or hundreds of people jammed into gallery open houses are now about as quaint as the thought of Dallas beachside houses along the Western Interior Seaway. It’s still possible to do things outside, but it requires care, consideration, and a stout stick for those who don’t want to play by the rules.

With that in consideration, it’s time to open things up a bit in August 2020. To start:

Numero Uno: what was intended to be a few quick flash sales to get through April have turned into a regular event, so it’s time to rename the Sunday Flash Sales. Starting August 2, they’re now Carnivorous Plant Porch Sales, and they run every Sunday morning in August from 7:00 to noon. Other than the name and the time, nothing changes: they’re still selections of beginner carnivorous plants available for perusal and sale on the gallery front porch, and they’re open to everyone. (The link above is mostly to get an idea of how many people are coming on a given day, as well as the opportunity for new people to discover them through the EventBrite app, but we won’t shoo you off if you don’t have a ticket.) As always, at the end of the month, we’ll reevaluate days and hours, but they’ll probably keep going through October or until cold weather make them impossible, whichever comes first.

Numero Two-o: Since the fifth anniversary of that original soft opening at Valley View Center hit this year, the plan at the beginning of the year was to host the biggest gallery open house we could possibly pull off on or around August 20, celebrating beating the odds on gallery survival and generally using it as an excuse for a big birthday party for Caroline. And so Napoleon went to Moscow. The plan is still going to happen: it’s just we’re going to do it in two stages. The first is a virtual open house via streaming on Twitch, set on a Thursday evening so it doesn’t interfere with friends’ streaming events, running from 7:00 pm until 10:00 pm Central Time. Obviously, this means that those who had to work during normal open houses, those who can’t get out of the house, and those who oh-so-conveniently live on another continent can join in, ask questions, heckle the host without mercy, and otherwise get a chance to see what’s been going on over here since the last show.

Numero Three-o: Remember my stating that the anniversary party was a two-stage plan? The third stage is an attempt to have a real-live open house on the evening of August 22. Because of Dallas County restrictions on events and crowds, no more than five attendees are allowed into the gallery at any time, and functional masks are required. That said, if you like what you see during the virtual open house on Thursday, or if you’ve had an eye on a particular enclosure since before all this came down, feel free to come out and browse, quickly, so others can peruse as well.

Other than that, it’s back to the usual: the last of the Flash Sales runs on July 26, and appointments for private viewings are available through the week. And now to get back to work to make all of this happen.

Flash Sale: July 19, 2020

The usual state of retail: some days are raging, and some days are slow. This wasn’t and is never a problem: a relatively slow Flash Sale means that other plants (in this case, a large contingent of bladderworts in apothecary jars) get another week to get up to optimal size, and the folks who come out get more time to browse without feeling as if they’re keeping others from getting in. That’s why the Flash Sales keep going: this way, everyone gets more of a chance to peruse plants than during the pre-epidemic open houses.

Anyway, the last Flash Sale of July runs on July 26, and then we go for every Sunday in August. See you soon.

I’m Living In My Own Private Tanelorn

Shameless plug time: Dallas has a lot of restaurants, ranging from the corporate to the ethereal, and one of our best draws for visitors is our only Canadian restaurant. I’ve hyped the Maple Leaf Diner for years: when the old gallery was at its Valley View Center location, the Maple Leaf was right across LBJ Freeway, and it became a regular locale for grabbing breakfast before one of the old Valley View ArtWalks, meetings with old friends after gallery tours, and regular Wednesday night dinners with my in-laws. Everything on the menu is both authentic and worth trying: I can state with authority that the Maple Leaf’s Belgian waffles are the best I’ve ever had this side of Toronto, and it’s the perfect place to introduce Texans to the Euclidean idea of poutine. Short of being greeted at the door by Rick Mercer, it’s the best chunk of Canada you’ll ever find this far south.

Anyway, one of the minor draws of the Maple Leaf is the east wall, covered with all sorts of kitschy tourist souvenirs from Our Home and Native Land, including a souvenir plate of Canada’s flower emblems, the provincial equivalents of state flowers in the US. It’s a little out of date, as it only lists “Newfoundland” instead of “Newfoundland & Labrador” (not to mention nothing about Nunavut), but it still shows off the Newfie flower emblem and beloved flower of Queen Victoria, the purple pitcher plant Sarracenia purpurea. For years, the plan was to bring in a purple pitcher plant or ten on July 1, Canada Day, just so the staff and customers could see one in the pulp, and possibly go into a discussion of the carnivorous plants of Canada. (Oh, trust me. Canada has a lot of them.) Unfortunately, there was always one minor disaster or another that prevented that from happening, especially after Valley View closed and we had to move gallery locales. 2020, though, was going to be the year that we actually pulled it off. I was sure of it.

Well, in 2020, it happened, kinda. Right in the middle of a pandemic, right after the Maple Leaf reopened for takeout and curbside service, Sarracenia purpurea came to the Maple Leaf, even if only long enough for quick pictures and a staff ogling before my masked presence had to clear out for safety’s sake. (Their safety, not mine.) Next year, though, once it’s safe to do so, expect a lot more.

Flash Sale: June 28, 2020

After a solid month, it’s safe to say that even with current events and considerations, the Triffid Ranch Flash Sales are a hit. It’s now a mix of old friends, new people wanting to get into carnivorous plants for the first time, and regular and occasional attendees of the (sadly delayed) gallery open houses. Combine that with expanding the available plant selection, and the bigger issue is with folks who want to research their options first before purchasing a plant. This is a very laudable attitude and one that’s encouraged as much as possible, and that’s why the Flash Sales are held every Sunday.

As for July? The Flash Sales continue through every Sunday in July, from 6:00 am to noon. (They’ll be moved to 7:00 am in August due to shortening days.) Make your plans now, because there’s no guarantee that a particular plant you’re seeking will be available in subsequent weeks. And so it goes.

Happy Canada Day

For friends, cohorts, and relations outside of the Dallas area, a tribute to the flower emblem of Newfoundland & Labrador. For those in the Dallas area, it’s time for breakfast takeout from The Maple Leaf Diner, serving the absolute best Belgian waffles to be found this side of Toronto. And yes, when I pick up my waffles, I’m bringing a purple pitcher plant, just so the owners get a little bit of home.

Flash Sale: June 21, 2020

After shifting the schedule from afternoon to morning, the Sunday Flash Sales have been so popular that they’re continuing through July, with no break for the July 4 weekend. Between the isolation of the gallery porch and the remarkably reasonable morning temperatures as of late, this seems to make everyone the happiest. The last Flash Sale of June is June 28: after that, expect some surprises in the months to come.

(And as a sidenote, some may have noted that running photos of happy customers has been a constant for Triffid Ranch events and shows pretty much from the beginning. It’s also time to emphasize that these photos aren’t mandatory. I’ll ask if it’s okay, but if you aren’t, that’s completely understandable. If you are, though, feel free to bring your best masks, because it’s time to pull out the fancy dress. This is a public service and online privacy announcement, made due to concerns that Flash Sale photos might be used for other purposes. Under no circumstance will unauthorized images be published on this site, nor will authorized ones be used for any sort of additional promotion or advertising without written permission of the photographed.)

Flash Sale: June 14, 2020

After a short break, it was time to bring back the Flash Sales on the gallery porch, with considerations for the heat. Yep, for the foreseeable future, or at least until the end of September, the flash sales have moved to Sunday mornings, from 6:00 to noon. Based on the initial test on June 14, this should work out well for everybody, and the folks who came out definitely appreciated not having to be out in the afternoon sun.

As for further developments, expect a State of the Gallery update soon, as well as a new Newsletter, but let’s just say that flash sales are pretty much going to be the main Triffid Ranch event for a while. Between shows and events being cancelled and the current COVID-19 statistics, wearing a mask and gloves is still about the only option for a while. And so it goes.

Flash Sale: May 31, 2020

So the month ended the way it began: low-key but with a promise. North Texas generally has a 50/50 chance of hitting really hot temperatures by the end of May, and we missed that by about a week. The spring sale and show season thus ended on a high note, and now it’s all about making plans for summer, as best as can be managed.

As mentioned previously, the Flash Sales will start again in June, but not the weekend of June 7. Between completing commissions, hosting gallery appointments, and some essential maintenance, June 7 is a day off, with the Flash Sales starting again on June 14 from 6:00 am to noon. Keep an eye open for announcements on another virtual open house in June as well: the issues with launching video stream open houses in April are behind us, and it’s time to get busy.

Flash Sale: May 24, 2020

Some days, you get the hailstorm, and some days, the hail storm gets you. The biggest problem with trying a flash sale on Memorial Day weekend wasn’t the incipient holiday Monday or the likelihood of people sleeping in on a Sunday. The problem was with the wave of thunderstorms that hit Dallas that Sunday, complete with occasional hail. This wasn’t the best Flash Sale to date, but considering the walls of water that hit the gallery over and over that afternoon, it’s completely understandable that almost everyone stayed home and watched something that reminded them of drier conditions.

With that said, thank you to everyone who risked engine flooding to come out, and the current weather forecast for the May 31 Flash Sale is considerably better. Expect a lot of new plants that you missed from last Sunday’s dousing, and enjoy what will probably be our last relatively cool Sunday afternoon until the beginning of October. (Don’t worry: the Sunday Flash Sales will continue: they’re just moving to Sundays from 6:00 am to noon, because precious few people will want to be out after noon through July and August.)

May 24, 2020: Yet Another Flash Sale

The Texas Triffid Ranch Flash Sales continue: the May 17 Flash Sale coincided with a stunning day after about 24 hours of thunderstorms and torrential rains, so the porch opened up again, masks came out, and a grand time was had by all. Old friends came out, folks who came across the Triffid Ranch booth at Spooky Spectacle and Texas Frightmare Weekend last year, and new patrons looking for carnivorous plants…everyone was welcome.

With the impending change in weather, we’re looking at changes in how both the Flash Sales and the ongoing gallery visit appointments will be run for the foreseeable future. Right now, Saturdays will be an appointment open call: visits still require prior appointments, but the idea is that Saturdays are reserved exclusively for appointments, so coming out to select a new enclosure can be done throughout the day. As for the Flash Sales, these are going to continue through June and July, but they’re going to start early in the morning and end at noon: there’s not much point in being out in the heat when everyone else is avoiding the afternoon Texas blast furnace as well. As always, keep an eye on upcoming events: so long as the weather holds, the Flash Sales continue.

(One hint for the upcoming Memorial Day Weekend sale: everyone seems to be in the mood for Sarracenia pitcher plants right now, and that’s next weekend’s focus. Expect to see a lot of Sarracenia on Sunday, because most of last year was spent preparing for a record run of Triffid Ranch shows, and the pitcher plants won’t wait for show season to start back up. In particular, if you’re looking for a lot of plants for a container bog garden, that can be worked out.)

State of the Gallery: May 2020

The first third of 2020 has been quite the decade, hasn’t it? We should be thankful: it hasn’t gone full Mad Max: Fury Road (or even the Canadian version), and the current federal plan to open up everything was named “Operation Warp Speed” instead of the obvious “Operation Impending Doom 1”. Things are opening up slightly, and so many of us have gone from “hunkering down and waiting for instructions” to “taking care of each other because nobody else will.” Of course, we haven’t hit Memorial Day Weekend yet: as I learned 40 years ago this June, all bets are off when things start to get hot outside.

As for the gallery, both the need to care for plants and the need to reorganize continues, and the last two months led to a lot of cleaning and reorganizing, the likes of which haven’t happened since we first moved in three years ago. The reorganizing of supplies and accessories meant rediscovering all sorts of things buried in odd places, and their rediscovery means being able to use them all up. To that end, expect to see a lot of new enclosures, both originals and commissions (the latest commission is going to be a special surprise, so keep an eye open for updates), if and when things stabilize.

As far as activities at the gallery are concerned, for obvious reasons, the open houses aren’t going to be an option for a while, but the Flash Sales on the gallery front porch continue through the whole month of May. They may continue in the mornings through the summer: everything depends upon the weather, and trying to conduct anything in the afternoon and evening between the middle of June and the beginning of October in North Texas is just folly. In the meantime, they’ll run every Sunday in May from noon to 6:00 pm, always with a mask and a smile for car-side pickup.

Outside events continue to get interesting. As of May 15, the Dallas Oddities & Curiosities Expo is still scheduled for the end of June, but everything depends upon both the city of Dallas and the state of Texas as to whether it gets rescheduled. That already happened with the Austin Oddities & Curiosities Expo: all convention events in Austin have been cancelled for the foreseeable future, so this year’s show was rescheduled for June 2021. The same applies for shows rescheduled for August and September: things may stabilize enough to allow big events to go on, and they may not, and all we can do is wait for word.

Because of that uncertainty, expect a lot of virtual events, especially now that a lot of the initial technical issues with the Twitch TV channel have been rectified. Well, kinda: Twitch still has issues with its tablet app freezing up at the end of a stream and not saving the preceding stream for later viewing, so it was time to join the early 2000s and start a YouTube channel as well. There’s not much there yet, as it just started, but expect a lot of strangeness in the very near future, especially with demonstrations of fluorescence in North American and Asian pitcher plants, as well as fluorescence in blooms you wouldn’t expect. (Most Americans have never seen an aloe bloom, so just wait to see what one looks like to a hawkmoth or hummingbird. It’s high time to crack out the fluorescent mineral lights that were just unearthed during the storeroom cleanup. (It’s also time to give the crew at Glasstire their five-minute virtual tour, so there’s that, too.)

Other than that, the main focus is getting everything ready for something resembling normal operation, and now that the shelter-in-place order over Dallas County has been lifted, the Triffid Ranch reopens by appointment. It’s time to get back to work.

(And before you ask, the cat at the top of the page is Benji, the greenhouse cat. No, I don’t know his real name. No, he isn’t mine: he has a collar and a tag, so he belongs to someone else. All I know is that most mornings, I find him camped out in the greenhouse, and he has a thing about perching on one of the benches and giving me the perfect Japanese cat print smile. I just can’t take a picture of it, because the moment he sees a camera or phone, he demands attention and ruins the shot. He and my cat Alexandria also apparently have a relationship: she has no interest in going outside, but she loves to camp out in the closed garage and talk to him through the garage door. Things could always be worse.)

Flash Sale: April 26, 2020

Okay, so the limitations on non-essential retail businesses opening in Dallas County just expired, on the proviso that those non-essential businesses only conduct sales via curbside pickup. As it turns out, the Triffid Ranch has a whole slew of plants already potted and ready for several March and April shows that have been cancelled, and since the Dallas County orders require that any purchases HAVE to be made via curbside pickup, with no entrance into the premises by the customer, it’s time to skip the usual open house and try something different. It’s time for a flash sale.

Here’s the situation for the foreseeable future. Every Sunday starting at noon, patrons can come out to buy a particular set of plants, with those plants being placed in their cars after selection. Each Sunday, a different set of plants will be offered for sale, and the sale will continue until 6:00 pm Central Time or until everything is sold out, whichever comes first. All of the specials are beginner plants, already potted into appropriate containers, including the basic care guide instructions on the container as expected from Triffid Ranch shows. If this works well, this will continue every weekend until the shelter-in-place order is lifted and regular shows can continue. In the meantime, if you’ve been craving a touch of green and want something different, you live in the general Dallas area, and you enjoy the novelty of curbside service, this is the best option when standard appointments aren’t possible.

(NOTE: the larger enclosures as highlighted in the Enclosures Past & Present section may always be purchased and picked up by appointment. Unfortunately, we cannot allow patrons to enter the premises to view them, and they have to be brought out for inspection and purchase. If you have any questions, please contact us.)

For the first Flash Sale, we offer four species: three types of Asian pitcher plant (Nepenthes x ventrata, Nepenthes ventricosa, and Nepenthes sanguinea), and Cape sundews (Drosera capensis). As shown below, the pitcher plants include a one-gallon glass container, substrate, and decorations for $35.00US plus sales tax. The Cape sundews include an Erlenmeyer flask and substrate, and sell for $25.00US plus sales tax.

Nepenthes ventricosa
Nepenthes x ventrata
Nepenthes sanguinea
Drosera capensis

For pickup, calling or emailing in advance isn’t necessary: just pull up to the building and let the handy but a little dim attendant take your order. (For larger enclosures, please call or email in advance.) Masks and gloves will be mandatory, for your safety and mine. Payment can be made in cash or credit card. For directions, follow the map. If things work well, expect this to be the first of many flash sales, at least until the current situation is over, and I’ll see everyone starting at 12:00 on Sunday.

The Return of the Manchester United Flower Show 2020

Sometime back in the mists of the Late Cretaceous, the plan was to host a special gallery open house in April that took advantage of blooming season. With one known exception, carnivorous plants bloom like any other angiosperm, with the height of the spectacle hitting in Dallas in the latter half of April. Sometimes the blooms last into May, and some species just never stop blooming through the growing season (yes, Stylidium debile, I’m looking at you). The last few years have been particularly rough on this idea, with last year’s flower show cancelled due to illness, but this year it was going to happen. Absolutely. Sure of it.

Well, as you may have noticed, we’re in the middle of a pandemic, and the gallery is just a little too small to allow easy social distancing: at least, allowing social distancing and access to the restroom. With the current lockdown and shelter-in-place order for the entirety of Dallas County, currently extended to April 30, large gatherings are not just discouraged but open to fines and arrest, so the original open house was regretfully cancelled. Heck, when the RHS Chelsea Flower Show is cancelled for 2020 because of COVID-19, there’s no reason to risk life and health even if the shelter-in-place order wasn’t an issue. We can still have one in 2021, but a live show isn’t an option right now, and probably not until well after all of the blooms are gone for the year.

Into this comes a possible solution. Between the crew at Glasstire calling for short videos of Texas art exhibitions in lieu of personal appearances and Pete Freedman of the Dallas news site Central Track hosting regular video conferences on Twitter with readers, it may be time to take the Manchester United Flower Show online. Among other things, so many friends and cohorts regret not being able to get to Dallas to view an open house, so this is an opportunity to include them with no obligation and no plane tickets. For everyone else sick to death of online conferences for work and otherwise, it’s an opportunity to sit back and let someone else drive. We’re still working out the details, but we’re going back to the original date and time of Saturday, April 18 at 6:00 pm Central Time, with a repeat later in the evening for those on the other side of the International Date Line. Keep an eye on the site for more details, but the idea is to have an opportunity for as many people as possible to watch, so it probably won’t be attached to a particular platform. We’ll burn those bridges as we come to them.

To reiterate, the Manchester United Flower Show is back in place on April 18, barring life imitating art, and without issues with parking. See you then.

The Aftermath: Leap Day 2020 Open House

Even despite its temporal brevity, this was a long February, so holding a gallery open house on February 29, the Day That Stretches, made perfect sense. The weather was wonderful, the company the same, and the gallery was full of people being the first to view a series of new enclosures created just for the weekend. The only problem the whole night involved calendars: every one we could find was defective, and they all switched over from February 29 to March 1 without the intervening February 30. I guess my birthday will show up on next year’s calendar, then.

Because of both a series of shows and the vagaries of the weather, March won’t have an open house, but April will. Check back on April 18 for the Manchester United Flower Show, and maybe by then people and plants alike will be recovered from the switch back to Daylight Savings Time.

The Aftermath: NARBC Arlington Spring 2020 – 4

The spring 2020 NARBC Arlington reptile show is over, but the application for the September 2020 show just went out. Expect a much wider range of plants in September, as the Venus flytraps and North American pitcher plants were still in winter dormancy in February, and expect a whole new range of enclosures as well. Thanks to everyone who came by the booth this time, and I look forward to seeing all of you in seven months.

Fin.

The Aftermath: NARBC Arlington Spring 2020 – 3

Astute readers might notice that the enclosures at the gallery and at shows through 2020 so far have nameplates with both basic information on the enclosure and a QR code. Triffid Ranch displays already started phasing out individual business cards as of last year and using QR codes for the main Web site, with overwhelmingly enthusiastic results. The QR codes on the nameplates was based on extensive study of museum display design: the overwhelming number of smartphones today read the QR code with the camera and ask “Would you like to go to (Web site)?” as soon as it’s detected. Among many other things, the individual nameplates are for those who want to take a further look when the booth is overcrowded: take a quick shot and read the enclosure listing at your leisure.

The biggest surprise upon implementing QR codes was with younger attendees: they know about the codes, but overwhelmingly they only see it used for advertising, and advertising for products where they have absolutely no interest, in an attempt to be “edgy”. When they discover someone who uses QR codes that actually impart information, instead of trying to get their email addresses in exchange for a discount coupon, they practically squeal with joy. When I get back to technical writing, this is going to be part of an ongoing discussion on usability that needs to be elaborated further. As Vincent Flanders has been noting for the last two decades, people are willing to use new technology if it actually does something for them, and not because some marketing rep is looking to pad his/her resume with yet more buzzwords. Suffice to say, expect the Triffid Ranch to expand in their use, particularly with more elaborate plant care guides in the near future.

To be continued…

The Aftermath: NARBC Arlington Spring 2020 – 2

One of the best things about attending the NARBC Arlington reptile show for the last decade is watching the evolution of the venue and the attendees. While Texas had excellent reptile shows on its own in the past, the real conversations involved big shows on either coast of the US, and we were left on the sidelines. The last time I was a vendor at NARBC, back in 2013, one of the regular questions asked by attendees was “Are you going to be at (big East Coast show)?” This time, all focus was on Arlington, with a remarkable number of attendees coming in from outside the state, and some coming from outside the US.

(This leads to an apology in advance: this show and Texas Frightmare Weekend are the two Triffid Ranch shows with a significant number of attemdees who fly in from elsewhere, so a lot of patrons point to a bottle or jar and ask “Could I take this on the plane?” That’s a question I honestly cannot answer, because it depends upon the airline, the baggage handler, and whether or not the TCA rep inspecting your carry-on luggage has issues with you having a flask full of sundews among your lacy unmentionables. The best thing I can recommend is to check two sources before flying out to an event like this: the first is to check with the airline in advance as to its policies about glassware in carry-ons, and GET IT IN WRITING in case someone has an issue during boarding. The second is to check with the state or country to which you will be returning about any necessary inspections or permits needed to bring live plants back home: the last thing any of us want is for you to have your new plant confiscated and/or destroyed because of a regulation or ordinance of which you were unaware.)

This in itself led to interesting conversations with regulars from the NARBC Tinley Park show in Illinois, many of whom hoped that the Triffid Ranch might go transcontinental. Sadly, as much as I would love to attend any show in the Chicago area (I haven’t been in Chicago in 40 years, and a lot of online friends have been nuhdzing about making a trip north for a while), the thought of a trip of that duration depends upon how well the New Orleans Oddities & Curiosities Expo show goes this August. If New Orleans works out, well, it’s high time to head up to Chicago.

To be continued…

The Aftermath: NARBC Arlington Spring 2020 – 1

It’s been a while since the last time a Triffid Ranch booth appeared at the North American Reptile Breeders Conference show in Arlington: it wasn’t for a lack of interest, but a lack of opportunity. This year, though, it was time to return, both to a new date (the first time since moving to the new gallery space that it was practical or sane to attempt a February show) and to an extensively expanded space at the Arlington Convention Center. Taking over the adjoining hall meant both room for new vendors and much wider aisles between rows than in previous years, both of which were greatly appreciated by new and returning attendees. This meant the largest crowds I’ve ever seen at an NARBC event, and the crowds kept coming all day Saturday and to the close of business on Sunday. Reptiles, amphibians, invertebrates, enclosures and accessories: NARBC had it all, and now it included carnivorous plants.

To be continued…

Leap Day Event Update

February and March are already going to be packed with events, but for those wanting to come out to the gallery, please take note that we’re hosting a special Leap Day open house on February 29. Art, jewelry, carnivorous plants, and the opportunity to get in an early celebration of my birthday on February 30. Get your tickets now.

The Aftermath: Chinese New Year Open House 2020 – 2

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With the opportunity to catch some breath after all was said and done, if this open house was any indication, the year of the Stainless Steel Rat is going to be a good one. Many thanks to everyone who attended, Bistro B for the food (especially the exemplary spring rolls), and Visions of Venice, the best neighbor a boy could ever want. Expect an announcement on the next open house soon: it’s going to be a busy year.

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Fin.

The Aftermath: Chinese New Year Open House 2020 – 1

newyear_01272020_1

The idea was to celebrate the lunar new year with neighbors and cohorts, and see about making the Year of the Metal Rat more of a Year of the Stainless Steel Rat. Because of a choice entry in the Dallas Observer, this was not just the largest open house to date, it was the most diverse, with folks continuing to visit until nearly midnight. If these get much larger, we may have to move to a warehouse.

The big draw, of course, was a collection of new enclosures making their debut, of which photos will be available shortly. Between existing enclosures going home with customers and new plans to be announced on February 2, they’ll fill gallery gaps quite nicely.

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To be continued…

The Aftermath: ReptiCon Dallas January 2020 – 3

Among many other things, the ReptiCon Dallas show marks the beginning of a new decade for the Texas Triffid Ranch: we’re now a fifth of the way through the Twenty-First Century, so it’s time to act like it. For the previous decade, the Triffid Ranch got its start at science fiction and horror conventions, and a very selective spread of shows at these will continue. (Anyone who tells you that I’m phasing out Texas Frightmare Weekend shows, for instance, is trying to start something, because so many of the staff and attendees are family in all but DNA, and even then I have suspicions.) This year, though, that expands to a much more aggressive push toward art gallery shows, reptile and amphibian shows (particularly the upcoming NARBC show at the Arlington Convention Center on Valentine’s Day weekend), and museum events. Expect to see a lot more carnivorous plants all over the place, because 2020 is going to get a bit wild.

Fin.

Interlude: Chinese New Year at the Texas Triffid Ranch

And so it begins: invitations for the Chinese New Year at the Texas Triffid Ranch open house on January 25 just went out: if you happen to be a member of the arts press, Dallas or elsewhere, who needs one, or if you know of a member who should know, feel free free to pass on a mailing address. For everyone else, you’re all invited, too: in fact, it wouldn’t be any fun without you. As always, admission is free.

The Aftermath: ReptiCon January 2020

It started as a lark. For the last several years, notices for ReptiCon shows in Dallas would arrive in the mailbox, usually literally seconds after scheduling another event for that same weekend. At the end of December, another notice came for a show right after New Year’s Day, and this time, the schedule was free. Load up the van, galumph out to the town of Grapevine, unload at the Grapevine Convention Center, and spend the next two days talking about carnivorous plants with a very tight and cohesive show full of people with a mission: I’ve spent much worse New Year’s weekends doing much worse things.

To be continued…

State of the Gallery: November 2019 – Special Edition

Surprisingly, not just a metaphor

A lot has happened in November so far, and more is gearing up for the rest of the month, in what the author Harlan Ellison called “the hour that stretches.” November has always been an, er, interesting month in my life, what with layoffs, moves, new jobs, and more than a few deaths. November 2019 follows in that tradition, and the plan is that the window that opens when the door closes is a greenhouse vent and not an airlock. Yeah, it’s been one of THOSE Novembers.

Anyway, the practical upshot is that appointment availability for Triffid Ranch consultations just became a lot more open. The Nightmare Weekends Before Christmas Saturday night open houses starting on November 30 remain unaffected, but now the gallery will be open a lot more often during the week, too. Just excuse the mess: the events over the last two months (of which no more will be said) interfered with new projects, so the idea now is to rectify that situation. Among other things, this frees up storage space, it gives new homes for older plants to stretch out, and it gives more reasons for all of you lot to come out to multiple Nightmare Weekends to see what’s new THIS time. If you’ve had an eye on a particular enclosure but haven’t made the move to take it home just yet, this may be the perfect opportunity.

And the rest of the year? That’s dedicated both to a wedding anniversary blowout (17 years as of December 28, and people still assume that we’ve been married for weeks) and to getting ready for 2020. This includes a stem-to-stern renovation of the gallery, other essential updates (after all, we’ve been in the space for three years as of February, so we have plans), and scheduling for the largest list of outside events yet. Among other things, a quick perusal of the calendar revealed that next Valentine’s Day falls on a Friday, and between this and Leap Day on a Saturday, it’s time to call some people and plan a multi-venue event. As always, details will follow as they happen: if it doesn’t happen, you’ll never know about it.

Speaking of venues, if you’ve attended an open house and never stepped across the doorway to our neighbor Visions of Venice, consider yourself encouraged to investigate. Besides being the absolute best business neighbor a boy could ever want, the amount of crossover interest between carnivorous plants and Italian glasswork continues to surprise me. Even better, the storefront is open during the week, so don’t be afraid to head out during a lunch break with a whole group of coworkers and peruse the stock of masks and chandeliers. (Yes, they actually go together. Don’t argue with me on this.)

Finally, before loading up the van and heading out to Austin for this weekend’s Blood Over Texas Horror For the Holidays show at the Travis County Exposition Center, a little note: some of you may have noticed that the new URL for this Web site changed to http://www.texastriffidranch.com within the last week. It’s a funny story as the old URL still works, and you’ll have to come out to one of the Triffid Ranch events for an explanation. In the meantime, if you haven’t been exploring through the archives in a while, please indulge your curiosity, as WordPress and Google are fighting over whether or not this is new content. Besides, you don’t have anything better to do the week before American Thanksgiving when you’re trapped at work and everyone else is taking off on early vacations, right?

State of the Gallery: October 2019

And so we come to the end of the 2019 carnivorous plant growing season. (Cue the national anthem.) The cold front that whipped through the Dallas area early Halloween morning saw to that: right now, the Venus flytraps and Sarracenia pitcher plants are already preparing for winter dormancy, and a few days of warmer temperatures in November won’t stop their normal progression thanks to shorter days and longer, cooler nights. Even in the gallery, it’s time to switch to winter hours: all of the timers need to be reset anyway due to the end of Daylight Savings Time, so they’re all being set for about ten hours of light per day so they get a good rest, too. (In March, when the indoor and outdoor photoperiods go back to longer days, we’ll all be glad of it, as the blooming response should be phenomenal, especially with the sundews and bladderworts.) The flytraps and Sarracenia are the big ones to worry about, though: if they don’t get a proper dormancy, they’ll eventually wear out and die, and our freezing temperatures at Halloween just bumped their naptime ahead by about three weeks.

Now, you’d think that with the arrival of dormancy season, everything would shut down over at the gallery. Anything but. The only time this place will be more busy than in November and December will be in January and February. The show schedule definitely doesn’t let up in November: there’s the Deep Ellum Creative Market in Dallas the weekend of November 9 and the Blood Over Texas Horror for the Holidays show in Austin on November 23 and 24. The real fun, as it has for the last four years, starts the first Saturday after American Thanksgiving, with the Nightmare Weekends Before Christmas gallery open houses starting on November 30 and continuing through December 7, 14, and 21. (November 30 and December 1 are doubly auspicious, as these mark the fortieth anniversary of my first moving to Texas and meeting my best friend Paul Mears for the first time, respectively. For four decades, he’s referred to December as “a day that will live forever in infamy” on a personal level, and, well, he’s not wrong about that assessment.) After that, it’s a matter of spending January and February constructing new enclosures, working out the logistics on new shows, and generally getting everything ready for when the flytraps and Sarracenia wake up again.

And speaking of new shows, news that’s had to be held in confidence since the end of August: the Triffid Ranch has three new shows in 2020 through the Oddities & Curiosities Expo folks. Besides the Dallas show on March 28 and the Austin show on June 20, it’s time to hop state borders and bring the Triffid Ranch to New Orleans on August 29. The New Orleans show is going to be the biggest test of event logistics yet: if this works out and I kill neither myself nor plants, then it’s time to try spreading the wealth to new cities outside of Texas. If it doesn’t, at least I’ll have the opportunity to visit with old and dear friends, including many whom I haven’t seen in person since the late, lamented Exoticons imploded at the end of 2000. Win/win. (The date on the Austin show is particularly auspicious, even if it means heading right back out after returning from the Houston Horror Film Festival the weekend before. 2019’s show was impressive but not as packed as 2018, a factor commonly attributed both to the soul-withering heat of Central Texas in mid-August and to classes at the University of Texas starting up the next week. June is much better: as with Dallas, it might even mean that we get a bit of rain that weekend before the summer blast furnace starts in earnest in July.)

Other than that, it’s back to commissions and new enclosures to replace those sold over the summer: keep checking back for new enclosure details. Among many other things, 2019 is the year that I finally enter enclosure photos for the Spectrum Awards. (I know I have no chance in hell of winning an award, but getting stomped and pantsed by the best artists in the field of fantastic art is also an inducement to keep working toward winning.) In addition, keep an eye open for some extra backstory on new and old enclosures: no more details until it’s done, but those familiar with the works of Harlan Ellison may recognize the concept.

As always, the gallery endures: for those coming in late, it’s open by appointment or at regular open houses. If you have particular demands for custom enclosures intended as holiday gifts, get your appointment in NOW. By the time the Nightmare Weekends start, getting additional commissions may be problematic before the middle of January.

State of the Gallery: September 2019

95 days left until the end of calendar year 2019, and the gallery thrives. If you haven’t checked out the Triffid Ranch account on Instagram, you’re missing out on the spectacle that is “Mandatory Simon,” in which my walking brisket of a cat attempts to be as famous as Curious Zelda, but everything else over here can be explained via text. And a lot there is.

To start, October is going to be a very, VERY busy month, and not just because of the vague promise of cooler weather starting around October 5. The celebration of surviving another endless summer starts on October 12, where we offer an alternative to the standard Texas/OU weekend festivities of filling the streets with bodily fluids with the Texas Triffid Ranch Autumn Extravaganza and Open House at the gallery. Not only are the Sarracenia threatening to take over the planet this year (a change of pace, because the Nepenthes had made it THEIR year for a while), but this comes with the debut of several new never-before-seen enclosures and the official debut of others. This will be the last open house until the beginning of the Nightmare Weekends Before Christmas starting December 7, so it’s either here or you’re traveling.

(As an aside to those having attended previous open houses, an apology and a restitution. Discussions have been undertaken with the property management about the church at the other end of the block and its taking up all available parking on weekends for their drunken parties, er, “prayer meetings,” so we now have permission to reserve parking spaces specifically for the gallery during special events such as this. Right now, we can’t reserve more than three spaces, but at least this is a start.)

Actually, I fib, because this won’t be the first Triffid Ranch event in October. The first was just resolved today, with a guest collection of carnivores on display at the Spooky Science On Tap social event at the Fort Worth Museum of Science & History on October 11. As with the Perot Museum in Dallas, any excuse to go to the Fort Worth Museum is a good one, if only for opportunities to pose in front of the life-sized Acrocanthosaurus model in the front of the museum, so make sure to get there early before traffic gets entertaining.

Not like things slow down the next weekend, either. October 19 marks a return to Curious Garden near White Rock Lake in Dallas for an encore of last spring’s carnivorous plant workshop. The last workshop kinda grew from its expected size in a matter of days before the event, and we discovered that the most we could do was two workshops of 20 people at a time. Since reservations in the workshop have to be made with Curious Garden, with no walk-ins accepted, this means you have to get in now if you want to reserve a space. (And yes, we’re planning more workshops. Don’t panic.)

After doing two workshops, it’s time for a rest, right? Oh, that’s adorable. After getting back to the gallery on Saturday, the next Sunday goes to a booth space in the famed Texas Theater in Oak Cliff for the Oak Cliff Movie & Gardeners Party, as a complement to a screening of Little Shop of Horrors on October 20. It’ll be a short show, but a nice change of pace and a good excuse to come out to Oak Cliff. After THAT, though, it’s time for a nap.

In a perfect world, Halloween would fall on a Saturday, so we could throw another open house that day and finish off October the way it was meant to be. The good news is that this perfect world starts next year thanks to our impending February 29 (the day before my birthday on February 30), but we’ll have to make do in 2019. The good side to that the Massacre on Division Street Dark Art Festival in Arlington fills the gap October 26 quite nicely, and the Triffid Ranch will be just one of a plethora of artists for this show. This works out well: we have to do SOMEthing with six months until the next Texas Frightmare Weekend. This is also on the recommendation of a local arts critic whose opinion I take seriously: after the holidays, the number of art shows in Dallas containing a custom enclosure is going to go through the roof.

Finally, I can’t talk about particulars until the official announcement, but if you haven’t been to the Shows, Lectures, and Other Events page in a while, you’ll probably be surprised at the number of outside-of-Dallas shows scheduled for 2020. Going with Nosferatu Festival in Austin and the Houston Horror Film Festival, get ready for several new shows to be revealed on October 31, including the Triffid Ranch’s first show outside of Texas. 2020 will also be the year for a return to the NARBC reptile show in Arlington: that show runs twice a year, so expect a Triffid Ranch booth in September and hope for one in February. Suffice to say, 2020 is also the year to expect an official Triffid Ranch van, because after a decade, it’s finally more practical to buy a van than to keep renting them. And so it begins.

The Aftermath: DFWS FIRST Thrift Convention – 2

One of the more interesting aspects of the recent DFWS FIRST Thrift Convention was watching the culmination of a sea change I’ve observed with shows of this sort for the last decade. The old perceptions of flea markets and thrift fairs are falling apart: why would anyone with access to a smartphone put up with a surly vendor with a pile of broken or heavily worn items at “you won’t find it anywhere else” prices? (I submit that this is a major factor in the ongoing implosion of literary science fiction conventions, too, but that’s a different dangerous vision.) Successful vendors in this new world are engaging vendors, and attendees notice and respond to naked enthusiasm. At this show, a small subset complained loudly about how the word “thrift” was misleading, as there weren’t any spectacular discounts they could steal away and sell on eBay. They were overwhelmed by a very large crowd that was willing to pay an admission fee for an experience, and boy howdy did they get one. The venue itself was a little small, but a lot of intriguing vendors, carrying items that attendees didn’t know they wanted until they saw them, didn’t mind in the slightest.

To be continued…

The Aftermath: Curious Garden Carnivorous Plant Workshop – July 2019

The location: Curious Garden, run by Jason Cohen, a former neighbor when we both lived in Exposition Park in Dallas in the early 1990s.

The project: A carnivorous plant workshop, dedicated both to sharing information on carnivorous plants and to walking everyone through the construction and planting of their personal spoonleaf sundew (Drosera spatulata) enclosure.

The turnout: This was the workshop that kept growing, from one workshop of about 15 participants to two workshops of 20 each, and we very easily could have filled a third if we’d had the resources.

The response: Sometimes the best way to learn is to get hands-on experience instead of just taking notes at a lecture, so the whole enclosure process was set up to explain not just the how but the why of every layer and addition. Several attendees admitted that they had been too worried about getting into carnivorous plants before the workshop, so I now look forward to seeing their own contributions to carnivorous plant horticulture. (It may be time to talk to friends about setting up meetups for a local branch of the International Carnivorous Plant Society, because the number of Dallas and Fort Worth enthusiasts is hitting critical mass.)

The aftermath: After the second workshop, we still had more people stopping by to ask about the next one, so Jason and I are working out the details right now. Right now, we’re shooting for either August 31 or sometime in October. Look for details in the very near future.

The Aftermath: Triffid Ranch Open House -June 2019

Three shows in three weeks, a weekend off for gallery maintenance, and then an open house to celebrate the end of June. Never mind that the “weekend off” combined a dead air conditioner in the house with a particularly pernicious bout of summer bronchitis, making any work that weekend other than slow suffocation impossible. It all still worked out, with even larger and more diverse crowds at the June open house than ever before. Combine this with the debut of two new commissioned enclosures and a whole load of very happy Cape sundews and Nepenthes ventrata pitcher plants, and everyone went home happy. Even the now-expected cloudburst was reasonably light and brief.

As for plans for July, this is a month to concentrate on getting through August, focusing mostly on a new commission that should be finished around the time of the Curious Garden carnivorous plant workshop on July 20. After that. It’s shows on August 3 and August 17, and then our fourth anniversary open house on August 24. We have a lot to celebrate then, so schedule your time accordingly.

The Aftermath: 500x Gallery Hot & Sweaty 2019

All is said and done. The Hot & Sweaty 2019 open show at the 500x Gallery was a success on two levels. Firstly, the very enthusiastic response to the two enclosures put on display, particularly during the show opening, suggests that a deep dive into research on science art shows and exhibitions is something that needs to be done this summer. At the very least, the Hot & Sweaty proved that carnivore enclosures on display need two cards: one on the construction, and one on the natural history of the plant on display. I’m not ready to manage or curate a separate exhibition of science and engineering art, but it may be time to track down somebody who is.

And the other level? Something about the 500x was very encouraging to both of the plants on display. I’m used to Nepenthes ampullaria going through sudden growth spurts with little to no warning, but the Cephalotus pitchers on display in Antarctica in Decline just exploded. I don’t know if it was due to additional light in the new gallery, increased carbon dioxide, or the simple fact that Cephalotus are attention hounds and simply got their fill, but I’m going to have to try this again.

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…