Tag Archives: shows

The Aftermath: Blood Over Texas Horror for the Holidays 7 – 4

Finally, it should be noted that I’m always fascinated with fictional milieus based on real places, and it shouldn’t be surprising that the filmmaker Mike Judge lives in Austin. The Palmer Events Center definitely inspired one of his greatest films: between event security being absolutely absent other than at closing and a concession stand where payments for $4 cokes had to be made by credit card because employees couldn’t be trusted with money (and where the credit card reader didn’t work), I had to compliment some of the best cosplay at Horror for the Holidays that I’d seen in decades. To be honest, I was surprised that Center management didn’t get involved: it’s always good to see UT-Austin law grads and business majors doing what they do best. (It could be worse. For the first time in over 35 years, I had to sign a form confirming that I knew that smoking wasn’t allowed in my hotel room, because of the number of college football goofballs in town over the last two months who claimed they couldn’t read the “No Smoking Within 100 Feet of All Doors and Windows” signs on nearly every surface.)

That said, Blood Over Texas knows how to run a show, and there’s a reason why the Horror for the Holidays autumn spectacular has been doubling in size every year. Many thanks to the Blood Over Texas crew, fellow vendors, associated events (particularly the Bat City Scaregrounds crew, who regularly came by to keep people laughing), and all of the attendees who braved torrential rains and UT helicopter parents to make Horror for the Holidays what it is. Now to get ready for next year: I have a lot of peppers to get potted up to keep up with demand.

The next Blood Over Texas Horror For the Holidays show is tentatively scheduled for the weekend of November 19, 2022. Details will be shared as they become available.

The Aftermath: Blood Over Texas Horror for the Holidays 7 – 3

Most of Texas is still coming to terms with longterm damage from the statewide freeze last February, and that includes the Triffid Ranch. A lot of plants that gave every indication of surviving when things warmed up in June finally gave up in October and November, and we’re all a bit shell-shocked over what the upcoming winter might entail. We might get an abnormally warm winter, based on every indication, but those same indications gave no warning of the freeze, either. Based on previous experience, we probably have about another three years before we get anything approximating significant snow or ice, but with changes in weather patterns over the last 20 years, anything is possible.

One of the big near-misses involved hot peppers: the original plan when the February freeze hit was to get pepper seeds started, and this came very close to happening the Sunday the first storm hit. Because of other commitments, that didn’t happen, which meant that attendees at the Blood Over Texas Horror for the Holidays show last week got something other than carnivorous plants for their troubles, Both the Black Pearl and Numex Halloween peppers were extremely popular, and the current plan is to have a few more varieties from the Chile Pepper Institute available in 2022. This year’s peppers are going to get special consideration: after the holidays, any remaining peppers are going to become bonsai.

To Be Continued…

The Aftermath: Blood Over Texas Horror for the Holidays 7 – 2

It’s all fun and games until someone gets a hernia. One of the many additional activities at the latest Blood Over Texas Horror for the Holidays show was a silent auction to benefit the SAFE Alliance, and the silent auction included the Nepenthes spectrabilis enclosure Weintraub Gate. Next time, Horror for the Holidays gets a custom enclosure exclusive to the show, as Weintraub Gate was exceedingly popular, and helped Blood Over Texas gather a record amount for the SAFE Alliance. Next time, though, I’m going to promote that enclosure with the proviso “Be sure to bring your own cart and transportation,” as the last thing you want to consider after winning a huge carnivorous plant enclosure is “how the hell do I get this home?” More things for which to prepare in 2022…

To Be Continued…

The Aftermath: Blood Over Texas Horror for the Holidays 7 – 1

If nothing else came from five years of trips to Austin for the Blood Over Texas Horror for the Holidays events, it’s an appreciation for packing. Every out-of-town Triffid Ranch show is a wrangle with making sure that everything that might be needed is there, because going back to get that one forgotten or misplaced item just isn’t going to happen. A cart with pneumatic tires usually needs an air pump at the worst possible moment, and being halfway through a show load-in is the absolute worst possible time to have to break to find a store with said air pump that’s open. Name tags get misplaced, shipping tubs break while handling, tables get left at the gallery, packing materials shift and allow fragile glass items to bump into each other for the next four hours…you name it, it’s been an issue.

(Many, many moons back, I came across a book on camping that instilled the most valuable lesson possible about long vendor trips. This book made a recommendation about backpack camping that started with doing lots of little campouts in the back yard or around the corner, and then pulling out everything and placing it into three piles. The first pile consisted of items used multiple times per day, the second pile of items used once or twice, and the third pile of items that weren’t used at all. The book continued, “If you’re smart, you’ll leave the contents of Pile 2 and 3 at home.” The obverse is also true: only with a lot of small trips can you recognize the items that you may only need once or twice a year, but that will completely mess up the entire show if they get left behind. That’s why the air pump always goes in the truck.)

That, incidentally, explains why the gallery exists. Above a certain size, not only do larger enclosures risk damage from road vibrations, potholes, and the Austin driver habit of rushing in front of eight vehicles to stop dead to make a right-hand turn, but that damage could turn deadly. A large enclosure full of live plants and wet sphagnum moss is ungainly under the best of circumstances, but if it fell apart during a move due to transport damage, that usually means irregularly sized sheets of broken glass. If that just happened in the truck, that’s an annoying and expensive cleanup. If that happens while actually moving the enclosure from the truck to a waiting stand or cart…well, the phrase “bled out before the ambulance arrived” runs through my head often enough that the enclosures brought to outside-of-Dallas shows tend to be smaller ones.

To Be Continued…

The Aftermath: Blood Over Texas Horror For the Holidays 7 – Introduction

Five years ago, after years of sticking to events in the greater Dallas/Fort Worth area, the Triffid Ranch took a big leap. After being introduced to one Bunny Voodoo of a new Austin horror-related gift market called “Blood Over Texas Horror for the Holidays,” it made sense to start taking the gallery, or a portion of it, on the road. Specifically, the first test involved getting a rental van and trekking the 220 miles (354 km) between the gallery and Austin, the Texas state capitol. The bright side: Dallas and Austin are connected by Interstate Highway I-35, requiring no major digressions to the destination. The bad side: I-35 is famous and more than a bit notorious for being in a perpetual state of repair, upgrading, and necessary maintenance, meaning that a “typical” trip to Austin uses a lot more white knuckles, gritted teeth, excessive stomach acid, and expanded vocabularies of appropriate profanities than someone outside of Texas would expect.

Mind you, all of this is worth it. The first Horror for the Holidays show with a Triffid Ranch booth (the second so far) was held in a local club with a reputation for hardcore shows, and It worked beautifully for several years. Problem was, it became far too small for the audience, so in 2019 it moved to a new venue on the edge of Austin. After that, COVID-19 hit, necessitating a virtual show in 2020, and then the new venue was claimed by the city for emergency equipment storage, requiring yet another move. This time, it really moved up, relocating to the Palmer Events Center in downtown Austin, the same location used by the Oddities & Curiosities Expo crew. In a half-decade, the show had gone from a one-day gig with maybe a dozen vendors to a major event.

This time around, the venue wasn’t the only change. In the beginning, Horror for the Holidays ran shortly after Halloween before settling in the weekend before American Thanksgiving. This time, because of venue availability, it ran the weekend after American Thanksgiving, a weekend not normally known for horror events. It’s a true testament to the Blood Over Texas crew that not only did they make it work, but they made it work even with a torrential downpour the morning of the first day, and thunderstorms in Austin tend to be as wildly overacting as Dallas ones.

To Be Continued…

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: Armadillocon 2021 – 2

One of the biggest surprises about the dealer’s room at Armadillocon 2021 is how much things have changed since my last visit in 2000. For the longest time, the main dealer emphasis at litcons (conventions where the main emphasis was on printed fiction and nonfiction instead of other media) was on books and periodicals: back in 2000, convention dealers were the main access to rare or obscure books and almost the only way to learn more about up-and-coming magazines. Obviously, a lot has changed in the intervening two decades: book purchasing is a matter of a quick Amazon search, and the crash of both traditional magazine and zine distribution in the early Aughts is why so many new short fiction outlets are online-only, with the occasional hard-copy Kickstarter so the publisher isn’t stuck with cases of unsold copies. Both of these developments mean that the current dealer pivot is toward art, reference materials, and inspirations, and carnivorous plants seem to be quite the inspiration.

As to what the future holds, that’s a really good question. On an immediate level, everything with Armadillocon’s schedule depends upon availability of Austin hotels, which are apparently packed every weekend with football-obsessed alumni this time of the year. The general response to the Triffid Ranch table was overwhelmingly positive, but the biggest issue involves getting down to Austin in the first place: if subsequent shows are held in October, this isn’t a problem, but if the 2022 convention runs at the end of August, unfortunately the heat risk to the plants is far too high, We’ll figure it out.

In any case, many thanks are owed to the folks who came out to Armadillocon this time around, particularly longtime online cohorts who finally had the chance to make in-person acquaintanceships. Special thanks to Lillian Butler for making the dealer’s room situation happen, and now it’s just a matter of waiting for a final 2022 schedule. As far as other litcons are concerned, the schedule for 2022 in-person and virtual lectures and presentations is currently open, and for those who couldn’t make it this time, make plans for the Blood Over Texas Horror For the Holidays show at Palmer Event Center in downtown Austin on Thanksgiving weekend. And so it goes.

Fin.

The Aftermath: Armadillocon 2021 – 1

For those unfamiliar with driving in Texas, the phrase “What a trip” has multiple levels of meaning, even if that meaning only involves transportation. Many moons back, on a trip in Massachusetts to visit Black Jungle Terrarium Supply, I overshot a bit heading west from Boston. Exactly how far “a bit” was came up when the radio station started running ads for a show at SPAC, the Saratoga Performing Arts Center in Saratoga Springs, New York. Without intending to do so, I’d come within a couple of kilometers from the New York state border, so I turned around and retraced the route, eventually discovering that while the turnoff needed to get to Black Jungle was very well-labeled with appropriate signage when heading east, it had NOTHING on the west route. This led to terrified shrieking from my hosts when getting back: “You went across the whole state?”, and explaining “Aah, that’s nothing. I go further than that to trips to Houston.” This was absolutely true: hitting the Arkansas border from Dallas at Texarkana is a 6-hour drive, and hitting either the New Mexico border at El Paso or the Mexico border at Brownsville is eight to nine hours of hard driving. Only north is a relatively easy trip out of Texas: eight hours of driving north can get you to Kansas City, Missouri or even the outskirts of Denver.

Thankfully, Austin isn’t that far, but it’s still enough of a haul, especially with a van full of carnivorous plants, that it makes you realize exactly how far away everything was before the advent of motor vehicles. Dallas and Fort Worth are practically sister cities, but they’re still at least a day’s ride by horseback from each other. Austin is nearly five times that distance from Dallas, and it’s a rough trip in summer even with cruise control, air conditioning, and cold drinks.

(Also for those unfamiliar with Texas, the midway point between Dallas and Austin is the town of Waco. Officially, the name is pronounced “WAY-co,” but you’re forgiven for the more obvious pronunciation. In the last five years since the first gallery made regular plant shows in Austin and Houston a practical option, the highway I-35 that connects Duluth, Minnesota to Laredo, Texas is the only practical path between Austin and Dallas. In the last five years, I-35 has been under perpetual construction through the middle of Waco, it’s no closer to being completed now than it was in 2016, and it’ll probably still be under construction when dinosaurs return and duke it out with the cockroaches over who gets to rule Earth after humanity’s big extinction event. Suffice to say, that construction means that Waco has a perpetual traffic jam in most hours, and any time and fuel savings on the increased highway speeds in Texas Hill Country are completely eliminated by sitting in Waco for an hour to two hours at a time, waiting for people to stop texting and drive. Some people argue that the logjam is very deliberate: considering that Waco is home to Baylor University, they suspect that the motivation is “If we suffer, everybody suffers.”

(Anyway, the one upshot to realizing that there’s unused space in the van and leaving the gallery late in order to fill it is passing through Waco at the only time when it’s not suffering from vehicular constipation: after dark on a Thursday night. The day of the Armadillocon jaunt wasn’t particularly hot anyway, but this is essential knowledge for future trips.)

Another advantage to Armadillocon switching its scheduled date from August to October was that when the hotel couldn’t allow setup until Friday morning, the plants could set outside overnight without the surrounding van turning into a convection oven at dawn. This made setup particularly easy, and the plants themselves meant that hotel patrons tended to move out of the way in a manner usually reserved for fire and radioisotopes. Either way, by the time the convention doors officially opened at 2 pm, everything was ready for the rest of the weekend.

To be continued…

The Aftermath: Armadillocon 2021 – Introduction

It’s been an interesting year for out-of-Dallas plant shows, what with last June’s Oddities & Curiosities Expo and the upcoming Blood Over Texas Horror For the Holidays in November, both in Austin. Considering the size and spread of both of these, the decision to crash a small literary convention like Armadillocon might seem a bit counterintuitive, but I had my reasons. The first was that with the last 18 months’ cancellations and delays, this was an October event that didn’t directly conflict with other events. The second was that Lillian, the dealer’s room director, asked nicely, and Lillian is one of those people who brings out the best in everyone. The third was that as opposed to its usual date over the last 25 years in the middle of August, its rescheduled weekend in October meant that bringing a van full of live plants into Austin equaled “LIVE plants” instead of “random chunks of steamed and broiled charcoal.” (Yes, Austin in August, especially during the afternoon and evening, is that bad.) The biggest, though, had to do with back history.

Longtime customers and visitors to the gallery might know about your humble proprietor’s previous career involving professional writing for various now-long-forgotten magazines and other publications, ranging from the beginning of 1989 to the middle of 2002. The unfortunate side effects involved three books, including one written about Armadillocon 13 in 1991 (illustrated by the one and only Ernest Hogan) that didn’t rest well with certain elements in science fiction fandom at the time. Two subsequent books, full of gibberish written before and during the early implementation and popularization of the Internet, came out in 2009 to much acclaim but precious little sales, and aside from a few relapses, that’s all anybody’s going to get. The biggest reason to come out, besides aggravating an increasingly small group still grumbling into their Metamucil (thus explaining the phrase “I feel like Anton LaVey getting an invitation to the Pope’s bat mitzvah”), was to get back in touch with a slew of former colleagues, compatriots, and fellow pains in the posterior whom I’d only see at conventions such as this. In that case, this whole gig worked even better than expected.

Being away for so long had its own Cinema Paradiso moments. The hotel in which the convention generally runs has a long history, starting with the completely random reservation getting the same exact room where I stayed with my best friend and then-girlfriend when crashing the convention in 1990. Some things have changed (the grand piano in the lobby was replaced with multiple flatscreens sometime after my last visit in 2000), and others. well, were pretty much encased in amber from the early 1990s. Not that this was a bad thing: the hotel fit the convention and the convention fit the hotel, and everyone was happy.

As far as the plants themselves were concerned, they made quite the impression. Many of those aforementioned old compatriots hadn’t been able to stay in touch since 2002, so they were delightfully surprised to see what had happened since then. Others who had kept up via online sources finally got the chance to see so many of them in person. Best of all, other attendees were drawn in: if next year’s Armadillocon runs in October again, then they’ll probably be waiting at the door to see what’s coming out of the truck this time. And then there were the people just wandering in as the convention was shutting down on Sunday, who really lost their minds at the idea of someone selling carnivorous plants next to the banquet room hosting friends’ weddings and the like.

To be continued…

The Aftermath: Texas Frightmare Weekend 2021 – 5

While Texas Frightmare Weekend always starts off with the hope that it could go on longer, like for a week, the absolute reality is that by the time things close down on Sunday evening, we’re kaput. The staff has been running on pure adrenaline and doughnuts for the previous week, and that’s not talking about all of the prep necessary to get things organized in the first place. Some of the attendees stay for an extra day or so at the hotel, taking in the luxury and the company of fellow late-travelers, but the overwhelming majority have work, school, or other obligations on Monday, and they need a week to recuperate. The vendors…well, many of us have day jobs as well, others have to get going to get to their next show, and still others have to go back to workspaces to make more items for the rest of the season, as Frightmare patrons have cleared us out. With the Triffid Ranch, there’s the additional aspect of having to get remaining plants under lights, so Sunday evening after the vendors’ rooms close is a matter of packing up glass, plants, and water as best as possible, getting it loaded into the truck that brought everything out there, getting on the road east toward the gallery, and hoping that no idiot on the highway decides to check his brakes for no reason. The excitement doesn’t stop when the show’s over, and it’s only time to relax after the plants are loaded at the gallery, the truck gets returned, and the only vital activity remaining is to brush teeth and go to bed. Oh, and dream about plans for the next year.

The official announcement on the 2022 Texas Frightmare Weekend hasn’t been made yet, but all of us vendors are awaiting word to reserve our tables, and everyone else is making plans for accommodations and travel. Since TFW won’t be facing anywhere near so much competition for time next May, as so many other horror conventions will be spread out over the year instead of concentrated in September and October, expect a lot of old and new faces, and expect vendors pushing themselves to the limit to bring out the best they can get. At this end, this of course means lots of new plants (I’m waiting to see how Genlisea and Roridula seedlings turn out, and if we don’t get another massive freeze in February, expect a sideline of hot peppers), lots of new concepts, and a serious need to both wear myself out and recharge over those three days in April and May.

Finally, this proprietor wishes to thank everyone involved with Texas Frightmare Weekend and the Hyatt Regency DFW, particularly the security and support crew. You lot work harder than anyone else, and I’d bring steaks instead of doughnuts on Sunday morning if I thought any of you would take the time to eat. Take care, and we’ll see you next year.

Fin.

The Aftermath: Texas Frightmare Weekend 2021 – 4

Two stories to explain why Texas Frightmare Weekend works as well as it does, and one involves doughnuts. The other, more important story involved a remembrance. With Frightmare running for 15 years, it’s inevitable that attendees, guests, and staff would have died in that time, and Frightmare took the time to remember them. It wasn’t just about remembering big stars who died in the last decade, such as Angus Scrimm and George Romero, but everybody who was touched by Frightmare and in turn remain in our memories.

One of the most touching involved the first security chief Jeb Bartlett: Jeb was such an integral part of what made Frightmare work that when he was diagnosed with cancer in 2018, we all came running to help. The last time I saw him was at the 2019 Frightmare, still giving grief to those of us who deserved it (and he was one of those guys who ribbed the people he liked the most, and we all loved him because he kept us honest), but he would have wanted to have been involved with the proceedings in 2021. In a way, he was: some of his ashes were scattered around a tree outside the hotel where he could be found during his breaks, because it just isn’t a Frightmare without Jeb in it.

The other story is much more minor, but one in which I’m involved. The second year that Frightmare ran at the current hotel in DFW Airport, Caroline and I were picking up a few items in a grocery store on Sunday morning before heading out for the convention’s final push, and I noticed a big box of doughnuts lying next to the checkout where someone had discarded them. Instead of simply cursing out someone’s laziness in not returning them, I figured “I wonder if anybody at Frightmare needs breakfast” and bought them. As it turned out, several of our fellow vendors hadn’t had the chance to get breakfast, but the security crew really needed a boost, and that empty box was left spinning like something out of a Chuck Jones cartoon. From then on, the message was clear: “Bring doughnuts on Sunday, no matter what.”

2021’s last day started the way I had hoped 2020’s last day would have: an early trip to our favorite doughnut shop in Garland, picking up six dozen random doughnuts for the staff and a dozen for fellow vendors, and dragging them down to the lower level of the hotel to pass them out. You have no idea how much both newbies and experienced staffers looked forward to a bit of extra energy to get them through the day, and those doughnuts didn’t go to waste. Even at the end of the show, when everyone else went home and only we vendors working with glass or heavy gear or both were still breaking down, the support crew that came in to break down the pipe and drape cleared out what was left.

That’s what makes Texas Frightmare Weekend unique among Texas and particularly Dallas conventions: the sense of community. In nearly 40 years of Texas science fiction/fantasy/comic/horror conventions, I couldn’t think of another that would have gotten together for a tribute to absent friends, or at least a tribute without drama. So many of the attendees and vendors had been going long enough that we knew each other by first names, and legitimately worried if someone was all right if they didn’t show. Fall 2021 is full of horror conventions and shows in Texas and elsewhere trying to make up for lost time, but you didn’t hear complaints about vendors and guests having to cancel because they had other obligations elsewhere. (Or, if complaints were made, they weren’t made in public.) Instead, the general attitude was “Well, we’ll see them next time,” with a firm understanding that they were coming back at the first available opportunity. The overwhelming emotion at Texas Frightmare Weekend 2021 was of a big and scattered family that was just glad to be able to get together again, and hoping that this would be one of many.

As it turns out, while it’s not announced on the Web site yet, expect 2022’s Frightmare at its usual date of the first week of May. All of us are making plans, and there’s always room for new folks.

To be continued…

The Aftermath: Texas Frightmare Weekend 2021 – 2

One really serendipitous situation with 2021’s Texas Frightmare Weekend being rescheduled for September? Most years, as much fun as the Sarracenia pitcher plants are, they’ve only just finished blooming (some years, because of late freezes, they’re still blooming when they arrive), and Sarracenia generally only start growing pitchers after they’ve finished blooming. Well, not all: Sarracenia flava tends to be an early bloomer than other species, and it usually has well-developed traps while other species still only has bloom spikes. This may be an adaptation to keep down hybridization: Sarracenia generally bloom first and then produce traps because their pollinators and their prey tend to be many of the same insects, and pollen is a good source of nitrogen, so flava catching insects loaded with other Sarracenia pollen has a dual benefit. S. flava’s early blooming offers one additional benefit at Frightmare: while other North American pitcher plants smell sweet, flava blooms smell like cat pee, and people attend Frightmare to get away from the smell of anime conventions.

The real benefit of a September Frightmare was that for the first time, attendees could see Sarracenia in their full late summer/early fall glory, instead of the botanical equivalent of bed head. This also led to object lessons, such as an attendee pointing out the caterpillar happily munching away on a young pitcher. Yes, it was hastily chucked down another pitcher, and the plant already had four new immature pitchers, but it’s the spirit of the thing. It may also be yet another sign of climate change: in their native habitat, Sarracenia are beset upon by a species of moth whose caterpillars eat young pitchers, climb into older pitchers, chew the inside so the top of the pitcher collapses, and then pupate in a handy new protective tube until emerging in spring. As if we don’t have enough to worry about.

To be continued…

The Aftermath: Texas Frightmare Weekend 2021 – 1

I’d be remiss in not mentioning that Texas Frightmare Weekend shows are joint efforts, with the lovely and talented Caroline of Caroline Crawford Originals right next door. This comes in so handy for bathroom breaks, spare change, and potentially dangerous levels of snark. Every Frightmare, we have a friendly wager on who has a higher total when we finish adding up sales, and every Frightmare, she smokes me. Understandable, really: every Friday evening when the doors open for general admission Frightmare attendees, the ones running to the back to see her latest work discover the VIPs who arrived an hour earlier grabbing the newest necklaces and rings, because they know they won’t see them again except worn on someone else.

In some relationships, this sort of gentle wager might turn toxic, but it all evens out. There’s a reason why we also work the open houses together at the gallery: visitors with no interest in the plants tend to latch onto the jewelry, and vice versa. It definitely makes for interesting customer conversations.

To be continued…

The Aftermath: Texas Frightmare Weekend 2021 – Introduction

It was a monumental effort by everyone involved with the show, but 2 1/2 years after the last one, the 2021 Texas Frightmare Weekend happened. After repeated cancellations and reschedulings, after understandable concerns about further lockdowns and insufficient social distancing space, Loyd Cryer and crew pulled off the biggest convention in the Dallas area since the beginning of lockdown in 2020. As such, everyone involved deserves sustained applause, because I don’t think anybody else could have made it work and made it work as well as it did.

For those unfamiliar with this greatest of horror conventions, Texas Frightmare Weekend celebrated its fifteenth anniversary this year. Normally, it runs on the first weekend in May (most of its crew are haunted house organizers and workers, and the idea was to hold a show that didn’t conflict with their getting ready for the Halloween season), but the decision last spring was that vaccination rates were high enough to give it a chance of running in September. Hence, we all piled into the Hyatt Regency DFW at DFW Airport, suitably masked and slathered with hand sanitizer, and conducted what had to be the most mellow convention I’ve seen in nearly 40 years. Naturally, carnivorous plants contributed: the Triffid Ranch location in the back of the Lone Star Hall meant that everyone got a good dose of green, whether or not they were expecting it as they came around the corner.

To be continued…

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.

State of the Gallery: June 2021

And here’s where it gets interesting. Got a few minutes? Well, let’s compare notes.

To start off, as mentioned a little while back, May 2021 was the busiest month for the gallery since the Triffid Ranch first put down roots back in 2015. June already exceeded that, and we still have a week and change to go. It’s been a blowout month for commissions, the Porch Sales have been a hit, and now that outside shows are starting up again, things are getting intense. Last weekend’s Oddities & Curiosities Expo show in Austin not only was the biggest one-day show since this little carnivorous plant gallery started up, but it was the first time nearly EVERYTHING sold at a show since the first trip to Texas Frightmare Weekend in 2009. As I joked with fellow Expo vendors in the same situation, a few more enclosures go home with people, and I’d be able to fly back.

Not that June is over: aside from appointments to schedule commissions, we still have the June 27 Porch Sale to consider, taking advantage of unusually (for North Texas in summer) cool and cloudy weather this coming weekend. I can also assure new and established customers that nearly everything you see will be new, because just about everything sold last weekend and it’s time to restock. After that, it’s a matter of getting ready for the July Carnivorous Plant Weekend on July 3 (4:00 pm to 9:00 pm) and July 4 (10:00 am to 3:00 pm).

Not that everything is smooth: the Thursday evening Twitch installments will have to be delayed for a while in order to work out technical issues with the gallery’s Internet connection. (It’s the same situation at home, but here, I suspect that someone’s porn download habit exceeds everyone else’s total wireless consumption by about 5 to 1, especially in the early hours before dawn,) Once the wonderful folks at AT&T figure out why the wireless connection keeps cutting out every ten seconds during a stream, it’ll be back.

Another issue involves the Day Job, that which guarantees both regular income to keep the gallery going through lean times and job benefits. The schedule is up in the air at the moment, but trips to the East Coast might be necessary through July and August, directly affecting gallery events. Because of this, July and August might be a little quiet, but that should be rectified through the rest of the year, especially when things start cooling off.

As for outside events, the sixth anniversary of the gallery’s opening coincides with the revival of DFW Tap Talks, science lectures in a bar environment, and that first event features your humble gallery owner discussing “Insects: They’ve Got What Plants Crave!” at Rohr & Sons in Fort Worth. Naturally, as they expand events into Dallas, we’ll be trying those, too.

Otherwise, with things reopening again, it’s time to go back to old friends, which is why the Triffid Ranch returns once again to Austin for Blood Over Texas Horror for the Holidays 7, as if they could keep me away. Since two years have elapsed since the last one, expect a lot of new surprises, and not just because of the improved venue.

And one last bit. I can’t talk about particulars just yet because it hasn’t been hammered down yet, but something big, on a personal level, is coming up in October. Let’s just say that it involves a road trip from 30 years ago, an opportunity to meet old friends and annoy old aggravations, and introduce a whole new crew to the joys of carnivorous plants. Let’s also say that when I got the offer, the last time I used the phrase “I feel like Anton LaVey getting an invitation to the Pope’s bat mitzvah,” this was during my writing days when I received a critic’s preview invitation to see Star Wars: Episode One in 1999. When I can talk about it further, people who knew me back then will boogie ‘til they puke, and those who only know me as a gentle purveyor of carnivorous plants will get to see a whole new world. Details will follow.

Well, enough of that. Time to get get back to editing the photos from the Oddities & Curiosities Expo, of which there are SO MANY. Talk to you soon.

The Aftermath: The First Porch Sale of 2021

So last week’s Triffid Ranch Porch Sale didn’t work out, mostly due to intense side-effects from receiving my second Moderna vaccination, so it was time to start over. This time, a combination of spectacularly good weather, including unseasonably but much-appreciated cool temperatures, and accompaniment from Caroline Crawford Originals meant that the kickoff for the 2021 Porch Sales went without a hitch.

One of the best things about this Porch Sale was the combination of new and returning attendees, including a set of old friends. The same was true of the plants: the Sarracenia pitcher plants and the Venus flytraps finally emerged after their late start due to the February ice storm, and they’re all determined to make up for lost time.

As far as outdoor Porch Sales are concerned, we’re taking a little break: next week is the Manchester United Flower Show inside the gallery on April 25 (open 10:00 am to 4:00 pm), and May 1 means going out to Frightmare Collectibles in Justin for the Hearse & Shock Rod Show. The Porch Sales WILL return, though: that’s what Mother’s Day is for.

The Aftermath: Frightmare Collectibles Spring Slasher Camp 2021

Forget March’s association with lions and lambs: April in North Texas is permanently attached to caribou, emperor penguins, Mexican free-tailed bats, and Christmas Island crabs. It’s all about the journey and the endurance. This April, after two big shows the previous weekend, the Triffid Ranch pushed for three with last Saturday’s Frightmare Collectibles Spring Slasher Camp outdoor event in Justin, Texas. Seeing as how most of the attendees were regulars for Texas Frightmare Weekend, this combined the best of a (socially distanced) Frightmare gathering with beautiful if slightly windy weather. Either way, nobody was complaining.

This was a test of the Frightmare Event System: the plan is for Frightmare Collectibles to host a much larger event on May 1, on what would have been Texas Frightmare Weekend’s busiest day. Four months before the revised opening of Texas Frightmare Weekend and six months before Halloween: for those craving plant shows with a bit darker feel than the traditional arboretum events, hie thee hence to Justin in a month.

If you can’t wait that long, keep an eye out for other events between now and May 1, as well as the regular video shows on Twitch. Now that the Sarracenia are starting to bloom, it’s time for some real fun with the latter.

The Aftermath: Dallas Oddities & Curiosities Expo 2021 – 3

Want to know how this started? Here’s the beginning.

In all of the strangeness and horror of the last year, the Oddities & Curiosities Expo show in Dallas suggested a possible end, if we’re willing to take it. Yes, Texas Governor Greg Abbott dropped statewide mask and social distancing mandates under pressure from campaign contributors wanting to go “back to normal” (translated: “back to brunch at Cheesecake Factory”), but individual businesses and venues may set up their own guidelines as they see fit. Since it’s a traveling tour, O&CE restarted this year under the proviso that mask discipline would be enforced, and vendors or attendees who violated it would be asked to leave without refund. Even so, we had a few people who acted like wearing their masks as chinstraps was somehow playing hooky (especially the ones who acted as if a mask that dropped below their noses could never be put back into place), and one bigwig who was legitimately shocked that a mere booth proprietor would dare request that he put his mask back on, but the vast majority of attendees? We may not be thrilled with wearing masks a year later, and we struggled with issues with hearing loss and terminal mumbling, but that was all so that, Elvis willing, the 2022 show wouldn’t require any.

When everything finished, one of the organizers came by as the booth was coming down and asked how all of us vendors were doing and if they could do anything differently. I was completely and painfully honest: I don’t make comparisons to Texas Frightmare Weekend lightly, but Oddities & Curiosities is Frightmare’s equal in efficiency, courtesy, and sheer fun. For those who couldn’t make it to Dallas in March, the Triffid Ranch will be in Austin on June 19, and there’s simply no way that I’d skip out on any 2022 shows in Texas. That’s the highest compliment a vendor can pay.

Fin.

The Aftermath: Dallas Oddities & Curiosities Expo 2021 – 2

Want to know how this started? Here’s the beginning.

Friends from outside North Texas are always surprised to discover that Dallas has a very deep and very thorough gonzo streak. “You’re talking about Austin, right?”, some ask. Others, whose sole experience with Dallas comes from the 1980s sitcom of the same name (and trust me, that show was a sitcom), scoff “Dallas is a cultural wasteland!” While Dallas can take credit for being the home of so many forms of cultural homogenization (I once lived a literal rock’s throw from the headquarters of Brinker, the restaurant conglomerate behind Chili’s), it’s not all McMansions, bad bleach jobs, and worse cocaine. Some of the most interesting people I’ve ever met in my life either lived in Dallas or came from Dallas, and that was partly due to understanding the phrase attributed to the writer Richard Wright of “Put down your bucket where you are.”

The simple truth is that Dallas’s odd history was always either wallpapered or coopted by proud gatekeepers, so we learned to keep our candles under a bushel basket. Until very recently, VERY recently, any news coverage, either paper or broadcast, on nonconformist events was either spiked or shoved into a template of “Hey, look at the freaks!” The co-option was deadlier: get an enclave of like-minded Nightbreed situated in town, and first the area was swamped by drunken SMU brats wanting a nice slumming session on the weekend, and then the properties were bought up and gentrified all out of recognition. We didn’t have the money or the clout to fight it, so we just always kept at least one bag packed at all times in preparation for the notice that we’d have 30 days to move out before that great record shop or that wonderful band venue was razed and turned into fratbro condos.

And here’s the funny part. As opposed to Austin and Portland, whose reputations as iconoclast havens were dependent upon a constant inflow of people declaring just a little too loudly “I’m expressing my individuality,” Dallas oddballs just waited. We didn’t get a flood of hipsters and attention addicts because the people they were trying to impress didn’t care, and they rapidly flounced off to Brooklyn or Seattle. Instead, Dallas attracted and retained a crowd that wanted to get things done instead of talking endlessly about what they were going to do one of these days when the stars were right and they no longer had to wait for their inheritance. Bit by bit, so many people who really liked the good things about Dallas worked on little bits and chunks, to where we have places like the Kessler and the Texas Theater and Panoptikon and the Oak Cliff Halloween Parade and bike paths that actually go somewhere. Dallas isn’t perfect, but as someone who will celebrate a full 40 years here in December, it’s not the place in which I grew up, and we all salute the places and events that were wilonskyed and then assimilated to death back in the day that helped make this happen.

All of this is a roundabout way of saying that the touring Oddities & Curiosities Expo shows in Dallas might have done as well as they are now if they’d started in 1995, or 1985. However, now we have a large enough crowd willing to put our bucket down where we are that its success is so much sweeter.

To be continued…

The Aftermath: Dallas Oddities & Curiosities Expo 2021 – 1

Want to know where this started? Here’s the beginning.

The traveling Oddities & Curiosities Expo shows are relative newcomers to Texas: the first Dallas show was only in 2019, and the only other city in the state served by the Expos is Austin. Otherwise, they range all across the United States, spread out far enough that attendees aren’t overwhelmed by too many shows close by. The vendors all spread through the outré, from bone collectors to taxidermy restorers to Ripley’s Believe It Or Not, and each show is carefully curated (a term horribly abused over the last decade but completely appropriate here) to maximize the variety of vendors. At each Expo, attendees have the options of curios, natural history, horror and fantastic art, and exotic clothing, and two shows so far have one goofball carrying carnivorous plants.

Another aspect of why the Expos are so successful has to do with thoughtful and succinct advertising and promotion. Instead of blanketbombing an area with advertising that probably won’t reach the people most likely to attend and annoy the people least likely, the Expos work predominantly with word-of-mouth, augmented but not replaced by social media. One of the more charming aspects of its touring schedule is running new shows within a reasonable distance of a previous show, a few months later, so that those who missed one have the option of waiting a year or making a road trip. The upshot for Dallas vendors is that about a third of the attendees had been waiting since 2019 to come out again, a third were from outside the Dallas area but who wanted to see what was in Dallas that wouldn’t be in their local area, and a third would have come out no matter what.

To be continued…

The Aftermath: NARBC Arlington September 2020 – 3

Another shameless plug: in the decade since I first moved to Garland, Texas, every Sunday morning of a Triffid Ranch show involves a trip to Donut Palace, without fail. Not only is it one of the best donut shops in the Dallas area, with exemplary kolaches for those who need something with more protein than sugar, but the crew there makes sure to take care of everybody, no matter how large or small the order. (For those familiar with Texas Frightmare Weekend, I’ve made a point of bringing donuts for the Frightmare staff on Sunday mornings since the first show at DFW Airport in 2012, and Donut Palace is where I get enough donuts to feed that mob.) It may be superstitious, but I’ve never had a bad show after making a stop there on Sunday morning, and any excuse to grab four or five jalapeno bacon kolaches on a September morning is always a good one.

One final image to sum up the weekend: while getting set up on Sunday morning, one of the ball python breeders at the show asked me if I happened to see a loose snake in my booth. (Escapees are very rare, but sometimes it happens.) I answered completely truthfully that I hadn’t seen so much as a cricket, and continued on with my prep. You can imagine my surprise when I finished my breakdown on Sunday afternoon by flipping a table over to fold it up and get it into the truck, and this little character was curled around one of the table leg supports. Well, we were both surprised. A little coaxing to get him off the support, a little reassurance to let him know he was safe, a little help from a fellow vendor in finding his home, and he was safe and secure. Thankfully, that breeder hadn’t left the convention center yet: as much as I love snakes, I don’t have time to care for one now, and in no way would I have taken someone else’s without paying for it. However, holding this beauty was a great way to end the show, and I hope whomever gets him appreciates him as much as I did.

Fin.

The Aftermath: NARBC Arlington September 2020 – 2

As an interlude, in the nearly 15 years that I have been attending the NARBC Arlington reptile and amphibian shows, one of the simple pleasures is walking off the convention center parking lot to gaze over the lake separating the convention center from the now-defunct Ballpark. The real draw, of course, are the cormorants that flock here for most of the year, gorging on bluegill and other small fish and then basking on any available human-free area. Half of the fun involves a flood drain at one end, which is a little too small for all of the cormorants who want to bask and dry off. You think penguins are bad about knocking each other into the water for an advantage? Penguins are champions of Marquis of Queensbury sparring rules compared to cormorants.

The problem with being a vendor instead of an attendee at an NARBC show: cormorants don’t bask first thing in the morning. No cormorants this trip: just one particularly determined heron.

To be continued…

The Aftermath: NARBC Arlington September 2020 – 1

Today’s shameless plug, thanks to NARBC Arlington attendees asking about where I got it: this carnivorous plant rancher is modeling a Dunkleosteus mask from the Alaska paleoartist Scott Elyard, thereby demonstrating that wearing a reconstruction of a Devonian armored predator is still less scary than having passersby see his unmasked smile. This one should be on driver’s licenses, too.

To be continued…

The Aftermath: NARBC Arlington September 2020 – Introduction

As with everyone else, 2020 has been an interesting year for the Triffid Ranch, in the old sense. The original business plan for 2020 was to expand the previous range and scope of touring shows, even down to the first shows outside of Texas since the first show in 2008. Well, we all know how well that went: after last March’s Nosferatu Festival in Austin, every event, expo, fair, and gathering planned for this year has been rescheduled for 2021, tentatively rescheduled for 2022, or point-blank cancelled. Worse, thanks to COVID-19 resurgences, cities that planned to reopen for large gatherings reconsidered those strategies, and even more shut down in the last couple of months. Last week, the Aquashella Dallas aquarium show announced that it was rescheduling for 2021, leaving one show still on the register: the North American Reptile Breeders Conference Arlington show, running on September 26 and 27.

To give credit to the NARBC staff and the crew at the recently renamed eSports Expo Center (formerly the Arlington Convention Center), the NARBC staff mandated masks and cleanings, hand sanitizer stations were spread throughout the area, and everyone at least tried to encourage social distancing and basic hygiene. Even so, there were just enough attendees who promptly ripped their masks off as soon as they entered, as well as arguing that “masks don’t work,” that things remained more than a little uncomfortable through the weekend. Barring more stringent ordinances in Arlington requiring mask use, this is probably the best that it’s going to get: subsequent NARBC shows, either as a vendor or as an attendee, are going to be contingent upon an effective COVID-19 vaccine.

Even with all of that, the overwhelming majority of NARBC attendees were as usual: unfailingly polite, curious, and friendly, with a lot of really thoughtful questions and suggestions, and I’d be a liar if I said I didn’t miss that interaction. It was obvious that they missed it, too, especially based on the response to news about the Sunday morning porch sales at the gallery through October. And this, friends, is why I do this.

There was one other bright side to all of this: it was a matter of discovering that even with six months between shows, the porch sales kept the organizing juices flowing, so setup and breakdown was much easier than it was with the NARBC spring show last February. Of course, being in the middle of a simply glorious Sarracenia season didn’t hurt, so those who wondered about the lack of pitcher plants and Venus flytraps at the last show were dutifully impressed. Best of all, even with a sudden return of hot and sunny weather that OF COURSE came over the weekend, the weather was cool and clement enough that everything was exploding with new growth. A lot of new people went home with new plants, and this is hopefully a harbinger for the October Porch Sales as well.

And finally, a shoutout to Adeline Robinson, the artist responsible for the new Triffid Ranch poster on display at 2020 events, whom I finally met in real life this weekend. Among other things, I ransacked her selection of herp-themed stickers, so now I could tell my wife Caroline that I was coming home with a crocodile monitor and she couldn’t do anything about it. Adeline was also responsible for the design for the NARBC Tinsley Park shirt, which you should snag at the first available opportunity.

To be continued…

COVID-19 Schedule Changes

The best-laid plans, and all that. The old Chinese curse about living in interesting times definitely applies through this month, and apparently beyond. The news about the Dallas County shelter-in-place order requiring all residents to stay at home unless conducting essential business is now international news, but the subsequent mandatory orders applying specifically to Richardson and Garland are just as big a deal. Right now, the Dallas County order will be up for review on April 3, the Garland order until at least April 7, and Richardson cut to the chase and set its order to run until at least April 29. Any way you look at it, anyone in the greater Dallas area isn’t going anywhere, especially since local police are empowered to ticket and/or arrest anyone running about without good reason.

And how does this affect the Triffid Ranch? Quite honestly, it stops everything for the next month, and directly affects the rest of the year. Unlike the twerp at the mail drop last Monday who wanted to argue that the Dallas County order didn’t apply to him because of one tiny issue that he assumed invalidated the whole order, the orders aren’t up for debate over here. As anybody in US Army Basic Training learns on the first day of Nuclear/Biological/Chemical training, you do NOT take off your mask until someone with the proper authority gives the proper “ALL CLEAR” signal. You may be melting in the heat, and you may want the freedom to take it off and relax, but it’s there for a reason.

So what this means is that every Triffid Ranch event scheduled for March, April, and May has been rescheduled, delayed, or otherwise put on hold. The planned April 18 Manchester United Flower Show open house is delayed. This also means that all appointments will have to wait until Richardson’s order is lifted, although remote consultations are still open. (If anything, if you’re looking for a custom enclosure, the delay should give it plenty of time to get established by the time you’re able to pick it up.) Among the important events:

As always, keep an eye on the Shows, Lectures, and Other Events page for changes to the schedule: everything depends right now on how well the COVID-19 situation flattens out, and what gets scheduled against what. Until then, stay safe, stay distant, and we’ll see you when we see you.

The Aftermath: Nosferatu Festival 2020 – 2

Nosferatu Festival in Austin had a lot going for it, but one of the best was the screenings on Saturday and Sunday of the classic 1922 film. Modernized soundtracks for silent films aren’t new (after all, it’s been 35 years since the rerelease of Metropolis with a soundtrack highlighted with new music from Freddy Mercury and Bonnie Raitt, among others), but Nosferatu seems to bring out the best from original electronica composers, and attendees of Nosferatu Festival got two live performances for their efforts. After that, the number of people chuckling and pointing back at my booth at the scene showing off carnivorous plants was just gravy.

All said, thanks to everyone involved with Nosferatu Festival, from the venue to the attendees to the interested bystanders, for putting up with me over two days, and I for one would love to see more events like this at Come and Take It Live. The venue has an excellent feel that’s perfect for darker events such as this, and combine that with a very horror-friendly staff, even having a tire blow out on my cart while packing up on Saturday night wasn’t the bummer it could have been. (Said tire ruptured with no warning on my second-to-last load, loudly and explosively enough that I thought I’d been shot at, and much better that it blew out at the end of Sunday night than when I started setting up on Saturday. THIS, kids, is why any vendor at any show should have at least one spare cart, rack, or other contrivance to convey inventory, just so you’re not dependent upon borrowing someone else’s cart that might not exist.) Let’s see what next year brings, shall we?