Category Archives: Things to Do in Dallas When You’re Dead

The Aftermath: Carnivorous Plant Workshop at Curious Garden

Waking up on a summer Saturday morning in North Texas is hard. It’s bad enough that this time of the year, the big yellow hurty thing in the sky races to emerge before you can finish your coffee (or, in my case, Dr. Pepper) and blast your reason for living to ash. It’s not just that the local air quality moves from “sultry” to “too thick to breathe, too thin to plow,” or that the filth in  the air conditioner’s air filter makes you wonder if the cats took multiple dumps in it. By the first weekend in June, the only willing people up with the sun on a Saturday are farmer’s market vendors, air conditioner mechanics, and masochists whose gimp suits are at the cleaners. The rest of us are smart and get everything done under soothing moonlight, draw the blinds, and sleep until the worst of the heat passes. Yes, it’s that much harder to readjust come Monday morning when the day job calls, but the people fussing about this aren’t the ones who have to live with it.

That’s why it was such a pleasant surprise to see the crowd already lined up for the first carnivorous plant workshop at the newly relaunched Curious Garden on June 9. After the success of its recent taxidermy workshop, Curious Garden was a perfect locale for discussing the vagaries of carnivores and helping the participants go home with a carnivore of their very own.

As to new workshops, that depends upon upcoming schedules, but they’re very likely. Keep an eye open for updates, and register quickly when they appear: this one was large enough that we almost needed a larger space to hold everyone.

Upcoming Events, June 2018 Edition

A month after Texas Frightmare Weekend, and things in the gallery are finally under control. New and reworked enclosures are going strong, the propagation area is full of new and exciting species, and the deep freeze in the back is full of frozen blueberries. (Take this from a longtime resident: about the only thing that makes summer in Texas livable is the explosion of East Texas blueberries in farmers’ markets and grocery stores, and the only thing that makes July and August tolerable is knowing that June was spent filling every refrigerated space in the vicinity with June’s and April’s and Melissa’s blueberries. By the time the blueberries run out, the local craft stores are full of Halloween stuff, which is usually enough to get through the last few weeks of baking heat before things start cooling off. This routine works until the day it’s possible to live like an African lungfish and aestivate in mucus and mud cocoons until the rains return.) This is the time of the year where everyone knows firsthand what a grasshopper on a griddle feels like (there’s a very good reason why sheepskin car seat covers were popular in Dallas in the days of vinyl car seats, especially for those fond of shorts), so the idea is to offer events and activities either indoors or after dark, and preferably both.

One of the advantages of emulating a Gila monster in the summer heat (living underground, emerging only to suck eggs and swallow baby bunnies whole, and dealing with interlopers with a venomous bite) is having plenty of time to organize for the days when the sun’s default setting drops below “supernova”. 2018 has been interesting in that regard: this year’s Deep Ellum Arts Fest was an anomalous combination of torrential rains and near-freezing temperatures, so registering for the 2019 Fest wasn’t even a question. This is also the year to see about admission to the famed Cottonwood Art Festival down the road from the gallery in October, as well as a lot of smaller shows and events through the area. The first showing at the Deep Ellum Art Company was a hit, and that may be a regular showing venue as well.

As far as the traditional Triffid Ranch shows are concerned, things are lively. Texas Frightmare Weekend’s open call for vendors starts soon, with notice on acceptance usually arriving in August. That’s also about the time for applications for the Blood Over Texas Horror for the Holidays show in Austin in November, and two weeks after Horror for the Holidays is the two-day revived Dallas Fantasy Fair at the Irving Convention Center. That last one is going to be the most interesting, especially since I was a regular guest during my writing days through the first half of the 1990s until the original convention imploded in 1996. On one side, even the kids who were at the last few Fantasy Fairs are in their thirties and forties now, and nostalgia from the older fans might not be enough. On the other, Dallas still has precious little to do on Thanksgiving weekend that doesn’t involve movies or malls, and the Thanksgiving Fantasy Fair weekends in the Eighties and Nineties made that weekend a lot more tolerable for those of us without family plans (or those with families they had to escape for a while). Either way, let’s see what happens.

(As an aside, while it’s great to get invitations to attend other shows as a vendor, please understand that being able to attend is a combination of logistics and scheduling, and those can collide with interstate regulations, weather patterns, or the laughable concept of “personal life.” Please also understand two things, the first being that my having to reject a vendor request almost always isn’t personal, but that every show requires about a week before the show to prepare and a week after to recuperate and reorganize. Therefore, every two-day or three-day show effectively cuts out three weeks per month that could be used to create new enclosures or perform essential maintenance at the gallery, which is why we schedule the regular gallery shows for the months where we aren’t running an outside event. The second thing is that whining, guilt trips, or pushiness, especially of the “don’t you owe it to yourself to come to our show?” type, WILL guarantee a blacklist on even the remotest possibility of coming out to future events. This is a roundabout way to recommend not following the lead of Fear Con in Salt Lake City and taking a lot of care with vendor contact information. Unsolicited entry into a mailing list is bad enough, but texting when the mailing list wasn’t getting an immediate response? Oh, that’s a blocking.)

And for the regular gallery showings? Scheduling conflicts kicked in for the end of June, so the next Triffid Ranch gallery opening has been moved to Saturday, July 7. It’s a touch late for Canada Day, but as a chance to see Michel Sarrazin‘s namesakes in the pulp, it’ll still be worth the trip. Expect details in the very near future, as well as a few surprises, and some might even include blueberries.

The Aftermath: Texas Frightmare Weekend 2018 – 8

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And that about closes it out for Texas Frightmare Weekend 2018. 350 days to go before Texas Frightmare Weekend 2019, and I can only hope to top this year’s show.(Maybe next year, I’ll be hit by an asteroid.) Many thanks to everyone who came out for this show, innumerable thanks to the staff and crew at Frightmare, and a sincere promise of reparations to the fellow vendors who had to listen to me all weekend long. I truly apologize for your pain.frightmare_2018_78frightmare_2018_79frightmare_2018_80frightmare_2018_81frightmare_2018_82frightmare_2018_83frightmare_2018_84frightmare_2018_85frightmare2018_59

The Aftermath: Texas Frightmare Weekend 2018 – 7

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To be continued…

The Aftermath: Texas Frightmare Weekend 2018 – 6

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To be continued…

The Aftermath: Texas Frightmare Weekend 2018- 5

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As an aside, for those unfamiliar with the Shirt Price policy, buying a Texas Triffid Ranch shirt (or other item of clothing) and then wearing it to a show or gallery event not only makes you the subject of envy and admiration, but it imparts several special abilities. Firstly, the money from the purchases supports local Dallas artist Larry Carey. Secondly, wearing that shirt to an event gives an automatic price discount on all Triffid Ranch purchases. Thirdly, as was the case this weekend, Triffid Ranch shirt wearers received extras, in this case a Venus McFlytrap Monster High doll. People should be rewarded for being unconventionally stylish, right? (And many thanks to the people who had no interest in plants but who wanted to buy a Triffid Ranch shirt anyway. Getting to share Larry’s artwork is a big deal for me, and has been for the last decade.)

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To be continued…

The Aftermath: Texas Frightmare Weekend 2018 – 4

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To be continued…

The Aftermath: Texas Frightmare Weekend 2018 – 3

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To be continued…

The Aftermath: Texas Frightmare Weekend 2018 – 1

frightmare_2018_7This being the tenth Texas Frightmare Weekend show for the Triffid Ranch. the dynamic of the crowd coming by the booth is changing, and all for the good. Teenagers who came by to peruse in 2009 are now bringing their kids by, and others bring by pictures of plants purchased in previous years as if they’re showing off grandchildren. Sometimes the shock is how much the kids have grown in just a year. A lot of Frightmare regulars will relate how so many of the attendees are like family, and that’s a fair assessment: I’m just the uncle who sits near the end at Thanksgiving dinner and makes those seated at the kid’s table ask “How DOES he manage to get that soda straw that far up his nose?”

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To be continued…

 

 

The Aftermath: Texas Frightmare Weekend 2018 -Introduction

So. About last week’s Texas Frightmare Weekend show. I could talk about the extra weeks spent on making sure that everything was done in advance, so I could roll up a truck and head out early on Friday morning for load-in. I could bring up the ongoing tradition of Dallas getting heavy thunderstorms during that weekend each year, one of which led to my nickname among the convention staff as “Sparky” after the truck was hit by lightning. I could mention that after my left ankle decided to go in directions not recommended by the rest of my skeletal structure, I’m putting down nonskid tape on the front steps of the gallery this weekend so slipping on rain-slick concrete on those front steps never happens to anyone else. I could mention how after having to miss load-in on Friday, the Frightmare crew helped get me in early on Saturday morning, with everything up and ready literally as the first crowds came rushing back. I could mention that nine hours of standing while talking with customers isn’t bad, except that favoring an injured left ankle puts all sorts of stresses on one’s right knee. I could, but why belabor my failings on what was probably the best Frightmare yet?

As a vendor, I look at each year’s show with surprise: it’s hard to believe that the show runs this smoothly every year without some sort of public incident, but there you have it. When the biggest complaint is the relatively high cost of hotel food, and this is NOTHING compared to comparable costs at various convention centers in which I’ve set up booths, you have a show that should be emulated by everybody in the science fiction/fantasy/horror convention circuit. Events run within a couple of minutes of the stated time, instead of “when we damn well feel like it.” The registration crew handles general queries and emergencies with the aplomb of a tapdancing brain surgeon, and with a lot less mess. Convention security is practically invisible except when needed, and then they cloud up like a bee swarm and take out the issue right then. The promotion is savvy and understated, since the best promotion is word of mouth, and this year’s attendees were a great mix of first-timers and decade-long vets. After decades of conventions with far too many attendees and staffers assuming that Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas was an instruction manual, there’s something incredibly relaxing as a vendor in knowing that everyone is watching out for each other, and that’s Frightmare’s greatest strength. All of this needs to be put at the feet of founder Loyd Cryer: every time a reporter notes that he had serious questions from loan officers about the viability of a horror convention in the Dallas area when he started in 2005, we all just laugh and laugh.

In return, as befitting such a great venue, the plant selection rose to the challenge, especially with the number of longtime attendees finally ready to move to more exotic and challenging species. The new butterworts were a huge hit, especially after pointing out the containers full of Utricularia calycifida “Asenath Waite” to the H.P. Lovecraft fans. A wider range of highland and lowland Nepenthes to go with the beginner’s plants, and the first time the Triffid Ranch table had Heliamphora on display…oh, and a starting selection of hot peppers, with both “Numex Halloween” and “Carolina Reaper” catching everyone’s eyes. This year, the problem wasn’t with having enough for everyone. The problem was illustrated by the people who came by later on Sunday because of the crowds four and five rows deep in front of the booth on Saturday.

As with each previous show, the aftermath of this year’s Frightmare tested new display concepts, highlighted the need for new ideas, and emphasized the need to get rid of ideas that no longer work. This means a lot of work between now and next May 3 to finalize such things as QR codes on both individual plants and groupings by genera, leading to pages on basic care in order to make it easier on the folks on the outer edges of the crowds to get information. It means updating display shelves, both for improved access to the plants and for improved weight management. (The only thing heavier than glass is glass full of water and sphagnum moss, as my biceps keep telling me.) It means alternate lighting systems, such as a heavy-duty battery for venues where access to electricity is either unavailable or ridiculously expensive. It’s a lot of work, but now that the gallery is reasonably under control, it’s time to focus on upgrading the off-site presence.

And the really surprising part? It’s a matter of looking back over the preceding shows to see how far it’s all come. That first show in 2009, with all of the plants that could be shoved into the back of a PT Cruiser, a big bookcase full of vintage gonzo gardening books, and a lot of stuff that simply wasn’t necessary or got in the way, was pathetic compared to last weekend. It’s a shock as to how far it’s all come, and that gives incentive to push even harder to get to where it’s going.

To be continued…

State of the Gallery: May 2018

Well. With Texas Frightmare Weekend recently ended (and photos and discussions on same will be online shortly), it’s time to shift gears, relax, and take a couple of weeks off to recover. And if you believe that, I have some great converted shopping mall live/work spaces at the bottom of the Trinity River that I’ll regretfully let go to someone who will appreciate them, too. Right now, the clock starts for preparation for the next Frightmare, and the real trick is to get everything else done over the next year as well.

Because of preparation and arrangement time, May and the first part of June will be relatively quiet as far as gallery events, but that’s because the Triffid Ranch goes mobile over the next two months. The fun starts with a showing at the Deep Ellum Art Company on Sunday, May 20, focusing on larger enclosures, from 2:00 to 6:00 that afternoon. Three weeks later, the Triffid Ranch gets much more hands-on with a workshop on carnivorous plants at Curious Garden and Natural History in Lakewood, including leaving with your own hand-planted sundew or butterwort enclosure. For the latter, contact Curious Garden to reserve your space in the workshop: the fee for registration and supplies is $30 per person.

This doesn’t mean that the gallery is abandoned: the next big gallery event is scheduled for Saturday, June 30 as a very slightly early Canada Day celebration. This includes a celebration of the famed French doctor and naturalist Michel Sarrazin, for whom the genus Sarracenia is named. Yes, that means lots of North American pitcher plants, as well as some other surprises. As always, admission is free, with lots of plants available to take home.

On the convention circuit, things will be quiet for the rest of the year, with one possible exception. After founder Larry Lankford’s death in 2013, an absolute on Dallas conventions with the older crowd was reminiscing about the long-defunct Dallas Fantasy Fairs, which ran three times a year from the mid-Eighties until their demise in 1996. A few members of that old crowd would make noises about reviving the shows every once in a while, but those noises remained such until about two weeks ago. That’s when the first formal announcements of headliner guests announced the 2018 Dallas Fantasy Fair, scheduled for the weekend of November 23-25 at the Irving Convention Center. It’s still early days yet, so the convention has little more than a Facebook page for further information, but the con organizer is already taking vendor requests for more information. If nothing else, a convention the weekend after Thanksgiving is a good way to get started with regular weekend openings at the gallery all through December. Details will follow as they arrive.

And on longterm trips, it’s official: the 2018 International Carnivorous Plant Society Conference is running the weekend of August 3-5, and the Triffid Ranch is heading to California to hear what the real experts have to say. This is purely a factfinding expedition: no plants, no displays, nothing but notebooks and lots of business cards, just in case. That works out the best: I haven’t been in the Bay Area since the beginning of the dotcom boom in 1996, so it’ll be nice to see it without prior job interview commitments or any other commitments.

Finally, the just-concluded Frightmare show marked a solid decade since the first Triffid Ranch show, and the size of the crowds and their needs confirmed that it’s time for a revamp of the show table look. Among other things, it’s time to enter the Twenty-First Century as far as information and organization is concerned. As before, details will follow as they arrive, but let’s just say that attendees at Texas Frightmare Weekend 2018 will have the opportunity to get questions about plants answered so long as they have a smartphone. Considering that the crowds were four and five rows thick through most of the last show, a change is essential before the next one. This doesn’t even start with a project inspired by Demetria at The Curiositeer, which should go live soon. Oh, this one will be entirely too much fun.

State of the Gallery: April 2018

Nearly a third of the way through the year, and April 2018 is already shaping up to be a lot less exciting than April 2017. Of course, this time last year involved frantic shelf-installing and box-unpacking after the move from the old gallery space at Valley View Center, so it’s all a matter of perspective. (And if anybody had any doubts about not getting involved with the Rock Candy Mountain promises of artist spaces opening up at the Midtown project allegedly replacing Valley View, they’re gone now.) Yes, the weather keeps fluctuating between “typical” and “too cold to get out of bed right now,” but we haven’t actually gone below freezing…yet.

As far as last weekend’s Manchester United Flower Show was concerned, April follows in the tradition of last February: announce a gallery event, get everything ready to go, and then watch the weather feeds for impending catastrophe as a sudden atmospheric fewmet comes to visit for a while. Last February, it was a last-minute ice storm that hit north and west of Dallas, making a lot of potential attendees understandably reconsider a trip into Dallas if the roads were going to be frozen over by the time they attempted to return home. This time, Friday festivities were greeted with tornado sirens going off over most of North Texas: we got a bit of heavy rain for about an hour, but a friend coming in from Chicago found shelter with a multitude of others in a furniture store north of here, and folks to the south and the west had their own issues with hail and lightning. What issues Friday brought were mitigated on Saturday, where chilly but otherwise excellent weather brought out lots of first-time visitors and Valley View regulars. If nothing else, the weather caused reevaluations of having an outdoor event in spring, because any tents set up in the parking lot would have been blown to Oz and back. Maybe next year.

And on that note, further events in April will be restricted due to the need to get ready for Texas Frightmare Weekend on May 4 through 6, and then things get interesting. It’s too early to discuss particulars, but everything leads to a gallery show on June 30, just in time for everyone uninterested in traveling out of town for the July 4 weekend. The subject of that show is a secret, too, but let’s just say that anyone attending can say with authority that they’ve never been to an art show like this one.

Lateral shift to go back to talking about Texas Frightmare Weekend: the vendor map and listings arrived yesterday, and we’re back on our favorite row. As for most of the decade, the epicenter of Frightmare is at the Hyatt Regency DFW in DFW Airport, thus making the entire wing of DFW Airport by the hotel available parking for the convention. As in previous years, the Triffid Ranch and Tawanda! Jewelry tables will be in the back of the Made In Texas Hall in the hotel basement, right next to the signing lines. Since this coincides with the first-ever Triffid Ranch show a decade ago, those already taking advantage of the Shirt Price discounts have an extra incentive to wear their Triffid Ranch T-shirts to the show: while supplies last, everyone showing up in a Triffid Ranch shirt or purchasing a shirt at the show gets a special present, no additional purchase necessary or needed. It’s just an extra bit of thanks to those who have not only made Texas Frightmare Weekend one of my favorite shows, but who have made the previous nine shows so much fun.

One ancillary note about Frightmare, not for this year but for next year: I’m regularly asked about getting vendor space at Fan Expo, the local convention that inspired the “Malcolm Rule” mentioned a few weeks back. I’ve balked for many reasons, and now my refusal became personal. Ever since the old Dallas Comicon was purchased by out-of-town convention accumulators and turned into Fan Expo, it and its associated Fan Days events always conveniently scheduled themselves against other similar events so that local attendees could do one or the other but not both. (Longtime fans may remember when the Dallas Fantasy Fairs did the same thing in the early Nineties, stunting or killing up-and-coming conventions that simply couldn’t compete against the Flimsy Fair hype machine and guest lists. Those fans who aren’t longtime fans might not be familiar with the name “Dallas Fantasy Fair,” as the Flimsy Fairs blew up very spectacularly in 1996 after choking out all other competition, just in time for the big comics speculation bust that caused Marvel Comics to file for bankruptcy at the end of the year.) Five years back, Fan Expo’s parent company offered to buy Texas Frightmare Weekend for a pittance, and when told no, attempted to run a horror convention within the main show that was an unrelenting disaster. Since then, Fan Expo management concentrated on scheduling opposite the A-Kon anime convention, ultimately causing it to move out of Dallas entirely, and then settled for running two weeks after All-Con.

Well, that was 2018. You can imagine the surprise vendors at Fan Expo 2018 had when they received advance registration forms for 2019, and discovered that Fan Expo had moved its date to the first weekend of May. Not only does this directly conflict with Texas Frightmare Weekend, forcing attendees and vendors to choose one and only one, but May 4 is also Free Comic Book Day across the US and Canada. Frightmare never competed against the many comic shops in the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex participating in Free Comic Book Day, but Fan Expo’s list of comic artist and comic adaptation film and TV star guests does, and not just with comics dealers and stores having to man a booth at Fan Expo during their stores’ busiest day of the year. Fan Expo management hasn’t released a statement as to why the schedule suddenly needed switching, but I’ll bet $10 that when it’s finally released, the statement will bray something along the lines of “this is a pure coincidence.”

I’m sure it is. Of COURSE it is. Likewise, it’ll be a pure coincidence that everyone involved with Frightmare, from staff to vendors to guests to attendees, will spend the next year doing nothing but amping their games so Frightmare isn’t just the biggest show in Dallas on that weekend, but the must-attend show of its kind in all of North America. It’ll also be pure coincidence that so many of us involved in Frightmare will do our utmost to have the backs of our comic shop brethren when May 4, 2019 comes around. Refusing to advertise with venues that continue to do business with Fan Expo, for instance, or otherwise demonstrating with dollars or shoe leather that scheduling opposite established events with the attempt to create a monopoly may not turn out the way everyone expected. After all, the Dallas Fantasy Fairs attempted to create a similar monopoly, and a little voice should have told their organizers what Fan Expo management really needs to hear:

And now on a purely friendly note. It’s been about three years since the last Cat Monday event on this site, mostly due to the time taken by the gallery, but its main subject, Leiber, is still going strong. As of Friday the 13, Leiber turns 16: he’s still the so-dopy-he’s-cute FreakBeast he was when we adopted him in August of 2002, but he’s a little stiffer today. Aren’t we all. Those who have met him are welcome to wish him a happy birthday, although he’ll probably only care if the person offering the wishes brings cat treats as well. And so it goes.

Upcoming Events: The Second Annual Manchester United Flower Show and Other Vagaries

One classic comment about life in Texas states “If you don’t like the weather, hang on five minutes. This ties directly to a less commonly stated but equally apt phrase, “Don’t count on Texas weather.” Getting the reminder that some 12 tornadoes passed over my house six years ago this week, while Day Job co-workers and I huddled in a building seemingly made of nothing BUT windows, and the admonition “keep watching the skies” isn’t just for bicycle commuters. As of right now, the National Weather Service is predicting near-freezing temperatures for Friday and Saturday nights, along with a wind advisory and thunderstorm watches for all evening Friday. Considering that this is the time where traditionally all of the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex outdoor festivals and events start, I truly feel for everyone who has to be outside to run those outdoor festivals. A shoutout to the folks running the Deep Ellum Arts Festival, in particular: last year’s event was so absolutely perfect that it’s heartbreaking to realize that the weather will only be decent on Sunday afternoon. (incidentally, don’t let that stop any of you from going out there: just make sure to bring a coat and a plastic sheet for any art you bring home.)

This, of course, doesn’t affect the gallery: the Second Annual Manchester United Flower Show still runs tonight and Saturday, even if our wild fluctuations in temperature over the last month mean that some of the carnivores are being tetchy about blooming. The Venus flytraps, which normally have full and lively flower scapes by this time of the year, are only now starting to bloom, and don’t even get me started about the hopes for Australian pitcher plant blooms. On the brighter side, this is a good year for Heliamphora pitcher plant blooms, for the first time since the Triffid Ranch started, and the Sarracenia pitcher plants are currently going berserk. Okay, so the flytraps and sundews are delayed, but seeing why Queen Victoria so loved the flower emblem of Newfoundland and Labrador makes up for it. There’s no point in hyping up the bladderwort and Mexican butterwort blooms, because this is definitely their year.

After the flower show, expect a bit of radio silence, mostly because it’s time to get caught up on seriously delinquent support work, especially as far as plant care guides are concerned. That’s because as of today, we’re only a month away from Texas Frightmare Weekend, one of the largest horror conventions on the planet, and it’s time to amp up the Frightmare booth to a whole new level. Expect to see plants that have never appeared at a previous Frightmare, along with ones that most Americans have never seen, as well as other surprises. (Now’s the time to mention that not only do Shirt Price discounts apply at Texas Frightmare Weekend, but I have plans for special surprises for attendees wearing Triffid Ranch shirts that are just a perk.)

And after that? It’s time for a road trip. The original plan was to visit Chicago during the Independent Garden Center show in August, but the 300-pound Samoan attorney is still in the shop and rentals are prohibitively expensive. That’s when a much more lively event opened up. This year’s International Carnivorous Plant Society conference is being hosted by the Bay Area Carnivorous Plant Society on August 3 through 5, which means (a) being in the vicinity of California Carnivores with an expense fund, (b) a demonstration of imposter syndrome-inspired meltdown in the presence of some of the greatest experts on carnivorous plants in this arm of the galaxy, and (c) an extra day in San Francisco for my beloved’s birthday. Working vacations are the best, and the plan is to come back to Dallas with an even larger collection of plants in time for the Triffid Ranch third anniversary party on August 25. August may be a slow month for art galleries, but not here.

And after THAT? well, that depends upon the weather, as always. Details will follow, but expect some surprises for September and October in addition to the annual November drive to Austin for the Blood Over Texas Horror for the Holidays show. We have such sights to show you…

The Aftermath: All-Con 2018 – 3

One of the regular discussions among vendors at last weekend’s All-Con was whether science fiction/fantasy/horror conventions have hit what’s generally referred to as “Peak Con.” The basic idea is that the convention boom that first started up around 2003 is finally reaching saturation, and it’s all downhill from here. For those too young to remember the previous booms and busts, this appears valid: attendance numbers are way down on a lot of shows, and I get notes from friends every other week about one new convention or another blowing up on the pad or facing class-action lawsuits after a disastrous weekend. I particularly wince at the events that were less conventions than displays of organizer hubris, where the vendors had to sleep with their tables because security couldn’t be found and guests woke up on Monday morning to discover they had no way to get to the airport because their contacts couldn’t be reached. Yeah, this is happening a lot…and that’s why I’m enthusiastic for the future.

A lot of the concern at the moment is due to a lack of perspective. The current convention boom has gone on far longer than most others: in my lifetime, I’ve watched three booms and two busts, and the booms generally last about five to six years before the inevitable crash. Three to five years after the bust, and things start to rebuild, mostly with people who saw the last bust and want to do better. The reason why this boom ran for so long is multifold: fandom didn’t “go mainstream” so much as it was folded over into general popular culture, so a lot of attendees jumped in on the idea of “Oh, what the heck, let’s go grab some friends and have some fun.” The boom in costuming had a lot to do with it, especially with social media allowing enthusiasts from all over the planet being able to exchange tips and notes on new materials and techniques. Social media were also responsible for the promotional booms: we’ve gotten inured to television advertising, radio advertising is a joke, and newspapers are pretty much the province of boomers who can’t bear to give up their dead-tree editions, but Facebook and Twitter went everywhere.

The seeds for the boom are also the seed corn for the bust. As big media conventions took off, with ever-increasing lists of big name guests, attendees discovered that they simply didn’t have the money or time to hit every last show in their own area and had to consider their options. Fans were also getting older: hitting three conventions over three weekends sounds great to an 18-year-old, but that isn’t an option to a 30-year-old with three kids and a limited number of vacation days at the day job. (A regular lament about the really big and crowded shows, “I’m too old to be crammed in with that many people,” has particular pertinence here, especially for those potential attendees having to watch kids. A major factor in my refusing to get vendor space at one big convention is what I refer to as “the Malcolm Rule,” after the son of two friends who spent an absolutely miserable time last year at one show where all he could see were the butts of the people in front of him. Any show so determined to shoehorn attendees into too small a space that kids are in danger of falling and being stomped by people behind them is not one in which I care to participate.) The big media conventions are having to reach for more exclusive guests as interest in the previous headliners fades, and the cost of getting them to participate requires larger and larger crowds. And there’s also the issue with goofballs who assume that a convention is an excuse to print money and poison the well with a show purely intended to pull the fillings out of the attendees’ teeth.

Social media is helping with the bust, too: not only are bad conventions getting called out earlier, thereby warning away people willing to take promotion at face value, but we’ve gotten used to ignoring ads, and it’s no longer possible to attract 10,000 people with $1000 in Facebook ads. (One of the funniest not-funny events I’ve witnessed at a failing convention was with the con organizer getting angry over how 2000 people liked his Facebook page but only about 100 of them actually came out for the convention. He did no other advertising, not so much as a postcard on display at local comic shops, and the failure was obviously due to Facebook algorithms instead of his producing a convention that gave nobody a reason to want to deal with Dallas summer heat to see it.) Sooner or later, enough people decide that they’ve had enough and ghost from fandom, and that’s when everyone around them notices “It’s no fun around here any more” and bail out themselves. With every inhalation must come an exhalation, and the decay of the old fan scene produces the loam for the next movement to sprout.

I won’t deny that the current boom and impending bust aren’t rough on vendors. The typical content of a dealer’s room has changed almost beyond recognition in the last fifteen years, and arguably for the better. Amazon wiped out the need for attendees to tolerate obnoxious booksellers, and eBay did the same for vintage comics vendors. The days where a vendor could clear out the local Walmart of Star Trek and Star Wars toys and sell them at conventions at a 500 percent markup died with the last century. Since any vendor’s selection on current licensed products of a fannish bent can be outstripped by the local Hot Topic, there’s no point in trying to compete, especially since any attendee can look at a particular item, pull out a phone, and order it online in seconds. The ongoing trend is toward handmade or otherwise unique items of all kinds: back in the Eighties, the main draw of any dealer’s room was toward being able to find items that you simply couldn’t find back home, and we’ve gone full circle. The difference now is that the creator is right in front of you, ready to answer questions and take commissions, and that requires a level of salesmanship and customer service previously barely known in conventions. That’s one genie that isn’t going to get back in the bottle without a war.

And for the future? Expect a lot of marginal conventions to collapse in 2018 and 2019, either two months before or a few hours after their next scheduled event. People who depended upon conventions for the social aspects, particularly costumers, will probably move to one-day pop-up events that don’t require the logistics of a full-sized convention. The guests will go back to their jobs, hopefully saving enough from these salad days that they’re doing all right in a few years. Vendors that aren’t dependent solely upon showing their wares at conventions will move on to other venues for a while: ones so specialized that they can only sell at conventions will either shut down or pare way back. The smart ones will emulate African lungfish, buried in drying mud in anticipation of future rains, and continue to improve their skills and their inventories. When the rains return, and they will eventually, not only will they be the first to repopulate as new conventions start up, but they’ll be the ones setting the standard of what a dealer’s room should be like. I can’t wait.

The Aftermath: All-Con 2018 – 2

Okay, so the hotel was a nightmare. That happens. Even so, All-Con is one of the two shows guaranteed to have a Triffid Ranch booth every year, and it’s because of the attendees. Not only does the crowd cross all sorts of demographic borders, but they’re also so relaxed. After a while, that relaxation is addictive. For those of us who thrive on peoplewatching, you can’t go wrong here.

To be continued…

The Aftermath: All-Con 2018

Ah, All-Con 2018. A lot of bad craziness happened at this year’s show, mostly involving the host hotel. Said hotel changed its name and ownership the week of the show, where potential patrons looking for the “Hotel Intercontinental” were understandably confused. There’s also something to be said about hotel upgrades that weren’t even close to being finished by the Thursday morning the show started, with lighting fixtures missing, exposed wiring hanging from the ceiling, elevators of dubious functionality that closed on entrants without warning, and the main escalator leading to the second level broken and blocked off. Inside the main dealer’s room wasn’t much better: the carpet in the main banquet hall was freshly installed, sure, but one of the vendors played a game of “How Many Razor Blades and Screws Can We Find On The Floor?” and picked up two full handfuls of broken and dulled razor blades within about fifteen minutes. (The carpet HAD been vacuumed beforehand, as installation was being completed as vendors started moving in stuff on Wednesday night, but with a vacuum that had seen a significant portion of the Twentieth Century firsthand. Besides, that vacuum would have been hard-pressed to clean up the cocaine that flowed across that part of North Dallas and Addison in great rivers during the hotel’s prime, much less the amount of metal left in that carpet, so everyone spent the rest of the weekend joking about who was going to be the poster child for the “Telethon for Tetanus.”) And then there was the parking…

Oh, the parking. One of the grand mysteries concerning convention hotels in this foul Year of Our Lord 2018 is the assumption that people will keep coming back to the hotel for future events when the parking situation assumes that the current year is 1974. The number of hotels in Dallas that barely offer enough parking for hotel guests and staff when the venue is half-full, and then advertise their availability for conventions and conferences with room for three times that count, just beggars the imagination. To make matters even better, most of these hotels automatically assume that convention and conference attendees have their own transportation: Addison has a DART bus hub not far away, but the space between the hub and the hotel last had sidewalks put in back in the 1980s, back when “pedestrian” was a local euphemism for “too poor to afford the valet” and accessibility wasn’t even remotely considered. (By way of example, that immediate area is full of “sidewalks” with telephone poles planted right in the center, requiring users to walk into the street to get around them, and you can imagine the sheer fun faced by those with disabilities trying to get back onto a sidewalk that’s lacking ramps and inclines.)  Combine that with a frantic construction boom in that vicinity, where the slightest rain turns an entire block into a morass of slimy, clinging mud with no option for getting past it without walking into the middle of a busy street, and it’s no surprise that a lot of potential convention attendees circled around the hotel, gave up when they saw that even the valet spots were full, and went home.

That said, for all of the nightmares of access, those of us who came out for All-Con, both vendor and attendee, made the best of the situation. Yes, the total attendance numbers were way down from previous years. That just meant having more of an opportunity to talk to regular attendees, including several that have been coming by the Triffid Ranch booth since the beginning of the decade. THAT made hotel incompetence and stupidity worthwhile, especially with the patrons now raising their own families and bringing their kids by to see plants for themselves.

To be continued…

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:

Five Nightmare Weekends Before Christmas: The Fourth

Coming into the fourth Nightmare Weekend Before Christmas at the gallery (and, as before, the gallery is open to one and all on December 16, from noon until 6:00), a little explanation about the lack of traditional holiday viewing on the monitor in the gallery. Listening to friends fight over whether or not Die Hard qualifies as a Christmas movie (which is like arguing that Near Dark is a Fourth of July film because it features summer sun and explosions), I just remind people of a forgotten holiday classic. Oh, it may not be listed as such, but anyone who has ever had to work retail in a shopping mall during the holidays knows the film, even if they’ve never seen it. As a last tribute to the old gallery space at Valley View Center, which STILL hasn’t been demolished, I’d like to encourage everyone to take some time this holiday season to watch the best documentary about Dallas in the 1980s ever made:

Five Nightmare Weekends Before Christmas – 1

With the first Nightmare Weekend Before Christmas commencing (and you might want to read the details if you haven’t already), it’s time for a tribute to post-Thanksgiving television, for one very specific reason. Back in the 1970s, when cable television was a rarity for those living in valleys inaccessible to standard television broadcasts, the FCC could blank out programming on any independent cable channel in order to encourage viewing of news programming on the Big Three (which somehow always managed to black out Star Trek and The Outer Limits in syndication but guaranteed at least five showings of The Dick Van Dyke Show per day), and most of the watchable content came from TV stations hundreds or thousands of miles away, one of the stalwarts that made suburban living tolerable was the monster movie. We GenXers went completely MAD for monsters back then, both contemporary and classic, because of the promise of the Late Night Movie.

Some background. Since television transmitters of the time were fragile, tetchy beasts that had a tendency not to come back on after being turned off, station managers had an incentive to keep them on as long as possible, and the best way to do that was to run something, anything, into the wee hours when most people were asleep. Running old movies all night long offered more profit in advertising than simply running a station ID notice, and running horror movies from the 1930s through the 1950s was cheaper than trying to run contemporary movies. Since the studios and distributors of those horror and science fiction movies looked at their product as ephemeral material for kids, they could be rented for television at ridiculously low prices, which meant they were concentrated on Friday and Saturday nights, when most adults would be out and around and very unlikely to be watching late-night television. Since this coincided with the use of the television as the Great Babysitter, suddenly a whole generation of American kids, of all demographics, were exposed to good, bad, and surreal horror films while their parents were out doing whatever parents did. Whatever it was, it couldn’t have been as fun as getting caught up on cultural neuroses and anxieties turned into kids’ entertainment. It’s no surprise that the film The Nightmare Before Christmas became such a classic: the entire post-Boomer generation had been taught for decades before that the monsters were more interesting and honest than the “normal” people around them. (I regularly get tongue-clicking from “respectable” people about how inappropriate it is for me to tell kids I still get teary-eyed at the end of Alien, when the most interesting and well-developed character in the whole movie gets blown out the airlock. It’s no surprise: I got plenty of practice for mourning the monster after a childhood of bawling at the end of The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms, The Creature From the Black Lagoon, and Valley of Gwangi. You should see the friends who grew up immunized to a life of MBAs and IRAs thanks to years and years of late-night Hammer vampire movies.)

And the El Dorado of all of this very selective counter programming? Godzilla. Kaiju films were the special treat, usually reserved for special events or weekly series, and the biggest event was what was then only referred to as “the day after Thanksgiving.” Parents took off and dealt with the Christmas shopping crowds: the unlucky kids dragged along are the reason why George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead became one of the greatest holiday movies of them all. Those of us lucky enough to stay home while the grownups shivved each other over ornaments and sweaters? We turned on the 19-inch babysitter and fed on hour after hour of badly-dubbed Japanese angst. Godzilla, Gamera, Gigan, Rodan, Mothra…it all tapped into a deep craving we didn’t know we had, so we obsessively collated it and made it our own. Then, when school started again the next week, we all had a common language, except for the kids who didn’t watch because “that’s for kids.” Those kids were the ones who grew up to successful careers as mid-level managers, who still can’t figure out why their own children don’t call and why their co-workers all feign bouts of explosive diarrhea as an excuse for avoiding the company Christmas party.

So this season, while everyone else is drowning each other in false holiday cheer, remember the strange and the wonderful. Most importantly, if Christmas music were judged solely by the emotions engendered by its playing, this collection would be very near the top of the list, for reasons the listeners can’t quite explain. Meanwhile, the Triffid Ranch will be open on both Friday and Saturday, noon until 6:00 and later hours by appointment, and you can imagine the playlist