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.

fish fossils in Tucson

The amazing fish fossils–the deal of the year at Pueblo.

Fish and Falls

By Karla Rosenbusch
Managing Editor, Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist

My boyfriend is a rockhound (surprise, surprise), and he always sends me off to the Tucson shows with a shopping list. A few years ago, he wanted “a cool fish fossil.” No problem! I happen to know which shows include vendors who offer the best fossils. And one of those is the Pueblo Gem and Mineral Show at the Riverpark Inn.

As my friend and colleague Ashley Lauwereins and I wandered the show, I started chatting with one delightful vendor. Her fossils were gorgeous! I mentioned that I specifically needed a fish fossil. Her response? “I think I have something you’d like.” So we walked around her tables to one that was back at the edge of the tent. And there she showed me a good-sized flat box with eight amazing (and large) fish fossils from the Green River in Wyoming. Several contained more than one fish, and one even featured fossilized . . . well, let’s say “fish droppings.” Perfect! I knew the boyfriend would be delighted.

The sign on the box said “$20.” Well, alrighty then! I figured I’d get two, spend $40, and still be well under budget. But as I reached into my wallet for a couple of twenties, the vendor stopped me. She said, “Oh, no. The $20? That’s for the whole box. I just don’t want to pack them up and carry them back home.” My jaw literally dropped. Ashley and I stared at each other for a moment, totally speechless. When I found my voice again, all I could say was, “Sold!”

Yes, I felt like I’d scored the biggest Tucson deal ever. And my boyfriend agreed. When I called to give him the good news, he said, “Good job, Sparky!” (Sparky?)

I floated around Tucson basking in the glow of my purchase for the next two days, and I bored everyone I met with my fish story. And Ashley and I randomly referred to each other as “Sparky” for the rest of our time in Tucson.

Howard Johnson Show Tucson

The Howard Johnson Show right by the infamous broken curb.

My other 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 I-10 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).

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 (if muddy–see below) 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 2013.”) –KR

The Strip, Tucson

Dusty when dry, but when wet, the putty-colored ground along the strip gets very slick.

When It Rains…

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

Perhaps you remember the year of the huge rainstorm. Early 1990s, middle of the shows? Not only was there water flowing in the normally dry arroyo of the Santa Cruz that year, there was water everywhere. The big news was the show tent that collapsed overnight, but that wasn’t all that went down.

Bright and early the next morning, I was dropped off at the southern end of the Strip–the string of motel shows between I-10 and the Santa Cruz–to join friends for a show-stroll north. At one point we either had to backtrack to get on the paved road or cross a slick, silty lot. We went ahead. My friends made it across, and I almost did, too.

Then I started to hydroplane. My feet went out from under me and, in off-white linen slacks and a blue silk jacket, I landed sitting in the mud, my hands behind me with fingers submerged, but my head and hair just above the shimmering surface. One friend took pictures with her new digital camera, then accidentally erased them before any of us had copies, or I’d share them with you (honest).

Since I could hardly hop a shuttle dripping with mud to go back and change, we kept walking. By the time we’d sunned ourselves in the courtyard at the Pueblo waiting for the tent to open–my friends sitting at a table, me standing, my jacket hanging on a fence–I was reasonably dry. I flaked off as much mud as I could and we went in, yours truly leaving just a light trail wherever I’d been.

Pueblo Courtyard in Tucson

The sunny courtyard of the Pueblo gave me a chance to dry off and deflake, to a point.

Did I know I had mud on my pants? one dealer delicately asked. (I did.) And as I turned around, I spotted piles of colorful batik sarongs at another booth. I found an orange and blue one that matched my outfit, then wrapped my new purchase around my shoulders and let it fall behind me to my knees. The mud had stopped dribbling. I was presentable again.

Toward late afternoon, we stopped by the convention center where the AGTA show would open the next day. A woman at registration who saw me remarked, “What an elegant cape, you look so dramatic!”

I glanced around the lobby: there was hardly anyone there. Pirouetting, I whipped off my cape to give her a 360-degree view and exclaimed, “Ta da! Don’t I, though?” –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. In two weeks 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

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

Be sure to grab your copy of the 2018 Tucson Show Guide before hitting the shows. And for some insight on making the most of this amazing book, see New Tucson Show Guide is Easier to Use Than Ever.



Get ready for Tucson–or get all the vendor information in case you can’t make it!

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