The Aftermath: Spooky Spectacle 2019 – 2

For all of the aggravations with the Will Rogers Memorial Center, one of the joys with last week’s Spooky Spectacle involved an old friend from Tallahassee. Ever since that chance job offer in Tally introduced me to the world of carnivorous plants, the dream was to be able to grow Sarracenia pitcher plants in Dallas that were as robust as those in the Florida panhandle, and the famed white pitcher plant, Sarracenia leucophylla, was a particular challenge. Part of the thrill lay with S. leucophylla being as much of a nightowl as I am: in addition to the secretion of nectar and the UV fluorescence it shares with other species, the distinctive white lace lid and throat of its pitchers also fluoresce under moonlight. Even under a half-moon, the pitchers’ glow makes them stand out among other Sarracenia, but under a full moon, the pitchers are spectacular.

That this is an effective strategy for insectivory is demonstrated by cutting open a dead pitcher and examining the shells and other detritus of its prey. Fully half of the remains in a typical leucophylla pitcher kept outside are of moths, click beetles, and other purely nocturnal insects, and if you go around a stand of leucophylla in the middle of the night with an LED flashlight, you’ll see the cigarette-cherry glow of moth eyes as they fight to drink the nectar on pitcher lids and lids. (That’s not all you’ll see glowing. During the day, many Sarracenia have mantises, ambush bugs, lynx and crab spiders, and even tree frogs and anoles waiting next to or inside pitchers for incoming insect prey. Sarracenia leucophylla, though, also gets wolf spiders and the introduced Mediterranean gecko Hemidactylus turcicus camping out at its pitchers to feed on moths, and the same LED flashlight that reveals moth eyes will also return eyeshine from the wolf spiders as they await their chance.)

Anyway, the first full moon on a Friday the 13th in 19 years was a welcome coincidence the night before Spooky Spectacle, but even more welcome was that the leucophylla in the Triffid Ranch collection simply exploded this September. Sarracenia tend to have two growing seasons in North Texas with a long layover in the worst of the summer heat, with autumn pitchers being much more vibrant in color and size after their summer near-dormancy. The enthusiasm this year’s leucophylla had, though, wasn’t just surprising. It was almost shocking. Apparently others are reporting blowout leucophylla growth all over the Northern Hemisphere, and also with hybrids such as the favorite “Scarlet Belle,” but the only thing better than seeing it was being able to haul in plants to show off. I don’t know exactly what environmental factor is responsible for such growth, but that factor returning next autumn wouldn’t be unwelcome.

To be continued…

The Aftermath: Spooky Spectacle 2019 – 1

After a long run of exceptional events in 2019, it was inevitable that a show might not work out as well as others. The crew behind Spooky Spectacle, formerly the Granbury Paranormal Fest, tried their best to put together a great show, and having one that wasn’t outside in last weekend’s heat was very much appreciated. That said, I’m making the formal announcement that after four shows in the venue over the last decade, future shows at the Will Rogers Memorial Center in Fort Worth simply aren’t an option.

(I want to apologize to people who tried to come out and couldn’t find parking, so they had no choice but to turn around and leave. Will Rogers is already lacking in parking for events as it is, but between blocking off vendor parking and forcing vendors to take up potential attendee spaces, a walkathon that took up one entire lot, and remaining parking going to a “Party on the Patio” event at the Kimbell Art Museum during the evening, I’m glad that anybody could show up at all. I won’t get into the rampant incompetence of the company handling the parking in the first place: dealing with contradictory directions from yahoos who got off on the chaos made Saturday morning load-in an absolute joy, and I understand that things only got worse as the day went on. Combine that with “Party on the Patio” drunks driving the wrong way down one-way streets as we left and the main thoroughfare connecting the center to the highway undergoing its perpetual repair and subsequent narrowing to one lane each way, and I was surprised to see only one fistfight between frustrated attendees just wanting to park for the day.)

Anyway, barring the parking situation, the show gave a great opportunity to hang out with Triffid Ranch stalwarts and newcomers, and this is definitely a show I’ll show up for again…so long as it’s not at Will Rogers.

To be continued…

Have a Great Weekend

The autumn Triffid Ranch event schedule starts this weekend, so anyone who can’t make it to Spooky Spectacle in Fort Worth has other options between now and the beginning of December. You still don’t want to miss it, though.

Enclosures: “The Langerhaans Archipelago” (2019)

Administration Report: Kiernan 40592d (“Convoy”), security rating “Standard”

The first exploration of the human-habitable exoplanet Kiernan 40592d, informally referred to as “Convoy,” revealed many mysteries upon close orbital observation, including the fact that Convoy has almost no axial tilt. An axial tilt of .0000335 means that the planet has no discernable seasons; two large rocky moons and one metal-rich moon (possibly the remnants of a planetary core from the early days of the Kiernan 40592 system) contribute to a wider range of tidal effects than seen on Earth, but the wide expanses of land between water masses should have precluded the development of Convoy’s surprisingly Earthlike biota. The reason behind that variety lies with one of the first features spotted during the original survey: a cluster of artificial discs or “islands” moving slowly across the planet at the rate of approximately 500 meters per solar day. When first spotted, a member of the survey team noted that the cluster resembled a human pancreas, hence its informal name “The Langerhaans Archipelago.”

Over 4000 islands comprise the cloud, levitating above the planet’s surface and moving through an unknown technology. The islands range wildly in size, shape, diameter, altitude, and inclination, but all share a rock and soil top crust with a metallic rim and base, with a maximum diameter of 500 meters, The vast majority of the islands remain within the cloud, but some have been tracked breaking from the cloud and moving vast distances for unknown reasons before returning to the cluster, and others stopping on the surface and becoming covered with sediment or volcanic deposits. For the most part, however, individual islands stay at a consistent altitude and position within the cloud. The cloud itself moves in a circumpolar “orbit,” moving from arctic to equatorial latitudes and transporting life forms with them. (In extreme circumstances, the cloud moves around drastic changes on the surface, such as around the extensive shield volcano complex in the northern hemisphere when eruptions are ongoing.) In fact, at least one-third of the documented life on Convoy is only known from the Archipelago, with half of that endemic to one to three islands. Others disembark or die back as temperatures rise or fall, remaining at a particular latitude until the Archipelago returns.

The movement of the Archipelago is so consistent that an analogue to terrestrial flowering plants has evolved within the cluster, with “males” living on the surface and passing genetic material to “females” on the islands, who then scatter new plantlets on islands and the planet surface below. As temperatures and sunlight intensity change, many parent plants die back to corms until their optimal conditions return, thus causing drastically different appearances to islands depending upon the latitude at which they are located. Others remain with the Archipelago for their entire lives, with the change in latitude instigating stages in their life cycles such as metamorphosis and reproduction,

This arrangement has been in place for a very long time: radioisotope dating of the crust is problematic because of unknown factors involving erosion and redeposition and dating of the discs is nearly impossible, but most models suggest that the Archipelago is between 500 million to one billion standard years old. Since the Kiernan 40592 system is approximately two billion years younger than Earth’s, this suggests that the Archipelago was put into motion shortly after the planet’s crust cooled after its original formation.

Although no other trace of the cloud builders remains on Convoy or anywhere else within the planetary system, artifacts and debris from at least three advanced civilizations, two of which previously unknown, have been found both on individual islands and on one of Convoy’s moons. Likewise unknown is whether the Archipelago’s life forms evolved independently on Convoy or if they were transported by the cloud builders. Either way, extensive Administration research continues on understanding nutrient acquisition and transfer between Convoy’s surface and the islands, interactions between animals and plants across the cloud, effects of the cloud’s passing on biology and geology on the surface below. Permanent bases on Convoy’s surface are banned, and most exploration is done with a combination of drones and very carefully monitored human and robot activity.

Isolated islands have been found in a seemingly nonfunctional state, although longterm observation confirms that some of these “nonfunctional” platforms are in a sort of standby mode, possibly to establish particular plants, animals, and/or protists before rejoining the rest of the Archipelago. Several attempts have been made by Administration scientists to study the internal structure of the islands, but these have been hampered by a combination of the extremely tough composite structure of the outer shell and the equally advanced nanostructures within. Even cutting beams at the absolute lower limit produce a kerf wide enough to inhibit or disable island function, with one researcher (Stuyvesant,08311193-664-5) describing available technology as comparable to “shotgunning a Stradivarius to learn how to play it.”

Because of the discovery of islands going dormant but remaining functional, and the islands’ function in preserving and revitalizing the planet’s ecology, any attempt at damaging or disabling an island, or approval of any attempt, can and will be punished by a minimum of a loss of ten years’ income, incarceration in Administration facilities for a minimum of seven standard years, and a total permanent reversion of all privileges and clearances associated with advanced degrees or military rank. This has not stopped “accidents,” but it has slowed them to a crawl. Further research into the islands is overseen by Administration authorities, with full biohazard protocols applying at all times due to the similarities of Convoy’s ecosystem to that of Earth. Unauthorized visits to Convoy’s surface will be prosecuted to the maximum extent of

Dimensions (width/height/depth): 18″ x 36″ x 18″ (45.72 cm x 91.44 cm x 45.72 cm)

Plant: Nepenthes jamban

Construction: Glass enclosure. polystyrene foam, acrylic rod.

Price: $350

Shirt Price: $300

Have a Great Weekend

According to everyone’s least favorite superhero, Captain Pedantic, autumn doesn’t start for another two weeks, so saying that it’s Halloween season is somehow supposed to be folly. For those of us who survived the month-long kidney stone known as August, though, this a very special time. We’re on our way to jacket and sweater weather. We’re fast approaching that wonderful season when the best home furnishings are in every store. And if it stays warm enough for a few more weeks that night swimming and stargazing can be done at the same time? That’s just gravy.

The Texas Triffid Ranch Occasional Newsletter and Feed Lot Clearance Sale – 11

(The Texas Triffid Ranch Occasional Newsletter and Feedlot Clearance Sale is a regular Email newsletter, with archives available on the main TTR site at least a month after first publication. To receive the latest newsletters, please subscribe.)

Originally published on July 19, 2019.
 
Installment #11: “If You Go To Mos Eisley, You Will Die.”
 
My wife Caroline, the talent behind Caroline Crawford Originals, has it rough these these days. Well, she has it rough anyway. It’s bad enough when total strangers tell her “You’re an absolute saint for not throwing your husband feet-first into a tree mulcher” or “Does he talk that much ALL of the time?”, but when ex-girlfriends get together with her to commiserate on their temporary and her semi-permanent lapses in taste and sanity, she starts questioning, yet again, whether saying “I do” at the end of 2002 was such a great idea. And then there’s the constant reminders that she could just let me do what I’m planning to do, as she’s going to inherit my literary estate anyway, and what she does with the $1.49 she gets by selling off reprint rights is her business. “Hold my beer and watch THIS” is never uttered in the house or at the gallery because I can’t drink, but the concept can be found in a lot of discussions, usually involving reptile shows and road trips. As witnessed by plenty, it’s not a fancy dinner gathering without her stopping with fork halfway to lips, looking at me, and yelling “What the HELL is WRONG with you?”
 
Sometimes, though, I scare her. Such an event happened the weekend before last, when we were both having a lazy morning of going through email and catching up with friends online. For the sake of this discussion, picture this as the opening to a new Netflix limited sitcom, in an alternate reality where Mira Furlan would have shared top billing with the late Rik Mayall:
 
“Oh, THAT’s interesting.”
 
(Cut to Mira, who raises an eyebrow slightly but says nothing.”
 
(Rik puts down his phone for a moment.) “Just to let you know in advance, I’m leaving later this year to be with another woman.”
 
(Mira raises the eyebrow a bit higher, but still says nothing.)
 
“For the record, she’s married, too.”
 
(No perceptible movement. She’s heard this routine before.)
 
“We’re going to be gone for a week.”
 
“Oh. Thank you for letting me know that, dear.”
 
“And we’re going to Disneyland.”
 
(No immediately perceptible movement, but the glass screen of Mira’s phone starts to shimmer and sparkle in demonstration of the piezoelectric effect, as it is compressed, very slowly, into neutronium.)
 
“Oh, isn’t that nice. Are you going for Halloween?”
 
“Possibly. And I’m going to be too busy to call or write, too.”
 
(Mira’s eyebrow is now buried in the ceiling. The FX crew is going to be busy with either prosthetic elbows or CGI, but her elbows start sprouting long sharp bony spurs that drip a noxious gren venom onto the floor, burning holes in the carpet.)
 
“And WHAT do you have planned out there?”
 
“We’re going to see the new Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge park.”
 
(Mira says nothing: she just pulls out the big paracord net she keeps behind the chair, flings it over Rik before he recognize the threat, pulls out an autoinjector, and pumps 150ccs of specially formulated elephant tranquilizers into Rik’s carotid artery before he can escape. She stands over him, contemplating how the next few minutes will go and whether she’ll need an attorney or a wood chipper.)
 
“I beg your pardon?”
 
“We’re going to Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge. For WORK.” (This sentence is in subtitles due to the elephant tranquilizers, as not everyone in the audience is fluent in Vowel Movement.)
 
“And to do WHAT, exactly?”
 
“To check out plants.” (Rik is now turning bright blue, and he’s drooling much more than normally.)
 
(Mira goes offstage for a moment, returning with a ball peen hammer and her favorite baseball bat. “I’m only going to ask this once: what have you done with my husband? And PLEASE be difficult: you look so much like him that this is going to be fun. I still haven’t forgiven him for the ‘How Does Brundlefly Eat?” science fair project.”
 
“No, really. I swear.” (This comes out with a gurgle and belch at the same time.)
 
“Really. Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge? Do you really think I’m THAT stupid? Why didn’t you just tell me he was going out to get drunk?”
 
(Rik expires, signified by a four-minute fart that shakes the camera.)
 
In retrospect, I could understand Caroline’s trepidation. All through my writing days and predating them, ragging on Star Wars and its fanatics was a daily constant up there with cellular respiration and telomere degeneration. After years of arguing that while George Lucas had the better special effects budget, Ed Wood was the superior writer and director, the only reasonable response was the big net. The guy responsible for suggesting the Jar Jar Binks urinal cake saying that he wanted to visit an amusement park space solely dedicated to a cinematic franchise he mocked for decades, and without once asking about a “Cantina Barmaid Bea Arthur” action figure in the gift shop? What kind of madness is this?
 
(Slight digression for the sake of longtime acquaintances: the second greatest decision I ever made after quitting pro writing in 2002, after taking the job offer in Tallahassee that sent me on this odd path, was getting on the other side of the vendor table at science fiction events. Well, that and the fact that The Last Jedi and Rogue One were a lot better than I was originally willing to give them credit for being. If asked at the Day Job “Star Trek or Star Wars?”, I’m still going to answer “Don’t look at me: I’m a Babylon 5 kind of guy,” but that’s why I’m neck-deep in carnivores instead of roses or orchids,too.)
 
Well, some of the mystery faded for Caroline when I told her about the person I was leaving her for: Amanda Thomsen, the famed author of Kiss My Aster and for all intents and purposes my little sister, just came back from a tour of the landscaping department at Disneyland, and that started a very serious discussion. Amanda wasn’t just impressed by the efforts spent every day to keep up bedding and highlight plants in an amusement park with literally thousands of people per day tromping, stomping, flopping, and jumping all over the spaces between the “PLEASE KEEP OFF THE FLOWERS” signs. She was even more impressed by how effortless they make it look, too.
 
Now the reason why your humble narrator’s ears perked? The whole of Disneyland runs with a coordinated and orchestrated landscaping regime that changes for events and through the seasons. (And yes, there actually IS another season in Central Florida other than “Inhaling A Pot of Boiling Corn Syrup.” It just lasts for about maybe four hours in early January, which is why nobody in Orlando sleeps that month for fear of missing it.) That part is well-documented. However, Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge is a completely different challenge, and I wanted to see how the landscaping team worked with the challenge of selecting and arranging plants that didn’t bring visitors out of the illusion.
 
By way of example, science fiction in all of its forms was never really about predicting the future than it was about interpreting the present using extrapolations of the future as a lens. The problem is with trying to get the audience to accept those extrapolations and not get pulled out of the story. The late Harlan Ellison once related that one of his great epiphanies about futuristic settings was when he read a story as a teenager with the sentence “The door irised open.” Think about that for a second: “The door irised” open not only immediately signifies that this isn’t a typical contemporary setting, but it also leads to the question “So WHY does the door need to iris open?” That leads to all sorts of conjecture as to the whys and wherefores of the world into which the writer just booted us, and the fervent hope is that the writer gives us as good an explanation as what we already had running through our heads with that first sentence. Science fiction is generally described as a literature of “What If,” but the question that always follows “What if?” is “Why?”, and anyone creating any kind of science fiction had better be able to answer that.
 
Sometimes the process of prognostication goes a little off. Novels and short stories may be able to describe wide vistas never before seen, but the impact is still dependent upon the reader’s imagination. Visual arts can bypass that for a literal cost in actors, sets, costumes, and special effects, with a constant battle between vision and budget. Trying to go for that sense of wonder is compounded in an amusement park: camera angles can keep a movie audience from viewing the cables in an animatronic puppet, and that doesn’t work in the slightest with thousands of people poking, prodding, and peeking around it, seven days a week. Creating displays for public areas is a whole discipline with formal college degrees these days, and the compromise between making something heart-stopping and making something safe is very real.
 
The final aspect to consider are the aspects, almost always accidental, that pull audiences out of the illusion, and science fiction movies and television have a LOT of those. This isn’t just talking about reworking and repainting toys or appliances to turn them into props: you have the accidental anachronisms such as the assumption in 2001: A Space Odyssey that Pan Am would be still be an active airline, much less running orbital shuttles by the beginning of the new century, or the series Babylon 5 suggesting, even tongue in cheek, that Zima would be the drink of choice in 2258. The further back you go, the more obvious the set and FX redressings and repurposings: the original Star Trek was famed for using outrageously tacky furniture and wall accessories, under the idea that tacky was just the future ahead of its time, and bubble wrap was so new and exotic in England in the 1960s that Doctor Who characters wore quite a bit of it. The same applies with plants, with helleconias, dracaenias, ficuses, and the occasional jade plant filling in for exotic alien flora, or a gigantic collection of exotic orchids really consisting of about twenty Phalaenopsis orchid shot at different angles. If it’s recognizable or ridiculous, it pulls you out right then, and those of us in botany and horticulture are just a little less vocal about this than others.
 
Now, Disney amusement park design is anything other than haphazard, and one of the more intriguing aspects about Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge involves how hard the Disney crew worked to keep up the illusion that visitors aren’t in a park. For instance, all of the workers (referred to as “cast” in Disney parlance) have unique costumes and backstories, which they’re prepared to recite if questioned by patrons. That’s already applied across Disney parks with the company’s classic characters (think about the Disney princesses, for instance), but just think of the complexity of creating dozens or hundreds of unique personae, with unique clothes and tools and accessories, simulating all of the background characters seen for a moment or two in the Star Wars films, but able to step out and answer questions in character. Disney earned its reputation for that sort of character immersion, but this is pushing those previous efforts to a whole new level.
 
And that’s why I want to head out there with Amanda and take copious notes. From what pictures have come out from Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge, the landscaping design gives a suitably alien aspect to the attractions, but I want to get closer. I want to see what kind of plants and in what combinations and arrangements. I want to see if the trees are real trees or cunningly constructed simulations, and what species and cultivars if the former. I want to know how the arrangements are rotated based on the season and the compromises between “sufficiently alien for Star Wars” and “suited for Orlando’s climate.” Most importantly, I want to have a heads-up, because garden centers and nurseries are going to start getting calls asking “I saw this really cool plant at Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge, and can you get one for me?” and I want to answer “Oh, you BETCHA!” And then, after the Disney purchase of the entirety of the Twentieth Century Fox archive, I’ll be rooting for Disneyland to give the same treatment to Alien.

Other News

Oh, news is a bit, erm, intense this month. The Triffid Ranch finally got on the Atlas Obscura map this month, and that led to a wonderful conversation with Samantha Lopez at the Houston Chronicle that just came out on both the Chronicle and the MySanAntonio sites. This coincided with deciding to return the favor and sponsoring the Class of ’79 podcast from Fangoria magazine. The last is a particular payback, and not just because so many of the horror film releases of 1979 were so influential to me when I was finally old enough to hit the Dallas midnight movie circuit in the mid-Eighties: Fangoria‘s new owners have done more than enough justice to their promise to revive the magazine, and in my home town, too. This will be the first of many such sponsorships, for as long as I can manage, and they’re welcome to do a podcast hosted at the gallery, too.

Recommended Reading

Between longer days and lots of projects (including a series of commissions that are another reason why you won’t see another Triffid Ranch open house until the end of August), the To Be Read pile beside the bed has gone from “impressive” to “worrisome” to “a direct threat to the cats if it collapses.” (Not that either would notice: Alexandria would surf the flow, and Simon is now getting so big that the pile has to threaten to block the sun before he becomes concerned.) Among the textbooks on museum display design and airbrush techniques, though, it behooves thee to snag a copy of Jason Heller‘s Strange Stars, a thorough guide to the ongoing cross-pollination between science fiction and rock music through the 1970s, now that it’s out in paperback. (There’s a connection between this and the airbrush guides, too, considering the number of famed album cover artists who crossed back and forth between album covers and science fiction and fantasy novels, sometimes specifically because a musician saw a particular book cover and said “We NEED this look.”)

Music

And speaking of the intersection of science fiction and music, fans of esoteric music might recognize the name “Steven Archer” as part of the cultural colony organism known as Ego Likeness, and a few of you might even recognize him for his sideproject Hopeful Machines. Well, for a few years now, he’s been working as well on new albums for Stoneburner, a project inspired by Frank Herbert’s Dune novels. The latest Stoneburner album, Technology Implies Belligerence, just hit the streaming service feeds, and coming from a decade-long Archer fan, it’s his best yet. Go give it a listen, and then understand why it’ll be essential listening in the gallery when working on new enclosures.

The Aftermath: Texas Triffid Ranch Fourth Anniversary Open House

anniversary_08242019_1

It’s a little hard to believe everything that’s happened with the Texas Triffid Ranch since that day in July 2015 when we signed the lease on the old gallery location. Two old and dear friends who hadn’t formally met yet did so at the first open house, so it seemed particularly auspicious to celebrate their fourth anniversary (as well as Caroline’s fiftieth birthday) before the month ended. They weren’t able to make it (they were in Ireland at the time, taking advantage of a long-planned vacation), but they were missed by everyone else who came out.

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For those who missed out, the next show, the Autumn Extravaganza and Open House, is now officially scheduled for this coming October 12. Yes, we’re scheduling directly opposite the booze-and-vomitfest best known as Texas/OU Weekend. For those looking for alternatives to drunken crowds, random violence, and insane parking issues in October, we welcome you.

Have a Great Weekend

Two weeks to the Spooky Spectacle in Fort Worth, and this is the weekend that stretches. Potting, trimming, watering, and a serious bout of laundry, too. Lots and lots of laundry.

The Aftermath: Austin Oddities & Curiosities Expo 2019 – 5

Well, that’s about it as far as this year’s Oddities & Curiosities Expo season is concerned: check back after Halloween to find out alongside me as to dates and locations for 2020 events. And because the managers there deserve a special shoutout, many thanks to the Extended Stay America in downtown Austin next to the Palmer Event Center: I literally couldn’t have done this without you. Selah.

And so it goes.

The Aftermath: Austin Oddities & Curiosities Expo 2019 – 4

As promised, this year is the start of events outside of the Dallas area: this hasn’t been deliberate, but a side effect of setting up the old gallery and then having to move to the current location just as the old space was under control. Now that the current gallery is reasonably under control (but as Matt Howarth used to say, “It stops, but it never ends”), it’s time to start exploring.

As far as explorations with the Oddities & Curiosities Expo crew is concerned, that’s a funny story. Both August’s Austin show and last March’s Dallas show were absolute joys, both with attendees and staff, and my only problem lies with people asking “So are you going to be at next year’s shows?” The problem is that as of right now, nobody outside of Expo staff knows a thing about 2020’s show schedule, either dates or locations. I know that a lot of attendees are clamoring for Houston and San Antonio shows to go with Dallas and Austin, but we’ll all discover the 2020 plans on Halloween. Until then, rest assured that the Triffid Ranch will show up at Expo events for as long as they’ll put up with me, and 2020 might also feature two magical words on the Triffid Ranch show and event schedule: “New Orleans.”

To be continued…

The Aftermath: Austin Oddities & Curiosities Expo – 3

After looking at results over the last few years, I’ve noticed a major sea change in outré events such as the Oddities & Curiosities Expos, and I’m still processing the implications. Widely anticipated events that only occur once per year are increasingly packed, if only from the number of people who heard about the previous event and buy tickets very early so as not to miss out. Biannual two-day shows for a very specialized crowd can work, but generalized gatherings for a wide range of enthusiasts come up short. For one-shot events, touring shows, or revived or rebooted events, one-day shows work well, but two days just spreads out the crowd without getting new attendees. It’s easy to blame social media for this (and I’ve watched some event organizers do so, to the point of one personally contacting everyone who expressed interest in his event to nag them about why they weren’t at the show), but I suspect the shift away from three-day and four-day events just signals a change in available free time. One-day first-time events require a commitment to getting out to it on that day: two days means it’s far too easy to kick the football to Sunday, only to have something else get in the way.

Whatever the situation, one-day events are becoming quite the thing this year, and I heartily endorse them in the future. Yes, they require more preparation beforehand, but they also attract people who really want to be there. That sort of enthusiasm is infectious.

To be continued…

Have a Great Weekend

The Texas Triffid Ranch Fourth Anniversary Open House opens on Saturday at 6:00 CST, , so now you have plans for the weekend. This will probably be the last open house until October, so you definitely have plans for the weekend.

The Aftermath: Austin Oddities & Curiosities Expo 2019 – 2

For those who have never been to Texas, a primer in humidity. As can be expected with a state with such a wide range of climates and biomes, each big city has a completely different atmosphere. Being very close to the Gulf of Mexico shore, Houston is soupy: incessant winds off the Gulf bow moisture inland. Austin is semidesert, where competing south winds strip the essential moisture from your skin and leave a crackle of salt on your skin that used to be sweat. Dallas is the worst of both worlds, where the morning air is best described as “too thick to breathe, too thin to waterski on,” but afternoon humidity in August can drop to as low as 7 percent just before the sun goes down.

This led to some interesting conversations at last weekend’s Oddities & Curiosities Expo in Austin, as about a quarter of the attendees and vendors hailed from Houston and New Orleans and another quarter from Dallas and Tulsa. No matter how often they visit, the Houstonians still can’t get used to their scalps bunching up and their lips dessicating as the day goes by. The Dallasites, though, revel in salt crystals growing between their shoulder blades like Godzilla fins and leaving lumps of uric acid in the toilet, because it beats the slow poaching of Houston. Listening to all of this are people from more amenable climes, who can now count their kidney stones by listening to the rattle while they walk, who break the monotony by screaming “What the hell is WRONG with you people?” when they aren’t screaming about their eyeballs collapsing in on themselves.

It’s a fair question, especially when wandering the streets of Austin looking for food that won’t require two hours’ wait for a seat. That’s why you stay away from anyone over the age of 50 in Texas when complaining about the weather: the odds are pretty good we’ve lived through the record highs and lows, and as soon as you hear the sigh of “If you think this is bad, you should have been here in 1980,” it’s already too late to escape.

To be continued…

The Aftermath: Austin Oddities & Curiosities Expo 2019 – 1

At the beginning of the year, the plan for 2019 was simple: more shows, more unique shows, and more shows outside of Dallas. The execution, of course, involved both finding these shows and getting to them. Texas’s geography and geology entails lots of fields and scrublands between cities, and its meteorology requires being able to get between those cities as quickly as possible, especially in summer. The new touring Oddities & Curiosities Expo offered opportunities to test both geography and meteorology, and after last March’s flabbergastingly successful Dallas show, it was one of the best options for getting practice in touring.

One of the absolutes on out-of-town shows, besides the guarantee that one small but vital item will be left behind by accident (in this case, a DC-to-AC inverter for the battery powering display lights), is that you should always take any estimates of travel time and throw them through a wall. The vast majority of the trip between Dallas and Austin was as uneventful as can be expected in August: hot, sunny, and dry, and much of the perpetual road construction on Interstate Highway I-35 was complete or in its final stages. What neither I nor many other vendors expected was the near-perpetual traffic jam to the north of Austin, one that exists for no readily discernible reason, so a nearly three-hour cushion to get the Triffid Ranch booth set up turned into a frantic ten-minute rush to get plants out of the heat before the doors to the Palmer Event Center closed for the night. Thankfully, the Expo crew allowed lots of time the morning of the show to get established, so after everything cooled off overnight, it was time to get going….

To be continued…

Enclosures: “Eternity Vault” (2019)

Description: A specialized commission for a customer wishing to add his own selection of plants, this enclosure was inspired by any number of utility company and military projects. These installations surrounded equipment that didn’t and couldn’t justify constant upkeep but that still functioned perfectly well, even as paint flaked and seedlings turned into trees.

Dimensions (width/height/depth): 24″ x 18″ x 18″ (60.96 cm x 45.72 cm x 45.72 cm)

Plant: None

Construction: Glass enclosure. polystyrene foam, polyester resin, found items.

Price: Commission: not for sale.

Shirt Price: Commission: not for sale.

Have a Great Weekend

Just arrived in Austin for the Oddities & Curiosities Expo at the Palmer Event Center this Saturday, after two hours being caught in downtown Austin traffic. I’ll see everybody tomorrow, after I get something to eat and get a full night’s rest.
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The Aftermath: DFWS FIRST Thrift Convention – 3

One final mention about the DFWS FIRST Thrift Convention: in a year of truly outstanding shows, it’s the little ones that keep surprising me. The organizers tentatively plan for a followup show in November: if it doesn’t conflict with Austin trip, I’ll be the first one handing over the booth fee.

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…

Have a Great Weekend

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…