And like that, it was over. Texas Frightmare Weekend has always been a blowout of a show, from the first Triffid Ranch table back in 2009 to now, but 2022 was far and ahead the most successful show to date, and now it’s time to plot and scheme to do even better. That’s as much of a tradition as bringing doughnuts for the Frightmare crew, and one I want to keep going for as long as possible.
On that note, many thanks need to go to the Frightmare crew, starting with Loyd and Sue Cryer for their leadership and going through the army of staff, security, and support that make Frightmare happen every year. It’s been a rough couple of years for everyone, and some folks weren’t here to help us celebrate the end, but in their memory we’re all going to make 2023 even bigger than ever.
So what’s the plan for the future? Well, the first is that it’s time to move to a larger table space for 2023, as can be judged by what little is left in the photos above. All of that, of course, is contingent upon making the cut in vendor selection next year (in order to give as diverse a selection of vendors as possible, vendors are carefully curated each year, and everyone has to reapply as if this was their first show), but Danielle and I discussed some possibilities in both presentation and selection that should surprise and delight. With luck, a lot of the distribution issues that brought everything down to the wire this spring will be minimized or reconciled in 2023, and certainly all of the tribulations of the first half of 2022 aren’t going to happen again any time soon. Until then, many thanks to everyone who came by the Triffid Ranch table, even the Spy Clown, and get ready for some major new changes next May.
One of the many Triffid Ranch services that’s not exclusive to Texas Frightmare Weekend, but that gets a lot of use here, is the holding service. Essentially, a lot of customers want to purchase plants early on, but need to leave them at the table for the duration of the show. Sometimes it’s because they’re staying at an overflow hotel (and this year, Frightmare had a LOT of overflow hotels) and they don’t want to risk the plant being damaged, sometimes it’s because they won’t have room in the car until the end of the convention, and sometimes it’s as simple as not wanting to lug a big contraption of glass and peat around a big crowd all weekend. To facilitate customer convenience, I’ve developed a system that works extremely well: upon purchase, the customer gets a ticket asking for name and phone number, which gets put onto the plant’s ID tag. If 4:00 on Sunday rolls around, the customer gets a friendly call to remind them that they still need to take their plant home. In the last decade since Frightmare set up at its current location, I’ve had to call maybe five people, and generally they all get their charges before we have to start breaking down at 5:00.
Eventually, this was going to have a slight hiccup, and that came with a customer with phone problems. The hotel, like so many other 1970s/1980s semi-Brutalist constructs, was built when nuclear war was a more realistic future shock than handheld universal communication devices, so calls drop and calls never get through. Eventually, though, our buyer was able to come by the gallery to get her new plant, and everyone was greatly amused by the resolution.
Here you go, Wendy. That pot belonged to my late mother-in-law, and she’d have been thrilled to have learned how happy you were with it.
One of the really nice things about being a vendor at Texas Frightmare Weekend is that there’s absolutely no telling who’s going to show up to say hello. I’ve had people I haven’t seen in thirty-odd years drop by (yet another reason why Frightmare needs a revival of the old Dallas Dawn of the Dead audience participation midnight shows), I’ve had the kids of high school classmates pass on regards, and I’ve had a lot of guests stop by to see what’s what. This usually ends very well: there was the time when I came around a corner with a cart full of plants on Sunday morning to hear “Wow! Pitcher plants!” and nearly literally ran into Mark Rolston admiring the Sarracenia. What I didn’t know was that he’s a serious plant enthusiast, and I introduced him to the sole Roridula I had at the time, and we were on such a roll that his handlers nearly literally dragged him away to get him to his first event in time. This happens a lot on both Friday (when vendors are first setting up and guests are getting an idea of where they need to be) and on Sunday (when everyone finally gets a chance to see what everyone else is doing because we’re all still in a bit of shock from Saturday), and the only issue on Friday is that you get caught in great conversations right when you also need to finish emptying the truck at the loading dock and give someone else a chance to unload.
So, the Lance Henriksen story. What most people don’t know is that in addition to his extensive and lively acting career, Mr. Henriksen also has a well-deserved reputation as a potter, and I’d always wanted to talk to him just on that. Well, I got my chance, kinda: as Danielle and i were getting set on Friday afternoon, who else should walk up and ask “Are these real plants?” but one of our guests of honor. Quick explanations, and then back to the loading dock to finish dragging plants in, with a promise to go into detail if he had the chance to come back. If he didn’t, this was understandable, because we’re all busy, this is work for guests and vendors alike, and there’s so much to see at Frightmare that it’s easy to forget the last wonder you spotted when looking at the next.
Anyway, a very nice couple came by on Saturday to buy a purple pitcher plant, and then they came back a couple of hours later to get another. This happens regularly, but they had a better explanation than simply “We wanted another to keep the first one company.” They were in line for an autographing session, Mr. Henriksen saw their Sarracenia purpurea, and bought it off them since he wouldn’t have time that day to come by himself. So far as I know, it’s now in his house, enjoying the Los Angeles breezes, and if anyone involved with the Los Angeles Carnivorous Plant Society is reading this, you should be getting a very distinguished guest at your next show and sale. I made sure to pass on that information.
One of the better surprises at this year’s Texas Frightmare Weekend involved something of which nobody had any control. Most years in the Dallas area, dormancy among temperate carnivorous plants is a holiday affair: no more temperate carnivore sales after Halloween, everything is well-established in the beginnings of dormancy by Thanksgiving, and everything stays quiet until the first signs of bloom spikes around St. Patrick’s Day. This means that the height of blooming is around the middle of April, and by Frightmare’s traditional opening by the first weekend of May, most of the blooms are already spent. This year, though, we had a reprise of the funky cold waves of 2015, with big multi-day subfreezing shocks at the end of February and in the middle of March, causing everything to reset. This meant that the earliest bloomers, such as Sarracenia flava and its hybrids, still had a few extant blooms by the end of April, most temperate carnivores (most Sarracenia, threadleaf sundews), were just getting going, and others such as Venus flytraps and Sarracenia leucophylla pitcher plants were just waking up. Even now, over a week later, Venus flytrap blooms are only now starting to open, the triggerplants are growing back but generally without blooms, and the leucophylla finally have their first pitchers of the season.
What it meant for Frightmare, as in 2015, was that attendees got to see not incipient Sarracenia seed capsules but flowers in their full glory, giving a view of what a particular plant looked like in bloom and with pitchers. Sarracenia blooms already look bizarre enough to be mistaken for traps themselves, so that added just a little extra spice to the proceedings. It’s always great when a touch of atmospheric serendipity improves the whole Frightmare experience, especially for kids that never had any idea that carnivorous plants bloomed at all.
To start off this story, let me introduce everyone to Danielle. Danielle started as a longtime Triffid Ranch customer, where we both first met at Texas Frightmare Weekend nearly a decade ago. She and her husband Sean own custom enclosures (A Canticle for Troodon and Skarif Salvage), they’ve been wonderful sounding boards for gallery plans and strategies, and I;m proud to call them dear friends. Heck, Danielle and I even worked together in 2021. When I was getting everything together for this year’s Frightmare, not only was she the logical choice for booth cohort, but she volunteered.
It’s not an exaggeration in the slightest that without Danielle’s capable and expert assistance, this show wouldn’t have turned out anywhere near as well as it did. All three days, she was seemingly in four places at once, manning operations during the one major issue the whole weekend (large trucks had to move to overflow parking in DFW Airport, and I would have been back with plenty of time if the hotel’s parking shuttle fleet had two vehicles undergoing repairs that Friday and the third nearly 90 minutes late), and even entertaining convention guest Lance Henriksen as he asked question after question about the difference between Nepenthes and Sarracenia pitcher plants. (A heads-up to the Los Angeles Carnivorous Plant Society: you may be getting a few new attendees before too long, because we bragged on you lot all weekend long.) More than a few times when I was too frazzled with multiple questions to answer others, she stepped in and took over, making sure that I remembered to drink water and wear clean underwear.
And trust Danielle to see connections that I was far too busy and harried to notice, and take advantage of them. Halfway through the show, she noticed that two Sarracenia containers had, erm, somewhat of the same theme, and insisted we put them together right in front so everyone could appreciate them. “I’m twelve,” she said, and apparently everyone else at Frightmare was twelve, because the juxtaposition was a huge hit.
It almost didn’t happen. When the new year starts with a neighbor deciding to celebrate the holiday by firing an AR-15 into the air down the street and one of the rounds hits the roof of your house, this may not be taken as an auspicious omen. A frantic move in mid-winter, repeated freezes right when all of the temperate carnivores were just starting to wake up, ending a job, having a friend accidentally faceplant while furniture-shopping in an Ikea, having the gallery nearly catch fire…oh, it’s been one whole set of tribulations in this foul Year of Our Lord 2022. Every once in a while, though, the planets and moons all aligned, the lenses clicked into place, and things not only ran as well as they did in 2019, they sometimes ran better. This pretty much summed up this year’s Texas Frightmare Weekend.
To say that this was the best Frightmare the Triffid Ranch has had the pleasure of attending is a quantum jump in understatement. We’ve been hearing terms such as “revenge travel” to describe the rush of people deciding that they’d better get out and do things NOW, but that didn’t come close to summing up Frightmare this year. We vendors regularly joke that if Frightmare gets any bigger, we’ll have to bypass moving to the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center in downtown Dallas and just go for a custom facility with enough room for everybody, but THAT didn’t sum up Frightmare this year. When the General Admission crowd started coming through on Saturday morning, jokes about George Romero films and Play-Doh Fuzzy Pumpers were a bit inadequate, and even THAT didn’t sum up Frightmare this year. This was a show full of longtimers who hadn’t been out in three years, and a show full of first-time Frightmare attendees, and a show full of people who had never been to any media convention, especially something as big as this one. For all of us vendors, this was a show just loaded with surprises, and when it finally ended three days later, we were all exhausted but ridiculously happy at the same time.
So what happened? Nobody seemed to have an answer, but nobody was complaining. The halls and aisles went from “busy” to “human river” in moments, and any of the tables in the two dealer’s rooms were a perfect place for peoplewatching. It was one big wild celebration of life with a wrapper that said “premier horror convention,” and if 2023’s Frightmare reaches these heights, we won’t know what to do with ourselves. If it exceeds this year,. watch out.
Posted onMarch 31, 2022|Comments Off on 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.
Comments Off on The Aftermath: Dallas Oddities & Curiosities Expo 2022 – 6
Posted onMarch 31, 2022|Comments Off on 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…
Comments Off on The Aftermath: Dallas Oddities & Curiosities Expo 2022 – 5
Posted onMarch 31, 2022|Comments Off on 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…
Comments Off on The Aftermath: Dallas Oddities & Curiosities Expo 2022 – 4
Posted onMarch 30, 2022|Comments Off on 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…
Comments Off on The Aftermath: Dallas Oddities & Curiosities Expo 2022 – 3
Posted onMarch 30, 2022|Comments Off on 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.”
Comments Off on The Aftermath: Dallas Oddities & Curiosities Expo 2022 – 2
Posted onMarch 29, 2022|Comments Off on 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…
Comments Off on The Aftermath: Dallas Oddities & Curiosities Expo 2022 – 1
Posted onMarch 29, 2022|Comments Off on 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…
Comments Off on The Aftermath: Dallas Oddities & Curiosities Expo 2022 – Introduction
Posted onDecember 3, 2021|Comments Off on 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.
Posted onDecember 2, 2021|Comments Off on 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…
Comments Off on The Aftermath: Blood Over Texas Horror for the Holidays 7 – 3
Posted onDecember 1, 2021|Comments Off on 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…
Comments Off on The Aftermath: Blood Over Texas Horror for the Holidays 7 – 2
Posted onNovember 30, 2021|Comments Off on 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…
Comments Off on The Aftermath: Blood Over Texas Horror for the Holidays 7 – 1
Posted onNovember 29, 2021|Comments Off on 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…
Comments Off on The Aftermath: Blood Over Texas Horror For the Holidays 7 – Introduction
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.
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.
Comments Off on The Aftermath: Armadillocon 2021 – 2
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…
Comments Off on The Aftermath: Armadillocon 2021 – 1
Posted onOctober 20, 2021|Comments Off on 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…
Comments Off on The Aftermath: Armadillocon 2021 – Introduction
Posted onSeptember 16, 2021|Comments Off on 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.
Comments Off on The Aftermath: Texas Frightmare Weekend 2021 – 5
Posted onSeptember 16, 2021|Comments Off on 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…
Comments Off on The Aftermath: Texas Frightmare Weekend 2021 – 4
Posted onSeptember 15, 2021|Comments Off on 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.