Category Archives: Shows

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…

“Overture, Turn the Lights…”

There’s always plenty of time for preparation, until there isn’t. This weekend’s Oddities & Curiosities Expo in Dallas’s Fair Park kicks off the Texas Triffid Ranch show season, and that season will be going full-bore until November this year. Come out Saturday from 11 am to 6 pm for the Expo, or come out to the gallery for next weekend’s Manchester United Flower Show on April 6. After that, hang on, because it’s time to get busy.

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 -1

I was warned. “The weather may keep a lot of people from attending,” they said. “The crowd for the holiday popup is a fraction of the spring popup show,” they said. “Parking can sometimes be an issue,” they said. Oh, if only other shows this year had gone so well. Many thanks to everyone who came out, asked questions about the carnivores, and took home carnivores and dragonfruit, and expect a return for the spring show. If the last non-gallery Triffid Ranch show of 2018 is a harbinger for next year, 2019 is going to kill me.

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?

    The Aftermath: Blood Over Texas Horror For the Holidays V – 6

    And that’s about it for the 2018 Horror For the Holidays: now the only problem is waiting for the word that the 2019 show is seeking vendors. It’s like the day after Halloween.

    The Aftermath: Blood Over Texas Horror For the Holidays V – 5

    16 years ago, my life changed when I accepted a job interview with a tech company in Tallahassee, Florida. It was a fly-in/fly-out interview, but what I saw was enough to risk moving across country for something that might turn back into pumpkins and mice at any moment. (That’s about what happened, and several former co-workers regularly re-apologize for my getting laid off just before Christmas. I tell them that they have nothing to apologize for: if not for those four months in Tally, my life would be drastically different today, and much less satisfying. Hell, I might have returned to writing for science fiction magazines.) I had a lot of entertaining encounters in both the Dallas and Tallahassee airports, but one of the most interesting was from a Miami native who was switching flights in Tally before heading home, and he asked why the HELL would I want to live in the Florida Panhandle. “South Florida: that’s where the action is!”

    Years later, after visiting Tampa and making friends I still hold dear, I understood what he was getting at. At the same time, in this line of work, a bit of quiet is exactly what I need to get things done.

    It’s the same situation with Austin. “Look at all of the events out here! Look at the clubs, and the galleries, and the bookstores! Why, Dallas doesn’t even HAVE bookstores! You stand around staring at two-story buildings and ask if they have those newfangled indoor toilets!” Okay, so we’re not as relentlessly exciting as Austin, but we’re not completely uncivilized: the Adolphus Hotel in downtown finally took down the big “Free HBO in your room!” sign about a week ago. And if we don’t use indoor toilets, it’s usually because we’re really angry with a neighbor.

    This isn’t a slam against Austin (two decades ago, if you’d told me I’d be defending Austin instead of riding a nuke into downtown, I’d have questioned your sanity, but times change), but it’s just not a town conducive to what the Triffid Ranch is trying to do. The secret to Dallas is that we’re not the hidebound, stick-in-the-mud business city popularly presented: we’ve got a wide-ranging music community, one hell of an arts community, and a lot of unorthodoxy that’s not advertised. That’s for a reason: the longer we can keep the contingent of SMU brats away, the longer a venue, locale, or community can last. It starts with a few of them coming in seeing if anyone knows any good coke dealers, and like roaches discovering spilled sugar, they leave scent trails for their friends. Before you know it, developers discover that artistic sweat equity made a locale particularly desirable, and it’s gentrified out of existence. The SMU brats who wanted to live there because it was cool leave because they don’t have a place to slum, the developers follow, and everyone else tries to rebuild elsewhere. The longer we keep quiet, the longer what we have lasts.

    This means that Dallas runs on a different artistic cycle than most cities. Nobody cares if you’re an aspiring writer or painter: the only people who think this matters are yuppies who assume that crowing “Well, I’M an artist!” will get them into loft spaces otherwise inaccessible to those with neither brains nor soul. Respect comes from finishing the projects you say you’re going to finish, no matter how lonely or bored you are in the interim, and then producing more. Dallas is a tough teacher in that regard, especially since the city in general only notices successful artists after they’ve become successful elsewhere, but it also produces people who don’t quit halfway through because they’re not getting enough attention. And for some of us, that lack of attention is a greater motivator than getting attention, because it makes us strive that much harder to prove we can do it. Distractions just prevent production.

    And that, in a nutshell, is why I can’t live in Austin, or Houston, or New York, or New Orleans. Please note that I said nothing about dragging out enclosures and visiting.

    The Aftermath: Blood Over Texas Horror For the Holidays V – 4

    One of the minor issues with attempting new shows outside of the Dallas area is the sheer surface area and volume of Texas. Anybody growing up here doesn’t think twice about a two-hour drive to get somewhere, because that’s usually the only option. My friend Stephen Dedman came out to Dallas from Australia at the beginning of the decade to visit, and picked a hotel between Dallas and Fort Worth so he could visit both cities within a given day. The poor man had no idea as to how a “quick trip” between Dallas and Fort Worth could take up a good portion of the day, and that’s on a day without traffic congestion or foul weather. And getting anywhere else? Texarkana is nearly a six-hour drive away, and both New Mexico and Colorado are about eight. Only in Texas could a company like Southwest Airlines get started: for years, Southwest’s main business was in commuter traffic between Dallas, Houston, San Antonio, and Lubbock, and $99 weekend flights to Houston are still a significant portion of the company’s business, because it’s cheaper to fly than to drive.

    (In 2010, I visited Boston to do a presentation on carnivorous plants for a science fiction convention west of town, and planned a Friday trip to visit Black Jungle Terrarium Supply smack in the middle of Massachusetts. My hosts were beyond horrified to discover that because of Massachusetts’s notoriously poor highway signage, I overshot my turn and kept going, only turning around when I started picking up radio ads for concerts in Saratoga Springs, New York. I’d traveled the length of the state that afternoon, something many natives never do, and back, and was completely nonplussed at the drive. These same friends were frothing and chewing the walls when I told them that I probably would have kept going just to see what I could see if I didn’t have to be back that evening: I haven’t been in Saratoga Springs for 40 years as of this month.)

     The reasonably flat vistas of Texas are both blessing and nightmare for long transport trips: we took extraordinarily well to the implementation of the interstate highway system, which means that barring breakdowns, food and fuel are extremely accessible. Even the so-called Hill Country of central Texas is gentle rises for someone used to the Rocky Mountains or even the Adirondacks, which saves on fuel consumption but also leads to our famed constant wind out of the south. The flatness also means that west of Tyler, depending upon rain or trees for shade on the highway is a fool’s hope, and it’s very easy to overheat when caught in traffic jams on a major highway. Fact is, doing out-of-town shows in Texas makes the thought of doing shows outside of the state a bit rougher: I was recently invited to be a vendor for a big convention in Salt Lake City, and the biggest reason for turning it down was the thought of having to drive through the Rocky Mountains, with or without chains, for most of the way. (The snowstorm that hit the area the day I would have been driving back was confirmation that I made the right decision.)

     At the same time, years of shows at Texas Frightmare Weekend have introduced me to a throng of wonderful folks, both customers and friends, who hop on commuter flights to Dallas from the rest of the state. It’s going to be a while before I get the chance to see them all in their home turf, but I’m working on it.