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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?

Fin.

The Aftermath: Nosferatu Festival 2020 – 1

Well, there’s Austin. Despite arriving in town just in time to learn that the famed SXSW Festival was being cancelled due to COVID-19 concerns, everyone else involved with this year’s Nosferatu Festival was ready to go, and so was the Triffid Ranch. It shouldn’t be any surprise that a three-day festival dedicated to the first movie vampire would attract people with an appreciation for impending plagues, so even with the rest of Austin crashing around us, we made the best of it. (A little tip: George Romero taught us all that apocalypses are easier to bear if there’s a sufficient supply of barbecue on hand, and I make it a point to stock up at Green Mesquite on Barton Springs every time I’m in town. Considering how late we all got out of the festivities each night, having a nice stockpile waiting for you at the hotel makes being in a strange town a bit better.)

It’s been a while since the last time I set up a booth at Come and Take It Live (some may remember it as the site for the Blood Over Texas Horror For the Holidays shows until it switched venues in 2019), but it’s like riding a bike. The staff and support crew was on the ball, the weather was exemplary, and an enthusiastic crowd waited outside for the 4:00 opening on the two main days. Even with the threat of coronavirus, we were determined.

To be continued…

The Aftermath: NARBC Arlington Spring 2020 – 4

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

Fin.

The Aftermath: NARBC Arlington Spring 2020 – 3

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

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

To be continued…

The Aftermath: NARBC Arlington Spring 2020 – 2

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

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

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

To be continued…

The Aftermath: NARBC Arlington Spring 2020 – 1

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

To be continued…

The Aftermath: ReptiCon Dallas January 2020 – 3

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

Fin.

The Aftermath: Repticon Dallas January 2020 – 2

When coming out to a new event, placement may be everything, but that depends upon what you want to accomplish. Being completely unfamiliar with the venue for ReptiCon Dallas, two adjoining tables at one end of the hall seemed like a perfect spot. These two tables were beneath an overhang and next to a big projection screen complete with a big black curtail, and fellow vendors winced “Oh, they stuck you back THERE?” For most of the reptile and reptile supply vendors out there, the location may have been the kiss of death, but for the Triffid Ranch, it was absolute perfection. The curtain meant that I could sit across the aisle from the tables, talking with customers while others filed by, without worrying about bumping into neighbors or clogging access, and the curtain helped baffle noise from the rest of the room. When I return to ReptiCon, I’m asking for these tables, because I couldn’t have found a better locale if I’d intended to do so.

To be continued…

The Aftermath: ReptiCon January 2020

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

To be continued…

State of the Gallery: December 2019

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And so we come to the end of yet another year and another decade. (And please don’t start with how officially the Twenty-Teens end on December 31, 2020. You’re probably the sort who begged teachers for homework over holiday break, too.)  It’s been a very interesting time, and as Harlan Ellison put it, this is the hour that stretches. Now we make plans for the next decade.

Hovering over all of this is that November was a particularly cruel month, particularly with the death of my father-in-law. I’m still composing a proper memorial for him, but without his business advice, the Triffid Ranch would be nowhere near where it is today. Considering how thrilled he was to come out to open houses and shows, I’m already missing sharing new projects and ideas, and while he thought he was being rough, I’ll never forget how he picked apart business proposals, scattered the pieces on the floor, and watched intently to see what I’d pick up off the floor and what I’d do with it. He often bragged about me to his friends with “He isn’t much, but he’s better than the last one,” and I always grinned and responded “Yeah, but I could be eating raw human flesh and still be better than the last one.”

Another factor in November is discovering that after 4 1/2 years, the day job that supported the gallery in its early days ended with little warning. Contrary to popular opinion, I didn’t go running through the halls shrieking “Dobby is FREE!”, nor did I go on a madcap firefight while the Beatles’ “All You Need Is Love” played in the background. (I’m not saying the place was run by explorers in the further regions of solipsism: it was just less an organization and more of a bet as to how toxic a workplace could get before the Environmental Protection Agency had to get involved.) What happened, though, is that now there’s a LOT more time to focus on Triffid Ranch activities and projects that had to be put by the wayside. You should be seeing a lot more in the next few months, and never mind the Ron Grainer soundtrack.

And now a word about shows. If you’re late to the conversation, the Nightmare Weekends Before Christmas continue through 2019, with the next one on December 14 and the final one on December 21, both at the gallery starting at 6:00. This, of course, is in addition to remaining open by appointment until the evening of December 24. After that, the Triffid Ranch show season starts very early, beginning with Repticon Dallas in Grapevine on the weekend of January 4, and a joyous return to the North American Reptile Breeders Conference in Arlington the weekend of February 15. As for other events, that’s pretty much on a case-by-case basis, so keep checking back.

In other news, it’s taken a while, but Facebook has finally become intolerable as a platform for small businesses, so expect the Triffid Ranch Facebook page to shut down as of January 1. (Essentially, it’s a combination of increased pressure to boost postings in order for Page followers to get notices, combined with new FB algorithms intended to crowd out posts from companies in favor of “family and friends.” no matter how many times users chose otherwise.) That doesn’t mean I want people to lose touch: that’s what the newsletter is for, and expect a new one very soon.

Anyway, it’s time to get back to the linen mines, so stay in touch, and have a great set of holidays of whatever holiday you celebrate. Me, I’m going to be ten years old all over again.

The Aftermath: Blood Over Texas Horror For the Holidays 2019 – 4

Ever since the gallery went live, the Blood Over Texas Horror For the Holidays show has been a good excuse to go to Austin, a good excuse to see old friends who moved out of Dallas, and a great way to end the year as far as outside events were concerned. Thanks are in order for the Blood Over Texas crew, all of the attendees of the Horror For the Holidays show, and the staff of Green Mesquite BBQ on Barton Springs in downtown Austin, who kept me fed all weekend. I’ll see you all next November.

Fin.

The Aftermath: Blood Over Texas Horror For the Holidays 2019 – 3

Now, people outside Texas may be a little concerned at the thought of a horror-themed holiday market such as the Blood Over Texas Horror For the Holidays shows, as monsters and nightmares don’t seem to fit the traditional holiday spirit. These are folks who may not be familiar with the history of the German and Czech settlers who moved into Central Texas in the 19th and 20th Centuries, and they brought a lot more than their traditions for beer, sausage, and cheese. (Handy travel tip: Central Texas is full of caves eroded into the underlying limestone, which is one of many reasons why Texas has some of the best cheese caves on the planet. Don’t even get me started on how a breakfast without kolache is like a broken pencil.) Krampus parades are as much a Texas tradition as chili, and the Blood Over Texas crew knows how to throw a good one.

To be continued…

The Aftermath: Blood Over Texas Horror For the Holidays 2019 – 2

A regular comment made around the Triffid Ranch this time of the year: the one unrealistic thing about the Henry Selick film The Nightmare Before Christmas (that famed hyperrealistic portrayal of the time the skeletal avatar of Halloween kidnapped Santa Claus) involved the ending. Out of all of the kids getting new presents from Santa to replace the horrific ones from Jack Skellington, you’re trying to tell me not one child on the planet Earth would be crying and pleading to keep Jack’s presents and decorations? That Santa didn’t come back to Christmastown with at least one set of preteen teeth firmly locked onto his ample posterior and refusing to let go without Santa surrendering that Russian doll with the scorpion inside? Not one kid writing Jack Skellington each year with a list of science toys, begging him to take over for Santa for just one otherwise miserable holiday season?

Judging by the crowd at this year’s Blood Over Texas Horror For the Holidays show, a lot of other people felt the same way, and made accommodations as they got older. Santa tries to take these gifts back, and he’d better have plate-steel Underoos.