Thursday, February 28, 2013

Poker Night

Written for this week's "La Vida Local" column of the Durango Telegraph: 

“You don’t have TV, how do you live without TV?” my uncle asked in disbelief. I was back in the Midwest, and as usual, something about my Colorado lifestyle, was surprising my relatives. Typically the topic of conversation is about me sleeping on a rock face, or how if its hard to meet women when I’m living out of a vehicle, but this time it was my lack of access to cable.

Yes, I have all but abandoned the recreational pastimes I grew up with, with one notable exception: poker. I learned to play poker with my uncles in Illinois, and over the holidays every year we’d sneak off into a basement filled with antique beer cans, a pool table and a card table. I almost always lost my five-dollar buy in, but liked the excitement of playing, and when I was old enough, I enjoyed the beer my uncles provided.

Sometime after I moved west in the late 1990s, poker blew up in popularity. In particular, Texas Hold Em, a seven-card variation of poker, took the nation by storm, and suddenly it was the way to play the game. Even in the small corner of the world that I was living in at the time, Gunnison, everyone playing poker had adopted Texas Hold Em, and there was no turning back.

Somewhere in the middle of this I had a friend who had a grand idea, we could fund our climbing trips by gambling. He had a system for several ways of winning money with roulette, blackjack and poker. For a brief minute I believed in his system when I won seventy dollars in thirty minutes playing blackjack in New Mexico, after returning from a climbing trip to Mexico. “See, seventy bucks can last a week in Mexico,” he said.

I shared his passion for this idea briefly, until I lost two hundred dollars at a roulette table using his system. “Just keeping betting on black,” he said. “Eventually you’ll win your money back.”

Well, I did keep betting on black, and the little silver ball kept landing on red until I was out of money. I still never lost faith in his idea until he left me hanging in Las Vegas one time. He was planning on meeting me there to test his systems in Sin City, but couldn’t make it; something about a tooth falling out because of his frequent tobacco chewing habit.

What we didn’t know at the time was there actually was a man who funded his climbing trips by gambling. For over twenty years, John “The Gambler” Rosholt was a climber by day and professional poker player by night. He funded a dirtbag climbing lifestyle from playing poker, and was known for his methodical, scientific approach to both poker and climbing. Rosholt considered poker a science, and a job rather than a game. Not only was he successful with poker, but he was also one of the top climbers of his time.

Sadly in 2005 Rosholt went missing in Las Vegas. The media covered his disappearance, and his sister Jane, tirelessly searched for him. Many theories existed about his whereabouts until 2010 when a climbing party found some human remains on a wall in Red Rocks, a climbing area near Las Vegas. The remains were tested and found to be Rosholt’s. Apparently he was scoping out a new route on the wall, and slipped, falling to his death. There are many interesting stories about him online, and hopefully someday, someone will write a book about the man they called The Gambler.

In Durango, I’ve found a great group of guys to play poker with. Like me, most of them don’t want to lose more than five to ten bucks a night, and laughter is of equal importance to winning hands. My buddy Travis, a smooth southern gentleman, is the ringleader, and last winter somehow convinced six to eight people down in his frigid basement once a week for a friendly game of cards. Good beer was always on hand, and it had a similar vibe to playing with my uncles, but instead of the antique beer can collection on the wall, there was a Wu Tang Clan poster.

I can’t overstate how cold it was in that basement, one night my friend Tim, who doesn’t have an ounce of fat on his body, and suffered frostbite as a teenager, showed up in a puffy coat and pants that one might see in a picture of someone climbing Mt. Everest. Though we made fun of him, he insisted it was the only time he was warm enough down in that dungeon.

This winter Travis is off to exotic travels with his lady, but we’ve still kept a decent crew together. We play every couple of weeks, and have found a warmer location than a seedy, dark basement. We miss Travis and his wit, “I don’t want nobody to get shot or stabbed down here, it’s only poker,” he would often say, but don’t miss the fact that he usually took all of our money.
Through poker night I’ve met some climbing partners, new friends, and grown closer with others. It’s a good time even when I lose my money, which is most nights, but I’ll admit it is much more fun when I’m winning. I don’t have the keen sense that John “The Gambler” Rosholt must have had, although his lifestyle was envious, and I’m glad there was someone out there living that dream.

I don’t have any regret about leaving behind a more sedentary lifestyle back in the Midwest for a more active one out here. After all if I stayed in the Midwest I’d never have any of these stories. But, I’m glad I’ve hung onto at least one pastime, poker night. 

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Eat, Sleep, Paint. Alexis McLean trusts the artistic process

Local artist Alexis McLean knows that the grass is green here in Durango, she just has to doubt it sometimes.

 “Whenever I think that I need to move somewhere else with a bigger counterculture art scene, I’ll meet several artists right here in Durango,” McLean says. “It’s really a great scene here, one that I’m proud to be a part of.”

Being inspired by other local artists is just one element of McLean’s work, which is now on display at Eno, located at 723 E. Second Ave. An opening will be held today, Thursday, February 7th from 5:00 to 7:00 p.m.

Her show features twenty-eight original pieces, a mix of watercolor and oil paintings, as well as a few prints. About half of the pieces were made just for this show; incredibly productive considering she also has a day job at Z Chiropractic and works as a kids ski coach on the weekends at Durango Mountain Resort.

 “I really had to dig deep for this show,” McLean, 30, shares. “Typically I can get into a creative space very easily. This time it was more challenging. I wanted to do a lot of new stuff. At first I was thinking about everything too much. The key ended up being just showing up to my studio, day after day.”

Over the process of paining and writing (she uses words and poems in several of the pieces), she became so inspired she didn’t want to stop. “I ended up pulling an all-nighter, the first time I’ve done something like that since college.”

While she doesn’t have a specific name for the show, one central theme emerged during the process: trust. “Trust is the web that connects everything,” McLean says. “Trust is a part of what we go through as humans. As an artist I needed to trust the paint and to trust my intuition as an artist.”

When asked to describe her style as a painter she first says “subconscious frontiers” and then also adds that others might call it “representative abstract”, but not solely abstract. She constantly uses birds, bees and hearts in her work. “There’s just something deep about a bird flying, that freedom and mystery. I especially like using ravens in my work. They are wise and crafty.”

Faded Wisdom by Alexis McLean
 “I have a visceral connection to birds, hearts and bees,” she feels. “I can’t paint them and not feel anything.”

McLean notes that the emotions she feels pour directly into her work, even if she does not realize it until years later. She enjoys the reactions from others with their interpretations often being completely different than what she was feeling when she painted it.

“One of my favorite parts of creating these paintings is to see what they evoke in people,” McLean says. “I create from my own space, my own self indulgent emotional darkness, my own light and beauty, my own heart wrenching memories, my own nothingness. All of that disappears in a show. They are not mine anymore.”

McLean has been creating art as long as she can remember, and always had the necessary tools available while she was growing up. “Both of my parents are creative people, my Mom is a jeweler and a writer, and my Dad is a builder, an abstract thinker who is always doing something creative. There’s a picture of me at an easel when I was five years old.”

Listen by Alexis McLean
At Fort Lewis College she got a degree in Humanities and took courses in painting, ceramics and art history. After college she didn’t paint much, and then one day it hit her, and she just had to paint. “It became a need for me, like drinking water and sleeping. Sometimes more important than sleeping,” she jokes.

In addition to the act of creating art, the need to be surrounded by other artists is of equal importance. “It’s nice to be a part of the growing art scene in Durango. I love watching my friends evolve, and it’s refreshing to see more contemporary work, not just the typical Southwest themes.”

She thinks that the Durango Arts Center has done a great job promoting local artists and is active in the Studio & community. (She is participating in an art show at Studio & on February 22nd.) McLean has a studio on 9th and Main, one where other artists also have spaces nearby, and she enjoys having them close. “I enjoy seeing other artists’ spaces, where they create,” she adds.

McLean is constantly trying to experiment with new art forms, and wishes that there were more places in Durango where graffiti art could be featured. “The cities where it (graffiti) is allowed have an amazing artistic expression.”

She has a project to paint a friends art car in the works, and has been dabbling in writing poetry. Last summer she had a show at the Diane West gallery that featured hand written letters from various friends and family. She appreciates poets and hopes to help organize future spoken word poetry events in Durango. In addition to all this she is a fit athlete, an active skier and climber.

McLean’s future goals involve finding a gallery to represent her and seeking a residency, where she can dedicate more time to her art, in a community with like-minded people doing the same. She also enjoys teaching art, and would like to share what she’s learned with others. More and more she is being commissioned to create pieces for people who like her style and want to give her the freedom to paint something specifically for their homes.

As for this current show, McLean is very proud of her work, and enjoyed the process as much as the paintings she created. She loves being an artist, if only for the sake of it.

 “When we approach our desks, stages, easels, journals, we need to talk to our brains into the fact that the end result does not matter. When we think of how something will look or sound, the moment of creation becomes limited. We need to distract the brain so the heart will be free to express the truth.”

Alexis McLean’s studio is located at 101 W. 9th St. More information about her art can be found at and

This article was originally published in the Durango Telegraph, Feb. 7, 2013. 

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Another Freedom Photo

Another photo of The Freedom Mobile, taken by my friend Ashley King, at Hartman Rocks, Gunnison, Colorado, summer 2011. This was what The Freedom Mobile was all about, getting to the rocks, to climb. It was a thousand dollar car that lasted seven years, went to Potrero Chico, J-Tree, Yosemite, Red Rocks, Indian Creek, Castle Valley, and the Black Canyon. It was part of my American Dream, to live cheaply, simply, and full of free time, freedom, free climbing. Let freedom ring!

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