And boy was it a Hoot!
Telluride must be the last wild-west town in America where you can let your individualism flag fly high and everyone will love you for it. I liked the place because that makes it my kind of country and people. Starting at an elevation of 8700 feet you can only go up from there, and if you do, your first stop is at the top of the (free) gondola ride which takes you up to 10,200 feet for a fine view of Mt. Wilson (+14,000 feet) and other
awe-inspiring peaks to the left and right of it.
Where else can a person climb a mountain, ride a mountain bike down, jump off the bike to grab some sashimi, then hop into a kayak and ride the San Miguel, before going home to grab a well-earned night’s sleep? And then get up to do it all over again? (And for all you young hipsters out there, the nightlife on then main street is hopping. Sheesh! To be twenty-something again.)
I flew directly onto the Telluride tarmac. At 10,200 feet, it is the highest landing strip in the lower 48. I flew in on a twin-prop with seven other passengers and I felt I was crammed inside a ping-pong ball and caught in a thunderstorm the entire flight. (Actually, I was in a thunderstorm all the way from Denver. Felt like a 90 minute roller coaster. Next time I’ll fly into Montrose or Grand Junction and go ground for the last leg.) But the Beechwood B 19 seater made it, despite the ominous looking cliff that dropped off at the foot of the runway, or how the landing strip kept sliding from left to right as I looked out the pilot’s windshield. I kept telling myself as we came in, “Telluride’s never had a plane crash, never had a plane crash, never . . .”
Anyway, it was an awesome week in Telluride and I knew it was going to be that way when I hit the edge of town and saw the sign that read ALL STREETS 15 MPH and all the bicyclists around me were passing me doing 20. Turns out there are two speed limits in Telluride. Bikes get preference.
So I found my condo and threw down my gear and headed out to find a local’s bar to discover the coolest places to paint and I end up at the New Sheridan Parlor, right on Main Street. I saw an open stool at the corner of the bar where I can order a pint and before I know it I’m sitting happy with a Guinness in my hand and my stomach has started to settle. I can see the locals in the room and am thinking about how I might approach some of them when I caught a white flash in my left eye.
I turned my head only to find a 70-year old man built like a stevedore with a craggy face sporting biceps that look like they came from a lifetime of bucking hay, and wearing a little girl’s sailor outfit. Complete with a matching cap and handbag. The kind of dress you see gaggles of Japanese schoolgirls wear in a group. The guy was staring right at me waiting for a reaction.
Well, honestly, if I wasn’t a bit surprised I’d be lying, but there he was: a local who goes by the name of ‘Kitsy’ when he is all dolled up and he turned out to be a great guy to talk to. He lived in Telluride for over 31 years and was filled with all sorts of info about where to go, what to paint, and very quick to offer some pointed advice about what I should be wearing when I get there. (Ha!) I really enjoyed our conversation and later in the week decided to ask him to sit for a portrait for the Friday morning QuickDraw competition. You see, it turned out that ‘Kitsy’ is well-beloved by all the townies, even if some of them don’t quite understand why he likes to put on pinafore and dress every now and then. But ‘Kitsy’ told me why. It makes him feel young again, and I have to say I believe him.
So on Thursday I look him up in the phone book (Yup, he’s in the phone book.) and ask if he will pose for me where we met and he jumps at the chance. He’s excited and eager like a kid. He understands the painting will be publicly exhibited and asks me what he should wear. I tell him, “Heck, I don’t know. Maybe you should surprise me”, and he tells me he’ll do that before he rings off. Friday morning comes and he shows up wearing a tight fitting flouncy pink Little Bo Peep dress with white lace gloves and a matching link parasol. And a little America Girl Doll™ dressed in the same way. Perfect. So I pose him in a homage to JS Sargent (a reference missed by almost everyone else) and placed him on a 19th century divan in the bar, against the Main Street window, with an American flag hanging outside and above his head. Telluride erects lots of American flags along the main street for the July 4th parade. Again, perfect! Couldn’t possibly have put this together on purpose.
Kitsy was a perfect sitter, solid as a rock, and when the whistle blew to mark the end of the QuickDraw, he and I both stepped out into the street before turning in the painting. He even vogued out on the street to whistles and cheers.
Then we both went to the park to hang our painting with everybody else’s work, a place where the art would be seen and perhaps bought by the general public.
I took my position a third of the way up the line and folks began to file by, coming up from Main Street towards the Opera House.
It went like this, with heads nodding:
“Street scene . . . Flowerpot . . .Street scene . . . Waterfall. . . Victorian house . . . Back alley way . . .”OH MY GOD THAT GUY CAN’T PAINT A WOMAN!” . . . Red firetruck . . . Street scene . . . “
But every now and then someone would come by the easel, pause for a moment, lean in for a closer look, and begin to laugh. Those were the townies. They knew ‘Kitsy’ and everyone of them loved the portrait. Couldn’t get enough of it. And I would receive some hand-shaking and back-slapping as a result. You see, there were a few Telluriders getting tired of the cozy street scenes . . . flower pots . . . waterfalls. . . and firetrucks, and they thanked me enthusiastically for putting up something else.
I love Telluride. And Kitsy was awesome. Er, I mean, is awesome. Wish I could have made it to his lobster dinner on Sunday night. Maybe next year, Kitsy . . .