Thursday, September 6, 2018

Tattoosday Plays the Alphabet Game, 2018 Edition

Last year I embarked on what I called "The Alphabet Game," a day-long excursion on the NYC subway system to go through the lettered trains, alphabetically, interviewing passengers about their tattoos. The plan was to start on the "A" train and end with the "Z" train. You can relive the journey here, a summary post that details the experiment. Alas, I called it quits after the "R" train, leaving the "S," "W," and "Z" unexplored.

I had so much fun I decided to try again this summer and what follows below is another summary of the excursion. Did I make it this year? You'll know by the time you get to the end. Each post below consists of published posts from each train I visited, plus an extra bonus of a between-trains encounter.

I have added journal thoughts for transitions. Enjoy the journey!

~ ~ ~

Well, I'm at it again. Last year, I tried to run the letters, A to Z, on the MTA.

It's 8:06 on the J platform at Broad Street. I'm going to hop on a J, ride a stop, and hit the A train , where it will begin again.

I'll be honest, I'm not super confident, so my goal is to just go one better than last year, so if I make it to the S (Shuttle) train, I will be happy.

I know it's all about momentum and being efficient, but I'm still a little concerned that I can pull it off. A big stumbling block last year was the D train and going all the way out to Coney Island and back.

Here's the J, it's 8:10 AM, and we're off.

8:12 AM, great train luck, one stop to Fulton and an A is pulling in at the bottom of the stairs on the A/C platform. Already headed north.

Found a cool tattoo, but the dude is sleeping. I'm not a fool. Let sleeping tattooed dogs lie.

8:21 AM, switched cars at 14th Street. The first is always the hardest. I don't want to stray too far, so I am planning on switching to a downtown A at 59th Street. It's the economy, stupid.

8:26 AM, Switched cars again at 42nd Street, preparing to switch again at 59th, this time headed back downtown. I had a better start last year :-(

8:33 AM On a crowded downtown A.

8:45 AM Headed back north on an A at West 4th Street.

8:52 AM Success! Between 34th and 42nd, I meet Jill - lots of ink, including this:

It was a quick picture and a quick conversation. The tattoo is from an unremembered artist at New York Adorned. Adorned was one of the top shops in the city, but they stopped tattooing operations in July of this year, rebranding and focusing solely on piercing.

The first letter of the alphabet has been accomplished, appropriately with an Avocado.

Staying on the A train to switch for a B at 59th Street.

Thanks to Jill for sharing her tattoo and getting us started!

On we go to the B train...

At 9am I'm at 59th Street, having recently disembarked from an A train, waiting for a B.

It rolls in at 9:04, and five minutes later, at 9:09, I'm talking to Tiffany, who has a whole movie theme on her leg, including this compass, from the Pirates of the Caribbean:

That's Jack Sparrow's compass [click through to read the compass' own wiki page] and was inked by Todd Griesch at Forever Studio (@forever_studio_tattoo) in Longmont, Colorado. It is based on this:

Pretty cool!

That was it for the B train, as I hopped off at West 4th to catch a C train.

Thanks to Tiffany for sharing her tattoo with us as Tattoosday rides the rails!

~ ~ ~

9:20am, I'm on a southbound C that I grabbed at West 4th Street.

I am trying to get a woman's attention on the C. She has a small Keith Haring tattoo on her forearm, but she is buried in her phone and has earbuds in. And a Basquiat tattoo, which I only noticed when she got up to get off at Chambers Street. :-(

9:27am, back at Fulton Street, switching over to a northbound C train.

9:30am Northbound C train, I meet Jeffrey, who is kind enough to share this cool "suicide king" tattoo:

Although the heart symbol is not in the tattoo, one is instantly reminded of the King of Hearts playing card, commonly referred to as the "Suicide King," because of the way he is holding his sword, it appears as if he is driving it through his own head.

Jeffrey told me he just "liked the idea of" the tattoo, and credited artist Phil DeAngulo (@midwestphil) from Behind the Circle (@behind_the_circle) in Bushwick, Brooklyn.

Thanks to Jeffrey for sharing his tattoo with us here on Tattoosday as we ride the rails and play the Alphabet Game.

Next up is the D train.

At 9:36 A.M., I got off the C train at West 4th Street to transfer to a D train.

At 9:43 A.M., I got on a northbound D train.

After just two minutes, I met Mike, who shared a trio of tattoos that are really quite good, all from East River Tattoo (@EastRiverTattoo):

Actually some of the work at East River, like the scorpion above, was done by a visiting artist. The scorpion was done by Spider Sinclair (@spidersinclaire), who works out of Two Hands Tattoo (@twohandstattoo) in Auckland, New Zealand.

Then there's this neat skull and fern design, by Mike Adams (@mikeadamstattoo), currently out of  Frederick, Maryland.

Last was this piece, proclaiming "Life's Short" and burning the candle at both ends:

This was done by Duke Riley (@dukerileystudio), one of East River Tattoo's resident artists.

Thanks to Mike for sharing his awesome tattoos with us on the subways!

As we continue our subway adventure, I set my sights on the E train ...

I took the D to 7th Avenue where I switched for an E.

Noting that knocking the D train out of the equation before 10AM was great - last year I rode the D all the way out to Coney Island where I met someone as the train was pulling in. But then it was an hour back into Manhattan to catch an E - that was the worst time-management piece of the day.

So, now on an E train, I talk to Melissa before the E even hits 50th Street:

So, this was probably the muddiest tattoo of the day, Melissa was still cool sharing this ladybug on a flower, inked in "n old shop in the Bronx that doesn't exist anymore."

Thanks to Melissa for sharing nonetheless!

After spotting the old ladybug tattoo on the E train, I rode the E down to West 4th Street, where I planned to switch for the F train.

10:07 AM, waiting for an F train at West 4th.

At 10:18 AM, on the F train, I struck up a conversation with Ivan between the Broadway/Lafayette and Delancey Street stations. Ivan used to be a piercer, so he had worked in tattoo shops and accumulated some cool tattoos. I initially took a photo of this piece on his leg:

Ivan credited the artist Sinsentido (@sinsentido10) who works out of Circus Tattoo (@cricustattoomadrid) in Madrid.

After the train had rolled into Brooklyn, Ivan asked to share another piece, this one on his neck:

This cool skull on his neck was done by Needles (@darthneedles) at Red Rocket Tattoo (@redrockettattoo) in Manhattan. Needles has decades of experience and his work has appeared on Tattoosday multiple times over the years (see some of it here).

Thanks to Ivan for sharing his cool tattoos with us here on Tattoosday, as we travel the New York subways!

10:28 AM: I take the F to Carroll Street in Brooklyn where I plan to switch for the G.

It's my first real break of the day, since the G is a pretty isolated line in Brooklyn. I've managed to avoid any intermediary lines between trains, but once I do the G, I have to take it back to the F and then take the F to the J. There's a way to get off/exit and walk to the J, but that takes too far out of the way to my liking.

10:36 AM: On a G, missed a shot at a Family Guy sleeve, considering switching back to a Queens-bound G.

Switched at 4th Avenue/9th Street and, while waiting for another G, met Dan on the platform, who had a tattoo too good to pass up:

This amazing black and gray octopus on the back of Dan's leg was inked by Scott Move (@scottmove) at Parliament Tattoo (@parliamenttattoo) in London.

So, while technically not part of the Alphabet Game, per se, this amazing piece was spotted during the activity, so we're including it as part of the overall process. I mean, I couldn't pass this up now, could I?

Thanks to Dan for sharing his awesome tattoo with us here on Tattoosday!

At 10:42 AM, I boarded a Queens-bound G, and resumed my quest.

The G train runs with only four subway cars, so pickings were slim.

Got my first rejection of the day at 10:50 AM, from a woman with a leaf tattooed on her arm. So, decided to switch back at Fulton Street  and head back in the opposite direction.

10:53 AM. Back on a Brooklyn-bound G,

Success shortly follows when I meet Zach, who shares this unusual piece on his leg:

Zach tells me this is based on the work of Santiago Caruso, a surrealist artist from Buenos Aires, Argentina. The tattoo was created by Tommy from Tattoo Lou's o Long Island about ten years ago.

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

11:08 AM - After talking to Zach on the G train, I had to hop off at Bergen, but realized I had to leave the station to switch directions - ended up helping a woman up the stairs with her stroller (good deed for the day accomplished).

11:10 AM - Jumped on a Manhattan-bound F train. Also of note, my battery is still at 75%. Honestly, three hours in and I've done the A,B,C,D,E, F and G - not too shabby. Approaching lunch, considered taking A train to Fulton but am staying on the F for only three stops more. Considering taking the J back toward Broad Street where I work, so I can lunch and use the restroom. All depends on what the MTA gods provide.

11:25 AM - Delancey Street, waiting for a J.

11:29 AM - Boarded a J toward Broad.

I rode the J to Broad and, in the process, interviewed Kenny, who shared this alternative take on a Japanese half-sleeve:

Rather than your traditional dragon and koi, this cool work features two of the Pokémon universe, Gyarados and Magikarp.

Kenny credited Kristin Bonafide (@kbonafide) from Rabbits Den Tattoo Parlor (@rabbitsdentattoo) in Milltown, New Jersey with the work. Super fun!

Time to break for lunch!

Thanks to Kenny for sharing his cool tattoos with us here on Tattoosday, as we ride the rails!

12:04 PM, I'm on a 4 train to 14th Street/Union Square where I can grab an L train. Definitely ahead of where I was last year: A-J, 8 trains in 4 hours, or 2 per hour on average. L-Z remain, 9 to go and I have 5 hours, maybe 6. So far, so good.

12:10 PM, On the L, just missed someone covered with ink, got off at 6th Avenue. Just went 2 stops to 8th, now will head the opposite way - toward Brooklyn.

The L was sitting at 8th and our doors didn't open in time, so the train on the opposite platform left before I could switch, so I stayed on the original L. Good thing, because that's when I met Tina, who shared her wonderful sleeve:

This cool sleeve was the work of Steve Boltz (@steveboltz), out of Smith Street Tattoo Parlour (@smithstreettattooparlour) in Brooklyn. Tina estimates that this was created back in 2002-2003 over five sessions.

Really cool stuff, including a black cat, lucky horseshoe, sugar skull, sailor woman, pirates, and etc.

Thanks to Tina for sharing this fabulous sleeve with us here on Tattoosday as we continue playing the Alphabet Game!

I took the L one stop to 6th Avenue, where I switched for the M.

12:27 Waiting for the M.

12:35, on a northbound M, when I met Casey.

Casey had some tattoos marked on his hands which I found interesting:

Looking at the visible tattoos in this image, you'll see four letters. From left to right, there's a "C" on his index finger, a "T" on the middle finger, another "C" on his ring ringer, and a "K" below the knuckle of his pinky. Casey explained that the letters were initials of his siblings, and they are all based on fonts from French childrens' books. So, the first C and T are based on the font in Antoine de Saint-Exupéry's The Little Prince. The second C and the K are based on fonts from Edmond à la plage.

These tattoos were also on his hand:

He pointed out that he tattooed the word "love" himself and the "R.O.T." stands for "Right On Time," a nickname he got from kids he was counseling that refers to his punctuality.

Thanks to Casey for sharing these interesting hand tattoos with us here on Tattoosday!

After the M, I hopped on a D to 34th Street where I could switch to an N train.

At 12:47 PM, I board an uptown N at 34th Street.

Eight minutes later, I meet Fatima, who shares this rose tattoo:

Fatima told me little, just that this was done at a shop in the Bronx.

Thanks to Fatima for sharing her rose with us here on Tattoosday!

At 12:56 PM, I jumped from the N to a northbound Q train (there is no "O" or "P" line) and then, three minutes later, switch to a southbound Q at Lexington/63rd.

It was on the Q that I met Katie, who had a lot of tattoos, and was kind enough to share this awesome piece on her thigh:

Katie obviously likes sour things, as represented by this cool skull design with lemons. She credited the artist "Purple" from Devils Ink Tattoos (@devils_ink_tattoos) in East Harlem, New York. It was Purple's design, she told me, noting he is"great with skulls."

I love this design, especially because I had never seen anything quite like this before.

Thanks to Katie for sharing her cool tattoo with us here on Tattoosday, as we continue on with the Alphabet game!

Last year, when I played the Alphabet Game for the first time, I finished on the R train. I was beat, it was the end of the day, and I called it quits having run through a dozen other train lines.

This year, I was much more efficient. So, when I hopped off the Q at Union Square at 1:15 PM, I was way ahead of last year, and quite pleased with myself.

And then it took twelve minutes for a northbound R to arrive.

And then the R train was not offering up much in terms of tattoos. At 1:40, I was at 57th Street, looking to reverse directions.

At 1:42 PM, I hopped on a southbound R and finally, between 34th and 23rd, I met Nicole, who shared this unusual-looking tree tattoo:

Nicole hails from Texas and explained that this is a representative of a tree from the Lone Star state, she couldn't recall the name but gave me a couple of clues. It's a tree indigenous to Texas and, she explained, her mother's ashes are buried underneath one in Odessa.

I am going to go out on a limb (intended) and call this a Disospyros texana, or a Texas persimmon tree. I could be wrong, but the point is, it's tattooed on Nicole and it reminds of her home.

The tattoo was done by an artist named Jason at True Blue Tattoo in Austin.

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

Last year, when I played the Alphabet Game, I quit at R. But this year, I ventured into uncharted territory.

My concern with the S train is that S stands for "shuttle" and it runs regularly between Times Square and Grand Central station. One stop, back and forth. How long, I wondered, will I be on the S train trying to interview someone in a short window of time?

Side note: I know that there are other versions of the S train, notably near Prospect Park, in Brooklyn, but that is isolated and out of the way.

Back to the Alphabet Game, at 1:56 PM, after checking off the R, I hopped off at 23rd Street, exited near the Flat Iron Building, and hopped on a northbound W to 42nd Street. Once there, I utilized one of the restrooms and then headed to the S train.

Remember how worried I was that the S would be a challenge? You should, that was only three paragraphs back! Well, I need not worry, because on my first pass of the S, I met Devin, who shared this wolf tattoo:

Devin credited Angel Garcia (@caballonegre33) from Black Horse Tattoos (@blackhorseink) in Brooklyn.

Thanks to Devin for sharing his cool tattoo with us as Tattoosday rides the rails!

I had surpassed last year's attempt by successfully finding a tattoo on the S train and set my sights on the W. In case you were wondering, there's no U train, the T train was discontinued in the 1960s and the V train only ran from 2001-2010. 

At 2:25 PM, I got a W train headed toward Whitehall Street. Between 23rd and 14th, I met Mark, who had these cool arrows tattooed on his right arm:

Mark had to hop off at 14th Street, so we had a very brief conversation, but he did manage to tell me the arrows represented strength, and he credited Daniel Delgado (@danieltattoos) with the work. Daniel currently works out of Brooklyn's Hand of Glory Tattoo (@handofglorytattoo).

Shortly after meeting him, he sent me an instagram message saying "here's the true meaning behind my arrows:"

Thanks to Mark for sharing his arrows with us here on Tattoosday!

When I finished on the W train, I set my sight on the last letter in the alphabet. The elusive Z train.

I remained on the W and switched at Canal Street - it wasn't even 3:00 PM!

All throughout this journey, I kept notes, so you may be wondering why, at 2:53 PM, my entry reads
"1 train uptown leaving Rector."

Hold the phone. The 1 train? That's not the alphabet! What's going on? My journal continues....

Oh, the best laid plans. Sigh. Way ahead of schedule, I hit the J/Z platform at Canal and was dismayed when the countdown clock showed only J trains. Is the Z defunct? No, I learned, it's a rush-hour only train. [In hindsight, this makes complete sense, and I feel foolish for not realizing it ahead of time.]

The Z only runs from 4:45 to 5:45. It's not even 3:00 PM. So, rather than sit around for nearly two hours, I decide to do so bonus inkspotting, and I headed to the 1 station at Rector Street. Headed uptown. Better than sitting around and waiting for a Z!

I don't see going through all the numbers (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7), but I'm in bonus territory here. 

All that leads me to Fernanda, who was visiting from Mexico. I met her on the uptown 1 train and she kindly shared this lovely tattoo on her thigh:

Fernanda credited this cool elephant tattoo to Lupe Trujillo, from Capitán Tatuajes in Puebla City, Mexico.

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

Having just found a tattooed contributor on the 1 train, I hopped off at 3:01 PM at 14th Street. At 3:12, I jumped onto an uptown 2 train and met Rob, who shared this Batman tattoo:

Rob credited the work to an artist named Toxyc (@toxycxlr), out of Autopsy Tattoo Studio ( in Austin, Texas.

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

The Alphabet Game took a twist when I had to postpone my trip on a Z train until it started up during rush hour. So, for fun, I started going through the numbers, at least until I could make it to a Z. If you don't know what I'm talking about, start with this post here.

I hopped off the 2 train at 34th Street/Penn Station and boarded a downtown 3 train. I stayed on the 3 until I got to Fulton Street, and then ran, at 3:30 PM across that platform to get an uptown 3 train, rather than heading further downtown.

This proved a good move, as I met Wendy, who was kind enough to share the following koi tattoo swimming over her shoulder:

Wendy credited this to Diego Mannino (@diegovmannino) over at Daredevil Tattoo (@daredeviltattoo) in Manhattan.

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

Last year, I only made it through the R, but this year, I took a detour after the W train and knocked out the 1, 2 and 3, because I was so efficient, and had to wait for the rush-hour Z train to start running.

So here, we go....

Already done above and beyond what I had hoped, except for the mighty Z train, Debating whether to go back for the 4/5/6/7. I'm beat. FitBit says 12,787 steps. There's little chance I can get those four done and the Z, when the Z runs only for an hour.

Most amazing is that I approached 20 people and only 1 declined.

I just stayed on the 3 and passed Fulton, so I will just take a break and chill at Broad, grab the first Z and hope and pray.

4:32 Back at Broad. Such a different approach from last year. The Z is now the prize and I have a small window to snag t. I have to get the first one and hope I get something right quick, or I will be plying for a miracle. The countdown clock now says 20 minutes for a Z. My worry is that it will be all business-folks, but I am going to try and get it before we leave Manhattan so I can make it back at a reasonable time.

Success! I get on the Z and meet Josh, who shares his space sleeve:

Josh got this work done in three sessions from Dustin Horan (@dustinhoran) at The Dead President's Lounge (@thedeadpresidentslounge)in Albany, New York.

And we're done!

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

And this concludes the 2018 Alphabet Game. This was my route over 9 hours: j-A-A-A-B-C-C-D-E-F-G-G-f-J-4-L-M-d-N-Q-Q-R-R-w-S-W-j-1-2-3-3-3-Z. My best estimate places the journey at 33 separate trains, including the 16 lettered trains and 3 of the numbered trains.

Looking forward to upping the challenge again in 2019! Thanks to everyone who participated and shared their tattoos with us here on Tattoosday!

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