Tag Archives: things to do in Dallas when you’re dead

The Aftermath: Deep Ellum Creative Market – 2

One of the biggest issues with doing Triffid Ranch shows outside involves wind. After all, North Texas is noted for its winds, and both the big windstorm that hit Dallas last June and the tornadoes that hit us in October arrived shortly after I’d broken down after events, either earlier that day or the night before. (With the June show in Garland, not only would the storm have blown everything to Oz or at least Nehwon, but the tree shading my booth also shed the big branch previously hanging directly overhead.)

In the case of the Deep Ellum Creative Market, the tradition continued: subfreezing temperatures and a serious threat of snow, but those only came after everything had been packed up and carted home. Before that, though, for a weekend with an inordinate number of events in the Dallas area, including a major Cowboys football game, the crowd coming through was both numerous and enthusiastic.

For a first-time show, the Creative Market ran very well, and its only issues were due to its youth. If things go well and it runs next year, expect to see the Triffid Ranch out there in a prominent location.

The Aftermath: Deep Ellum Creative Market 2019 – 1

When doing outdoor shows, it’s best to go out on a high note. Rain would have been bad enough, but last Monday came with the sort of subfreezing temperatures and brutal north winds that usually hit Dallas around the beginning of January. The weekend of the Deep Ellum Creative Market, though, was clear, sunny, and warm, and you couldn’t have asked for better weather for the last outdoor show of the year.

For those outside Dallas, the Deep Ellum area east of downtown started with a reputation for great blues musicians in the 1920s and 1930s, and then fell into decline as an industrial area until 1984, when the famed Russell Hobbs opened the sadly-long-defunct Theater Gallery in 1984. The resultant explosion of clubs and arts galleries led to official city pushback (especially when the sole news coverage for the area came via business interests with money tied up in the Lower Greenville and West End adult amusement parks), leading to a regular series of booms and busts and expansions. The latest boom coincides with the construction of highrise apartment buildings through the area, but there are still plenty of people who remember little outstanding venues such as Club Clearview and Another Roadside Attraction, world-famous murals by local artists Mosquito and Trippy Thompson (both former neighbors of mine when I lived in nearby Exposition Park in the early Nineties), and a young jewelry artist famed for selling necklaces and bracelets out of a guitar case.

(With the last, I first met that jewelry artist in a then-vacant field in 1990 as she sat next to a trio of other vendors. My girlfriend at the time was immediately jealous of her: and so she should have been, seeing as how 29 years later, we’ve been married for the better part of two decades.)

The idea behind the Deep Ellum Creative Market was a celebration of those kind of connections. Unlike the much larger Deep Ellum Art Fest, which begrudgingly gives tent space to local artists from time to time, the main requirement for admission into the Creative Market was an actual connection to the area, or at least more of one than “I threw up in a urinal at Club Dada once.” Since the first-ever Triffid Ranch booth was at the long-forgotten Deep Ellum Sellem in 2006, I had more bona fides than merely marrying a local fixture. Therefore, after much wrangling, about 50 other vendors and I set up tents on a cool Saturday morning and put out our wares to a lively audience of residents and pedestrians.

To be continued…

State of the Gallery: October 2019

And so we come to the end of the 2019 carnivorous plant growing season. (Cue the national anthem.) The cold front that whipped through the Dallas area early Halloween morning saw to that: right now, the Venus flytraps and Sarracenia pitcher plants are already preparing for winter dormancy, and a few days of warmer temperatures in November won’t stop their normal progression thanks to shorter days and longer, cooler nights. Even in the gallery, it’s time to switch to winter hours: all of the timers need to be reset anyway due to the end of Daylight Savings Time, so they’re all being set for about ten hours of light per day so they get a good rest, too. (In March, when the indoor and outdoor photoperiods go back to longer days, we’ll all be glad of it, as the blooming response should be phenomenal, especially with the sundews and bladderworts.) The flytraps and Sarracenia are the big ones to worry about, though: if they don’t get a proper dormancy, they’ll eventually wear out and die, and our freezing temperatures at Halloween just bumped their naptime ahead by about three weeks.

Now, you’d think that with the arrival of dormancy season, everything would shut down over at the gallery. Anything but. The only time this place will be more busy than in November and December will be in January and February. The show schedule definitely doesn’t let up in November: there’s the Deep Ellum Creative Market in Dallas the weekend of November 9 and the Blood Over Texas Horror for the Holidays show in Austin on November 23 and 24. The real fun, as it has for the last four years, starts the first Saturday after American Thanksgiving, with the Nightmare Weekends Before Christmas gallery open houses starting on November 30 and continuing through December 7, 14, and 21. (November 30 and December 1 are doubly auspicious, as these mark the fortieth anniversary of my first moving to Texas and meeting my best friend Paul Mears for the first time, respectively. For four decades, he’s referred to December as “a day that will live forever in infamy” on a personal level, and, well, he’s not wrong about that assessment.) After that, it’s a matter of spending January and February constructing new enclosures, working out the logistics on new shows, and generally getting everything ready for when the flytraps and Sarracenia wake up again.

And speaking of new shows, news that’s had to be held in confidence since the end of August: the Triffid Ranch has three new shows in 2020 through the Oddities & Curiosities Expo folks. Besides the Dallas show on March 28 and the Austin show on June 20, it’s time to hop state borders and bring the Triffid Ranch to New Orleans on August 29. The New Orleans show is going to be the biggest test of event logistics yet: if this works out and I kill neither myself nor plants, then it’s time to try spreading the wealth to new cities outside of Texas. If it doesn’t, at least I’ll have the opportunity to visit with old and dear friends, including many whom I haven’t seen in person since the late, lamented Exoticons imploded at the end of 2000. Win/win. (The date on the Austin show is particularly auspicious, even if it means heading right back out after returning from the Houston Horror Film Festival the weekend before. 2019’s show was impressive but not as packed as 2018, a factor commonly attributed both to the soul-withering heat of Central Texas in mid-August and to classes at the University of Texas starting up the next week. June is much better: as with Dallas, it might even mean that we get a bit of rain that weekend before the summer blast furnace starts in earnest in July.)

Other than that, it’s back to commissions and new enclosures to replace those sold over the summer: keep checking back for new enclosure details. Among many other things, 2019 is the year that I finally enter enclosure photos for the Spectrum Awards. (I know I have no chance in hell of winning an award, but getting stomped and pantsed by the best artists in the field of fantastic art is also an inducement to keep working toward winning.) In addition, keep an eye open for some extra backstory on new and old enclosures: no more details until it’s done, but those familiar with the works of Harlan Ellison may recognize the concept.

As always, the gallery endures: for those coming in late, it’s open by appointment or at regular open houses. If you have particular demands for custom enclosures intended as holiday gifts, get your appointment in NOW. By the time the Nightmare Weekends start, getting additional commissions may be problematic before the middle of January.

The Aftermath: Oak Cliff Gardeners Halloween Party at the Texas Theatre 2019

For all of my efforts to encourage friends and cohorts to come to Dallas for entertainment options (and something other than the greatest documentary about 1980s-era Dallas ever made), I am ashamed to admit that until two weeks ago, I had never been to the famed Texas Theatre in Oak Cliff. Long a focus for JFK assassination buffs, the Texas is also a perfect venue for all sorts of gonzo film, as I discovered when Caroline , our friend Jon Feldman, and I drove out to see Memory: The Origins of Alien about two weeks ago. The theater is almost exactly on the opposite side of Dallas from the gallery, but you know what? When the much-hyped alternative hasn’t played an alternative film in a decade, and seems to think that a healthy midnight movie selection consists of incessant repeat showings of The Goonies, the drive is worth it.

Being invited to a movie theater to show plants isn’t new, but doing so for the Oak Cliff Gardeners Group was definitely a first, particularly since the group was combining an afternoon showing of Little Shop of Horrors (musical with happy ending) with a Halloween costume competition. Oh, and did I mention that the theater has an exceptional bar offering a show special of grasshoppers? And did I mention that one of the costume competition prizes was offered by Byron and Jiri, the two owners of the outstanding goth club Panoptikon? Yeah, it was that much fun.

Combine all of this with the Texas Theatre being the one movie theater in Dallas selling copies of the newly revived Horror magazine Fangoria, and this little albino duck is a fan for life. There WILL be other events over here if I have any say in the matter.

The Aftermath: Carnivorous Plant Workshop 2019(2) at Curious Garden

Some people ask why I do so many carnivorous plant workshops at Curious Garden near White Rock Lake in Dallas. A lot of reasons present themselves: Curious Garden is the sort of store I’d want to run myself if the carnivores didn’t rule my life. Its clientele consists of the same sort of people I welcome with open arms at the gallery. It’s a short distance from the gallery. I have a lot of fun reassuring participants that many carnivores are easy to raise, and they shouldn’t be afraid to delve into carnivore culture just because that half-dead Venus flytrap purchased for them when they were five didn’t make it. All of these are valid, but that’s not the real reason.

No, the real reason I drop everything when co-owner Jason Cohen asks “Do you want to do another workshop?” is because of a decades-long debt. Nearly 30 years ago, Jason was my neighbor when we both lived in Exposition Park near Dallas’s Fair Park, and he also had to deal with me when he started a coffeeshop/bookstore in Expo Park in 1992. Since I was considerably less cultured and sedate than I am today, the current efforts are to thank him for not drowning me in the gutter out front when he had the chance. (Let’s put it this way: back then, I was chugging ginseng soda in order to mellow out and focus. You’d contemplate suffocation via gutter slime, too. I extend the same considerations to three ex-girlfriends for the same reasons.)

This time around, the emphasis was on extra-easy, so everyone went through step-by-step in learning how to set up a spoonleaf sundew (Datura spatulata) enclosure and the whys of each component. Right now, Jason and I are making plans, probably in January, for a more advanced class involving Nepenthes hybrids, and details will be available soon. After all, I still have a longstanding debt to repay.

State of the Gallery: September 2019

95 days left until the end of calendar year 2019, and the gallery thrives. If you haven’t checked out the Triffid Ranch account on Instagram, you’re missing out on the spectacle that is “Mandatory Simon,” in which my walking brisket of a cat attempts to be as famous as Curious Zelda, but everything else over here can be explained via text. And a lot there is.

To start, October is going to be a very, VERY busy month, and not just because of the vague promise of cooler weather starting around October 5. The celebration of surviving another endless summer starts on October 12, where we offer an alternative to the standard Texas/OU weekend festivities of filling the streets with bodily fluids with the Texas Triffid Ranch Autumn Extravaganza and Open House at the gallery. Not only are the Sarracenia threatening to take over the planet this year (a change of pace, because the Nepenthes had made it THEIR year for a while), but this comes with the debut of several new never-before-seen enclosures and the official debut of others. This will be the last open house until the beginning of the Nightmare Weekends Before Christmas starting December 7, so it’s either here or you’re traveling.

(As an aside to those having attended previous open houses, an apology and a restitution. Discussions have been undertaken with the property management about the church at the other end of the block and its taking up all available parking on weekends for their drunken parties, er, “prayer meetings,” so we now have permission to reserve parking spaces specifically for the gallery during special events such as this. Right now, we can’t reserve more than three spaces, but at least this is a start.)

Actually, I fib, because this won’t be the first Triffid Ranch event in October. The first was just resolved today, with a guest collection of carnivores on display at the Spooky Science On Tap social event at the Fort Worth Museum of Science & History on October 11. As with the Perot Museum in Dallas, any excuse to go to the Fort Worth Museum is a good one, if only for opportunities to pose in front of the life-sized Acrocanthosaurus model in the front of the museum, so make sure to get there early before traffic gets entertaining.

Not like things slow down the next weekend, either. October 19 marks a return to Curious Garden near White Rock Lake in Dallas for an encore of last spring’s carnivorous plant workshop. The last workshop kinda grew from its expected size in a matter of days before the event, and we discovered that the most we could do was two workshops of 20 people at a time. Since reservations in the workshop have to be made with Curious Garden, with no walk-ins accepted, this means you have to get in now if you want to reserve a space. (And yes, we’re planning more workshops. Don’t panic.)

After doing two workshops, it’s time for a rest, right? Oh, that’s adorable. After getting back to the gallery on Saturday, the next Sunday goes to a booth space in the famed Texas Theater in Oak Cliff for the Oak Cliff Movie & Gardeners Party, as a complement to a screening of Little Shop of Horrors on October 20. It’ll be a short show, but a nice change of pace and a good excuse to come out to Oak Cliff. After THAT, though, it’s time for a nap.

In a perfect world, Halloween would fall on a Saturday, so we could throw another open house that day and finish off October the way it was meant to be. The good news is that this perfect world starts next year thanks to our impending February 29 (the day before my birthday on February 30), but we’ll have to make do in 2019. The good side to that the Massacre on Division Street Dark Art Festival in Arlington fills the gap October 26 quite nicely, and the Triffid Ranch will be just one of a plethora of artists for this show. This works out well: we have to do SOMEthing with six months until the next Texas Frightmare Weekend. This is also on the recommendation of a local arts critic whose opinion I take seriously: after the holidays, the number of art shows in Dallas containing a custom enclosure is going to go through the roof.

Finally, I can’t talk about particulars until the official announcement, but if you haven’t been to the Shows, Lectures, and Other Events page in a while, you’ll probably be surprised at the number of outside-of-Dallas shows scheduled for 2020. Going with Nosferatu Festival in Austin and the Houston Horror Film Festival, get ready for several new shows to be revealed on October 31, including the Triffid Ranch’s first show outside of Texas. 2020 will also be the year for a return to the NARBC reptile show in Arlington: that show runs twice a year, so expect a Triffid Ranch booth in September and hope for one in February. Suffice to say, 2020 is also the year to expect an official Triffid Ranch van, because after a decade, it’s finally more practical to buy a van than to keep renting them. And so it begins.

The Aftermath: DFWS FIRST Thrift Convention – 2

One of the more interesting aspects of the recent DFWS FIRST Thrift Convention was watching the culmination of a sea change I’ve observed with shows of this sort for the last decade. The old perceptions of flea markets and thrift fairs are falling apart: why would anyone with access to a smartphone put up with a surly vendor with a pile of broken or heavily worn items at “you won’t find it anywhere else” prices? (I submit that this is a major factor in the ongoing implosion of literary science fiction conventions, too, but that’s a different dangerous vision.) Successful vendors in this new world are engaging vendors, and attendees notice and respond to naked enthusiasm. At this show, a small subset complained loudly about how the word “thrift” was misleading, as there weren’t any spectacular discounts they could steal away and sell on eBay. They were overwhelmed by a very large crowd that was willing to pay an admission fee for an experience, and boy howdy did they get one. The venue itself was a little small, but a lot of intriguing vendors, carrying items that attendees didn’t know they wanted until they saw them, didn’t mind in the slightest.

To be continued…

The Aftermath: DFWS FIRST Thrift Convention -1

I won’t lie: every vendor at any show, despite the evidence, has a little voice running in the background whispering “You KNOW, you could just go back, put everything up, and go back to bed.” That voice picks up on every minor aggravation and misgiving, from the torrential rain and literally flooded-out streets on the way to a venue to the one fellow vendor who blocks off the only ramp from the parking lit to the venue sidewalk with his car and refuses to move, and pushes that one last nerve. One of the biggest secrets to selling at shows, conventions, and events is to grab that voice by the throat, shove it head-first into a 55-gallon drum, pour concrete into the drum, and then shove that drum into the nearest lake. That won’t kill it, but it’ll slow it down for a while.


For instance, the morning of the DFWS FIRST Thrift Convention, sponsored and run by Thrifty Pirate Vintage Retro, the whole of the Dallas area was inundated by a seemingly never-ending wave of thunderstorms. With most shows, morning thunderstorms, especially in summer, are a moodkiller, and combining that with it being a first-time show, the odds weren’t good. Some people, vendors and customers both, would turn around and go back home, grumbling all the way. The professional response, though, is to try to make things work: the fact that almost everyone else felt the same way was why the Thrift Convention had the most enthusiastic response to a first-time one-day show that I’ve seen in years.

Among other joys: the very enthusiastic response to the Larry Carey Triffid Ranch poster almost made me regret Larry wanting to update it, but only just. (As a reminder, even though the poster and shirt design are changing, the Shirt Price discount still applies to the old shirts, for as long as they’re wearable. In fact, if you have designs on making old shirts into more fashion-forward attire, run with it. The discount still applies.)

To be continued…

State of the Gallery: August 2019

Seven months of 2019 down and dead, and five to go. We just might get to the end of the Twenty-Teens in one piece after all. Of course, I also said that at the beginning of August 1989, and we saw how THAT turned out. (Don’t even bring up August 2009: there’s nothing quite like having to go in for a CT scan of a lung “anomaly” on your birthday, that turned out $900 after deductible later to be pneumonia scarring that had been on record since 1982.)  As is our wont, it’s time to discuss the gallery and how things are progressing, and pass on interesting news that might come in handy to others.

To begin, those who haven’t been by to visit the Event Calendar in a while are going to be extremely surprised, as 2019 is the Triffid Ranch’s busiest year yet. This includes signing up for a lot of new shows, such as the Massacre on Division Street Dark Art Festival in Arlington on Halloween weekend and the Deep Ellum Creative Market at the beginning of November. (Yet another reason for staying in Texas: the first real cold day usually hits by the end of November: the beginning of November might be exceedingly windy, but it’s usually really nice, especially for those cooped up inside all summer long.) The big news, though, is that the promised expansion of Triffid Ranch shows outside of the Dallas/Fort Worth/Denton triangle worked out better than expected, with multiple shows in Austin and now the Houston Horror Film Festival next June. I’m not quite ready for Brownsville or Corpus Christi because of the drive (Brownsville is nearly eight hours away from Dallas on a good day), and the Texas Panhandle is still terra incognita, but it’s a start. This is in addition to showings in other galleries throughout the state, but that’s also something that’s on the agenda.

August is another reason for celebration other than the Halloween decorations and displays in the local Michael’s stores: it’s hard to believe that we’re coming up on the second anniversary of the soft opening of the current gallery and the fourth anniversary of the original opening at Valley View Center. Naturally, that means having another open house on August 24, right after coming back from the Oddities & Curiosities Expo in Austin on August 17. The plan is to debut several new enclosures on the 24th, which is a bit necessary: between purchases of existing enclosures and commissions, it’s getting a touch bare out here. We should all have such issues.

Anyway, it’s back to the linen mines: tomorrow’s DFW First Thrift Convention in North Richland Hills starts off the month, and there’s still a lot to do before the doors open at 10:00. See you then.

The Aftermath: Curious Garden Carnivorous Plant Workshop – July 2019

The location: Curious Garden, run by Jason Cohen, a former neighbor when we both lived in Exposition Park in Dallas in the early 1990s.

The project: A carnivorous plant workshop, dedicated both to sharing information on carnivorous plants and to walking everyone through the construction and planting of their personal spoonleaf sundew (Drosera spatulata) enclosure.

The turnout: This was the workshop that kept growing, from one workshop of about 15 participants to two workshops of 20 each, and we very easily could have filled a third if we’d had the resources.

The response: Sometimes the best way to learn is to get hands-on experience instead of just taking notes at a lecture, so the whole enclosure process was set up to explain not just the how but the why of every layer and addition. Several attendees admitted that they had been too worried about getting into carnivorous plants before the workshop, so I now look forward to seeing their own contributions to carnivorous plant horticulture. (It may be time to talk to friends about setting up meetups for a local branch of the International Carnivorous Plant Society, because the number of Dallas and Fort Worth enthusiasts is hitting critical mass.)

The aftermath: After the second workshop, we still had more people stopping by to ask about the next one, so Jason and I are working out the details right now. Right now, we’re shooting for either August 31 or sometime in October. Look for details in the very near future.

State of the Gallery: July 2019

 39 years ago this month, what was later known as the Heat Wave of 1980 kicked into overdrive across Texas, and kept going until the end of September. Considering that was my first summer significantly below the 45th Parallel (and having just survived the Chicago Blizzard of 1979 18 months earlier), that was the first and last year I could complain about not knowing about the heat. Longtime residents have three ways to deal with July and August in Dallas. The sanest is to find a very deep and thick-walled shelter and sleep in the dark until the rains return. If you don’t feel like impersonating a Gila monster, you have two choices: gather with others who are shocked at torrid Texas summers and whine “It’s HOT” over and over, or make plans to be productive while the Gila monsters are sleeping. The first just means that every public venue sounds like a pterosaur rookery after a while, with people who would complain even more if we got a meter of snow. The latter isn’t always easy, as I learned 39 years ago when delivering copies of the long-dead and much-missed Dallas Times Herald right at the peak of the heat, but it offers at least the promise of fun.

First, though, the preamble. Things got very interesting at the beginning of July, thanks to both a listing for the Triffid Ranch in Atlas Obscura and a slideshow from Samantha Lopez at the Houston Chronicle. The last time this much news coverage hit was at the beginning of the decade, five years before the gallery was even an option, so expect a lot of late nights getting new enclosures ready for the next open house.

Oh, yeah: about that. Because of a surplus of shows and events in August, the next Triffid Ranch open house, celebrating the gallery’s fourth anniversary, is scheduled for Saturday, August 24, from 6:00 pm until whenever everyone goes home. This not only gives time for multiple shows, but maybe enough time for a stem-to-stern revamp and reorg of the gallery space, as it’s about time.

And on the subject of outside shows, We’ve got quite a few lined up over the next few months. The first and most obvious is this weekend’s carnivorous plant workshop at Curious Garden in Dallas on July 20. The response to last year’s open house was so overwhelming that it had to be expanded this year to two classes: the noon to 2:00 class is now full, so everyone agreed that we needed a second one from 2:00 to 4:00 that afternoon. Check with Curious Garden about availability: due to space constraints, we’re limited to 20 participants, so don’t come in without setting up reservations in the hopes of getting a seat.

After that, it’s a weekend off to focus on commissions and renovations, and then we’re heading to the wilds of Hurst for the DFWS FIRST Thrift Convention on August 3. This is predominately a vintage event, but with an indoor venue so people and plants don’t cook, running from 10:00 am to 6:00 pm. As to what will be there…that’s a good question, as this is the first show of its sort. With luck, I’ll have an answer for everyone by August 4, so we can all make plans for the 2020 show.

As promised last year, 2019 and 2020 are years intending to move Triffid Ranch shows outside of the Dallas area, and August 17 is the date for one of the big ones. Based on last March’s response to the Dallas show, and the sheer number of friends and customers in Austin, Houston, and San Antonio who don’t want to have to haul themselves up to Dallas to say hello, it’s time to hit the Travis County Expo Center for the latest Oddities & Curiosities Expo in Austin. It’s only a one-day show, but considering the crowds that wrapped around the building at the Dallas show, make sure to show up early and stay hydrated.

Finally, it’s been a long while since the last time a Triffid Ranch show was in Fort Worth, and the good news is that the first show in September will be indoors and away from the last of the summer heat. Even better, for those of us who survive the end of August and beginning of September by viewing Halloween decorations for sale at the local Michael’s store, this is for the Spooky Spectacle horror convention at the Will Rogers Center the weekend of September 14.(Sadly, this coincides with the NARBC reptile show in Arlington, but that’s why the NARBC runs twice per year. Right now, it’s very possible that the first Triffid Ranch show of 2020 will be at the February NARBC, because it’s been entirely too long since the last time.)

Well, enough of this. Time to get back to the linen mines: the only way these shows and events are going to happen is if the hard work is complete by the time they start. See you then.

The Aftermath: Triffid Ranch Open House -June 2019

Three shows in three weeks, a weekend off for gallery maintenance, and then an open house to celebrate the end of June. Never mind that the “weekend off” combined a dead air conditioner in the house with a particularly pernicious bout of summer bronchitis, making any work that weekend other than slow suffocation impossible. It all still worked out, with even larger and more diverse crowds at the June open house than ever before. Combine this with the debut of two new commissioned enclosures and a whole load of very happy Cape sundews and Nepenthes ventrata pitcher plants, and everyone went home happy. Even the now-expected cloudburst was reasonably light and brief.

As for plans for July, this is a month to concentrate on getting through August, focusing mostly on a new commission that should be finished around the time of the Curious Garden carnivorous plant workshop on July 20. After that. It’s shows on August 3 and August 17, and then our fourth anniversary open house on August 24. We have a lot to celebrate then, so schedule your time accordingly.

The Aftermath: 500x Gallery Hot & Sweaty 2019

All is said and done. The Hot & Sweaty 2019 open show at the 500x Gallery was a success on two levels. Firstly, the very enthusiastic response to the two enclosures put on display, particularly during the show opening, suggests that a deep dive into research on science art shows and exhibitions is something that needs to be done this summer. At the very least, the Hot & Sweaty proved that carnivore enclosures on display need two cards: one on the construction, and one on the natural history of the plant on display. I’m not ready to manage or curate a separate exhibition of science and engineering art, but it may be time to track down somebody who is.

And the other level? Something about the 500x was very encouraging to both of the plants on display. I’m used to Nepenthes ampullaria going through sudden growth spurts with little to no warning, but the Cephalotus pitchers on display in Antarctica in Decline just exploded. I don’t know if it was due to additional light in the new gallery, increased carbon dioxide, or the simple fact that Cephalotus are attention hounds and simply got their fill, but I’m going to have to try this again.

The Aftermath: 500x Gallery Hot & Sweaty 2019 Open Show

After years of little weekend shows and events, the Texas Triffid Ranch has arrived: enclosures exhibiting in an established gallery. The 500x Hot & Sweaty open show, at one of Dallas’s most famous galleries, had a wide variety of submitted art in different media and formats, but I was confident at the beginning that it probably wouldn’t have any science art or science-inspired art. At the Hot & Sweaty opening on June 8, not only did that make the two submitted enclosures unique, but the response suggests a combination of art show and museum exhibition, with either interactive displays or live provosts to explain the science side of displays for those unfamiliar with the background.

Hot & Sweaty 2019 ends on June 23, but don’t let that stop you from coming out during the week and weekend. The 500x is open on Saturday and Sunday from noon to 5:00, and open during the week by appointment. If you’ve wanted to view a Triffid Ranch enclosure but haven’t been able to make an open house, here’s your chance.

State of the Gallery: June 2019

 It’s hard to believe what’s changed with the Triffid Ranch since 2015: it was four years ago this month that wandering through an ArtWalk at Valley View Center meant coming across a freshly vacated space at the dying mall that looked like a perfect place to start a carnivorous plant gallery, and everything snowballed from there. Four years of late nights, early mornings, mad dashes to the space after the Day Job was done, road trips for plants or gear, massive remodelings and rearrangings, and it’s all been worth the effort. The gallery isn’t absolutely perfect (I certainly wouldn’t complain about another 1000 square feet for growing area and a loading dock), but compared to where it started, it’s getting there.

The irony of the situation is that getting word out about the gallery requires leaving it. For all of the noises about online promotion and publicity, people have had nearly a quarter-century to get used to ignoring online ads, and nothing beats getting out for shows and events and letting them see what makes the Triffid Ranch unique. The plan all along was for the gallery to act as a base for shows throughout the area and the state, but who had any idea that things were going to get so busy this year?

As for those shows, things go fast and furious in June. The last Garland Urban Flea in downtown Garland, Texas was flooded out, and the makeup day was held at the same time we were already scheduled for an event in Denton. (Let us not talk about the event in Denton: there’s a big difference between an actual music festival and a gaggle of hipsters who decide “Let’s put on a show!”) The Urban Flea is getting back onto its normal schedule, though, with this month’s event on June 8 from 9:00 to 4:30, right in the middle of downtown Garland. And speaking as a proud resident for the last near-decade, if your sole impressions of Garland come either from passing through in the 1980s or that quip in the movie Zombieland, I think you’ll be nicely surprised. (As always, with any outdoor show, serious weather may delay or shut down the whole thing. The good news is that as of June 4, the Dallas area gets a lot of rain before and after, but Saturday should be absolutely beautiful. As always, though, we’ll see.)

In unorthodox events, right after packing up everything at the Garland Urban Flea, it’s time to head back to old stomping grounds in Dallas’s Exposition Park. The 500x Gallery on Exposition Avenue, on the approach to the north entrance to Fair Park, just celebrated its 40th anniversary, and its Hot & Sweaty show every year is famous for its opening to anybody willing to drag art through the front door at the scheduled times. While the show runs every day from 12 noon to 5:00 until June 24, the opening on June 8 runs from 7:00 to 10:00, meaning that it’s a perfect opportunity to come by and view two sample enclosures for those who haven’t had the opportunity to come by the gallery. Besides, speaking as a resident of Exposition Park in the early 1990s, it’s always good to get back to the neighborhood.

(And the work keeps coming, by the way: after the 500x opening, it’s back to the gallery to finish up a slew of commissioned works, and to allow official Triffid Ranch photographer Allison David to get good photos of the current enclosures for a portfolio going out for the official fourth anniversary in September. To steal from the famed comics artist Matt Howarth, it may stop, but it never ends.)

The weekend after this gets even more interesting, as it’s time to go back to the Swizzle’s Tiki Lounge in Industry Alley Bar just south of downtown Dallas for the Swizzle’s Waipuna Tiki Flea on June 15. Last year’s show was unexpectedly show by comparison, as I was told by organizers and attendees alike, probably due to the cold drizzle running all day and most of the night. This year, there’s  no excuse, weather-wise.

After that, it’s time to take a break for one weekend, if only to mow the lawn and brush the cats. That breath-catching is in order to finish up everything for the next Triffid Ranch open house on June 29 from 6:00 to whenever we kick out the last people. If you’ve been out already, you already know the drill, but for those popping into Dallas for work or fun before the heat really kicks in, this is the time to see the plants in air-conditioned comfort among fellow carnivorous plant enthusiasts.

Oh, and before I forget, one extra bit of good news. One of the many pleasures of this last May’s Texas Frightmare Weekend (and we’re already gearing up for the 2020 show) was running into Bunny Voodoo of Blood Over Texas in Austin, and Bunny had the particulars on this coming November’s Horror For the Holidays show. It’s still running the weekend before Thanksgiving, but because of its increasing number of vendors and attendees, it’s moving from Come and Take It Live to the Travis County Expo Center. That means that Horror for the Holidays runs for both Saturday and Sunday, this year, meaning both that attendees have more flexibility with their schedules and we vendors don’t have to set up and tear down just in one day. This means that you can expect a lot more surprises this November, but you’ll have to wait until then to find out what they are. This also means that the Triffid Ranch is moving further out of Dallas proper: between this and the Oddities & Curiosities Expo in August, this marks two shows per year in Austin, with plans to move to Houston and San Antonio as soon as venues and opportunities allow.

And on the subject of August, the Triffid Ranch will go a little quiet in July, partly because of the heat and partly because of the need for new enclosures after this sort of June. However, it’s going to be busy from the beginning of August all the way to the end of the year, so keep checking the event calendar. It’s going to fill up: mark my words.

The Aftermath: Texas Triffid Ranch Gallery Open House -May 2019

Best-laid plans and all that: after the last few blowout shows, it was time to come back home and let showgoers see the larger enclosures and talk about commissions. No huge new enclosures to debut: this was going to be a quiet open house, with no drama or outside influences. We knew that we might get some rain, but we had no idea how much rain.

Shortly before the open house started, pretty much everything in a line from South Texas to northern Iowa was blasted with a line of thunderstorms that threatened to blast everyone in its path to Oz. (Well, everyone else was hoping for Oz: I had bets on Lankhmar, Imrryr, or Ulthar.) This, of course, followed a four-year tradition of open houses and ArtWalks scheduled months in advance that coincide with flash floods, so we were prepared. Not so much the rest of Dallas: half the city faced blackouts, mostly due to falling or flying trees, and we’re still cleaning up broken beleanches, downed telephone poles (are they still used for telephone lines, I wonder?), and mudflats.

Even with all of that, it was still an enthusiastic turnout, seeing as how we still had power and thus refrigeration and air conditioning. (After a storm of this magnitude, the general air quality in Dallas is best described as “too thick to breathe, too thin for waterskiing.”) Naturally, we welcomed anybody willing to brave subsequent storms, and a grand time was had by all.

With luck, the next open house will be past storm season, although surprises aren’t unheard of. After shows at Punk Palooza in Denton on May 25 and Swizzle’s Waipuna Tiki Flea on June 15, the next open house is officially scheduled for June 29. After that, well, we’ll figure it out if I don’t wake up after the next storm in the gardens of Dhamsawwaat.

The Aftermath: Texas Frightmare Weekend 2019 – Finale

With special shows, it’s all about the preparation. Oh, and the time for the preparation, which is never, ever enough with shows that keep growing every year. At the end of Texas Frightmare Weekend, there’s always a bittersweet tang of not wanting the party to end versus figuring that another two days of this intensity would probably kill us all. Well, Frightmare 2019 is over, done, swept up, and put away, and now it’s time to start getting ready for 2020. Approximately 350 days to go: that just might be enough time, if someone will kindly provide me with a vaccine for sleep. See all of you next year.

Fin.

The Aftermath: Texas Frightmare Weekend 2019 – 8

Some people brag on the cast and crew at Texas Frightmare Weekend. Others want to join. Me, I just do my best to spoil everyone by bringing donuts for everyone on Sunday morning, when the end is in sight and they just need a little boost. It’s the least I can do.

To be continued…

The Aftermath: Texas Frightmare Weekend 2019 – 7

The second question I’m regularly asked, after “So why are you selling plants at a horror convention?”, is “So when is Texas Frightmare Weekend moving to a new venue?” I’m not privy to any discussions as to the future for Frightmare, nor would I presume to have any knowledge one way or another, but what I can share is that the host hotel is undergoing a massive renovation that should be complete in time for the 2020 show. This thrills me for multiple reasons, as I have history with this hotel that goes back a full 30 years this month. Besides being a guest at several conventions at this hotel during my pro writing days in the 1990s, a show in 1989 was where I first met the individual who later introduced me to my wife. To blatantly steal from the comic artist Sam Hurt, it’s not so much a small world that’s folded over a lot.

The Aftermath: Texas Frightmare Weekend 2019 – 6

Ever since the beginning, there’s always something new at the Triffid Ranch booth Texas Frightmare Weekend, and that’s very deliberate. Frightmare will always have a large selection of good beginner carnivores: as I keep pointing out, it’s not fair to you and it’s not fair to the plant to sell you a plant that requires more maintenance than you’re capable of handling. Increasingly, as regular attendees master the beginner plants, more exotic species and hybrids enter the mix: that’s the reason why two tables are necessary to show everything.

The real fun, though, is watching someone fall head-over-heels in love with a long shot. Terrestrial bladderworts are a tough sell for beginners: without a microscope or at least a good magnifier, you’ll never see bladderwort traps, even after washing the soil away, and you’ll never see the traps in operation. However, watching someone go absolutely goopy over bladderwort blooms is worth all of the effort: I brought one Utricularia calycifida “Asenath Waite” purely to show what it looked like, and had no idea as to the response. Next year, available room willing, it’s time to expand the bladderwort section.

The Aftermath: Texas Frightmare Weekend 2019 – 5

The ongoing normalization of fandom in all of its forms is a bit of a mixed blessing. For the most part, it’s thrilling: being seen at a science fiction or horror convention is no longer a career or social liability. (In tech, that could be a liability on multiple levels: I once had a supervisor who nagged me about my not being at a local big-media show, and got angry when I told him I was having breakfast with Harlan Ellison at the time.) The only issue, especially as a vendor, is when you try your utmost to separate Day Job and show time, especially when a cheerily drunk coworker walks up and says “You look like someone in my department, but I know you’re not him!”

To be continued…

The Aftermath: Texas Frightmare Weekend 2019 – 4

Texas Frightmare Weekend offers a lot of reasons to attend, but one of the best is the effortless community it engenders. There’s literally no telling who is going to show up, where they’re from, and what they’re looking for. Over and over, I’ve watched two complete strangers meet while discussing the plants, hit it off right then, and get into animated conversations about their other shared interests. In many cases, they’ll show up years later, still the best of friends, and I’ve even been introduced to longtime couples showing off their first children. And yet I’m still asked by people unfamiliar with the Frightmare family, “WHY would you want to sell plants at a HORROR CONVENTION?”

To be continued…

The Aftermath: Texas Frightmare Weekend 2019 – 3

Every once in a while, I’m asked “so why do you take pictures of your customers at Triffid Ranch shows?” Well, it’s for three reasons. The first is because all of you are the best customers a boy could ever want, and I know plenty of you who are just tickled to see your photos posted every year. The second because it’s even more fun to watch everyone grow up, change hair and makeup, and generally hop down the timestream. For me, as I’m on the downward slide toward 60, these are also a handy memory device. I’m not being rude when I don’t remember someone from five years earlier: it’s just I’ve probably met a few dozen thousand people and slept once or twice since 2014. With a photo archive, I can go back and exclaim “So THAT’s who you are!”

And the third? It’s funny how many people, especially at Texas Frightmare Weekend, recognize each other from the photo archives and make a point of introducing themselves at the next show. That’s me: responsible for a multistate rampage of lifetime friendships, relationships, and the occasional child. We all should be this lucky to see this happen over a decade.

To be continued…

The Aftermath: Texas Frightmare Weekend 2019 – 1

A quick discussion about “water weight.” Anyone working with plants at any given time will relate that water weighs more than most people expect: carrying around 18-liter (5-gallon) jugs full of rainwater is a great way to build up biceps and triceps without benefit of a gym. Combine lugging tubs of carnivorous plants with severely low humidity, both in and out of air conditioning, and it’s possible to lose nearly five kilos just from sweat. At the very least, now you know why they’re called “sweatshirts.”

To be continued…

The Aftermath: Texas Frightmare Weekend 2019 -Introduction

Ten years. A solid decade ago, a hobbyist carnivorous plant grower with delusions of expansion signed up as a vendor for a fledgeling horror convention, then located just outside of DFW Airport, on the idea that “horror film and literature enthusiasts might like carnivorous plants, right?” Based on previous shows and crowds, a decent selection of beginner plants, all crammed into the back of a PT Cruiser, should get the job done, right? And at the end of three days, when packing up the literal handful of plant containers that didn’t sell, I sighed and figured “Next year, I’ll be more prepared. It can’t get any larger than this.”

That’s the story every year: coming out with my $150,000 in jelly beans to drop them at the feet of what is easily the best and most enthusiastic audience a carnivorous plant rancher could ever want. Every year, I start earlier and earlier to prepare for the crowds, and every year I run out of time when facing even larger audiences. It’s a matter of watching people who casually walked by and wondered “Who’s the weirdo with all of the terrariums?” five years ago who now run to the back of the hall first thing on Friday evening to see what’s available at this show. It’s a matter of teenagers at that first Frightmare show who come by to introduce their own kids. One of the reasons Texas Frightmare Weekend is so ridiculously successful is because of its sustained efforts to encourage a gigantic virtual family, and most of that family stops by the Triffid Ranch booth to catch up.

This year’s show…this year’s show was HUGE. At a time when national and local conventions continue to implode, Frightmare continues to grow, mostly because its founder and staff continue to push the limits of what they were told the could and couldn’t do. Most three-day shows of this sort start to wind down by noon on Sunday, as everyone checks out of the host hotel and prepares for the long car or plane trip back home. A tremendous number of Frightmare attendees, though, stay until Monday just to recuperate and commiserate, leading to jokes of how many of us would die of exhaustion if the show ran for four days. We all laugh, both because many of us know we have to go home and because most of us want the party to continue for just a little longer.

For anyone who had any questions, it’s a foregone conclusion that the Triffid Ranch will be back in 2020. Approximately 360 days until the next show…I can be ready, even if I’m already running behind.

To be continued…

State of the Gallery: May 2019

So there’s no State of the Gallery report for April 2019. This is completely my fault, mostly due to my addiction to gas station sushi, but I have an excuse. After a little over ten years of trying to turn the Texas Triffid Ranch into a viable and sustainable business, the last month is where things got busy. VERY busy. The show and open house calendar is now so packed that there might be a break around Canada Day.

(And as a note, you may notice that the photos in this posting are much better than average. This is deliberate: after years of doing for carnivorous plant photography what Jeffrey Dahmer did for vegan cuisine, it was time to hire a professional who could capture the look of Triffid Ranch enclosures. Allison David not only is a consummate professional, but she and I ran in many of the same circles with the same people that make Dallas so interesting and yet never ran into each other before now. Expect to see a lit of her photos in upcoming Triffid Ranch promotional material, particularly press releases and portfolios, and feel free to contact her for your own photographic needs.)

 

To start, most activities for the past two months have gravitated around getting everything ready for the Triffid Ranch’s tenth year at Texas Frightmare Weekend, running the weekend of May 3 at the Hyatt Regency DFW Airport. I think the only person more shocked than I at the incredible growth of Frightmare is Loyd Cryer, the founder and grand poobah, and he has every reason to be proud of this monstrous baby of his. As I write this, the plants are potted and awaiting loading, and now all I’m doing is waiting for the inevitable potential disaster to start off what turns into a spectacular show. In 2016, it was having the truck struck by lightning as I was arriving: so what happens in 2019?

Most years, the weekend after Frightmare is dedicated to quiet introspection. Well, if lying on the floor and twitching all day Saturday is introspection, I’ll take it. However, it’s time to take a lead from the title of my most-missed 1990s-era glossy magazine and plan for the next weekend. This time, it’s a matter of putting down roots in my home town, as the Garland Urban Flea opens its may event in downtown Garland, Texas on May 11. Previously, work schedules and weather conspired against setting up a tent at Garland Urban Flea (when the National Weather Service describes the day’s weather by running clips of the Star Trek episode “The Doomsday Machine,” odds are pretty good that nobody is coming to the show unless they own a bathyscaphe, as I’ve learned to my sorrow in the past), so here’s hoping that the weather that Saturday is clement and calm. And stop laughing: Texas weather isn’t THAT bad.

The next weekend is a quiet one, right? Noooope. Because June promises to be even busier, we’re holding the next Triffid Ranch open house on Saturday, May 18 from 6:00 to closing, with the opportunity for those previously unfamiliar with the gallery to view new plant enclosures and arrangements. No theme this time: it’s all about being glad that you’re coming out to take a look.

The next weekend is Memorial Day weekend. That’ll be a weekend to relax and recuperate, right? Well, maybe on Monday, but Saturday, May 25 is dedicated to the Triffid Ranch’s first-ever show in Denton, Texas for Punk Palooza.  This is going to be a return for a lot of reasons, the least of which being in a very disturbing alternate reality, I’d be returning to the University of North Texas to celebrate the fruits of either my journalism or my Radio/Television/Film degree from UNT. Yeah, that’s an alternate reality that keeps me awake at night, too.

And after that? June 1 and 8 are reserved for private events at the gallery, but then it’s back on the road for Swizzle’s Waipuna Tiki Flea in Dallas on June 15. Those who may remember last year’s Swizzle event may remember how much fun it was even with rain and a cold front coming through, and June in Dallas is generally noted for “warm and sunny.” Besides, having several friends in the tiki bar culture gives then excuses to visit Dallas, so everybody wins.

Well, that’s about it for the next six weeks: after that, it all depends upon the weather and whether we have a reasonably mild summer or another repeat of 2011 or 1980. If the former, lots of long-range travel is in the forecast. If the latter, guess who’s getting additional air conditioning units for the gallery and stocking up on frozen blueberries?

The Aftermath: Social Science “Science Fiction” at the Perot

Texas Triffid Ranch display at the Perot Museum

It’s been four months since the last Social Science presentation at the Perot Museum of Nature & Science, and things ran swimmingly for April 26’s “Science Fiction” event. Temperate carnivores such as Venus flytraps and North American pitcher plants were emerging and blooming, outside temperatures weren’t a threat to the tropical carnivores, and the trip down Central Expressway to downtown Dallas was painfully slow but not impossible. Combine that with large and enthusiastic crowds, and everything was perfect.

Carnivorous plant selection at the Perot Museum

Dallas weather always offers a challenge with raising and displaying carnivorous plants, and this time the challenge was when the last of the big cold snaps came through. Since Sarracenia pitcher plants bloom first and then produce traps, since many prey insects are also their pollinators, it’s always a gamble: spring temperatures are too warm, and flowers are spent by the middle of April. One good cold front dropping things to freezing in March, and the plants won’t have fully grown traps by May. This time, everything worked perfectly, with several species and hybrids with blooms and early traps, allowing everyone to see both at once.

Sarracenia pitcher plant blooms at the Perot Museum

Another change from previous Perot presentations was access to both a video camera and a big flatscreen monitor, which allowed hourly Venus flytrap feedings for large crowds. Every hour, I gathered a volunteer to drop a canned cricket leg into a trap, with everyone watching a closeup of the mechanism and the closing action without being crowded around a single plant. This worked so well that investing in a similar arrangement for other Triffid Ranch events and shows might be an option in the future.

Triffid Ranch banner at the Perot Museum

As for next time? That honestly depends upon the event and the opportunity, but I’m glad to have had this chance. I’d like to thank both the staff and the volunteers at the Perot for their assistance, as well as everyone who attended. Next time should run even more smoothly than ever.

Have a Great Weekend

Today is a day for plant presentations at the Perot Museum of Nature & Science in downtown Dallas, and it’s a day for the new Hatebeak single. After all, if a death metal band fronted by a derived theropod dinosaur isn’t science fiction, what is?

The Aftermath: Dallas Oddities & Curiosities Expo 2019 – Finale

 

And so it ends. Many thanks to the Oddities and Curiosities Expo staff for putting up with me, many thanks to the staff of Fair Park for putting up with me, and even more thanks to the attendees for making this one of the most pleasurable and memorable one-day events I’ve ever attended. For those with means to get to Austin this summer, the Triffid Ranch sets up at the Austin Oddities & Curiosities Expo on August 17, and coming back out for the Dallas 2020 Expo isn’t even a question. Between these, the Spooky Spectacle in Fort Worth in September, and the next Blood Over Texas Horror for the Holidays show in Austin in November, it’s going to be a good year for road trips.

The Aftermath: Dallas Oddities & Curiosities Expo 2019 – 9

One of the funnier questions of which I’m asked is one that doesn’t seem funny: “Do you take cards?” It’s funny in context of the last half-century. 50 years ago, ATMs were science fiction. 40 years ago, temporary venues could run credit card machines, but only if they could get a telephone line over which to transmit transactions. 30 years ago, mobile ATMs were a standard, but individual vendors generally stuck with cash unless they had access to a dedicated credit card processor, which was ridiculously expensive for small and medium-sized vendors. 20 years ago, card readers were cheaper, to the point of anybody registering a business license for any sort of retail was flooded with spam calls offering “reasonable” prices for card transactions. Ten years ago, small vendors could do the occasional card transaction, but that was dependent upon specialized readers that only worked with certain PDAs and phones, and everything was dependent upon cellular phone networks that didn’t like each other or buildings with walls thicker than toilet paper. Now? Now, when I’m asked “do you take cards?”, I just laugh and ask “What do you think this is: the Twentieth Century?” Watching the incredible changes of the last half-century, can you blame me for being fond of the phrase “I love living in the future”?

(Seriously, for both vendors and attendees of events, try to keep your payment options diversified. For vendors, this means having a good card reader through a phone or tablet AND having plenty of change for those still paying with cash. For attendees, this means having a couple of options as far as cards are concerned: many banks will shut down transactions on a card that appears to be used across multiple states or countries, even though you physically moved only a few meters. As for cash, be kind and try to diversify: the only thing that will make a vendor hate you more than trying to buy a $2 item with a $100 bill is buying an expensive item with rolls of coins. One is a surprising prevention for the other: I give change for cash in dollar coins, partly because kids love them, and partly because the person facing getting back a kilo of change suddenly either finds a smaller bill or finds a card.)

To be continued…

The Aftermath: Dallas Oddities & Curiosities Expo 2019 – 8

Having been selling plants at shows and events for a decade, many beginning vendors ask for advice on which shows and events they should attend. Never you mind that asking my advice about shows and events is like asking for vegan recipes from Jeffrey Dahmer. Unlike so much of the advice requested by beginning writers and musicians, the question isn’t “how can I skip to the front of the line?” The question is, essentially, “How do I minimize my losses and my pain?” And that’s a really good question. It’s just a shame that nobody has a good answer for it. 

Part of the problem with answering that question is that every show is different. EVERY show. Even if you’ve been vending at the same show every year for a decade, all you need is a change of location or even a good impending storm to throw off everything. Competing shows deliberately scheduling opposite your show, a glitch in advertising, an accident on the highway that slows or stops incoming traffic for a few hours, a hotel name change…any of these can throw off attendance of an event, and I’ve come across all of these and a few more. Don’t even get me started on events with management changes between the last and the next show, where the only thing in common between the two shows is the title. (For that reason, one bit of advice I can give is to be really leery of events using the name of a once-beloved event that’s been dead for a while. The name was purchased for name recognition, but the odds of the new show having even the remote possibility of the audience of the old one are extremely remote.)

 The other part? It’s all about the intended audience. Some shows thrive on vendor variety, where attendees look forward to something new in each and every booth or tent. Others…well, not so much. My wife once slogged through a long weekend at an Oktoberfest show where the only potential customers she saw over three days were drunken fratbros looking for a traditional Oktoberfest “chicken hat“: they weren’t willing to pay more than $3 for one, and they had no interest in purchasing anything else but beer. On the other, her first big show was at a convention for mystery writers, where she and a friend were the only vendors carrying anything other than books. Until just a couple of years ago, this was her biggest grossing weekend ever, because family members and friends of the main attendees saw jewelry and exclaimed “Finally! Something other than books!” (Sadly, this show didn’t lead to future success at subsequent shows: one of the convention organizers was one of the book dealers, and since he felt that any sales going to anybody else were sales that weren’t going to him, he made sure that non-book dealers weren’t allowed back.) It’s Schrödinger’s Show: until you put the money down for a booth fee, take the time from your day job, arrive at the venue, and get set up, you have no idea how it’s going to go. That can even apply on individual days during a three- or four-day show: everyone who has been traveling to events for more than a few months will have stories about Friday and Saturday audiences being dead, only for Sunday’s crowd to converge and strip out everything before closing.

 And this advice for vendors applies to attendees, too. I can tell you about fellow vendors whose inventory may be enticing, but the only way you’ll find out which events would be worth your time is by hitting a lot of them and finding what works the best for you. Yes, that might cost money, but would you rather stay home and spend the rest of your life wondering on what you missed out?

To be continued…

The Aftermath: Dallas Oddities & Curiosities Expo 2019 – 7

And for this installment, a discussion of alcohol. Increasingly, as Texas’s and particularly Dallas’s alcohol sales and distribution laws start to enter the 18th Century, more local events with vendor spaces are allowing and encouraging beer and wine sales. Contrary to the panicked liturgies of Those With Authoritah, removing the patchwork of “wet” versus “dry” areas in Dallas and allowing every grocery store in town to sell beer and wine didn’t cause the city to become a booze-fueled Mad Max horrorscape. Well, that still happens every year with the Lower Greenville St. Patrick’s Day Parade in March and Texas/OU Weekend in October, but sane and tasteful people avoid those mass midlife crises anyway. Everywhere else, with events that aren’t already associated with projectile vomiting competitions, it’s nice and mellow. Yes, people will drink, and they’d probably smoke as well once Texas finally legalizes recreational cannabis. I can’t do either, so I figure “More for everyone else.”

That’s probably one of the best things about various events in the last decade: the easy access to well-controlled and well-monitored beer and wine as anxiety and shyness self-medication. Occasionally vendors get accidental spills, but not often, and the whole purpose behind drinking is to relax, not to get messed up. Even better, there’s no pressure to indulge, so those of us who can’t or don’t aren’t ostracized or needled into participating “because everyone else is doing it.” Dallas’s Fair Park held two events for two completely different audiences last weekend: the Oddities & Curiosities Expo and a “bier garden” beer tasting event. Want to guess which one had a crowd of socially lubricated and extremely pleasant attendees who knew better than to drink and drive, and which one was responsible for the dolt in a Lexus (but I repeat myself) driving the wrong way on a busy street who nearly hit me and three other people as I was leaving the Expo? The choice is simple: when your alcohol consumption makes the shade of Hunter S. Thompson yell “GET TREATMENT, NOW” in your ear, heed the advice. You’re harshing it for the rest of us.

To be continued…

The Aftermath: Dallas Oddities & Curiosities Expo 2019 – 6

From a vendor’s perspective, one of the biggest regrets on being on that side of the cash register involves getting to visit with other vendors in a particular venue. Oh, YOU may be done and ready to go an hour before the door opens, but not everyone is that lucky, and interrupting fellow vendors while they’re trying to get the last touches in place is really bad form. The real irony is that the only chance most vendors get to talk to their neighbors after the venue opens to the public is if the show is horrible and the public doesn’t show up. At a good show, if you’re very lucky, you might get the chance to wave at neighbors once or twice in momentary slowdowns (and I really mean “momentary”) before the rush hits again and you start playing the game “What Character From The Walking Dead Are You?” (For the record, I’m Glenn. I’m always Glenn.)

 The particularly good news at last weekend’s Oddities & Curiosities Expo was that I’ve known my across-the-aisle neighbor for nearly 30 years, back from when he and I were neighbors in Exposition Park in the early 1990s. Jason Cohen of Curious Garden has been a fellow Dallas troublemaker for longer than I have, and I’m proud to announce that he’s hosting a repeat of last year’s carnivorous plant workshop sometime later this year.  The exact details are still open: right now, we’re both trying to get through the spring season rush with all of our tendons and ligaments still attached, but we’re trying to wrangle a time in the schedule, probably in mid-May. Details will follow as I get them.

To be continued…

The Aftermath: Dallas Oddities & Curiosities Expo 2019 – 5

Another business proposal to fill my voluminous free time: unique enclosure decorations for smaller containers. Just as how a vast untapped market for darker garden decorations exists that isn’t being serviced by standard garden centers, and how so many of us have to hope that Halloween decorations from Target will survive an entire summer of sun and rain, the decorative options for those making indoor gardens from converted fishtanks and sushi trays is generally limited to the twee. Not that there’s anything wrong with fairies and forest animals if that’s your kink, but it may be time to consider a line of gonzo terrarium ornaments, both UV-resistant and leach-resistant, for the more discerning customer. It may be time to discuss licensing deals with a few artists or their estates, particularly Wayne Barlowe, H.R. Giger, and Charles R. Knight.

To be continued…

The Aftermath: Dallas Oddities & Curiosities Expo 2019 – 4

A side venture inspired by a lack of a certain behavior at the Oddities & Curiosities Expo: I’m going to move into the carnivorous plant fertilizer business. In the last few years, several safe and effective foliar fertilizers for most carnivores have hit the market (whatever you do, never EVER try to fertilize sundews or butterworts, no matter what), but I’m looking at an effective name. After doing a bit of research into existing and lapsed copyrights (among other things, I discovered that the copyrights on several magazines and a weekly newspaper for which I worked in the 1990s were allowed to lapse, and I could buy them up with petty cash if I wanted to waste money and sanity trying to revive them), I’ve found a perfect one: a tie-in with a 20th Century Fox movie of the last decade. With the recent purchase of the vast majority of the former Fox empire by Disney, that property is now managed by a team very much willing to work with vendors willing to pay for limited product licenses. I don’t expect to make a lot of money off the fertilizer itself, but at shows where half of the attendees see carnivorous plants and start yelling “Feed me, Seymour!” at the tops of their lungs, I can hold up a big bottle of branded carnivorous plant fertilizer and yell back “Brawndo’s got what plants crave!

To be continued…

The Aftermath: Dallas Oddities & Curiosities Expo 2019 – 3

A minor observation based on years of anecdotal data: Dallas may have considerably more esoterics and nonconformists than what the city’s promotional bureau may want to advertise, but Texas’s real freak capitol is Houston. Oh, Austin has a reputation that precedes the 1960s, but when it comes to any gonzo event, Houstonites outnumber Austinites by about 30 to one. Even better, Houston folk see nothing wrong with hopping in the car or heading to the airport and taking a trip to get their esoterica fixes. In the last ten years since the Triffid Ranch started, some of my most enthusiastic and energetic customers, as well as some of my best and dearest friends, were Houstonites who came tearing up I-45 to see what Dallas had going on. Starting this year, I no longer have any excuse not to return the favor: Dallas isn’t the city everyone thought it was 25 years ago, and neither is Houston, and if the Oddities & Curiosities Expo sets up shop in Houston in 2020, I’ll be one of the first vendors applying for a booth.

To be continued…

The Aftermath: Dallas Oddities & Curiosities Expo 2019 – 2

One of the more surprising aspects about last weekend’s Oddities & Curiosities Expo wasn’t the gigantic crowd. The surprise is that in spite of huge turnouts, events such as this are downplayed in Dallas under the idea that “Dallas is a really conservative city, so there’s not much of an interest in weird stuff.” Loyd Cryer, the founder of Texas Frightmare Weekend, heard the same thing over and over when he was first trying to get Frightmare off the ground. Today, if Frightmare isn’t the biggest horror convention in the country, it’s definitely in the top three, and easily most of its core audience hails from the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex. Considering the number of events intended for that perceived traditional Dallas audience that crash and burn, it may be time to acknowledge that my home town is a bastion of nontraditionals, and let our freak flag fly high and proud.

To be continued…

The Aftermath: Dallas Oddities & Curiosities Expo 2019 – 1

Ah, to describe the general attendance at the Dallas Oddities & Curiosities Expo…well, everyone understood why the aisles between vendor rows were so wide, because otherwise whole sections would have been impassable. According to those who had been waiting in the cold and rain to get in, the line for tickets stretched around the Centennial Hall as late as 3:00 in the afternoon, and both the parking lots at Fair Park and the DART Green Line trains stopping at the Fair Park station were packed. Not that it was possible to see this, because Every vendor in the place was lucky to leave his/her booth until Fair Park security started shooing attendees toward the door at closing. In my own case, I came out with what I thought was a reasonable collection of plants, with a booth arrangement that could handle a reasonable crowd. When the crowds formed lines to get through booths, and customers were reaching across booth walls to view other vendors’ goods because they simply couldn’t get in, it wasn’t hard to make allusions to George Romero movies. Considering the general vibe of the show, and considering the crowd attending, those allusions were GOOD things.

To be continued…

The Aftermath: Dallas Oddities & Curiosities Expo 2019 – Introduction

To say that encountering the Oddities & Curiosities Expo was a surprise understates the case. This time last year, nobody within a wide circle of fellow Texas vendors had even heard of this traveling show: the first I personally had heard about it was an announcement of a show in Austin in November 2018. Considering that it was a week after the Blood Over Texas Horror For the Holidays show, I regretfully skipped on it: one round-trip drive to and from Austin is rough enough, but two within five days for two one-day shows would be pushing limits of endurance, and I had another show scheduled for the same weekend. Besides, after a punishing run of underwhelming first-time shows over the last few years, what were the chances of a first-year show in Austin, especially a traveling show, being worth the trip?

 That munching sound you hear is the sound of your humble proprietor eating crow. It’s not just that the show for which I skipped the Austin Oddities & Curiosities Expo was an unmitigated disaster: pulling off a big crow drumstick with 11 herbs and spices had to wait until the Expo came to Dallas at the end of March. I’ve made some spectacularly dumb mistakes in my life: assuming that Make magazine was going to be a failure, passing on buying $10,000 in Apple stock at the end of 1997, and attending my sister’s wedding, among many others. Missing an Oddities & Curiosities Expo in Texas will rate at least on the level of the wedding, based on what happened in Dallas.

 The show started easily enough: easy access for loading in plants on the Friday before, with cloudy but warm skies and an enthusiastic show staff to manage things. At first, especially with a venue as big as Centennial Hall in Fair Park, it seemed a little sparse, with lots of aisle space compared to the vendor booths, and about half of the booths were still empty. No big deal, I thought: lots of folks would arrive on Saturday morning before the show opened, and that’s precisely what happened. Even then, setup was easy, and when it was time to clear the area on Friday afternoon, everything went smashingly. A few things still had to be done, such as completing new signs and notices, so Friday night was spent working on organizing everything that would be out there at opening. 

(Incidentally, a major addition to the Triffid Ranch booth is an entry into the 21st Century: QR codes and more URLs in place of postcards and business cards. Part of this was due to comparing notes with fellow vendors about “card collectors,” who grab up cards and anything else that’s free and never return. The biggest reason, though, is that by the end of this decade, a phone that can take pictures isn’t a luxury: it’s an essential accessory, and someone visiting the booth is much less likely to lose a business card than to lose a phone. This is part of a general experiment, and it seemed to work remarkably well over the run of the show, especially for those who wanted to get more information but didn’t necessarily want to come in too close.)

 Saturday, though, started out rough. The National Weather Service warned about the cold front passing through that morning, but nobody was expecting the rainstorms that came with it. With shows of this sort, vendors worry about rain, especially cold rain, because a good stout storm is enough to convince most potential attendees to stay home. The Expo opened at 10:00 for advance VIP ticket holders who paid extra to get first dibs, and we vendors noted that the crowd appeared to be friendly and enthusiastic but a little sparse. There was a little time to get something to eat and drink or hit the restroom, and boy oh boy were we all glad to do so, because when the doors opened for general attendees at 11:00…

To be continued…

The 3rd Annual Manchester United Flower Show: Early Days

What’s probably the last freeze of the season just finished passing through, Daylight Savings Time starts this coming Sunday, and experts are predicting what may be the greatest explosion of bluebonnets and other Texas wildflowers seen in generations. (No sightings of bluebonnet-colored rattlesnakes: I wonder why that is?) This means that it’s time to announce that the third annual Manchester United Flower Show, a celebration of the blooms of the world’s carnivorous plants, starts at the gallery on Saturday, April 6 from 6:00 to whenever everyone goes home. This won’t be all: the idea is to premiere two new large enclosures, including a particularly challenging commission. (Being more of a Dell Harris/Doug Chiang/Ron Cobb kind of guy, attempting a Nepenthes enclosure with a Georgia O’Keefe influence led to a LOT of research, but it’s worth it.) Either way, the event is free, and it starts at the tail end of the Deep Ellum Art Fest and Scarborough Renaissance Festival, so feel free to come in and overload on bladderwort and butterwort blossoms. In the meantime, back to the linen mines.

The Aftermath: Groundhog Day 2019 Open House

Even if the tradition behind Groundhog Day made any sense, North Texas weather throws the tradition under the bus. This year, the groundhog wouldn’t have seen his shadow, because the thick fog that morning would have had him screaming “THERE’S SOMETHING IN THE MIST!” That fog stuck around, too: as odd as it was, at least it beat the deadly cold up in Chicago: I survived the Blizzard of 1979, and that experience is a big reason on why the gallery is titled “the Texas Triffid Ranch” and not “the Illinois Varga Shop.”)

Fog aside, and aside from the local missing stair who was removed in short order and told not to return, the latest open house was a grand success, including one family that drove from Tulsa just to attend. Thanks to everyone who made it, other than the missing stair, because you were all braver than the groundhog this year.

The date for the next open house is in flux, dependent upon getting confirmation on an upcoming event. When it’s nailed down, though, read about it here.

The Aftermath: Perot Museum Social Science “Wild World”

perot02012019_3It’s been three years since the last time the Triffid Ranch was invited to show plants out at the Perot Museum of Nature & Science in downtown Dallas, and making a late evening of the Social Science 21+ museum event was a perfect way to finish off January. Just me, the provosts and staff, and a few thousand interested bystanders…the theme of this month’s Social Science event was “Wild World”, and carnivorous plants were just part of the fun.

perot02012019_2The relative lack of photos from “Wild World” had less to do with photographic aptitude and more to do with the sheer size of the crowd. When the official “everyone is worn out and going home, so you can break down” time was 10:00 and patrons were still asking enthusiastic questions at just short of midnight, it says a lot about the energy at the sold-out event. As it was, getting photos was a bit problematic, especially when people were crowded so thickly around the Triffid Ranch table that we occasionally blocked off access to the elevators. Every guest presenter at an event like this wants to make an impression upon its audience, and with five to ten people listening in on every answered question, the carnivores apparently made quite the impression. The crowd rushed in right at opening, and the only chance to get photos of the table itself was when everyone had cleared out for the night.

perot02012019_4perot02012019_1

Anyway, thanks to the multitudes of energetic and wildly curious attendees, this was a great way to start the 2019 Triffid Ranch show season, and I wish to thank everyone who made it. For those who couldn’t, get your tickets for the April 26 Social Science, “Science Fiction,” before they sell out, too.

No Sleep Til Perot

Perot Museum's glowing frogs

For those attending tonight’s Social Science night at the Perot Museum, see you there. For everyone who can’t, that’s why the gallery is hosting a Groundhog Day open house on February 2. Either way, it’s time to hit the road.

The Aftermath: Swizzle’s Hawaiian Holiday Popup 2018 – Introduction

Okay, so Swizzle’s Hawaiian Holiday Popup at Industry Bar was a risk. Several tiki bar enthusiast friends had good recommendations, and since any good tiki bar really needs plants for the ambiance, why not encourage a Nepenthes pitcher plant as an addition to the flora? Between this and the unmitigated disaster of the previous Triffid Ranch show, Saturday morning was spent loading up the van for a jaunt into Dallas’s South Street Station area, with no expectations whatsoever.

  • I should mention that the Saturday in question was cold and sloppy, and I was warned that the holiday show only had a small fraction of the attendees of the big spring show. If that’s the case, the attendance of the spring show will probably kill me. As it was, the holiday popup show was loaded with the most enthusiastic crowd I’ve seen in a one-day show this side of the Blood Over Texas Horror for the Holidays audience, and that’s saying something.
  • Naturally, half of the fun with gonzo shows such as these is meeting the customers halfway. It was high time to introduce more of Dallas to the joys of Hylocereus costaricensis, the red dragonfruit cactus, and the gallery dragonfruit shed several ready-to-root branches when moved inside for the winter. They won’t be able to stay in tiki glasses forever, but they’ll definitely be very happy getting established over the winter.
  • …to be continued…
  • The Aftermath: Dallas Fantasy Fair 2018

    The last few days after the end of the Dallas Fantasy Fair revival have led to a lot of soulsearching and evaluation of life and business needs. This includes an evaluation of the differences between being an attendee and later a guest at the tail end of the Twentieth Century, and being a vendor and business owner and operator in the Twenty-First. This includes looking past lots of good memories of the shows and remembering that while I attended back then mostly to see friends and cohorts that now are all over Facebook, both those friends and I were there also because we could afford admission and not much else. This includes a note that since science fiction, fantasy, and comic conventions have evolved drastically in the era of eBay and YouTube, vendors shouldn’t get nostalgic for the days when dealers’ rooms were dependent upon the latest fads and speculation bubbles. The last Dallas Fantasy Fair ran in April 1996, just as the big mid-Nineties comics speculation boom was collapsing (it’s hard to believe today with Avengers and Spider-Man movies released seemingly every month, but Marvel Comics was very close to Chapter 7 bankruptcy this time 22 years ago, and the idea of the whole of Marvel’s comic characters being sold to the WWE as wrestling characters was pretty reasonable at the time), and things have changed a LOT since then.

     Not to beat on the Fantasy Fair revival: attendees were happy, it was good to run into people I hadn’t seen for nearly half my life, and those seeking vintage comics seemed to find exactly what they were looking for. It’s just that a combination of too many related events in the same month (friends who have been involved in Dallas fandom for 40 years related that they’ve never seen so many events scheduled for a November before, across the DFW Metroplex and north to Denton) and a lack of name recognition with anybody under the age of 40 led to, shall we say, a much smaller crowd than had been promoted.

     Right now, the talk about the Fantasy Fair is optimistic, with one once-influential retailer talking about how the show may be a must-attend event in another ten years, and may even regain its place as second only to the San Diego Comic Con as essential attendance for anyone in the industry. I truly wish well of everyone involved, and hope that these predictions come true. In the meantime, though, with the exception of Texas Frightmare Weekend, it’s time to move away from conventions. It made sense a decade ago, but it’s time to move on.

    The State of the Gallery: November 2018

    It took long enough, but summer is dead. Deceased. It’s not pining for the fjords. Its leavetaking proves that there’s still room in Hell. It’s GONE, MacReady. The heat is gone, defunct, bereft, and on its back and kicking like a dying cockroach. We won’t have to start worrying about oppressive heat in the Dallas area for another five months, and for a couple of weeks, we might need coats after the sun goes down. We’re gonna FREEZE!

    Seriously, this November is shaping up to be a typical one. No unnatural heat the way we had in 2016, but also no significant chance of snow and slop the way we had in 1993. (Subfreezing temperatures and sleet on Thanksgiving evening and nearly impassable conditions for Dallas the day after: that was a wonderful mess.) We came close to snow last week with the cold front that passed through North and Central Texas. Even that was sporadic and fleeting, and we went back to our typical windy and sunny before anyone realized the bitter cold was gone. For those of us with fashion sense that includes motorcycle jackets and heavy boots, it’s been a little touch of heaven, and we still have December and January to go.

    (And on the subject of motorcycle jackets, I bought mine 21 years ago this month, and it’s a little jarring to realize that I have friends and customers whose main interests were cell division and limb gene expression when I purchased it. I had at least four people ask me what I did to get it that wonderfully broken in and character-ridden, and I had to tell them “Just get one and wear it until it’s old enough to buy booze in the US.”)

    Out come the jackets, in go the temperate carnivores, unfortunately. As of now, don’t expect to see any Venus flytraps, temperate sundews, or Sarracenia pitcher plants until at least the beginning of April, and even that may be delayed with last-minute blue northers hitting in February and March. The spotty frosts we’ve received over the last week have stopped any new growth in the flytraps and pitcher plants, and they’re now taking a much-deserved rest to recharge for spring. If we get just the right combination of sun and cold for the rest of the winter, next year’s blooms, especially with the purpurea pitcher plants, will be spectacular.

    Just because they’re asleep doesn’t mean that everyone can’t have fun with carnivores until spring. The tropical carnivores are still busy and a bit obnoxious, so we’re going to be focusing on them all winter long. And oh, they’re going places.

    The first place they’ll be going is to the revival of the Dallas Fantasy Fair, running November 24 and 25 at the Irving Convention Center. November is already a month packed with fannish events (I haven’t seen a month like this in Texas, and my memory of related events goes back 35 years as of this weekend), but setting up a booth at the Fantasy Fair seemed both like an opportunity to run into people I haven’t seen in two decades and give them a chance to see a cross-section of what the Triffid Ranch is trying to accomplish. Either way, look for booth #406: in a room full of comics professionals, a space dedicated to carnivorous plant enclosures is going to stand out.

    Next, the Nightmare Weekends Before Christmas open houses at the gallery are going to be a little truncated this season due to conflicting schedules. Instead of running every Saturday in December before Christmas, we’re going to have two: December 15 and December 22, both starting at 6:00 p.m. and ending when everyone’s done. In addition, anyone purchasing an enclosure at either of the open houses gets free delivery within the Dallas/Fort Worth area if you really want to surprise someone. (Note: between prior commitments and the open houses, time for custom enclosures will be at a premium, so get requests out NOW.)

    After the holidays are finally over, it’s time to go back to a venue we haven’t visited in three years. The Perot Museum in downtown Dallas still has its bimonthly Social Science 21+ late-night events, and the Wild World event on January 25 includes viewings of Nepenthes and Heliamphora pitcher plants and other carnivores. The contract is still being negotiated, but expect to see a redux, with North American pitcher plants, for the Social Science “Science Fiction” event on April 26. Apparently that’s the one where I’m going to get alternate movie quotes thrown at me about triffids.

    And on a last note, the touring Oddities and Curiosities Expo runs in Austin this weekend: as tempting as it was to head back to Austin for a weekend, my loyalty lies with the Blood of Texas Crew for the Horror For the Holidays event. You can imagine my surprise at discovering that Oddities and Curiosities is hitting Dallas on March 30, and of COURSE the booth fee has already been paid for it. Look at it as a teaser for Texas Frightmare Weekend on May 3 through 5, including having special news for Frightmare attendees who are also hitting Free Comic Book Day at local comic shops that weekend. Details will follow.

    And that’s about it for now. Staying warm?

    State of the Gallery: October 2018

    “We are now approaching the end of 2018, and will be crashing into 2019 shortly. Please return your solar cell array to its upright position, stow all weapons and sublight propulsion devices in the bins provided below your seat, and place your order for drinks or objective reality inhibitors with the flight attendant at this time. If you are a native to a reality with more than a 45 percent difference in strong nuclear force or Hawkwind music catalog from your destination, please let the flight crew know at this time to prevent spontaneous explosion when disembarking. Your checked-in luggage has been sprayed for most animal and plant pests, parasites, and symbionts, but please check for nanometal phages in a safe location in any reality with a tech rating above 3.73.998. We thank you for flying with us today, and a special message for Lanny: stop it. Stop it NOW. The authorities already know, and they’re not giving it back.”

     

    Twelve weeks to the end of the year, and this is when life starts getting lively out at the Triffid Ranch. For the temperate carnivores, we’re only about six weeks away from the beginning of the traditional winter dormancy, which means the Venus flytraps, North American pitcher plants, and triggerplants are about ready to sleep until April.  The tropical plants in the gallery already think it’s winter, with lights set for a December 21 photoperiod, in order to encourage them to bloom around the beginning of March.  Pretty soon, the dragonfruit cactus by the front door comes inside, the next batch of hot pepper seeds go into propagation, and this year’s collection of Sarracenia seeds go into cold storage until March. That’s not even starting with the new plants grown from cuttings for next year’s show season.

     

    A lot is going on besides getting the greenhouse winterproofed and the Sarracenia pools mucked out, too. The fall show season starts on October 13, with an inaugural tent set up at the Garland Urban Flea in downtown Garland, Texas, with the usual bets as to how the weather will go.  The default assumption for autumn in North Texas is “cloudy and a little cool in the morning, with temperatures dropping significantly with any storm front.” In other words, bring a jacket just in case, and come out to see Sarracenia pitcher plants in full fall color. 

     

    After coming out for Garland Urban Flea, take the next weekend off. Seriously: take it off, because the gallery will be closed that weekend. That’s because the next Triffid Ranch open house opens on Friday, October 26 at 6:00 post meridian, and a lot is happening in the intervening week. This includes the premieres of several new enclosures, including a commission for a longtime Triffid Ranch supporter, and the last big flytrap and Sarracenia display until next year. Traditionally, open houses run on Saturday evenings, but on the request of several longtime customers (including one that has been visiting the booth at various events for the last decade), we’re going to try Friday night so as to free up Saturday night for Halloween events.

    After that, it’s a matter of getting ready for November and December. November is a month of shows, starting with the Blood Over Texas Horror For the Holidays show in Austin on November 11, for the third show in a row. After that, November 24 and 24 are spent closer to home, with the resurrected Dallas Fantasy Fair at the Irving Convention Center. Once we’ve swept up the broken glass and discarded pizza boxes from that one, it’s back to the gallery for the return of the Nightmare Weekends Before Christmas, with the gallery open every Saturday evening from December 1 to 22. (For those who want to purchase a particular enclosure but don’t want to ruin the surprise, we’ll deliver in person on December 23 and 24, so feel free to ask for details.)

     

    On the newsletter front, the Texas Triffid Ranch Occasional Newsletter and Feed Lot Clearance Sale continues, especially as Facebook continues its descent into emulating LiveJournal. (And lower than that I can’t get.) The big Harlan Ellison giveaway for subscribers is done, but expect a slightly more scaled-down version with every issue of the newsletter: I haven’t had this much fun putting together this big a collection of packages in years, and that’s nothing compared to the glee of those who receive them. If you haven’t subscribed yet, there’s always time, as a new installment comes out this week. It may also be time for an archive, too.

     

    And that’s about it for the moment. What’s up with you?

    State of the Gallery: July 2018

    It’s dry. Not standard “Dallas in July” dry: that still implies a touch of atmospheric humidity. We’re talking “the grass along the highway is a grassfire waiting to happen” dry. It’s “sweat bees want to be your bestest friend” dry. It’s “are you washing your clothes or debrining them?” dry. These sorts of dry summers happen very rarely out here, even in the worst brutal heat: even when the temperatures hit “cook your brain like an egg,” there’s usually enough moisture in the air that sweat is visible for at least a few seconds. Not this week. This is the week where getting out during the day leads to salt crusts on clothes and at the corners of your eyes, and where an evening shower isn’t an extravagance but a necessary removal of the day’s mineral carapace. Combine that with an equally dry south wind running day and night, and you can almost hear trees and bushes shrivel. I know this firsthand, as do my poor Sarracenia, because just one day led from “happy and hydrated” to “almost too dehydrated to save”. And so it goes.

    Not that this is going to last: with the exception of 2011, where we went from April to Christmas Day with no rain except one fifteen-minute cloudburst in September, we can get sudden thunderstorms without warning. The National Weather Service is making promises of severe thunderstorms through the week, and we don’t blame the weatherfolk for rain predictions that don’t pass. You can bring up weather radar showing a gigantic bank of brutal storms around Fort Worth, and watch them shrivel and evaporate in real time the closer they get to Dallas. After a while, it gets to be a game, where everyone has to take a shot if the storms are deflected north or south. In some years, you’d swear that your neighborhood had a giant glass dome over it, where you can drive through rain coming down so hard that visibility is next to zero to a destination that didn’t get a drop.

    Well, that’s Texas for you, where you can either sit and suffer until October, or you can find a good reason to get out, preferably after dark, to keep from growing roots into the couch. Let’s help out with that.

    Since the urge to stay inside works for the gallery as well, the next couple of months will involve new enclosures and new commissions, and that’s why we’re having gallery showings. The first is the Late Canada Day show on July 7, with an emphasis on the legacy of Michel Sarrazin. If that’s not enough advance notice, the Triffid Ranch’s third anniversary gallery show is scheduled for Saturday, August 18, from 6:00 until whenever everyone goes home. At this point, the Triffid Ranch has been in its new location exactly as long as it was in its old space, so we have more reasons to celebrate than usual.

    In other developments, the carnivorous plant workshop at Curious Garden was enough of a hit that it led to an interview in Richardson Living magazine, now on stands everywhere in the city. With luck, this might tie in to other events in the Richardson/Garland area: keep an eye open for particulars as they happen.

    And other news? The trip to the International Carnivorous Plant Society show in August had to be cancelled due to finances (I could do it or pay the booth fees for next year’s Texas Frightmare Weekend show but not both, and next year’s Frightmare is the Triffid Ranch’s tenth anniversary out there), but a slew of carnivorous plant growers and enthusiasts are talking right now about a Texas meetup to share notes and cuttings. As soon as I have more details, I’ll pass them along, because a Texas carnivore conference would be the greatest thing to happen to me since the invention of the casual dresscode workplace. Again, check back for details, because this will be GLORIOUS.

    State of the Gallery: January 2018

    Doom and Gloom (mostly gloom) in Dallas in JanuaryAnd the holiday season is over. Well, that’s not completely true: we can’t forget the importance of February 2, when Sid Vicious rises from his grave, looks down for his shadow, and learns if he has to wait six more weeks until spring. The decorations are down, the last of the leftovers are dispatched (unless your grandmother is like mine and wants to see if she can make turkey-flavored Jell-O out of the carcass residue left in the refrigerator), the more gothically inclined are building dinosaur skeletons with the chunks Grandma couldn’t use, and everyone in retail can get rid of that twitch from overplay of the mandatory Christmas radio station. True, you don’t want to go anywhere near a gym for the rest of the month, especially in the parking lot as everyone fights for the closest space to the door, and we’re all keeping an eye on the skies for that one falling snowflake that convinces the worst drivers on the road that they need to switch things up by driving with their buttocks. All things considered, though, things are good.

    Out here at the Triffid Ranch, it’s time for introspection, renovation, negotiation, and potential amputation. We may have 295 days until that happiest holiday of the year, but the work starts now. This includes cleaning and prepping new glassware, potting new plants, scoping out new shows and new venues, and trying to limit nervous breakdowns to every other Tuesday. In other words, just like every year since the gallery first opened. The highlights:

    First and foremost, the emphasis in 2018 is finishing new enclosures, and that starts with getting commissioned enclosures out now. (A friendly reminder for those who purchased Nepenthes pitcher plants at Triffid Ranch shows in the past: now’s the time to ask about upgrades to give your plants more room.) This includes getting more photos with those enclosures, in order to enter enclosures in regional and national art shows and inform local media outlets of those shows. Right now, everything is being kept on a winter lighting schedule to encourage growth later, but when the timers switch to spring hours in March, the fun really begins. It’s not just a matter of viewing Nepenthes blooms, but trying some luck with pollinating flowers in order to develop a few new hybrids.

    On the subject of shows, it’s no surprise that the first big Triffid Ranch show of the year is All-Con on St. Patrick’s Day weekend. The surprise was discovering the new venue for the 2018 event. For years, All-Con ran at the increasingly cramped Crowne Plaza hotel, but size limitations required a move to a larger venue. Two years ago, it moved to a much larger space with a bit of a parking problem: hotel management promised to augment its tiny parking area with access to the parking garages of the office buildings around it, which was a surprise to the owners of said office buildings. A majority of attendees discovering that parking options consisted of a muddy field across from the hotel wasn’t enough to kill the convention, and last year’s All-Con returned to the Crowne Plaza, which was now charging for parking when it wasn’t hosting meth labs. This year, though, All-Con moves to a MUCH larger venue, the Hotel InterContinental in Addison, right along Dallas North Tollway.

    Why is this such a big deal? Well, for starters, the InterContinental, formerly the Grand Kempinski, is a legacy of Dallas’s great oil and development boom of the 1980s, back from the days when it was the tallest building in the area. Because the old Grand Kempinski was intended to compete for convention and conference business with the Anatole and Fairmont hotels near downtown, this meant having an absolutely gigantic ballroom on the second floor and an equally expansive ground floor atrium. This means that instead of fighting crowds in the artist’s alley section to get to the main dealer’s room, we have room to stretch out. Even better, this is one hotel where the promise of “multiple restaurants within walking distance” is quite actually true, and more than just a McDonald’s or Jack In The Box. (The hotel is just off Addison’s impressive Restaurant Row, which includes pubs, novelty venues such as the world-famous Magic Time Machine, and even a Whole Foods within a ten-minute walk.) A convention with food options other than the hotel restaurant and a convenience store? The mind boggles.

    For vendors, the situation gets even better. The Hotel Intercontinental features two large entrances, big enough to allow two-way traffic while loading and unloading, and a large elevator sits right by the escalator leading to the second floor. (Those familiar with the absolute mess at the Crowne Royal can understand why this is a big deal.) With most of the club and Artist Alley tables on the ground floor, all groups involved won’t be fighting for room, especially close to opening hours. Parking is voluminous, and the loading lanes are big enough for small aircraft. Miss this one at your peril, because with the convention running during Spring Break for most of the high schools and colleges in the greater Dallas area, we’re going to see crowds at sizes we could have only dream about seeing at previous shows…and they’ll all have elbow room.

    Not that All-Con and Texas Frightmare Weekend are the only shows outside of the gallery for 2018: these are just the only ones that can be discussed at the moment. Right now, the greater Dallas area has an excess of riches as far as art shows are concerned, and while the Deep Ellum Arts Fest isn’t an option this year, a lot of other events are going on at the same time. Right now, it’s all about confirmation, as well as making sure that schedules don’t conflict. Keep checking back for more details.

    With the carnivores, the biggest change in the Triffid Ranch involves an expansion into Mexican butterworts and terrestrial bladderworts, two traditionally neglected groups of carnivorous plant. As mentioned before, this is just a continuation of plans set for last year before the gallery move, but with the advantage of many of the new species of butterwort exploding with new plantlets over the winter. Even better, both butterworts and bladderworts are now big and sassy enough to bloom in spring, adding an extra angle to the planned Manchester United Flower Show showing in April. Again, details as the date gets closer.

    In hot pepper news, it’s time to start the new year’s first batch of pepper seedlings, and it’s time to make an admission. Namely, Carolina Reaper peppers are the Venus flytraps of the Capsicum world. Want to thrill me? start a discussion on comparing the colors and flavors of Black Pearl and Numex Halloween peppers both ripe and green. Compare the dishes best using Uba Tubas versus Trinidad Scorpions. Share a flavor combination for salsa with Bhut Jolokias that works even better than mango. (This may not be possible, but I’m always open to argument.) Carolina Reapers, though, are a one-trick pony. They grow to an impressive size in cultivation, but nothing about their foliage nor their shape distinguishes them from other peppers. The fruit, ripe or green, is only marginally more interesting than a standard green bell pepper, and once you get past the “you’ll pee fire!” heat, they taste like tomb dust. Aside from the subjective and often dubious Scoville Scale ranking, the Carolina Reaper has precious little distinction in growth, flavor, or idiosyncrasy. But what’s the one pepper EVERYONE asks if I’m growing? Ah well.

    And if this is a roundabout way of hyping up the ZestFest 2018 spicy foods convention (https://zestfest.net/) at the Irving Convention Center at the end of January, so be it. ZestFest has a grand supply of salsa and barbecue sauce vendors pushing “no pepper is too hot for ME to eat!” neural overloads, but its main emphasis is on flavor, and the danger isn’t in not finding anything that tempts enough to buy a case or two. The danger is in not bringing a basket with wheels, because it WILL fill up by the time you reach the end, and all of those glass bottles and jars are heavy.

    In any case, it’s time to get back to the linen mines. The plants won’t water themselves, and one of the new enclosure elements requires lots and lots of tumbled glass shards for the proper effect. Pictures will follow: I promise.

    Five Nightmare Weekends Before Christmas: The Fifth

    For everyone else, it’s nearing the end of the holiday season. It’s now just cold enough in Dallas that coats in the morning are a necessity instead of an affectation, and we just might see sub-freezing temperatures by Christmas Day. Schools and universities are out for the year, and everyone not finishing up Christmas plans has a week to make plans for New Year’s Eve. Everyone at a job with use-it-or-lose-it vacation time is out and away, leaving the roads relatively clear of the worst drivers for those who still have to clock in. Next week will be more of the same: for all intents and purposes, the world returns to the eternal slog on January 8.

    Well, that’s how it works everywhere else. The last four Nightmare Weekends Before Christmas are memories, albeit good ones, Now it’s time for one last Nightmare Weekend on December 23 from noon until 6:00. For those still seeking solstice gifts, Saturday gives plausible deniability to the idea that you just wanted to come by to look around, and it helps pay the rent, too. For those seeking solace from the madness of mall or big-box store crowds, it’s a safe harbor. For everyone else, if the newly updated Enclosure Gallery section doesn’t give you an idea as to what to expect, then come in and be surprised.

    Not that things slow down after the holidays: far from it. It’s just that a lot of plans put off since the move from the old gallery space get to start up again. First and foremost is getting hot pepper seedlings established: the las Nightmare Weekend attracted several people asking about Bhut Jolokia and Carolina Reaper plants for bonsai, and last year’s batch were lost in a freeze the weekend of the final gallery move. This is in addition to getting ready for next year’s shows, starting with All-Con in mid-March, and finishing up commissioned enclosures. Want to have a hint as to what 2018 has in store? Check out the centerpiece for a new enclosure for an old friend and longtime customer, and consider that this is just the work in progress.

    And for some additional fun, it’s time to remind everyone of Bat World Sanctuary in Mineral Wells and introduce them to adoptee Benger the Avenger, who came out of the womb more goth than any of us will ever be. If he isn’t a natural Nightmare Before Christmas stocking stuffer, I don’t know what is: