Monday, February 7, 2011

Tucson Gem Show, part I

I'm back! With loads of gorgeous colored stones and beads! This year's Show was probably the craziest yet, and I have been attending the show for more than a decade. I'll break this up into two parts because otherwise it would be one really loooooong post.  :)

The Tucson Gem actually a series of 40 or so shows that take place over two weeks in various locations around Tucson, Arizona. It is by far the largest gem show in the world. If you work in the jewelry industry, it is one of THE best places to shop for supplies. It's *also* a crazy, chaotic, nerve-wracking time that can drain both your energy and your budget if you're not careful.

These two photos show just a tiny smidge of the goodies available for your purchasing pleasure. The first shot is one of the bead vendors. This was tons and tons of faceted briolette beads (and a few other enticing items). The second shot shows only a small amount of the cabochons available...thousands of them, on cards, in bins. Sorry for the blurry photos; I only had my camera phone with me.

I did return intact, and as the main blog photo shows, with lots of new goodies. Whether or not that would actually happen, however, was questionable for a good part of the trip. Today I'll hit the lowlights, and tomorrow will give you the sunshine-y version of my travels.  :)

- The journey began with a tense and frustrating drive to Hartsfield, the world's busiest airport. What is normally a 45-minute drive became a two-hour-and-forty-minute-near-disaster in a parking lot of traffic. If I hadn't left so early, I would have missed the flight. My personal travel theory is that the more difficult a trip is at the start, the better it will be overall. Sadly, that theory did not hold for this trip...

- I arrived in Arizona to 37 degree temps and 15 mph winds. What?! This was essentially the same weather I'd left in Georgia...minus the howling wind.  Arizona had been having a cold spell, and the evening forecast was for temperatures in the 'teens. I ended up having to make a Target run for an extra hoodie, tights, and gloves! While the gloves might seem extreme, they were actually very useful. Often the parking is quite a distance from the show buildings, and while some shows offer shuttle service to different locations, you can stand outside in line for quite a while to wait for an available shuttle. Those gloves made for happier hands.

A little background: I typically stay with my friend Helen, who lives in Tucson. I am extremely lucky to have this arrangement, because hotels are almost impossible to find at this time of year. Not only are hundreds of thousands of people flocking to the city to shop, but all the sellers need somewhere to stay too, and also some selling venues are actually in individual hotel rooms! This makes lodging difficult, and prices for normally "reasonable" hotels are vastly inflated.  So I hang with Helen and we enjoy our once-a-year get together.  :)

- On the morning of shopping day one, I woke to find no running water in the bathroom. I told Helen, who went and checked the pipes. Though they had not burst, the water inside had apparently frozen and would need time to thaw. Yikes! No hot shower for the aching muscles, no steamy wake-me-up time. There wasn't time to wait for the thaw before the shows opened, so we went a little grubby for our first day out. Also, Helen's heat didn't seem to be working, either. A call to the gas company revealed an outage in her area. The gas company said they were "working on it" but had no ETA for service. Welcome to warm and sunny Arizona!

- We returned home to find water but still no heat. Unfortunately, Helen ended up being one of 14,000 Tucson residents affected by a natural gas shortage. Estimates were that it could take three to four days for her to have gas service again. Electric blankets and space heaters in the area were totally sold out. The city set up shelters for residents who might need them. (I did mention that hotels are sold out for the show...) Luckily for us, Helen owned two space heaters and her friends had electric blankets, so we bundled up and made it through the night without heat. And her friends let us come and use the shower at their house. Thank you, John and Maria! You don't know how wonderful that hot water felt after a long, cold day.

- The shopping was incredibly difficult this year. Most years at the gem show, the hardest problem (besides making your way through the huge crowds) is comparing pricing and quality between so many different sellers, often in different locations. This year, it was hard work just to find items I wanted. Thousands of flights had been canceled last week due to weather problems, so there were quite a few empty booths. Also I believe that some vendors could no longer afford to return. Having a booth for the gem show can easily run close to $10,000 (and that's just for the space, not the cost to travel or ship all of your (heavy!) items...). The economy takes its toll on us all. Adding to the stress was the fact that I'd only allowed myself two full shopping days, for various reasons. So by the end of day one, with not much to show for it, I was starting to panic.

FYI:  I know that two eight-hour days of *shopping* sounds like a lot, but if you've never been, it's hard to conceive of the large numbers of other people trying to do exactly what you're doing, in exactly the same place. The traffic, the parking snafus, the distance you have to walk after parking to get to the venue, the often-long lines spent waiting for a shuttle (if one is available; not all shows offer shuttle service)...all of these will delay you. So a lot of time can get eaten up by the logistics of physically *getting* to the venues, as well as the time spent waiting to get near the sellers' booths once you have made it inside!

So that's the first half of the trip. Read on later this week to find out how the *other* half went...

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