Far be it for me to steal a byline from the local writer best known as “The James Lipton of Fandom,” but the 2021 Best in DFW Reader’s Choice Awards were announced today, and the Triffid Ranch won Bronze in “Best Art Gallery.” Many thanks to everyone who voted, and I promise not to let this honor go to my head.
Tag Archives: things to do in Dallas when you’re dead
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.
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.
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…
At my age, it’s always a little scary when something you love celebrates an anniversary in the double digits, because you’re always afraid that this might be the last one. That’s happened a lot in the last few years, especially in the last year. The very good news is that this isn’t happening with Texas Frightmare Weekend, either right away or in the foreseeable future. As someone with nearly 40 years of conventions and events under his belt, and someone who plans to celebrate the thirtieth anniversary in November of the one of the worst convention experiences I’ve ever endured, Frightmare is how you do it, folks. This is how you balance the needs of attendees, vendors, guests, staff, security, and hotel employees so everyone is happy, and any convention chair whose excuse for failure is “Well, at least we TRIED!” needs to talk to the Frightmare crew, at all levels, to rectify that or else have everyone assume that they like things broken and dysfunctional.
A discussion on why Frightmare works so well is upcoming, but the proof is in the pudding. At a time when many conventions, big or small, are lucky to celebrate three anniversaries, Frightmare reached 15 in 2021. Sure, it was a little late due to extenuating circumstances, but even during the worst of the lockdown, this was a convention that organized virtual events and outdoor events to keep up a lively and diverse community. When your weekly Twitch streams are so much more lively, friendly, and respectful than the 2020 Hugo Awards presentation, that’s a sign that you’re doing things right, and if conventions were run this well back in 1990, I would have spent my twenties being considerably less angry.
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…
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…
No events at the gallery this weekend, because as you read this, the whole kit and caboodle is at Texas Frightmare Weekend at DFW Airport. No events the next weekend, either, partly because Caroline has her own show at FenCon on September 17 through 19, and partly because recuperation from Frightmare takes a while. But before we’re all gibbering wrecks, though, come out to see what’s going on.
The Labor Day 2021 Carnivorous Plant Weekend was particularly bittersweet: both Caroline and I realized exactly how much of the gallery was a direct inspiration from her mother, who died on August 29. Lots of little things: the odd little frog planter in the front window was one she gave me shortly after Caroline and I got married, several pots we proudly put on display, ornaments and accessories in enclosures, and the constant reminder that Nancy loved seeing pictures of people and plants after shows, and this was one that we couldn’t share. A lot of friends and longtime customers felt the same way, having met Nancy at shows and events over the last two decades, and her memory will remain strong for a long time thanks to them. Many thanks to everyone who came out to share memories, because it really made a difference.
One of the bigger surprises of the weekend was the range and influence of the Community Impact newspaper, given free to residents of the Richardson area. Fully half of the attendees on Saturday and Sunday were Community Impact readers, following a mention in the September issue about the gallery opening, and the writer came by on Saturday night for a followup interview. This led to a lot of exclamations from neighbors, some literally from across the street, who had no idea that the Triffid Ranch existed, and they left assured that we weren’t a variation on Fritz Leiber’s Bazaar of the Bizarre. With luck, they’ll be back for further events in the future.
As for the next Carnivorous Plant Weekend, the calendar conspires against us. The next three-day holiday weekend facilitating a two-day Triffid Ranch event is in November, and it’ll be a great way to start off the Nightmare Weekends Before Christmas through November and December. Just don’t ask us about New Year’s Eve: that’s something that’s going to require a lot of planning.
As for future events, the next two weekends are out, as Texas Frightmare Weekend is nearly two years late, and we have a lot of catching up to do. Details on the next Porch Sale on September 25 are now available, so the fun keeps coming.
It’s not completely unheard of, but it’s rare enough that it’s newsworthy: rain in Dallas in August. Not just a little bit of rain, but lots and lots of rain. Instead of a typical Dallas August, where “hot and sunny and dry” is the default weather forecast until Labor Day and sometimes until Halloween, today’s word is “soggy.” Don’t get me wrong: it’s a delightful change of pace, and the Sarracenia adore it. The humidity is so high that you could mistake Dallas for Houston, and going outdoors risks being asked how badly you lost the water balloon war. If you’re a carnivorous plant, it’s heaven.
It’s not just rain in August, but a torrential downpour blowing nearly parallel to the parking lot, that explains why the weekend Porch Sale on August 14 wasn’t held on the porch. Things were a little quiet because of that anticipation (to be honest, a few attendees were waiting to hear tornado sirens at one point), but the gallery was still full of enthusiastic carnivorous plant advocates, which makes it all worthwhile.
This coming weekend is special: the Porch Sale not only stays inside, but it’s moving to the evening (4:00 pm to 9:00 pm) to celebrate the Triffid Ranch’s 6th anniversary. (Technically, that sixth anniversary is on August 20, but the Triffid Ranch goes to Fort Worth on Friday for DFW Tap Talks.) We’ll see you then,
Back in the days before quarantine, when we still thought that 2020 was going to be a typical year, the plan was to host a series of carnivorous plant workshops at Curious Garden in Dallas. Jason Cohen, the co-owner, has had to deal with me for 30 years as of this November, when we were neighbors in Exposition Park, and most of our encounters make him regret not killing me when he had the chance, so when he suggested the first workshops two years ago, naturally I jumped at it. Previous events offered the chance for participants to go home with a complete sundew or butterwort enclosure, and it was time to move up into Nepenthes pitcher plants. 17 months after the originally planned workshop, we still made it happen.
Then as now, the concept was simple: getting a group together, lecturing about the basics on carnivorous plants, and then putting together a step-by-step enclosure. Thankfully, practice and a lot of time to rework the concept during quarantine made perfect, so all of the attendees walked in to find a box with components, a cup on top, and a tub nearby full of Nepenthes seedlings. Everything else was negotiable.
While the audience wasn’t quite as big as at previous Curious Garden events, not only was this completely understandable due to Delta variant concerns throughout Dallas, not to mention the beginnings of a typical August heat wave, but everyone who came out was extremely enthusiastic. The greatest compliment an audience can pay a lecturer is to ask really good questions, and the folks at Curious Garden asked some really, really good questions.
As for future events, we’re still deliberating on the next workshop: right now, the tentative plan is for waiting after the temperate carnivore growing season ends in November and running a set of holiday workshops. Details will follow as they come through, but rest assured that Jason isn’t rid of me yet.
Six years ago this month, things changed drastically for the Triffid Ranch. That was when we signed the lease for what turned out to be the first gallery space, out at what was Valley View Center in North Dallas, and started to put together the first gallery. It took a while – nobody expects the effort necessary to get set up from scratch until they get started, which might help explain why so many art galleries shut down within their first year – but we went live two months later, and never looked back. Now, just over four years in our current location, things are busier that we ever could have predicted back in 2015, and the rest of the year is going to get even weirder.
To start, after years of only being able to squeeze one event per month due to day job schedules and learning curves on enclosure construction, we’re now at the point of having regular weekly events, which is about as much as anybody can handle. (Having the gallery open on a daily basis simply isn’t an option right now, both between day job demands and customer interest, but we have PLANS.) The Porch Sales that started last year have become so popular that we (that is, both the Triffid Ranch and Caroline Crawford Originals in the front) kept them going, and now they’re moving inside for the duration of the summer. Keep checking the schedule for all of the details, but through the rest of the month, based on customers asking for non-Sunday events due to work schedules, we’re alternating back and forth between Saturday and Sunday open houses. This culminates with the Carnivorous Plant Weekend on September 4 and 5: holding these on holiday weekends has been enough of a hit that they’re going to keep going through the rest of the year and beyond.
In slightly related news, thanks to a very considerate series of contributors, a brand new custom Nepenthes enclosure is going in at the Heard Natural Science Museum and Wildlife Sanctuary in McKinney, and attendees at weekend events get to watch its construction in progress over the next few weeks before it debuts. It’s simultaneously a brand new construction challenge and a concept that’s been rattling around in my head for the last three decades, and it should surprise everyone once it’s complete.
And then we have the traveling lectures. After discussing this with owner Jason Cohen (and boy howdy, is he regretting not killing me when he had the chance when we first met 30 years ago this October), we’re going to try another run of the popular Carnivorous Plant Workshops at Curious Garden near White Rock Lake. The first will be a limited run on August 7 (contact Curious Garden about reservations), and then we’ll attempt more through the rest of the year, schedules and COVID-19 willing. Keep checking back for particulars. (This is in addition to the DFW Tap Talks lecture on August 20: that really will be on the gallery’s sixth anniversary and two weeks after Caroline’s birthday, so we have to plan something impressive.)
As for going on the road, things are tightening up for the upcoming Texas Frightmare Weekend on the weekend of September 10, and I didn’t realize how many people needed Frightmare this year until it came out over and over at the last Carnivorous Plant Weekend. Well, we’re going to be out there, along with several new enclosures debuting for the show (including one specifically intended to horrify planned guests Clive Barker and David Cronenberg, both of whom unfortunately had to cancel due to other issues), and a lot of Sarracenia starting to produce their fall pitchers. TFW has always run in the end of April/beginning of May for the last 12 years the Triffid Ranch has had a booth out there, so this should be intriguing.
Speaking of returns to old friends, the forms are filled out, the booth fees paid, and plans made for a return of the Blood Over Texas Horror For the Holidays two-day weekend in Austin on November 20 and 21. Three trips to Austin in a single year: maybe it’s time to try setting up a show outside of Texas for the first time…um, before the Chicago Worldcon in September 2022, anyway.
And now the last bit of news, which was only confirmed today. People who remember my sad excuse for a literary career between 1989 and 2002 have reason to chuckle about my getting confirmation as a vendor at Armadillocon 43 in Austin: most use the term “Anton LaVey getting an invitation to the Pope’s bat mitzvah” when they aren’t laugh-crying about the hotel room. Well, it was a request by an old and dear friend planning to revitalize a longrunning literary convention getting everything in stride after its forced shutdown last year, and it’s also an opportunity to get back in touch with old friends in the science fiction literature community who lost touch after I quit pro writing. Yeah, and it’s also an excuse to show off plants and enclosures and talk everyone to death about carnivores, so it’s time to pull ALL of the stops. Best of all, this is scheduled for October 15 through 17, when Austin is at its most comfortable before the blue northers start blasting through in November, and I’ve desperately missed the days of October Armadillocons for precisely that reason. (Well, that, and a lot of people who couldn’t attend for business or health reasons when Armadillocon would run in the middle of August, the weekend before classes started at UT-Austin, now have an opportunity to come out for the first time in decades. We’re going to boogie ’til we puke.)
It’s been nearly six years since the Triffid Ranch first opened in the old Valley View Center location, and in that time, we’ve never had the opportunity to have a full weekend show. Most of this is due to the day job schedule, and part of it was due to having the room and time to work on enclosures and general maintenance or conduct shows, but not both. Between regular practice with Porch Sales over the last year, though, as well as having several new enclosures to debut, made for a perfect opportunity to try a two-day event. And so Carnivorous Plant Weekend was born.
Oh, there were the rough starts: one whole enclosure backdrop ruined by too much sun and heat (yet another reason why painting and finishing are best done at night through the North Texas summer), and having plenty of time to finish cleanup and organizing until there wasn’t. That said, though, a great time was had by all, and spreading things out for two days meant that a lot of people who couldn’t make the Sunday Porch Sales now had an opportunity to wander around. As it should be.
As always, many thanks to everyone who came out, and I hope we didn’t disappoint. For those who couldn’t, the Porch Sales return nearly every Sunday in June (the only exception is June 20, because I’ll be driving back from the Austin Oddities & Curiosities Expo on June 19), and then we’re going to try another Carnivorous Plant Weekend on July 3 and 4, details to follow. My, it’s busy around here this year, isn’t it?
As is pretty much the case for North Texas in May, the weather forecast was dire. Saturday was an afternoon and evening of winds high even for Dallas, with airport warnings blaring every 15 minutes. Saturday evening, the prediction for Sunday was even worse: “thunderstorms, torrential rains, up to baseball-sized hail, and a chance of Tom Cruise and/or Ted Cruz climbing into your bedroom and staring at you in the dark all night while whistling the theme to Dark Shadows.” For those planning any kind of event outside on Sunday, things looked grim.
As is also the wont of North Texas in May, a massive north front hit the Dallas area around 1:00 in the afternoon…and broke to pieces. That is, bystanders literally watched as this front of gloom and woe evaporated before our eyes. The only change from before to after was a delicious drop in temperature, with some of the best Mother’s Day weather in decades. It was perfect weather for getting out, and everybody got out while the getting was good.
Sadly, because of an explosion in commission requests, there won’t be a Porch Sale in May 17, but that’s mitigated by another Frightmare Collectibles event in Justin on Saturday, May 22 to make up for the weather cancellation on May 1. That in turn is followed by our first-ever two-day open house on Memorial Day Weekend. If you can’t make one, you have two others. And now you know.
As if May isn’t busy enough, those wanting something to do in the outdoors in May might want to note the Triffid Ranch Porch Sale on Mother’s Day. Get your tickets now: they’re free.
Since its start five years ago, the Manchester United Flower Show at the gallery hasn’t always been smooth. It ran well on its first year at the old Valley View space, but it was cancelled in 2017 while we tried to get the new gallery set up. There was the cancellation due to severe illness (once again, anybody can cough up blood, but coughing up urine takes talent), and then last year’s attempt at a virtual event that, well, could have gone better. Between lingering and understandable COVID-19 concerns and legitimate worries about last February’s record freeze, nobody would have said anything if it hadn’t gone through. But it did.
Considering the weather concerns, things could have been much worse. The previous Friday marked a line of severe thunderstorms passing through the Dallas area that afternoon: the Sarracenia pitcher plants are adapted to hurricane-force winds and blasting rain, but they aren’t adapted to hail. Thankfully, that hail hit north of the gallery, so everything was hale, hearty, and well-watered in time for Sunday’s opening. Some plants were still delayed by the February freeze (there’s nothing quite like a greenhouse full of “Aki Ryu” flytraps about a week away from blooming) and some decided to fuss further (no Heliamphora or Cephalotus flowers this year), but otherwise the plants amazed visitors more than usual.
Obviously, global warming permitting, we’re doing this again next year, and trying this again in October to show off autumn pitchers might be educational. Many thanks to everyone who came out: if you missed the show this time, we’ll be out at Frightmare Collectibles. on May 1 for the Hearse and Shock Rod Show from 11 am until whenever everyone goes home. The Sarracenia blooms may be fading by then, but the flytraps are taking advantage of their deep dormancy last winter.
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.
Okay, so things are gradually reopening through North Texas, both by choice and by necessity. Restaurants and bars closed for the last year are letting customers know that they’re open, limited occupation and otherwise. Meanwhile, the year-long experiment in working from home continues to evolve for many companies, with many preferring to keep offices closed permanently and others making plans to bring everyone back by the end of 2021. Vaccinations rates are up, people are much more optimistic about the end of the pandemic than they were six months ago, and stimulus checks are burning holes in peoples’ pockets. If the business of the United States is business, as the old saying goes, a lot of folks are getting off the couch, going through their work clothes, and setting alarm clocks.
In the process, the need for some green in the workplace never went away, but a lot of the plants did. Everyone in office environments has stories of coming back only to find long-dead flora that had been left behind when the shutdown orders hit. (I won’t even start with the aquaria.) It’s even worse with long-closed restaurants: I’ve heard stories of Oceans 11-style heists conducted by plant rental services trying to get Ficus trees and philodendrons out of newly bankrupt venues where nobody knows who has the keys. While garden centers and nurseries have been doing wonderfully through all of this, the business side of Dallas horticulture has had it rough.
On a personal level, the Texas Triffid Ranch ran into a big problem: a problem with space. The events and situations of 2020 meant more and more time to create new enclosures, but fewer opportunities to hold open houses, trade shows, and other events to find them all new homes. Even after the massive revamp of the gallery shelving system, the ideas kept coming, but the places to show off the end results eventually filled up. That’s probably going to change quite a bit in the next few months, but right now, there’s a need to find new homes for longtime enclosures. Our space issue is the gain of three lucky Dallas-area workplaces.
So here’s the situation: through the month of April 2021, the Triffid Ranch is going to give away three custom carnivorous plant enclosures to three deserving nominees. For the first two weeks (April 6 to April 18, 2021), share your best affirmation or sob story as to why your place of employ needs its very own enclosure. This isn’t limited to seemingly plant-friendly venues, either: doctor’s or lawyer’s offices, restaurants, comic shops, libraries, auto garages, bookstores, nail salons, tea shops, bars, pubs, distribution warehouses, showrooms, waiting rooms, and obviously dentist offices. (That goes without saying.) After that, on April 21, 2021, ten entries will be selected from the total entries and put up for an open public vote. Ballot stuffing is encouraged (hey, it works for D magazine), and the final three winners based on total votes will be announced on April 28. After that, it’s just a matter of setting up a time for delivery or pickup. Got it?
Now to see what you’re fighting for:
The first enclosure under consideration is Novi (2018), featuring a Nepenthes burkei x hamata hybrid.
The second offering is Launch Bay (2015), featuring a Nepenthes “King of Spades” hybrid.
The final enclosure up for giveaway is Hoodoo (2018), featuring a Nepenthes veitchii.
And now, the rules:
Numero uno: This contest is open to any business in the greater North Texas area. However, winners outside of the greater Dallas area (within a 35-mile radius of downtown Dallas) will be responsible for pickup. Sadly, this contest is not open to participants outside of Texas.
Numero two-o: For tax reasons, the value of each enclosure is listed at $200 US. Winning prizes may not be exchanged for cash.
Numero three-o: The care of each enclosure will be the sole responsibility of the prize winner, and the Texas Triffid Ranch will not be responsible for any costs or damages of any sort incurred after receipt of the prize. Planned locations for an enclosure should take into account foot traffic, customer or employee interference or vandalism, or any other factor that might lead to damages to the enclosure, the surrounding area, or individuals or groups with access to the enclosure.
Numero four-o: The prize will not come with lighting, locks, misters/foggers, thermometers/hygrometers, or other accessories, and must be provided by the prize winner. The Texas Triffid Ranch will assist with recommendations on the best options for the prize winner, but will not supply free accessories.
Numero five-o: All best efforts will be made to assist the prize winner with sufficient information for successful care of the prize, but the Texas Triffid Ranch will not be responsible for dead plants for any reason.
Numero six-o: One entry will be accepted per business. Multiple attempts by multiple participants may be made, but the judges’ ruling will be final.
Numero seven-o: Initial acceptance of entries ends at midnight on Wednesday, April 21, 2021. Public voting on the entrants will begin no later than Wednesday, April 21, 2021. All votes must be in by Wednesday, April 28, 2021 at midnight. No entries will be accepted after Wednesday, April 21 for any reason.
Numero Eight-o: This contest is not open to home businesses or to those working from home. That’s for another time.
Now, if that works for all of you, get those entries in. (NOTE: the contest is now closed.)
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.
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…
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…
As of April, the Texas Triffid Ranch has been showing up to events and shows throughout the Dallas area and elsewhere for 13 years. Not all of those shows have been great ones: remind me to tell you the “Friends of Fair Park” stories one of these days. However, after 13 years, it’s easy to list the ones where sales may not have been the greatest, but the crew and attendees were so much fun to be around that sales didn’t matter that much. It’s easy to list the blowouts, and the shows where the van was nearly empty going back home, and the shows where you made friends that will be with you for the rest of your life. Out of all of those, the touring Oddities & Curiosities Expo shows are one of the most exhausting. This isn’t a bad thing.
As with almost every other Triffid Ranch show of 2020, last year’s Oddities & Curiosities Expo was rescheduled and then re-rescheduled, but the O&C crew figured that the drop in COVID-19 cases in Dallas County in the last few months made a cautious opening worthwhile. For the most part, attendees reciprocated (although some responded to “Sir, I have to ask you to pull up your mask” or “please put on a mask” as if asked “Sir, all patrons are required to put on a corset”), and a grand time was had by all.
As for the Triffid Ranch, having an event at the end of March is problematic only because so many famous carnivorous plants are just starting to emerge from their winter dormancy. Last February’s weeklong deep-freeze exacerbated that dormancy: Venus flytraps and threadleaf sundews are just starting to wake up, and Sarracenia pitcher plants that normally would be opening blooms by the end of March are only now starting to extend bloom spikes, and most will probably still have fresh blooms by the beginning of May. This mattered not a bit to the Oddities & Curiosities crowd: they were just glad to be able to see carnivorous plants up close and personal.
To be continued…
As a general rule in North Texas, if you’ve reached March 17, you’ve survived winter. That’s not in a literal understanding of the vernal equinox, of course: Texas weather can be so variable and so randomly violent that we still stand a chance of seeing ice and snow storms all the way to the first official day of spring, and very occasionally past that. For any purveyor of carnivorous plants, this is more than a philosophical discussion: two days of subfreezing weather right at the end of winter can delay temperate carnivores’ emergence from winter dormancy by as much as a month. By St. Patrick’s Day, though, it’s reasonable to settle down, take a big breath, and exhale for the next hour, knowing that no matter how bad the upcoming summer may be, we probably aren’t seeing significantly cold weather (best defined as “all non-hail water that hurts when it hits you in the face”) in the calendar year until at least the end of November.
As another general rule, the time between Oppressive Cold and Oppressive Heat in North Texas runs short, so every spring and fall is a microcosm of the Ray Bradbury short story “Frost & Fire,” and we tend to spend both seasons as if we only live for eight days. The last year of lockdown concentrated this drive to get out, and thus we open the curtain on the Boho Market traveling arts show at Klyde Warren Park in downtown Dallas.
As the opening of the 2021 Triffid Ranch show season, this definitely had its moments. The weather was absolutely stunning, even for the middle of March, with a light breeze instead of the usual blasting south wind. Even better, it kept up from dawn until the end of the show in mid-afternoon. If weather like this is a constant through April and May, this is going to be a spectacular show season.
From here on in, the weekends get lively: the next Triffid Ranch event is at the Dallas Oddities & Curiosities Expo show at Fair Park on March 27, running from 10:00 am to 6:00 pm.(Get your tickets online right now: the Expo will NOT have any tickets available the day of the show for health reasons.) The Saturday after that is the big Spring Slasher Camp outdoor show at Frightmare Collectibles in Justin, running from 11:00 am to 9:00 pm, and then we start the 2021 Triffid Ranch Porch Sales on Sunday, April 11. Whatever else happens around here, it definitely won’t be dull.
If any one good thing came out of the kidney stone of a year that was 2020, it’s discovering that that increasing the number of Triffid Ranch events in a month doesn’t “dilute the brand” or similar MBAspeak. If anything, the sheer enthusiasm of new visitors to being able to come in and roll around in the plants for a while was intoxicating, and I suspect that the enthusiasm will only increase as immunization levels increase and people feel safe about attending events again. We aim to please at this: the rest of March and most of April will be packed solid.
As far as upcoming indoor shows are concerned, the regret is that they won’t be happening through the rest of March. That’s because the Texas Triffid Ranch hits the road over the next three weekends: March 20 starts off with a show at Klyde Warren Park in downtown Dallas from 10:00 to 4:00 pm, followed by the big Dallas Oddities & Curiosities Expo show at Fair Park on March 27 from 10:00 to 6:00, and then by a trip out west to Justin, Texas for the Frightmare Collectibles outdoor event on April 3 from 11:00 to 9:00. After that, because of a long weekend with the Plano Music & Arts Festival on April 17 and 18, the timing for the big Manchester United Flower Show at the gallery depends upon how badly the big ice storm in February put everything into extended winter dormancy. Right now, based on what I’m seeing in the Sarracenia pools, it may have to be spread out between Sunday, April 11 and Sunday, April 25, just so everyone can see the range of blooms within plants. As always, keep checking back to verify, because as we know from last year, all sorts of things can happen.
In conclusion, many thanks to everyone who came out Sunday, especially the people with understandable anxiety about leaving their residences and risking going out. Your faith in us is incredibly appreciated, and we’ll keep working our best to make a Triffid Ranch open house as safe as possible. Heck, thanks to you, the gallery is the cleanest it’s been since it opened in its current location, and that’s something that needs to continue.
Naturally, any discussion on Triffid Ranch events over the next three months is obsolete the moment it’s published, but 2021 is determined. The original plan was to start outdoor events at the beginning of April, and then I got a notice of acceptance for the Boho Market at Dallas’s Klyde Warren Park on March 20. That’s running from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm, and if the weather holds for this time of the year, it’ll be yet another reason to visit one of Dallas’s most interesting parks and see what’s going on in downtown on a Saturday. (This has personal significance: 25 years ago, I lived in downtown Dallas when the sidewalks rolled up at 5:00 pm every weekday, the last bookstore in downtown shut down the week my ex and I moved in, and you couldn’t even get a newspaper in downtown on a Sunday. A quarter-century later, and the change in downtown Dallas since then is a delightful shock, and I’m proud to assist with helping to make a place to go to and not a place to go from.)
And in other developments, the fates of Texas Frightmare Weekend and the Deep Ellum Arts Festival keep intertwining and catching my nose hairs in the loom. Both the Deep Ellum Arts Festival and TFW were cancelled and rescheduled due to COVID-19, and shortly after getting into the reserve list for the Arts Festival, the Arts Festival was rescheduled…for the weekend of September 10, the same weekend as Texas Frightmare Weekend. Since carnivorous plants and the Heisenberg Principle don’t mesh, this means picking one or the other, and the Triffid Ranch booth has been a stalwart at Texas Frightmare Weekend since 2009. The good news is that I’ve asked my application to be considered for the April 2022 Deep Ellum Arts Festival, so now it’s a matter of waiting. At least that gives plenty of time to work out a new tent arrangement for next year: I have IDEAS.
Finally, the post-COVID plan for the next couple of years was to reestablish the plan to take the Triffid Ranch outside of Texas, at least for a few days at a time. Last year, the plan was to crash New Orleans for the Oddities & Curiosities Expo. For 2022? Chicago in September for WorldCon. This may consist solely of bringing enclosures for the art exhibition and volunteering for lectures and presentations, but they’ll be much more welcomed than my presence at a WorldCon 20 years ago. (For most of my long-dead writing career, the general sensation of being invited to speak at a WorldCon was best described as “How Anton LaVey felt the last time he was invited to the Pope’s bat mitzvah.”) It’s either this or the IGS garden center show, and it’s a tough call as to which one would appreciate my dressing up as Freeman Lowell more. After all, we have to keep up appearances.
As always, the current lineup for Triffid Ranch events is up and online: at the rate things are going, the planned Porch Sales may not happen for a while. This isn’t a bad thing, and this Sunday’s Carnivorous Plant Tour is still going. For those who can’t make it, the Thursday evening Twitch feeds are becoming a regular thing (with plans for regular Saturday feeds as well), and they’re going to get very interesting as all of the temperate carnivores start to wake up. Catch you then, whichever one you choose.
As it turns out, the 2021 season begins the way the 2020 season ended: with a LOT of activity. We’re still seeing reschedulings, rearrangements, and a lot of “do we risk waiting another week in the hopes that the show can run?”, but a combination of mask discipline and ongoing COVID-19 vaccinations gives hope that we’ll see the bare beginnings of an outdoor show season through the rest of this year. That’s about all we can do right now, but at least we can start talking about having events again.
To begin, no matter what else happens, last year’s outdoor Porch Sales were so popular that they’ll start up again in 2021, as soon as the outdoor carnivores such as the Venus flytraps start waking up from their winter dormancy. Whether they’re an every-Sunday thing honestly depends upon the show schedule, but they’ll definitely run every weekend that we’re not at a show, and as things become safer, we’ll also move them inside the gallery if there’s risk of bad weather. During the summer, we’ll probably alternate between holding them inside and outside, just because an indoor show can run much later in the afternoon without everyone bursting into flame. Either way, the outdoor shows will continue until the beginning of November, and then everything HAS to move back indoors.
To start out the season, we’re going to stick to home for the first event: the next Triffid Ranch Carnivorous Plant Show, in conjunction with Caroline Crawford Originals jewelry, greets the beginning of Daylight Savings Time by opening the doors from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm on March 14. As always, admission is free, and masks are mandatory.
The first away-from-the-gallery Triffid Ranch event of 2021, though, will be with an old friend: the Dallas Oddities & Curiosities Expo runs in Fair Park on Saturday, March 27 from 10:00 am to 6:00 pm. Admission is $10, and please note that tickets must be purchased in advance, as no tickets will be sold at the door. Also note that the Oddities & Curiosities crew will be VERY vigilant about mask discipline, and both vendors and attendees have to keep them up over the nose or find themselves evicted from the show with no refund.
The week after, it’s time to fire up with another old friend, this time in a new location. If you haven’t heard already, Texas Frightmare Weekend, one of the largest horror conventions on the planet and a Triffid Ranch favorite since 2009, just had to reschedule its 2021 show from the beginning of May to the beginning of September, but founders Loyd and Sue Cryer tested the possibility of outdoor shows at their Frightmare Collectibles location, and we’re on for their first outdoor show on April 3. (Purely coincidentally, that weekend coincides with the 39th anniversary both with my getting the distinctive scar on my forehead, from a sheet of plywood caught in a dust storm, and my watching my first midnight movie, so I choose to look at it as auspicious.) The Frightmare Collectibles show runs from 11:00 am to 9;00 pm: admission is free, masks are mandatory, and bring lots of cash because we’ll be just two of many vendors with items you won’t find anywhere else. (At the very least, for those who appreciate barbecue, the artist at last November’s outdoor event deserves that title, and I know exactly where all of my money is going even if nobody else is hungry.)
(Incidentally, May 5 is the first International Carnivorous Plant Day, with events and activities all over the world, and as a proud member of the International Carnivorous Plant Society, naturally the Triffid Ranch plans to join in. We’re tentatively planning another Frightmare Collectibles outdoor event on May 1, the weekend for which Texas Frightmare Weekend was originally scheduled, and we’re planning additional activities for the weekends before and after May 5. As for the 5th itself, it’s time to pivot to video, with details to follow.)
After that, the Porch Sales start back up, with one significant exception. The Plano Art & Music Festival kindly invited the Triffid Ranch as a new artist exhibitor, so the plants get a much larger audience on April 17 and 18, running from 11:00 am to 9:00 pm each day. Admission is $10, parking is free, and masks are mandatory. If this one goes well, the festival repeats in October, so it might become a regular addition to the show schedule.
Finally, various developments make running regular gallery events much easier than in the past, but mostly on Sundays. That said, we’re very tentatively going to try a Saturday event toward the end of April for those unable to attend on Sundays, specifically for a revival of the Manchester United Flower Show. Expect details in April: right now, everything depends upon the weather, whether or not we have another last-minute freeze or snowstorm, and whether the plants plan to cooperate.
Oh, and one last thing for those who can’t make it to the gallery for any number of reasons. Starting this week, the old Triffid Ranch Twitch channel was dusted off and used for live video, with plans to conduct new videos every Thursday evening (around 8:00 Central Time) and additional videos on Saturday afternoons, so feel free to join in whenever it’s live. It’s also time for more YouTube videos, with channels including debuts of new enclosures and plants, so if you can’t watch videos on one, there’s always room on the other. Yeah, it’s going to be a very busy spring.
Back in the beginning of 1972, almost the whole of the state of Michigan was hit with subsequent ice storms that shut down significant portions of the state. What was odd was that they kept hitting hard enough to cut power and phone service, at the same time every day for most of a week. Kids were back home from school, most adults were home from work, and just as everyone made plans to sit down for dinner and listen to the wind raging on the other side of the windows, everything went dark. Again. Those with fireplaces made sure after two days of this to have the fire lit and ready to go, and those who didn’t, including my father, made plans to put one in as soon as possible. Being just short of six, my biggest concern at the time was our 9-inch black-and-white television and its ability to keep up its main job as cultural center during the blackouts, and the storms had the preternatural ability of cutting power right at the same moment that our NBC affiliate started running its regular afternoon rerun of Star Trek. In fact, that issue became so pronounced that by the end, the station manager of that TV station came on to announce that he and his crew had done everything they could to keep broadcasting but the storms had defeated them, and he was on the air just to let his viewership know that they were going to try one more time. Maybe it’s southern Michigan and maybe it’s a week of horrendous storms that left everything covered with flowing ice, but I’m pretty sure that the cheers in that little house when the end credits ran were multiplied across the greater Lansing/Jackson/Flint area.
After the last two weeks, I know exactly how that station manager felt. Come to think of it, I think I’m the same age he was at that time.
Anyway, this is a roundabout way of noting that now that the Dallas area is going back to its presumably normal weather, and we’re reasonably sure not to get another week of Last Week until the end of November, the February Multi-Holiday Carnivorous Plant Tour scheduled for February 14 is still on for February 28. Okay, so Valentine’s Day, the beginning of Chinese New Year, and Fat Tuesday are over and done, but last week hit the reset button, and my birthday is still on for February 30. Besides, it’s time to debut several new enclosures, and this will be one of the last indoor tours before we start outdoor shows in April, so we welcome you to give it another shot. The current weather forecast predicts rain for the whole weekend, but we can do rain. Let’s hope we don’t have to do this level of snow and ice for a long, long time.
And now we’re in the thick of the holiday season. The good news is that the gallery is no longer in a shopping mall, and the better news is that a combination of considerate patrons and a vastly updated air circulation system means that the current gallery is much safer for indoor events than the old one was. (Well, that and the decided lack of asbestos.) The original plan was for one Plant Tour on Saturday the 28th, where upon finishing, I’d catch a plane for Philadelphia for training for a new day job, and then come back on December 11 for the next show. For obvious reasons, the flight has been delayed and I’m staying in Dallas, so we performed a rarity: being in Dallas and open on both Small Business Saturday and Artist Sunday. It worked out well.
In between Sunday plant tours, things are going to get awfully interesting this month. December will debut several new enclosures, including one that has been on the back burner for years, and expect to see Triffid Ranch enclosures in places you wouldn’t otherwise have guessed. There may even be an outside event in December: the details will be shared as they’re available. Just know that as opposed to most Dallas holiday events, this one will be free of Christmas music, aside from the obvious anthem.
Due to the gallery being reserved for a private function, the Carnivorous Plant Tours are taking a break on December 6, but will return for December 13, 20, and 27. (You need to find something to fill the gap left by the tree, right?) Now time to get back to work and make more.
And so, almost exactly six months after they started, the Sunday morning Triffid Ranch carnivorous plant porch sales come to an end. What started out as an experiment to fill time newly opened due to the implosion of 2020 scheduled shows turned into a regular event, full of people both local and just passing through, but even the enthusiasm of crowds can’t fend off Dallas weather. Besides, the Venus flytraps, North American pitcher plants, and temperate sundews all need to go dormant for the winter, and while freezing or subfreezing temperatures in Dallas are extremely unlikely for at least the next month, the plants don’t know this, and they need their sleep.