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.
I’m asked on a regular basis by folks yet to experience Texas Frightmare Weekend “So what else is going on out there?” I have to be absolutely honest and admit “I have no idea, because I’m lucky to get out from behind my booth.” Considering that the booth gets mobbed during setup on Friday afternoon (I’ll tell the Lance Henriksen story with another installment) and only shuts down at 11:00 that evening, going out and exploring on Friday evening isn’t an option until someone develops an effective vaccine for sleep. (As it was, Friday was so lively that even after filling a 15-foot truck, I had to go back to the gallery and get even MORE plants on Saturday morning.) Since Saturdays are the main time for single-day pass holders, the aisles in both of the dealers’ rooms are best described as “rivers of people,” especially in between guest panels and movie screenings. On Saturday, the dealers’ rooms close at 7:00, and only the young, the determined, and the rugged go to parties or events instead of trying to recuperate for Sundays.
Mileage may vary between vendors, but Sunday is the biggest day at the Triffid Ranch booth for two reasons. Firstly, a lot of attendees come through on Friday and pick out plants to keep in reserve until Sunday so they don’t have to carry a 20-kilo plant enclosure all weekend. Secondly, with everyone else, they know what their budget is like: they’ve checked out of their rooms, they know how much money they need for gas and food to get back home, and they know how much space they have in their vehicles for further purchases. After about noon on Sunday, the crowds generally don’t let up until about 4:00 pm, giving us vendors a chance to regroup and pack up incidentals when everything starts to close at 5:00. If things work well and we don’t have any issues with finding loading dock space, the overwhelming majority of us are out and gone by 6:00, with only a few still around by 7:00. After that, it’s all about starting to get ready for the next year’s show, because it’ll be starting before we realize it.
I’m regularly asked at shows “Could I watch a plant eat something?” As a general rule, especially with Venus flytraps, the answer is going to be a hard “no.” It’s for multiple reasons: digesting insect prey usually takes from three to five days, the production of the digestive enzymes used to digest prey require a lot of light for energy, and most venues don’t have anywhere near enough light, so that prey rots before it can be digested. If you’re lucky, the rot only kills the individual trap, but sometimes you can be incredibly unlucky and have that rot spread to the plant’s crown and lose the whole plant. I’ve done a few demonstrations at museums of how flytraps capture their prey, but always with the understanding that the plant was going to be back outside and in full sun in the next twelve hours or less.
Now, if a bug gets caught on its own, though, there’s not a whole lot anybody can do. That happened at Texas Frightmare Weekend, when intrepid cohort Danielle spotted a big fly having entirely too much fun sopping up nectar on a big Sarracenia pitcher on Saturday morning. Over the next hour, when we could spare a glance, we’d look up to see the fly dallying and daring to climb inside the pitcher for more nectar, only to panic and fly off before getting too far inside. That went on for a while, and then we looked up and we had a no-fly zone. This meant one of three things: the fly found itself trapped, the fly got bored and found somewhere else to go, or one of our fellow attendees, vendors, or guests got hungry. At Frightmare, there’s no telling.
Now, one of these days, there’s going to be enough of a lull in the crowds, or I’ll have an opportunity to hang around on a Saturday evening, to demonstrate how so many carnivores fluoresce under ultraviolet light for a suitable crowd, and how that attracts insects. Next year, most likely, if we can find a room that’s completely dark. This year, we just had to watch Seth (and in “Brundle”) and experience it vicariously. I don’t know: should I set up a Triffid Ranch Cam just to let people watch the plants through the show?
While this year’s Texas Frightmare Weekend was the first-ever event of its sort for a significant percentage of its attendees, the long-timers are reasons to come out to a show in their own right. By way of example, let me introduce everyone to Diane Tran, a fixture in Dallas’s cosplay community and a powerhouse within the Dallas Paleontological Society. With the exception of the year where she spent the weekend in the hospital, Diane comes out to celebrate her birthday, and it’s not a Frightmare without her (in the photo above, in her Kay Lawrence swimsuit) causing trouble. She’s always welcome at the Triffid Ranch table and everywhere else, and she’s enough of a regular at Triffid Ranch open houses that I don’t know whether to pay her or start charging her rent. Life without her is like a broken pencil.
Diane wasn’t the only regular coming by, either. For many of us, we hadn’t seen hide nor hair of each other since May of 2019, so much of the show was dedicated to catching up. A few of us didn’t make it, and those who didn’t know were soon appraised and updated by everyone else. Compared to the dealer’s rooms at other conventions, Frightmare prides itself on its dealers being not so much family but an extended class reunion, and some of us go back long before Frightmare was ever even a dream. Speaking of which, go give some love and business to Drink With the Living Dead: Robert Whitus, its proprietor, is getting ready to go in for surgery, and he’s enough of an independent cuss that he’d much prefer to pay for the surgery by everyone getting a collection of hand-etched pint and shot glasses.
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.