Daily Archives: May 24, 2012

A pressing need to buy some land

One of the many reasons why the Czarina and I are coming up on ten years of successful marriage is because we always bounce our insane business ideas off the other before we do anything. (Well, that’s one reason. Another one is that a steady diet of science fiction television shows as a kid meant that I have a decided attraction to women much smarter than I am. Friends went crazy over girls in Slave Leia outfits, while I had much more interest in the Maya/Delenn/Saavik/Martha Jones girls in school. The Czarina, in turn, has one particular type: Rik Mayall.) The idea is that we hone project proposals and show concepts until they’re stable and reasonable, and then let the other burn big holes in those proposals and concepts with acetylene torches and thermite. If they don’t collapse, implode, or catch fire after the interrogation, then they’ll probably work in real life. After a decade of the Czarina giggling with glee as some of my business proposals crawl on the floor, begging for a quick death, preparing for an oral defense of my Ph.D thesis is going to be a doddle.

Don’t think that we necessarily enjoy this. It’s bad enough that we’ve watched a lot of retail concepts, ones that would have worked at any time other than the worst recession in the last 80 years, died because the concept planned for profitability in three years instead of six. We both have equipment purchased from once-successful and once-popular companies at their liquidation sales. Most of all, I was in incredible lust for a defunct garden center in Plano a few years back: the garden center had been in business for 30 years before the founders sold it to their son, he decided to neglect the longtime customers in favor of getting into high-end landscaping, and defaulted on his business loans when the real estate bust hit and his big clients decided not to pay their bills. It’s not just because we wanted to avoid really bad business ideas, such as starting a street-corner circus troupe or opening a bookstore with no money down.

As far as that garden center was concerned, I didn’t go for it for multiple reasons. The least of which was having three-quarters of a million dollars on hand, which is what the property was valued at the beginning of 2009. (The garden center itself was recently bulldozed to clear the land, because any other potential buyers felt the way I did.) The other big reason is that while the Triffid Ranch is nowhere near ready for a full-time retail presence, getting a more serious growing environment is becoming pressing. This requires buying land, and the rest of the garden center can wait.

Right now, two things conspire against me on finding a suitable tract of property, properly zoned for agricultural activities and not harboring hidden munitions dumps or chemical waste caches. (Don’t laugh. Around here, it happens.) The first is that North Texas is flat, meaning that only the occasional creekbed and the even more occasional lake or reservoir prevents farmland from being used for other things, such as strip malls or apartment complexes. In fact, those minor impediments have never stopped local developers unless city ordinances, state laws, and smacks in the head stop them. I once watched as a large apartment complex was condemned because the developer built right to the edge of a creekbed, and a sudden gullywasher wiped out the foundations on five buildings and the tennis court. This means that odd little spaces perfect for carnivorous plant propagation just aren’t available.

The other big part of the conspiracy lies with the owners. The Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex owes most of its growth, most of its problems, and most of its desirability on being able to expand outward, and only $4 gasoline has made the idea of living a two-hour drive from one’s place of employment unacceptable. During the real estate boom, developers bought every last bit of farmland they could get, with intentions to flip it to anyone actually planning to use it. Some of these developers are hanging on in the hopes that 2006 land prices will return, because Some Guy told them that it would happen any day now. Others were foreclosed upon, and then their banks went under and their assets acquired by other banks that themselves blew up. The same thing happened during the oil bust of the late Eighties and the bank bust of the early Nineties, when the game was “This is Thursday, so our owner is Hibernia Bank”. If the property has a sign on it, you have a 50/50 chance of the contact name and phone number being four years obsolete, with the realtor returned to a more suitable career in child pornography or regional magazine journalism, and a lot of good lots had the big wooden signs chainsawed down three years ago. They might come back onto the market before 2020, and the Dallas Cowboys might win a shutout World Series pennant this year, too.

This is why I feel particular jealous rage toward the Idiot Gardener, who apparently found his perfect locale. I’m certain that the Czarina can sympathize with his wife: we regularly drive past a failed experiment with Home Depot for a landscape supply outlet, already set up as a full greenhouse, and she has to listen to me whimper about how all I need to do is sell body parts to take over the space. Telling her “I didn’t say they had to be my body parts” doesn’t help, either.

And so the search continues. Licensing and financing issues are entertaining enough, but then we get into the discussions of renting said land versus buying it. Now that’s one route I won’t take unless I can’t help it, as a particular favorite nursery of mine shut down in 2000 when the property owner decided to sell the space and gave the nursery 30 days’ notice. (I’ll note that the property is still up for sale and still empty, as the price quoted by Some Guy as its value isn’t close to a reasonable price.) One thing is absolutely certain, though. If anyone had told me a decade ago that I’d be researching farmland prices and checking for spring flooding, I’d have called that person a loony. Today, I’d hand that person a spare smartphone and said “Call this realtor and see if anyone’s made an offer on that corner lot.”

I’m living in my own private Tanelorn

I’m reaching the age where big chunks of my earlier life slough off like old scabs, and my high school days were one gigantic road-rash strawberry the size of a Winnebago. I’m not going to bore all of you with tales of Lewisville High School in scenic Lewisville, Texas, save to note that I no longer receive invitations to class reunions. I can’t figure out why: all I did was state, very publicly, that the best thing about the school fight song was the lyrics. (This was actually pretty sedate, compared to how I felt while I was there. I was nearly suspended for suggesting in the school paper that all we needed around the school was a canal, and life there would be identical to a rather popular John Carpenter movie of the time.)

Even with this, and a still-unfulfilled oath to recreate the “Dick Dent” scene from Sid & Nancy with my old newspaper editor, the cliched seeds of my horticultural future came from those days in the early Eighties. My old sponsors in the Future Farmers of America would have seizures if they saw what I was doing these days, but I actually want to thank them for the experience and for everything I learned back then. Best of all, I learned just enough to avoid being voted “Most Likely To Run a Grow House in Lake Dallas,” so I’m happy.

This isn’t to say that I haven’t heard from the school in recent years. A couple of years back, I received a solicitation from the school district, asking all of its alumni to pay back into the Lewisville Independent School District to help teachers afford such basics as paper for exams and science equipment. I understood all too well, as we had similar cutbacks during my time because the school needed to re-sod the football field. I very kindly offered to make a very large contribution, under the proviso that all contributions were to be matched with equal cuts to the high school football program, which is supposed to be self-sustaining. I never heard from them again.

All of this came to a head last night, when I received an invitation from an old friend to attend the last-ever Lewisville High walk-through. Apparently, the school’s condition is so bad that the school district figured that demolishing it was cheaper than trying to bring it up to current code, so former Fighting Farmers are encouraged to come out this next Sunday afternoon and view the place one more time before it’s torn down. I’m sorely tempted to join the party, but only if I can help out with the demolition as well: