There is one amusing and slightly irritating thing that happens every year, without fail, during the annual Tucson gem shows (or showcases as some are want to call them, but to me a case is a case—like a display case—not a show, so there will be no strong-arming me into using that phrase). Somebody, or several different people, come up to me each year and say, in a hushed, fearful, or incredulous tone: “I heard a rumor that the gem show is definitely leaving Tucson next year! What do you think?”
What I think is that the gem show leaving Tucson would be much like gambling leaving Las Vegas, or the Empire State Building abandoning New York. It’s not going to happen.
February’s annual event has grown—from rather humble hometown beginnings in 1955—into the largest gathering of rockhounds in the world, and then some. About 45 separate shows run consecutively during the first two weeks of February, and if you live here in town you can hardly miss the tents, forklift trucks, dinosaur skeletons, amethyst cathedrals, and the relentless excitable, jolly-pirate carnival-like atmosphere that takes over the Baked Apple for nearly a month. Even though most of the shows run for just about fourteen days, there is preparation time, receiving shipments at customs time, load-in time, set-up time, cocktail hour, break-down time, load-out time, taking-down-the-tents time, so—for the vendors at least—gem show shenanigans go on for three to four weeks.
This was my fourteenth consecutive gem show, and my fifth as a vendor. Each year I tell myself I’m going to take it a little easier, and I state: “It couldn’t possibly be any busier than last year,” but it always is. This year we did twenty consecutive 12-hour days, at two different locations. Our main display of high-end meteorites and collectibles was situated at the Arizona Mineral and Fossil Show at Hotel Tucson City Center (né InnSuites), with a second outdoor booth at the charmingly scruffy and bargain-friendly Tucson Electric Park Show. On top of the two selling locations I had two book signings (my new book Meteorite Hunting was published on February 1, which also happens to be my birthday), three radio interviews, a weekend of shooting with our production company for an upcoming episode of Meteorite Men, production meetings, regular meetings, two tents destroyed by freak winds, a birthday party, an awards ceremony, plus the requisite buying, selling and trading of space rocks.
Something that has grown tremendously in popularity within my clockwork universe is the “Is this a meteorite?” request. Enthusiastic rock hounds who, perhaps, watch my TV series, and have also been out patrolling the perimeter, bring in unusual rocks for me to look at. It really is fun in moderation, but too many strange rocks does interfere with commerce, and it’s especially complicated when I inform the finder that he or she doesn’t have a meteorite, and then they start with the “But . . .” part. If someone asks for my advice, I’m happy to give it, but please don’t argue with me afterwards (It has only happened twice; most visitors are very gracious).
Please know that the last thing I want to do—ever—is snap at one of my fans, and so far I haven’t, not once. My dear old friend, musician Anne Husick, who was also my roommate for many years, and who considers me an impatient sod will doubtless scoff at this, but it’s true. And, anyway, aren’t roommates always the most critical? It’s a bit cliché-ish, but without loyal viewers I don’t have a show, and I really do like Meteorite Men fans. They are cool, and smart, interested in all kinds of things, and I enjoy getting to know them. Very occasionally, however, there comes a near-meltdown moment.
That point, for me, came during the second week, shortly after I sustained $550 in damages to two display tents down at the TEP. In order to prevent this happening a second time, we bought some extra-massive steel stakes with which to secure our new tents. My sales manager at TEP, Beth, called to tell me that the ground was too hard and they couldn’t get the stakes in, and Beth doesn’t give up easily. So, I left my main showroom and drove down to the TEP with a 12-lb sledgehammer. I was already tired, a little burned out, and my mind awash with the many pending deals and events. I may have become slightly defocused. I parked my truck, got the sledge, and started trying to pound in the stakes. The ground was like tempered concrete, and if such a thing doesn’t exist, it should. I was getting nowhere, so I rolled up my sleeves, put on my heavy work gloves and started wailing on the stake, with the sledge, and found it to be quite a good stress reliever. In the middle distance, someone was taking photos, and murmuring: “Look, it’s the guy from that meteorite show.” Not my most flattering moment.
I was out of breath, hot, making progress, and wondering if I was going to have the wherewithal to give all six of these stakes a solid pounding, when a young man walks right up to me—while I am swinging the sledge—with a rock in his hand, and asks me if it’s a meteorite. That was the closest I came to a meltdown. I’d already looked at about a hundred meteorwrongs—and one genuine meteorite—and was a little tired of doing that, but was still focused on being gracious to viewers who—after all—only want to know if they have found a bit of cosmic treasure. I said to the young man: “This isn’t the best time, could you please wait until I’ve finished, and then I’ll be happy to look at it,” while I was, in fact, thinking to myself: “Don’t get close to a Meteorite Man when he’s using a heavy sledge!”
It was not a meteorite, but I did get the stakes in.
It has now been almost three weeks since we closed up shop for another year, and we are still not fully caught up. One of the problems with immersing yourself in Gem Show World is that regular company business, and normal day-to-day orders continue, unaware that we are holding a giant meeting of rockhound minds here in Tucson. Tired as we may be post-show, we have to suck it up and deal with the waiting orders. This year we also had four hundred books to ship out. Business is good, and it is great fun, so I am not complaining, but next year I really am going to try and take it easy and not be as busy. Just like gambling is going to leave Las Vegas, and The Empire State . . . well, you get the picture.
And this afternoon, I shall journey down to the excellent Tucson Festival of Books, where I will be signing copies of my new work, displaying space rocks, meeting viewers, and promoting our own Voice of Tucson. If you think you might have found a space rock, bring it on down. I promise not to snap at you, and I am definitely leaving the sledgehammer at home.
All photographs by and © Suzanne Morrison www.backcountryphotographyaz.com