Friday, September 8, 2017

Tattoosday Plays the Alphabet Game with the MTA

For several years, I had an idea that was pretty crazy, but I promised myself I would do ... one of these days.

The idea was this: Spend a day inkspotting, but follow specific guidelines. Namely, get on the New York City subways, get to an "A" train, and find someone with a tattoo, and interview them. Once that task was accomplished, switch to a "B" train. Repeat and follow the same pattern, until I got through the alphabet. Go A through Z. Make a day of it!

Considering a "good" day of inkspotting is interviewing 2 or 3 people, and the most I have ever done was 13 at the Coney Island Mermaid Parade, this seemed like an impossible task. Not to mention, I have found subway riders tend to be a little more reluctant to talk to people about their tattoos than those above ground.

But before I dismissed the idea entirely, the reality was this: although there are twenty-six letters in the alphabet, on weekdays there are only sixteen lettered trains. Currently, there are no H, I, K, O, P, T, U, V, Y, or X trains. So, really, the target is 16, which, though daunting, is still more doable than 26.

This summer, the time seemed ripe. I had a lot of available time off from work. I decided I had to do this on a weekday because a) the trains are more crowded and thus there would be more potential interviewees; b) there are also more trains to accommodate the ridership and c) the B, M, and Z trains are weekday only, so doing this on the weekend would seem a bit of a cop-out. And yes, I realize, I am not even talking about the trains numbered 1 through 7, but I just wanted to see if I could do the alphabet first.

Timing is everything, as well, and I had to pick a day when the temperature was in the upper 80's or 90's. The warmer it gets, the more ink you see. That's just a general rule.

So, as part of our 10-year anniversary celebration, I tried it on a warm day in August.

Did I accomplish it? You'll have to read to the end of the post to know for sure.

I am posting this introduction, and I will follow it with individual posts until I am finished, but I will add the new post to this one each day. The end result will be this very long, complete (or incomplete post), followed by individual posts documenting the experiment.

Thank you for indulging me, dear readers! Enjoy the journey!

8:16 AM, R train leaving 95th Street, Brooklyn: So, after years talking about it, I'm finally going to try the alphabet [game].

The concept: start with the A train. Find and photograph ink on a tattooed passenger. Switch to a B train. Rinse, repeat. Do it in a day.

That's, if you're not familiar with the NYC subways, A,B,C,D,E,F,G,J,L,M,N,Q,R,S,W, and Z. 16 trains in all. If super successful, and motivated, 1,2,3,4,5,6,7  - the Magnificent Seven to follow.

I honestly don't know how successful I'll be. But I'm going to try. Train inkspotting is more challenging than open air inkspotting. People are more guarded, more locked into their ear buds, more suspicious. I have a good 20 minutes to psych myself up - at Jay Street in Brooklyn, I will switch from the R to the A. And the game will be afoot.

First conundrum: do I try to talk to the woman next to me on the R? She has some interesting linework tattoos, but she is earbudded and the train is crowded.

I'm also superstitious. If I try to go out of sequence, will that jinx the project? If she rejects me, will it start me off on the wrong foot, dinging my confidence?

I've decided to let her be. If the ink was better, I might try, but it won't haunt me if I pass.

There's a point there, however. The quality of the work. This is a quantity not quality challenge. I also get to explore the subways a little.

8:50 AM, Switch to the A at Jay Street/Metrotech

At 8:58  A.M., I sit down next to Lucas who shares this tattoo:

Lucas explains that this is a representation of his St. Jude medal, which he used to wear on a chain. Now, he carries it with him wherever he goes, tattooed on his wrist.

Under normal circumstances, this isn't a tattoo that would have necessarily drawn me into a conversation on the train, but, remember, I'm playing the alphabet game, and this was the first step in the journey.

Thanks to Lucas for sharing his tattoo with me on the A train.

After my initial success on the A train (here), the game continued:

Next stop, I switched at West 4th Street for a northbound B train.

9:04 on Northbound B.

At 9:12 A.M., between 42nd Street and 47th-50th/Rockefeller Plaza, I met Samantha, who shared this cool tattoo:

When she told me this was by New York artist Betty Rose (@BettyRoseTattoos), I acknowledged that this made sense, as Betty Rose is no stranger to Tattoosday, and has made a name for herself as a quality artist who loves to do cat tattoos (or "cattoos," as she calls them). Betty Rose currently works out of Eight of Swords Tattoo (@8ofSwordsTattoo) in Brooklyn.

Thanks to Samantha for sharing her cool tattoo with us on Tattoosday!

Next up, I'm headed to the C train...

Things were going great! Within twenty minutes, I had handled the A and the B. Next up, the C train. I was just a couple of stops from 59th Street/Columbus Circle, where I planned to hop on a southbound C.

9:16 A.M. Just missed a C. A guy in the subway car I almost made had ink too!

9:21 A.M. On a C train.

9:24 A.M.  Spotted someone with a tattoo made of musical notes forming a heart. She has earbuds in, so I will hold out for something better.

9:34 A.M.  Is it okay to switch cars? Still deciding if that's within the rules of the game.

9:37 A.M. The musical clef tattoo just got off. Regret not talking to her.

9:40 A.M. Switched cars, moved into one with no A/C. Bad idea.

9:42 A.M.  Switched again. First rejection. Woman with snake tattoo on forearm politely declines. Still takes flier. Exits at Chambers.

9:46 A.M.  After 25 minutes on the C, I switch at Fulton Street to a C running northbound, in the opposite direction.

I see a woman with "passing through" tattooed on her forearm, but she is wedged between two people...

Another woman with a half sleeve, but it looks like it was drawn and inked by an eight-year old. She also has a heart on her middle finger.

The rule of procrastination: if you don't move, or if you hesitate, consider the opportunity lost - not meant to be. "Passing through" exited at 14th Street.

Switched cars at 23rd Street.

I see a guy with not-so-good tattoos. So much for not being picky. I've done this for ten years without an altercation. Spider sense tingles. I pass.

I caught two tattoos in the first twenty minutes and got cocky. Approaching one hour since my last success.

Finally, at 10:08, I meet Michelle from Brooklyn when she gets on the C train at 59th Street/Columbus Circle. She shares this tattoo on her forearm:

Michelle credits her solid Brooklyn tattoo to Fernando Lions (@lions_nyc) at Flyrite Tattoo (@flyrite_tattoo) in the same borough.

Thanks to Michelle for sharing her tattoo with us on Tattoosday!

What comes after C? That would be D.

10:10 A.M.  For the sake of continuity, instead of getting off at 81st and hitting a southbound B or C, I will go to 125th Street and get a southbound D train.

10:20 A.M. Switch to southbound D at 125th Street.

10:48 A.M. Still on the D train, Brooklyn-bound, crossing the Manhattan Bridge.

11:16 A.M.  Just moved through the D to the front car. Not a lot of luck. May ride to the end of the line in Coney Island and switch back, unless a chance occurs before then.

11:35 A.M. On the D, approaching Coney Island/Stillwell Avenue. A couple of times I had considered switching back, but was glad I didn’t, because I met Jessica right before the last stop on the D. She shared this tattoo of a spyglass, or hand-held telescope:

Jessica got this spyglass done by Rob Genovese (@robgenoveseart) at Brooklyn Made Tattoo (@brooklynmadetattoo) in Bay Ridge. She explained that she goes to school in upstate New York and the stars always have a calming effect on her. One doesn’t see as many stars in Brooklyn, but with her telescope, now she can always see the stars.

Thanks to Jessica for sharing her cool tattoo with us here on Tattoosday, as we play the Alphabet Game!

After  just over an hour on the D train, I finally found a cool tattoo (here) and now had to go all the way back into Manhattan to connect to an E train.

The plan was to catch an uptown E at West 4th Street. My phone was at 33% battery so I used the hour it took to get back into the city to recharge.

At 12:38 P.M., as the E pulled in at West 4th, I spotted a woman with some incredible work. What luck! After 2 hours on the D, back and forth, I met Eva in under a minute, and she shared this amazing cobra tattoo:

This cool snake was done in three sittings by Jon Clue (@jonclue) at Sacred Tattoo (@sacredtattoonyc) in Manhattan. “I love snakes,” Eva told me, “and I love what he [Clue] does.”

I hadn’t expected to catch anything this great on my subway journey, so I considered myself very lucky.

I featured another piece by Jon earlier this year here.

At 12:40, the E pulled into 34th Street/Penn Station and I decided to take a break for lunch.

Thanks to Eva for sharing her amazing tattoo on Tattoosday!

1:05 P.M.  After a bathroom and pizza break at Penn Station, I'm back on an E train to catch an F at West 4th Street.

1:13 P.M. On an F train at West 4th, southbound.

1:16 P.M.  I meet Adrien, who shares a couple of great tattoos from Kings Avenue Tattoo (@kingsavetattoo) on the Bowery in Manhattan.

First is this cool moth:

Adrien told me that this tattoo by Grez matches one that is also on another Kings Ave artist, Becca Genne-Bacon (@beccagennebacon) who, incidentally, tattooed this awesome black rose on Adrien, as well:

Thanks to Adrien for sharing these cool tattoos with us on Tattoosday!

Having succeeded on the F train rather quickly, I was feeling optimistic, and I headed to Brooklyn for the second time, aiming for the Carroll Street station, where I could switch to a G train.

1:27 P.M. Realizing after G (God willing), I will need to backtrack to get to a J (no H or I on the subway map), so the total fluidity of the exercise will be disrupted. Either that, or get off train, walk, and pay again.

1:30 P.M.  Off F train.

1:32 P.M.  On G train.

Less than five minutes pass and I am talking to Katie about her tattoos:

Katie has, as you can see, a plethora of Hello Kitty tattoos, but with variations. In the top photo there's a Franken-kitty and the middle tattoo is a Kitty done up in the Day of the Dead sugar skull style. The bottom photo has a pirate Kitty and a Kitty as a Maneki-neko cat.

Katie explained she was born in South Korea and that her Hello Kitty toys were her favorite toys growing up. All of her tattoos remind her of her early childhood home.

These cool tattoos were inked by Matt Bivetto (@mattbivetto) at Three Kings Tattoo (@threekingstattoo) in Brooklyn. Matt is now working out of Greenpoint Tattoo Company (@greenpointtattooco).

Thanks to Katie for sharing her cool tattoos with us here on Tattoosday!

I was off the G train by 1:37 and had to pull a U-turn and head back into Manhattan.

1:38 P.M.  Just missed a northbound F train

1:50 P.M.  On F train back to Manhattan. Going to transfer to a J train at Delancey (There’s no “I” in Team or the MTA!)

2:08 P.M.  I catch a J train and almost immediately meet Luke, who is covered with tattoos. I point out this one on his leg:

Turns out this tattoo was done by Shon Lindauer (@shonlindauer) at High SeasTattoo Parlor (@highseastattooparlor) in Los Angeles.  I was excited to hear it was by Shon, as he did my tiger tattoo (revisit it here) and does great solid traditional work.

Here's a crisper view of the tattoo from Shon's instagram:

Via @shonlindauer on Instagram
Luke tells me that this palm tree ablaze represents his hatred of Los Angeles.

Luke also sent me a photo of his bodysuit, which will appear in a future installment of Tattoosday.

Thanks to Luke for sharing his cool tattoo with us on Tattoosday!

I had exited the J train to talk to Luke, so I had to wait for another one to come and get me closer to the L train (no K in the MTA). 2:24 P.M. On the J train toward Broad Street.
2:27 P.M.
I get off at Canal and switch to an N train toward 14th Street/Union Square.
2:35 P.M.
On the L train to Brooklyn.
2:39 P.M.  I meet Thiago, who is visiting from Italy, and he has a lot of tattoos to choose from.
Our conversation comes between 1st Avenue in Manhattan and Bedford in Brooklyn.
Thiago shared this hilarious tattoo:

This tattoo is on Thiago's inner thigh and, if you're wondering why this woman's mouth looks a little odd, it's because this is the head of a blow-up sex doll, appropriately positioned on his inner thigh.
He credited Silvie Bovary (@sylviebovary) from Holy Ink Tattoo (@holy_ink_firenze)in Florence, Italy.
Thanks to Thiago for sharing this awesome tattoo with us here on Tattoosday!

2:41 P.M. Off the L train at Bedford, headed back to Manhattan.

2:47 P.M.  On the L to Manhattan.

After a rough morning, the afternoon is proving kinder: A,B,C,D before noon, E,F,G,J,L after Noon.
Technically, seven trains to go, and I begin thinking this is not likely to happen, but I feel that I am honestly doing better than I expected..

Taking the L to the M train on the 6th Avenue line and heading toward Queens.

2:57 P.M. Waiting for the M uptown.

3:02 P.M. On a northbound M.

Within a few minutes I meet Adam, from Asheville, North Carolina. He gets off at 23rd Street, but not before I snap a picture of his tattoo:

Adam is a musician, and that was all I learned. He said he would email me details, but I never received them. So all we have is this bizarre, yet cool tattoo to remember the experience with.

Thanks to Adam for sharing this cool tattoo with us here on Tattoosday!

After dispatching on the M train in mere moments, I turned my sights to the N. I got off the M at 34th Street.

3:08 P.M. Waiting for southbound N at 34th Street/Herald Square.

3:15 P.M. On southbound N.

3:23 P.M. On Manhattan Bridge. Picky Bill is back, balking on several people. Just not a big fan of what I'm seeing.

3:36 P.M. I decide to switch back at Barclay's Center/Atlantic, to a northbound N train back to Manhattan.

3:44 P.M. On an N train and I meet Tiffany, who shared this tattoo:

Tiffany explained this is a tribute to her dad, who ran the family's Mom & Pop video store in Brooklyn over 20 years ago.

She credited this work to Angel at Puncture Tattoo (@puncturetattoostudio) in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn. Angel gained national attention several years ago after appearing on Ink Master (@spikeinkmaster).

Thanks to Tiffany for sharing this cool tattoo with us here on Tattoosday!

After the Q, I knew, alas, I was throwing in the towel. I could potentially finish out the Alphabet Game, but I would be battling commuters during rush hour on the R, S, W and Z trains, and I was, to be honest beat after having ridden the rails for eight-plus hours.

So, here's the final chapter of the first annual Alphabet Game on the MTA:

4:39 P.M. Off at 57th Street in Manhattan with the intent to catch a southbound R train.

4:45 P.M.  Board the R, southbound.

4:58 P.M.  At Prince Street, I decide to drop by my office to get some things, take a bathroom break, recharge the phone. I can still ride the R home and hopefully get one last tattoo.

5:07 P.M.  Exit the R train at Rector.

5:45 P.M.  Back on the R at Rector.

This is the final train of the day. For fun, I map my route:


That's 24 different trains between 8:15 A.M. and 5:45 P.M.

Just shy of 6:00 P.M., on the R between Union and 9th Street in Brooklyn, I introduce myself to Mita, who shares the 12th tattoo of the day from the subways (13th, if you count Adrien on the F train, who shared two almost five hours earlier).

This is Mita's tattoo:

Mita tells me she got this from Brooklyn tattoo legend Michael Angelo, who has been working out of his basement in a residential neighborhood in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, since 1976. He doesn't take appointments. You just show up and he gets to you when he gets to you. She says she camped out for it to guarantee she got the tattoo.

This lucky horseshoe has Taíno colors for her Puerto Rican heritage.

Thanks to Mita (and to all my the subway riders who shared their tattoos) for helping make the Alphabet Game a successful endeavor. We'll be sure to play again some time in the future!

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