Fun and Frolics: Our Staff’s Favorite Tales from the Tucson Gem Shows

We all love the annual Tucson gem, jewelry, mineral, fossil, and bead shows. Every year, the editorial, marketing, and advertising sales staff of the F+W/Interweave Jewelry and Bead Group gets to go to the Tucson shows. And among all the work we do at the shows (and we do a LOT of work), we have a blast! To prove that Tucson is not all pretty gemstones, cool rocks, and shiny stuff, we thought we’d share some of our favorite funny stories from our annual trek.

Falling for Tucson

By Karla Rosenbusch
Managing Editor, Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist

My favorite Tucson story involves a broken curb between the Howard Johnson and Clarion (now Quality Inn) shows. I was strolling along the curb by the I10 service drive, distracted by the shiny things on the vendors’ tables. Someone was coming in the opposite direction, and I tried to step politely out of the way. But my big foot and my ugly walking shoe got stuck in the broken section of curb, and I fell into the street. Well, most of me fell into the street. My foot stayed where it was, and my leg twisted in the most unique way (as several bystanders took great pains to tell me).

Howard Johnson Show Tucson

The Howard Johnson Show right by the infamous broken curb.

I initially thought it was just a bad sprain. But I was eventually persuaded by a concerned coworker to visit the nearest urgent care facility where it was discovered that I had, in fact, broken my lower leg quite badly. I was supposed to leave for home the next morning, but I ended up in a wheelchair in my hotel room for several days before the doctor cleared me to fly back to Pennsylvania.

Yes, that does NOT sound like a funny story. The funny part? When I called my boss, the intrepid Merle White, to tell her what happened, there was a momentary silence on the phone. And then she said, “Look. I know you wanted to stay a bit longer in Tucson, but don’t you think that’s a bit . . . well . . . overly dramatic?” Yep, THAT was the laugh I needed at that particular moment! (We now refer to my slight misstep as “The Great Tucson Curb Dive of 2012.”)

Hotel Congress, Tucson



In case you think the curb dive was a unique experience for me, it wasn’t. I’m just a tad accident-prone, and I’ve proved it at the Tucson shows more than once. One year, I went out to dinner with several co-workers at the Hotel Congress. As we were leaving, I saw two of our biggest project and article contributors walking across the parking lot, heading into the hotel. Being a good and diligent editor, I called to them and walked over to greet them and chat a bit. Well, that was the plan, anyway. What I didn’t realize was that the walkway I was on ended. I wasn’t watching where I was going, and I missed the step down. Yes, I completely face-planted in the parking lot in front of two people I did so want to impress. My co-workers? Yeah, they were a huge help. The gales of laughter from behind me echoed through the parking lot — and continued until we got back to our hotel. The two contributors I was heading toward were much more gracious and managed to contain their laughter, at least while I was within earshot. (No, I wasn’t really hurt — just slightly bruised and horribly embarrassed.) –KR

First Time’s a Charm

By Merle White
Editor-in-Chief, Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist

There’s a thing called Tucson Time. You make plans, and Tucson adjusts them for you. Another Tucson thing is overload. You never outgrow it, but Newbie Overload is especially fun to watch. So I was more than happy one year to steer a young, enthusiastic, conscientious jewelry-making friend and coworker around Tucson on her very first day.

Merle and Ashley on Ashley’s first day ever at the Tucson shows. Photo: Ashley Lauwereins

Merle and Ashley on Ashley’s first day ever at the Tucson shows. Photo: Ashley Lauwereins

I believe we hit eight shows in all, some with hundreds of dealers. I never let her think this was an insane idea, or that there was any doubt she’d make a 7:00 dinner meeting. After moving purposefully in and out of exhibitor-filled motel rooms, courtyards, and tents at a few venues, we pretty much ran through the others. I wanted her to shop, but I also wanted her to feel immersed in the entire spectacle.

At 9 am we’re downtown walking in the bright morning sunshine along the strip of shows flanking I-10. At Arizona Mineral & Fossil, she buys cabs and we eye crystals and petrified wood, then dart into Rapa River (at an ex-gas station) for more stones and jewelry and to pick up sunglasses. We grab lunch on our way out of the huge Gem & Jewelry Exchange (GJX) tent, of which we see about a tenth. At the convention center across the way, we peer through the observation windows onto the show floor below just to appreciate how vast and twinkly the American Gem Trade Show (AGTA) is.

Left: Open a nodule of rock and once in a while you’ll find iridescent aka rainbow pyrite inside. Right: Pieces of rainbow pyrite can make fabulous cabochons. Russian Stones; photo:s M. White

Left: Open a nodule of rock and once in a while you’ll find iridescent aka rainbow pyrite inside. Right: Pieces of rainbow pyrite can make fabulous cabochons. Russian Stones; photo:s M. White

Back outside in the midday sun, a Gem & Lapidary Wholesalers (GLW) shuttle pulls up and we head south for the Holidome and Gem Mall. You could spend days at that tent complex, but we fly around at lightning speed. Exiting, I point out the designer porta potties: she doesn’t think these are a must-see, but she doesn’t remember the ‘80s. Late in the afternoon we somehow arrive, pre-Uber, at nearby but not that close Electric Park. There we cast glazed eyes over jewelry tools, cowhides, chain, faceted gems, rugs, septarian nodules, scarves, gem rough, knives, parasols, concho belts — etc., etc., etc. — among the outer tents, the outside tables, the inner tents, and the main tent. Around 5 as the sun dips low in the sky, I suggest we finish up across the street at (then) Best Bead at Kino Community Center and the chance of a shuttle.

You can find silver chain necklaces at Tucson, as well as chain by the foot. Necklaces: D&M Rock Shop; photo: M. White

You can find silver chain necklaces at Tucson, as well as chain by the foot. Necklaces: D&M Rock Shop; photo: M. White

Shortly before 6:00 and several strands of beads in her tote later, she’s pleased, tired, and focusing on her business dinner. As we walk out the front doors, I feel a twinge of guilt — but we are in the zone. Right in front of us is an available cab. All works out, and only several years later do I let her know it was a minor miracle that it did. –MW

Memories of Good (?) Times

By Marilyn Koponen
Advertising Manager

I have so many memories of Tucson that it’s hard to pick just one. One of my fondest memories is hitting the drive-thru at Sonic with an advertising coworker (after the conclusion of the annual Interweave party). She ordered a chili dog with ALL the toppings at 10 PM! I admired her and her strong stomach.

hot dog

Photo: Getty Images.

We’ve had our share of speeding tickets (ssssh, don’t tell) and cases of the flu. One year, the entire team from Pennsylvania had to stay an extra three to four days because they were so sick. We also had a lot of “fun” experiences at a hotel where we used to stay–no hot water, no electricity, flooding . . . We stay somewhere else now. –MK

Tucson Museum of Art

The ultimate destination–the Tucson Art Museum. Photo courtesy of Visit Tucson.

Driving Miss Tammy

By Tamara Honaman
Editorial Director, Bead & Jewelry Group

There really is nothing like your “first Tucson” and no one should ever feel bad for coming away from their first feeling numb, overwhelmed, and like you were just run over by a truck. It’s a lot to take in but it’s all amazing, and that truck? It’s called the truck of happiness! The Tucson gem shows hold so many treasures and you don’t even have to look hard to find them–and you find things you didn’t even know you were looking for or even knew existed!

My story doesn’t begin with my “first Tucson,” though, not even my second. It was like my fifth Tucson trip. I had a car. I had a map (GPS was not really a thing back then!). And I had a co-pilot and a back seat driver! And they were people who had been to where we were going. However . . . when it’s dark, and you’ve been treasure hunting all day, and you’re sharing stories, laughing, and navigating downtown Tucson? Well . . . things can go awry. And they did, but it all worked out okay.

We were on our way (a little late) to the Interweave party at the Art Museum in downtown Tucson. This party was a chance to mingle with the Interweave crew (I wasn’t working with them at the time), a chance to hang out with friends who are also at the party, and a chance for some good wine and food! We followed the map, had a great game plan. “Here, go this way,” my co-pilot says. I listen. “Now this way.” No problem. “Oh, wait! Go that way.” I don’t remember if I said this out loud or not, but “it’s a left-hand turn and I’m three lanes over in the right lane!” It didn’t matter, and I made the move! Our back-seat driver was none too pleased, but we were in the right place. Now to find parking!

“Okay. Now where?” I ask. “Turn down this street; I know we can find parking around here somewhere!” says my co-pilot. I listen. Then we realize it’s a one-way street. I’m from Jersey and this is not my first wrong way down a one-way, so I keep going. My co-pilot is cheering me on and helping navigate me through the narrow passage so I didn’t clip any cars. The back-seat driver? Well, let’s say she enjoyed that wine even more at the party, and she tells the story to this day! –TH

Fun Times At Gem Camp

By Tammy Jones
Interweave Jewelry Editor

Oh my goodness, where to start. Soon I’ll be heading to Tucson for about the 11th or 12th time–I’ve lost count. Every time, I’ve been with great friends and coworkers who make what I call “gem camp” even more fun. Because what’s more fun than camp? And what’s more like camp to us gemmy jewelry people than Tucson? So I have lots of fun and very . . . well, memorable memories.

There was my first year, which I’ll never forget. I had the wild idea to drive to Tucson, all the way from Tennessee for goodness sake, and that took nearly three days, including the 10 days it took to cross Texas. By the time I got to Tucson late one night, my hotel was not the oasis I’d hoped for. There was a dark scary parking lot (not really, but I’d never been to this town so it seemed so), no one and no cart to help with my tons of bags (again, exhausted first timer), and a loud, hot room with an uncomfortable bed and a very body-shaped discoloration on the carpet. With all of my bad luck taken in one big dose, I’m happy to report that the rest of my trip was spectacular (and that hotel has since been remodeled).

Fortunately, all of the trips since then have been full of sparkly goodness and lots of giggles. There was the time I was driving from dinner to the hotel with friend, former coworker, and now contributor Ashley Lauwereins, deep in a conversation apparently so diverting that Ashley had to keep yelling out, “Red light… Red Light… RED LIGHT!” so I didn’t miss one. Looking back, I’m not sure she was paying much attention to my story.

And then there’s that time my sparkle sister Kristal Wick and I made reservations at a fancy new restaurant downtown, but even once we got to the block it was on, we still couldn’t find it (it was just that cool) and ended up driving up and down the street (one block!) so long, we missed our reservation.

There’s that time I followed a wild hog down the middle of the street all the way to the airport. And the time we had so much fun at the Swarovski party but when it came time to leave, we couldn’t find our way out of the massive and lovely resort we’d been bussed into. And that time there were blizzards on both coasts and about half the vendors to all the shows couldn’t make it. Sunny blue skies gave no hints to the black ice, and all the hotel water fountains froze over. Plus the time my friend Dana and I took a day trip to Tombstone and Bisbee. We had the best guacamole ever in Bisbee and saw a massive green meteor/alien spaceship crash on the drive back. True story. For real.

One of my favorite memories is seeing a former coworker and longtime friend, Shawn, somewhere in the parking lot between AGTA and GJX. We spot each other from a distance, squeal and throw our hands in the air at our luck of bumping into each other in all that madness, and run toward each other for a quick hug. Last year his sweet wife Marian was with him, too–double happiness! This has now happened three years in a row, and I’m hoping for number four next month.

Plus, pearls. I can’t share my favorite parts and funny stories from Tucson without mentioning pearls! I’ve built quite a little collection of pearls over the past decade of shopping in Tucson, along with quite a bit of knowledge. Like that time I was showing off my pearl knowledge, talking to someone about Japanese pearls, when I kept naming a location where certain pearls are farmed. He said it one way and I, knowing it all, said it another. After we’d both said it over and over several times, he kindly informed me that the way I was mispronouncing the word was actually a naughty word in Japanese. Good times. –TJ

Thanks for the memories and fun, Tucson–see you again soon!

Be sure to grab your copy of the 2019 Tucson Show Guide before hitting the shows!

Updated November 26, 2018.


Pre-order Tucson Show Guide 2019, Now!

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