Monday, February 7, 2011

Tucson Gem Show, part II

So earlier I went over the lowlights of my annual Tucson trip. Today I'm going to give you the highlights. Because as wild and crazy as this event can be, there are ALWAYS good memories to take home.

- My rental car was a Chrysler 300. You have to understand that I am a car girl. I love cars. And my choices this year were between the 300 and a Ford Taurus. No hard feeling to Taurus owners, but c'mon! There wasn't really any other choice.The rental sales guy said, "Are you sure you don't want the Taurus?" Um....hel-lo! Have you met me??

This was probably the most fun rental I have ever had (and I've had some doozies, trust me). Its throaty engine, its pep coming off the line, and overall Daddy Mac aesthetic (in addition to a verrrrrry comfortable interior, made driving so much fun! And I don't mean just surface street driving. I fly to Phoenix and rent my car, then drive to Tucson to shop, and return to Phoenix to fly home. I plan this for a couple of reasons:  first, car rentals, just like hotel rooms, can be scarce in Tucson. One year there was a mix-up and I had to go from rental counter to rental counter desperately looking for something because...well, there I was in Tucson, ready to shop, but with no transportation. Finally one of the rental places got me a van...that was lovely. And second, I grew up in Phoenix, and still have friends and family there. So I usually tack on a day or so on either end of the trip, and flying in and out of Phoenix means I can spend time with them as well. So I had about ninety minutes (each way) of freeway time in the "pimp my ride" car. And I enjoyed every minute of it.

Of course the photo above is much sexier than the one shot I got with the BlackBerry, but here is MY actual rental, sitting in Helen's driveway. Funny, it doesn't look like 30-degree weather...

- Helen and I had a blast together. Last year I did not attend the show, so we missed our annual catching up. We reminisced about all the other years of show-going, laughed (because what else can you do??) about the weather, water, and heat issues, enjoyed the annual dinner outing with all the other jewelry wingnuts and rock- and gem-hounds in town, and shopped like crazy. Here's the value of a friend who knows you well:  I asked Helen what she was going to do while I was there (she works a regular job and can't always attend the show). She said, "I'm coming with you to do what we do." What that means is that she is my second pair of shopping eyes, keeps me from meandering aimlessly through the tents (It's easy to get distracted!), and tries to stop me from losing anything and everything. I say "tries" because I usually manage to lose things anyway. In past years, I have left behind: purchases (very bad!), credit cards (also bad!), shopping lists, pens, calculators, and too many bottles of water to count. Shopping is much better when Helen's there...and not just because she's good company! We have done this so many times that we can easily communicate at the show without saying a word. It's laser-focused shopping.  :)

- I regrouped and tweaked my game plan, after the frustration and panic of day one. Items I couldn't find will have to be sourced elsewhere, if possible, so I bought new shapes, colors, and sizes of gems. Hopefully they will be just as loved by the customers as by  me (I have a sneaking suspicion that they willl...) Usually Tucson is such an amazing shopping experience, but some years are just "off", and that means being flexible and creative with what you've got.  After all, that's what I do for a living. I should be used to it! 

- Shopping done, I headed to Phoenix to see my girl Ginger and her husband Brett. I stayed over at their home before flying back to Georgia the next day. We never fail to have a crazy time together and typically many strange photos are taken. Ging and I have an abiding love for 1980's music, so that's usually what's on the year we wore side ponytails and did 80's makeup. This year it was still COLD so we bundled up and took some silly shots. And of course we had to sit in the Mac Daddy for some photos too...can you guess which one is me?

It might help if I tell you that I am still wearing my tights...along with a cowboy hat, Ging's sassy boots, and a very rockin' (and warm) faux fur leather coat. And my red Target sweatpants.  :)

This is Tasha, unofficial princess of the Hager household (they have one son, two horses, four dogs, two cats, and a whole lotta fish). She's also my girl...though in this shot she is giving me the hairy eyeball. Despite that thick coat, the princess *hates* to be cold. But we have our favorites...I am hers and she is mine. And we don't care who knows it.  :)

Now that I'm home, it's time to focus on new designs again, both with metal and gems. I missed my fabrication class last week, so I am attending tonight instead. Hopefully after that I will be able to show you the most recent class project in its finished state! I'll post it here as soon as I can...

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...

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Packing It In...

...for a few days. I'm headed to Arizona for the annual Tucson Gem Show! This is the event where I do most of my yearly stone shopping for the biz. It's crowded, dirty, frenzied, and exhausting, but I love it. There will be so many stones to see and purchase in too short an amount of time, but I'm going to come back with some new fun colored stones that will be so exciting to work with!

It's unlikely that I will have time to post new photos or any blog updates for the next few days...I'm not going to have computer access most days as I will be in a huge tent (or several tents) in the middle of the desert! Look for updates next week though. And some photos too...

Have a great week!