Tag Archives: Oddities & Curiosities Expo

The Aftermath: Austin Oddities & Curiosities Expo 2022 – Finale

Every show away from the gallery brings up the eternal question about the volume of plants being hauled out: “Too little or too much?” Last year’s Austin Oddities & Curiosities Expo pushed that to the limit, with nearly everything being hauled off, so the plan this year was to bring out as much as was humanly possible. With previous years’ interference gone, the plan was to pack the van as tightly as possible with as many plants as possible, short of strapping goldfish bowls to the roof. (Considering the heat that weekend and the perpetual traffic jam that is the city of Waco, the halfway point between Dallas and Austin, that might not have gone over well.) Seemingly impossibly, the crowds at the Expo were even larger than last year’s: most shows start to peter out about an hour before closing, but many vendors, myself included, were still making sales a half-hour after the official close of the show, and a lot of us went back home with nearly-empty cars, vans, and trucks. Many of us are loath to admit that we were almost glad that the Expos are only one-day shows: if the Austin Expo ran for two days, I’d have needed a 15-foot truck to hold everything.

And that finishes it up. Many, many thanks are extended to the crew at Oddities & Curiosities Expo for managing to pull this off at so many locations every year, more thanks are extended to neighboring vendors who had to listen to me extol the features of carnivorous plants for eight hours (all of my neighbors were an absolute hoot, by the way), and the most thanks to the people who figured that Austin summer heat was no reason to stay home that weekend. Thank you all again, and now I have to make plans to exceed everyone’s expectations for 2023.

Fin.

The Aftermath: Austin Oddities & Curiosities Expo 2022 – 7

As of the beginning of May, the Triffid Ranch has been appearing at shows and events for 14 years, starting with the much-missed CAPE events run by Zeus Comics in Dallas on Free Comic Book Day. (Technically, they started even earlier, when the famed artist Lea Seidman hired me to be her booth bimbo at CAPE shows and I’d drag along plants to show what I’d been doing since I quit writing.) In that time, EVERYTHING has changed, especially in the world of shows catering to the strange and esoteric. The focus has changed from “this is the only place you’ll find this odd stuff” to “the audience needs a good reason to come out in person instead of buying online,” and some shows get this. Others don’t, which is why so many comics and memorabilia shows are now overloaded with essential oil and other MLM dealers, and others are needing to crowdsource to get operations money because they can’t guarantee enough of a turnout to pay the bills. (Mark my words: a lot of old-school literary science fiction conventions will be dead before the middle of the decade because they’re still waiting for 1985 to roll back around and make them relevant again. As it stands, they’re doing next to nothing to attract new audiences and their existing audience is dying of old age: I’m 55, and when I’m one of the youngest people at a convention, either as an attendee or a vendor, it isn’t a good sign.)
I’m very glad to say that the Oddities & Curiosities Expo gets this, and continues to be very careful about the variety of vendors it allows every year. I’m very honored to be one of those who makes the cut every year, and I do my utmost to raise the stakes on plant selection and variety each time so as to return the sentiment. I’m also glad of the audience, because they give extra inducement to push the limits every time. Thank you all.

To be continued…

The Aftermath: Austin Oddities & Curiosities Expo 2022 – 6

For most people attending shows and events in summer, especially a Texas summer, precious few are making plans for next year. For those of us vending, though, the vast majority are watching for announcements of registration for tables and booths with the intensity of a starving python and about half the table manners. For those whose livelihood depends upon moving across the country following events, it’s all about the logistics of which show and when, particularly when three big and popular shows run on the same weekend and chopping oneself into thirds simply isn’t an option. For those of us with day jobs to augment the hustle, the priority switches to “How many vacation days do I have next year, what is the absolute furthest I can drive after a show and still go to work on Monday, and how badly will the boss freak out if I have vehicle trouble and can’t get back for two or three days?” (Don’t laugh. I’ve seen it happen.)

Even though the emphasis today is on events held at the gallery instead of traveling shows, the Triffid Ranch is already making plans, starting with the 2023 Oddities & Curiosities Expo schedule. Now, we won’t get that until Halloween, and there’s no guarantee that the Triffid Ranch can or will get into any of the planned shows: I acknowledge that I’m up against some absolutely incredible artists and dealers. One thing is for certain, though: Dallas and Austin are going remain on the event schedule because of their popularity, and 2023 just might be the year that the Triffid Ranch leaves the state. If this means Little Rock, New Orleans, and Oklahoma City, well, that depends upon the time of the year. (I would have loved to have been a vendor at the New Orleans Expo, if only because of the number of much-missed friends in Nola, but this year’s show was at the beginning of the year, and that just wouldn’t have been possible for multiple reasons.) As everyone learns more, the details will be shared. I promise.

To be continued…

The Aftermath: Austin Oddities & Curiosities Expo 2022 – 5

One of the regular questions that comes up at Oddities & Curiosities Expo shows is “Do you have anything that’s native?” Well, that’s an interesting question, in more ways than one. Now, if the question applies to Texas in general, we have quite a few, from the famed sundews of the Bastrop pines to the Sarracenia of the Big Thicket in far east Texas. (I had been told for years that only one species, Sarracenia rubra, was native to Texas, and then Dylan Sheng of Plano Carnivorous Plants shared photos of big stands of Sarracenia alata in East Texas. Because Sarracenia habitat is notorious for poaching, and many carnivore bogs are now threatened both by poaching and habitat destruction, Dylan didn’t share the location and I’m the last person to press the issue.) As far as Dallas and Austin are concerned, though, there are no known carnivores in either area, so anyone insisting upon native plants is out of luck.

Note that I said “known carnivores,” however. The reality is that new carnivores are discovered all of the time in the most unlikely places, with about five new species described per year and a new genus every two to five. This doesn’t include previously known plants later confirmed carnivorous (Triantha occidentais in Oregon is a great example, as is the carnivorous passionflower Passiflora foetida), or known carnivores found in new places, such as the Venus flytrap colony found near Pensacola, Florida. This is why I emphasize the “known” part and encourage younger carnivore enthusiasts to keep exploring, because the odds are good of someone discovering a previously unknown carnivore hiding in plain sight.

To be continued…

The Aftermath: Austin Oddities & Curiosities Expo 2022 – 4

One of the regular questions asked at Oddities & Curiosities Expo shows is “Where do you get all of the great pots you have?” Well, that’s a funny story. They literally come from all over: garage sales, gifts from friends and cohorts (I was given a large number of odd pots by my late mother-in-law, and I’m hanging onto one especially wonderful pot from her for a very special plant), on the side of the road after someone moved out of a house or apartment, repurposed items never really intended to be plant containers…there’s no telling. All that matters is that they’re distinctive, and that they can hold potting mix and water.

The last part is the hardest. Most houseplants prefer well-drained soil, but carnivores prefer boggy conditions, and that means that the drainage hole has to go. Most container and urban gardening books have extensive instructions on how to drill holes in the bottoms of containers so they can be reused as flower pots, but ask “But what if I want to seal up a previously established hole?”, crickets. Let’s just say that the extensively reorganized backstock of pots for upcoming shows has a shelf dedicated to upcoming carnivore conversions, and epoxy putty is an old and dear companion.

To be continued…

The Aftermath: Austin Oddities & Curiosities Expo 2022 – 3

People previously unfamiliar with the touring Oddities & Curiosities Expo tend to ask me “So what else is at the Expos besides carnivorous plants?” I can give generic assessments on the amount of interesting things, ranging from antique taxidermy to pottery to candles, available at each show, but I can’t give particulars half of the time because I’m lucky to see the outside of the booth the whole day. By way of example, I didn’t know Dead Dave Designs was at the Austin Expo until I read about it on Instagram the next day. This is in no way a complaint about the intensity of the crowds, but the advantage I had in the Triffid Ranch booth being next to the restrooms in the event center hall was that I actually saw a few fellow vendors, such as Demetria of The Curiositeer, as they were using the facilities before leaving that evening. The crowds weren’t impassable, but they were consistent, and most of us vendors were still taking care of customers a half-hour after the show was officially closed.

Even better, with some shows, you see a lot of returning customers after a few years, but the Expos are always a mix of long-timers, old friends (literally, in some cases: I was able to talk with a friend from the beginning of my writing days in the late 1980s whom I hadn’t seen in 30 years), and a whole lot of new people who wanted to see what the big deal was about. I can only imagine the number of lifetime friendships started there over chance encounters over a hippopotamus skull, as well as the number of kids in a decade who learn “Your father and I met RIGHT HERE, in front of a moose head.”

To be continued…

The Aftermath: Austin Oddities & Curiosities Expo 2022 – 2

One of the surprises this year has been how smoothly shows have run so far. The original Triffid Ranch business plan for 2022 was to expand both growing area and variety of plants available, only for everything to shift drastically in January. A new greenhouse, a new Sarracenia growing area, and a markedly improved container and supply storage system certainly helped, as did the surprise freezes in February and March that led to significantly larger and more energetic blooms on all of the temperate carnivores. On a personal level, losing 15 kilos and being able to start a new exercise regimen meant being able to get trucks loaded ahead of schedule. It’s to the point where, combined with the new hair style and color, returning customers asking “Where’s the other guy?” are asking this legitimately, instead of it just coming from scammers telling me “the other guy” agreed they could take a plant without paying.

Because the one factor that made being timely so difficult is now gone, it’s actually possible to make plans for 2023, especially as far as road trips are concerned. The Texas Oddities & Curiosities Expos are doing so well that the hope is to do what was originally planned for 2020 and take the Triffid Ranch outside of Texas. With luck, the scheduling for shows in New Orleans and Oklahoma City should allow the opportunity to make more epic road trips, and we should know if that’s possible when the Expo crew releases its 2023 show schedule on Halloween.

To be continued…

The Aftermath: Austin Oddities & Curiosities Expo 2022 – 1

It’s now been four years since the Triffid Ranch first set up at the Dallas Oddities & Curiosities Expo, and three years since the first road trip to Austin’s Expo, and I have only one concern. Right now, the Expo is becoming a gigantic show on a par with Texas Frightmare Weekend, and attracts much of the same crowd. (In fact, several attendees came by specifically because they heard about the Expos at Frightmare this year.) The only difference is that the Texas Frightmare Weekend crew spend all year preparing for each show, planning events and activities so everyone attending gets the maximum entertainment value for their admission. The Oddities & Curiosities Expo crew doesn’t have big media guests, but still pulls off a similarly massive event…and manages to do this nearly every weekend through the year, traveling all over the United States to do so.

Now, looking at how the Expo crew manages a touring event like this without visible issues, some people might argue that this is the future of traveling conventions, and everyone with similar events had best get their acts together. Others might posit that the maturity of the internet makes big traveling events like this possible in the first place, and events like this wouldn’t have been possible twenty years ago. All I can say is that it behooves us all to do everything we can to keep the Expo crew hale, hearty, and happy, because we all need to know how they do it and whether it involves bathing in the cerebralspinal fluid of virgins.

To be continued…

The Aftermath: Austin Oddities & Curiosities Expo 2022 – Introduction

The middle of June in Texas, anywhere in Texas, is always a pivot point for culture in the state, and it always depends upon the weather. Contrary to popular opinion, while “hot, sunny, and dry” may be the default, that doesn’t always apply. Sudden thunderstorms come out of nowhere and go to the same, turning the Texas convection oven into a steam bath. This understandably gets organizers of events in Dallas and Austin and San Antonio a little nervous, because no matter the amount of promotion and publicity, potential attendees are a bit loath to come out in the middle of a storm dropping grapefruit-sized hail.

This last weekend, though, the old rain god Tlaloc decided to give us all a break, and the weather for the Oddities & Curiosities Expo at the Palmer Events Center in Austin was about as good as it gets in summer. In response, a lot of folks from Austin (and Houston, San Antonio, and much of the surrounding area) braved both the sun and Austin’s notorious traffic to peruse treasures from dozens of local and traveling vendors. The Triffid Ranch joined the party for the third time since 2019, and the response was nothing short of phenomenal.

The best compliments anyone can get at a show such as this comes at the beginning, when fellow vendors start buying out items as soon as they’re put on a table, and at the end, when other vendors race in and exclaim “Whew! You’re not broken down! This is the first time I’ve been able to get out of my booth all day!” before buying up what’s left. In between…well, the following posts should show off exactly how interesting it got all Saturday.

To be continued…

The Triffid Ranch Schedule…So Far

Three weeks until the big Triffid Ranch 3.0 gallery reboot, and time tends to get away from me, hence the relative lack of updates. As always, everything runs on Riddell’s Law of Artistic Expression (“All art forms derive from painting, because every artist has to find something else to do while waiting for the paint to dry”), but it’s all coming together, along with new enclosures to go with the new front area. It’s the getting there that’s the aggravating part, but that can’t be helped.

Both before and after the gallery reopening, the fun just keeps coming. To start off, the summer Porch Sales continue through June, but taking note of our impending record afternoon temperatures by starting at 8:00 am and ending at 1:00 pm before the day gets too bad. (After the gallery reopens, these will switch between Saturday outdoor sales and Sunday indoor events, both to give opportunities to attend from visitors with prior Saturday commitments and just to give folks a break from the constant lead-smelter heat.) Right now, the next Porch Sales are scheduled for June 11 and 25, but they’ll keep going until Halloween and move inside for rain, snow, asteroid strikes and random volcanic eruptions.

Why nothing on June 18, you ask? Well, that’s because as mentioned in the past, the Triffid Ranch hits the road to go to Austin for the Oddities & Curiosities Expo at the Palmer Event Center that Saturday. This will be the last Oddities & Curiosities Expo show for the Triffid Ranch in 2022, as well as the last one in Texas for the year, so until the new O&C schedule comes out around Halloween, get your tickets now. If the crowds are anything like they were in 2021, the Austin show may well be sold out by midday, and you won’t want to miss this.

This won’t be the last Triffid Ranch show outside of the gallery, either: word just got back about the final Aquashella Dallas floor layout for August 6 and 7, and the Triffid Ranch is near the front door at Dallas Market Hall. In addition, the Triffid Ranch returns to the Palmer Event Center for its seventh year and sixth Blood Over Texas Horror For the Holidays dark bazaar on November 27 and 27: I purchased the booth as soon as the word came out, because there’s no way I’ll miss it this year.

Oh, and it isn’t on the official calendar just yet, but the Triffid Ranch finally breaks through to the Dallas Arboretum this year, for a lecture on carnivorous plants at the Arboretum on October 28 starting at 11:00 am. This should be perfect timing, as all of the Sarracenia and flytraps should be at their best autumn color before going dormant in November, and there’s no better time for outdoor events in Dallas than the end of October. As usual, details will follow as I get them.

Is this it? That’s a really good question, as a lot of other possibilities are only now coming together. A demonstration of cartoonist Sam Hurt’s adage “it’s not a small world: it’s a big world that’s folded over so many times” involves a return of Triffid Ranch carnivorous plant workshops at the newly reconstituted Curiosities near the Dallas Arboretum (the old Lakewood location is shutting down and everything moved to the space next to the current Curious Garden) is that Curiosities owner and old Exposition Park neighbor Jason Cohen went to high school and college with the Triffid Ranch 3.0 designer Susan Duval. It’s with that in mind that I note that regular carnivore workshops return to Curiosities this year after the move is complete. There’s even a discussion on the Triffid Ranch hosting a Dallas Carbaret outdoor drive-in showing this summer, running either the best documentary about life in 1980s Dallas ever made or the best documentary about Dallas goth culture ever made, complete with a barbecue truck.

That’s it for the moment: now it’s time to get back to plant repotting. See you soon.

The Aftermath: Dallas Oddities & Curiosities Expo 2022 – 6

In many ways, and I speak from experience, being a vendor at an Oddities & Curiosities Expo is like being a barista in a shopping mall Starbucks on the first shopping day of the holiday season. Namely, the crowds come pouring in right after the doors open, and you only realize that the doors are closed when the crowd lets up and you get a chance to check the time. In small retail, this isn’t a bad thing, and my only regret was not being able to get a quick shot of what little was left at the booth after the Expo closed. Suffice to say, for this coming Austin Oddities & Curiosities Expo in June, the selection will be greater because of the number of plants out of winter dormancy, AND there should be room in the truck for a few surprises that nobody is going to expect. And after that, it’s only a short six weeks until Aquashella Dallas.

As always, there are a lot of people to thank for this year’s Dallas Expo running as smoothly as it did, starting with the Oddities & Curiosities Expo staff and crew. Three years after the first one rolled into town, and they still act as the gold standard for convention and exposition operation: when I compare them in professionalism and sheer hard work with the Texas Frightmare Weekend crew, this is an incredibly high compliment that I don’t give our quickly or easily, but they earn it every time. Here’s to their organization and curatorial skills (I may not have been able to leave the booth, but I saw a lot of other vendors’ works going by, and the Expo crew works incredibly hard to keep a wide and surprising variety of goods in each show), here’s to the fellow vendors who made setup and teardown as easy and friendly as it should always be, and here’s to everyone who came out to look around and left with plants. You’re the reason I do this multiple times a year.

Fin.

The Aftermath: Dallas Oddities & Curiosities Expo 2022 – 5

Every year, the first show of the season usually gives a hint as to the general vibe for the rest of the year, and if this holds true again this year, 2022 should be wild. The first and most obvious point about this year’s Oddities & Curiosities Expo was the huge and wildly enthusiastic crowd, especially considering all of the other events going on in Dallas at the same exact time, which once again blows Dallas’s undeserved reputation for being boring and conservative out of the water. (If anything, the upcoming Texas Frightmare Weekend a month from now should be even bigger and more intense, seeing as how all three days are very nearly sold out as of this writing.) That, though, wasn’t a surprise. The surprise? The amount of cash being used.

Let me explain. For the last decade since cheap and effective credit card readers became available to small sellers, the shift has obviously been going toward plastic. Credit cards take up little room, they’re replaceable if lost or misplaced, they don’t require lots of change, either in bills or in coin, and they still work even when saturated in boob or crotch sweat. (And yes, WE VENDORS KNOW THESE THINGS. WE FERVENTLY WISH WE DID NOT KNOW THESE THINGS, BUT WE KNOW.) The nearly universal consensus is that most attendees of events like these born after 1980 go through weeks and months without every encountering paper or metal money, and they don’t really miss it. They will, though, ask “Do you take cards?” because of the number of vendors who will only accept cash, to which I give my standard response, “Where the hell do you think you are: the Twentieth Century?”

That was the surprising part: you still have people using cash at events such as these, as it’s easy to track and even easier to set yourself up with a spending limit. However, not only do you have fewer vendors who only take cash, but even fewer who complain about it. At the rate things are going, give the small vendor arena five years, and the only people taking cash will those deliberately refusing to leave 1999. It’ll be very interesting to see how many customers will go to the effort of carrying cash just to buy from them, or if they’ll just buy from someone else.

To be continued…

The Aftermath: Dallas Oddities & Curiosities Expo 2022 – 4

For those lamenting having to miss out on the Dallas Oddities & Curiosities Expo this year (to be fair, there was a lot of interesting things happening in Dallas this last weekend, and the beginning of spring is when we all start budgeting our weekend time because we know the heat will be upon us soon enough), take solace in two bits of knowledge. Firstly, the Oddities & Curiosities Expos are traveling shows, spread all over the United States, so odds are fairly good that they’ll show up to a major city near you eventually. For instance, your humble chronicler makes the first of two trips to Austin in 2022 on June 18, where the Triffid Ranch returns for its third appearance at the Expo at Palmer Event Center in downtown Austin. The fervent hope is to spend at least a couple of shows in 2023 outside of Texas entirely, and the Expo crew is one that is worth joining in that endeavor. Details will follow as they come along.

To be continued…

The Aftermath: Dallas Oddities & Curiosities Expo 2022 – 3

If there was any downside to this first Oddities & Curiosities Expo, it was that just like everyone else, an increase in prices was inevitable this year. The last time fuel prices went this high, back when the Triffid Ranch was a tiny operation, fuel costs for shipping was enough to move so many businesses to using plastic instead of glass for storage (take a look at a typical grocery store and note that about the only things in the condiments section in glass are ones incorporating lots of vinegar if you don’t believe me). For a lot of reasons, this really isn’t an option as far as the plants are concerned (he said, once again rueful about the effects of Texas sun on most plastics), so everything had to jump in price a bit.

The upside was having a conglomerate of customers who not only understood, but still commented on how low prices were. Well, I’m trying my utmost: as I’m constantly trying to explain to MBAs who want to argue about the viability of a carnivorous plant gallery (most of whom have problems spelling “MBA” without at least a spotter and a coach), making a profit is important, but it’s not the only reason for doing this. Yeah, the look on kids’ faces when they see a carnivorous plant up close for the first time isn’t something that pays the rent, but if profit was the sole criterion for doing this, I’d start a hedge fund.

To be continued…

The Aftermath: Dallas Oddities & Curiosities Expo 2022 – 2

For all of the praise you’ll see coming from this direction about the Oddities & Curiosities Expos, one thing I can’t recommend is any particular vendor to recommend. It’s not that I can’t think of any, or that each Expo hall isn’t packed solid with intriguing and fascinating vendors carrying items of all sorts. The problem is that I’m lucky to be able to get out of the Triffid Ranch booth space the whole day long, so seeing anybody else except in passing just isn’t an option. Apologies to my cohorts and colleagues in this: all I can tell everybody else is “go buy lots of great stuff from everybody else, too.”

The Aftermath: Dallas Oddities & Curiosities Expo 2022 – 1

Now that things are going back to something approximating “normal” (although I wonder who decided the baseline), it’s quite nice to get back to taking the Triffid Ranch on the road. The Oddities & Curiosities Expo remains one of the best shows of its type for road trips: it runs in multiple cities through the year, each Expo has a good mix of local vendors and vendors who follow most if not all of the annual tour, and each Expo runs in a locale with excellent parking and an easy-to-access venue. In a way, it also doesn’t hurt that each Expo is only a one-day affair: with both Dallas and Austin shows, we vendors are nearly stripped clean by the close of business, and a second day might just kill us all. At the same time, the number of interesting people, both newcomers and old friends, at each show makes it that much harder to break down and go home on Saturday, because there’s a part that wishes that greeting everyone on a Sunday was an option.

To be continued…

The Aftermath: Dallas Oddities & Curiosities Expo 2022 – Introduction

It’s a little hard to believe that the first Dallas Oddities & Curiosities Expo was only three years ago, and not just because everything before March 2020 feels like the Ordovician. The crew, the attendees, the venue…everything and everybody was running on all cylinders in 2022, leading to one of the largest and most intense shows this humble chronicler has ever experienced. In 14 years of Triffid Ranch shows, not only is the Oddities & Curiosities Expo the Euclidean ideal of how events of this type should be run, but it’s the one traveling show that would get me to plan an out-of-state event without hesitation.

Oh, there were issues, but those were completely unavoidable. The ice storms that hit Dallas in February and early March assured that Venus flytraps and North American pitcher plants were just starting to wake up from their winter dormancy, so the variety of carnivores for attendees to view was a little limited. That didn’t bother anybody at all, and the only real issue was having enough room for everyone to get a good look at the plants without having to crawl on each other. Considering the size of the crowd, the crawling part was a challenge.

To be continued…

Have a Safe Weekend

And so the Triffid Ranch show season starts this weekend with the Dallas Oddities & Curiosities Expo this weekend: after this, it’s back to the gallery for a month. This weekend is going to be a weird one…

State of the Gallery: January 2022

Well. As if December wasn’t exciting enough, January kept up the tradition and beat out all of 2021. At the rate things are going, either the Triffid Ranch is going to start franchises or it’ll be the last refuge of human civilization in the impending Dalek invasion by the end of the year. If the last two years are any indication of what to expect, we’ll get both.

To explain the relative quiet in January, it’s for two reasons. Firstly, about half of the carnivores available in summer are currently in winter dormancy, and we’re about halfway through. The first signs of spring activity should start up in mid-March and getting going at full speed in April. Hence, right now, everything with the temperate carnivores such as Venus flytraps and North American pitcher plants is dependent upon the weather: if we have a “typical” Dallas winter, they should both be ready and available by mid-April. If we get a not-uncommon late cold wave at the end of March or into April, everything waking up might only finish up in May. Keep fingers and other appendages crossed: this time last year, everyone in Dallas thought we’d have a mild winter, and we know how THAT turned out.

The other reason involves the ongoing divorce and the gradual separation of assets and plans in the gallery. The plan is that the jewelry will be moving out by the beginning of May, in which case the front of the gallery becomes a showcase for the BIG enclosures. Likewise, the last week has been spent moving to a new domicile, still very close to the gallery, with a decidedly improved amount of room for working on new projects. If you haven’t been out to the gallery, do so soon, because by July, you won’t recognize it.

Speaking on that subject, the move affected the ability to throw open houses in January, but that ends in February. Specifically, we’re now looking at two events at the beginning of February: an open house on February 5 to celebrate Lunar New Year, and back in a week for Valentine’s Day plotting and scheming. As always, admission is free and masks are mandatory, and those who haven’t been to the gallery since 2021 may be surprised at the new enclosures finished since then.

In other developments, once the move is finished and everything unpacked, other projects start in earnest. This is in addition to the expected shows for 2022: the Oddities & Curiosities Expo (Dallas in March, Austin in June) and Texas Frightmare Weekend shows were just joined by Aquashella Dallas, meaning that the beginning of August is going to be just as busy as the rest of the year. Let’s hope the Daleks hold off until December, okay?

Ongoing Triffid Ranch fun in 2022

The official announcement came out today, so it’s time to note that the Texas Triffid Ranch returns to the Oddities & Curiosities Expo in 2022: Dallas at Fair Park on March 26, and the Palmer Event Center on June 18. And now to start getting ready.

The Aftermath: Austin Oddities & Curiosities Expo 2021 – 5

Come into the story midway? Try starting at the beginning.

And in the end, the Austin Oddities & Curiosities Expo was over. Eight hours after the doors opened, the gigantic crowds finally trickled out, and all of the vendors took assessment of what we had left and what we had to replace before our next shows. I just looked at one neighbor and said “If I’d sold just a little bit more, I could leave the van and fly home.” Slight exaggeration, but it came close.

Obviously, everyone who came out was VERY happy. It wasn’t just a matter of people wanting to get out of the house: The Expos keep proving that not only is there a market for the macabre in Texas, but that audience keeps growing. Between these and Texas Frightmare Weekend, Halloween really will be that day when we let the amateurs have their fun. As someone who took decades of grief over “why can’t you just be normal?”, vindication is sweet, especially when it’s shared with friends, cohorts, and fellow unindicted coconspirators.

With such a massive show, many thanks are in order. Obviously, the crew behind every Oddities & Curiosities Expo deserves accolades for pulling off such massive shows without so much as a hiccup, but the fellow vendors do as well. (A tip: go check out Nicole Pangas Ceramics not just because her work is fascinating, but because we Michigan kids stick together. Meanwhile, I’ll always plug The Curiositeer because you always take care of your little sister, even if neither of you share common DNA.) An additional plug for Green Mesquite BBQ on Barton Springs: I only survived breakdown on Saturday evening because I knew I had a few kilos of sausage and pork ribs waiting for me at the hotel once I was done. Most of all, thanks to everyone who came out, whether or not you bought anything, because your interesting and unexpected questions are why this whole shebeen goes on tour. Now to get back to work and finish restocking, I haven’t come back from a show with so little since Texas Frightmare Weekend 2018, and this was after just one day, not three. I don’t think any of us would have survived if the Expo had run on Sunday as well, although I’m willing to test that in Dallas next year.

The Aftermath: Austin Oddities & Curiosities Expo 2021 – 4

Come into the story midway? Try starting at the beginning.

Visitors to Texas in May and June might notice what appears to be snow accumulating in random spots, particularly in places near water. No, this is not snow, and natives and longtime residents will scream that fact with an underlying cosmic horror. THIS IS NOT SNOW. What you’re witnessing, as I personally experienced when stepping outside my hotel room for the Oddities & Curiosities Expo in Austin, is the reproductive cycle of what could qualify as the most typically Texan lifeform in existence, the cottonwood tree (Populus deltoides).

Most residents have a decided love-hate relationship with cottonwood trees, and take great pains to relate the “hate” part. P. deltoides is found all over Texas and New Mexico, usually concentrated around water in otherwise dry areas. They’ve found a second life as opportunists in urban and suburban areas, where their roots head straight for the nearest water, gumming up sewer and drainage lines. The trees themselves are very short-lived on average, and tend to drop large branches during storms, usually directly atop houses. The “fluff” transports seeds long distances, and after the seeds drop off in gardens and on the edges of ponds and streams, the fluff clogs air conditioner vents and car air filters. The fluff also sets off allergies and contact dermatitis among those sensitive to such things, and most summers are spent fighting horrendous itches that only get worse after a shower or swim. The wood is so lightweight that downed branches make poor firewood, and burning green cottonwood makes everything smell like cat urine and/or an anime convention. They choke out other trees, destroy sidewalks and driveways, and cut off light to gardens. Worst of all, they grow so rapidly that someone who accidentally lets one grow next to their house finds out the hard way exactly how expensive they are to remove, especially when grafted into a sewer line or (worse) septic tank.

And then there are the positives. Yes, cottonwoods are very short-lived, but in the process, they produce valuable habitat for everything from beetles to raccoons, through all stages of their life cycle. The seeds borne on the fluff are a valuable food source in summer for birds and ants, and many late-nesting birds use the fluff for nesting material. The trees provide shade without killing the grasses and bushes underneath, and usually come back from storm damage faster than introduced trees. They take in tremendous amounts of water, but through transpiration create microclimates for other organisms that otherwise couldn’t handle Texas summers. The wood that’s so terrible for firewood makes great habitat for everything living and growing around a decaying log, and ultimately breaks up Texas clay and chalk and produces increasingly rich soil in the end. The Spanish word for cottonwood is “alamo,” and many Texas cities started around missions and villages founded around the water sources that the cottonwoods revealed. (As palaeontologists are sick of repeating, the titanosaur Alamosaurus wasn’t named after THE Alamo, but after Ojo Alamo in New Mexico, which translates to “Cottonwood Spring.”) Yes, they’re cantankerous and annoying, but ultimately they do good, like so many of the humans here. I just wish the fluff wasn’t so ridiculously itchy.

To be continued

The Aftermath: Austin Oddities & Curiosities Expo 2021 – 3

Come into the story midway? Try starting at the beginning.

There’s a lot of good things to be said about the general organization of the touring Oddities & Curiosities Expo shows from an attendee’s POV, but most people don’t have a perspective from the vendor’s side. There’s a lot to be said about the professionalism and efficiency of the Oddities crew from setup to final breakdown, but they do one thing I’d love to see at other events, all over the place.

Complimentary cart service.

You see, Oddities & Curiosities vendors carry all sorts of interesting stuff. Besides the narcissistic jerkwad with the carnivorous plants at the Texas shows, you have everything from ceramics to vintage taxidermy, and not all of it is easy to move. Unless you came prepared with a cart, this is a major problem for a lot of customers, where they’d love to get something nice and hefty but don’t have any easy way to get it to their cars, and it’s way too heavy to carry. The vendors would love to help, but between surging crowds and only having one person to watch the booth, the only option is to arrange pickup after the room closes for the day. If that’s not an option, then the customer walks away from something they really want, the vendor watches a sale walk away, and nobody’s happy. This is especially bad at events such as reptile and amphibian shows, where the critters aren’t anywhere near as heavy as new cages and accessories. The world for a handcart and someone to hold open doors.

That’s where the Oddities & Curiosities crew particularly excels. As I watched, several members patrolled the aisles with handcarts and blankets, ready to move someone’s new purchase out front so it could be picked up and taken home with a minimum of aggravation. This was particularly pertinent to a neighbor at the Austin show, who had an absolutely beautiful hippopotamus skull for purchase but no way to break free to move it for a buyer. The Oddities crew was right on it, with everyone happy, and a crowd of interested passersby turning the trip to the front doors into an impromptu parade.

Because of the sheer glee of customers happy with their purchases, I’d like to see more of this at other shows. Speaking from experience, I’d like to see a cart rental service at ZestFest alone: you have no idea how much just “a few” barbecue sauce and salsa containers weigh until one arm is permanently longer than the other and you’re walking like a Japanese waltzing mouse for two hours after the show.

To be continued…

The Aftermath: Austin Oddities & Curiosities Expo 2021 – 2

Come into the story midway? Try starting at the beginning.

Even with longtime and native residents, there’s always something about Texas summers that brings out the desperate optimist. It won’t be that bad this time. June will be nice, and the real heat won’t hit until July. Oh, we’re going to get a break in August. No, really: we’ll finally start cooling off in November. You know, New Zealand, South Africa, and Antarctica are really nice this time of the year. My first summer here was during the Heat Wave of 1980, which set records only exceeded in 2011, so after that trauma, it’s hard not to engage in magical thinking and see all sorts of hints that yes, it won’t be that bad.

That magical thinking doubles when traveling between cities, as with the trek between Citadel and the Bullet Farm, erm, I mean, between Dallas and Austin for the Oddities & Curiosities Expo on June 19. The trip always takes longer than predicted because the midway point runs through the town of Waco (contrary to popular perception, the town’s name is pronounced WAY-co), and any time gained from an otherwise clear highway the rest of the way is burned off from the perpetual hours-long traffic jam passing by Baylor College. Then there’s the fun of having a van full of live plants and glass, stuck in motionless traffic as the van’s thermometer keeps reminding you that the hoped-for cool temperatures for that Friday are turning back into pumpkins and mice. By the time the perpetual traffic jam in downtown Austin let up enough to allow traffic off the highway and into downtown proper, those “unseasonably cool temperatures” teased the previous Monday hit 106F (40C), and with maybe 15 minutes to unload the truck at the Palmer Event Center before they had to kick everyone out for the night. Ah, Waco. Is there anything you can’t do?