By Bob Baxter
Tattoo people like to travel. Artists, especially, realize, the moment they land on foreign soil, that tattooed folks are friendly, helpful and extremely accommodating. There seems to be a blood bond that is, perhaps, the best part of having body art. Case in point: Canada. Whenever I travel from the U.S. to Calgary, Edmonton or Vancouver, we are treated with an uncommon degree of thoughtfulness and an innate feeling of being a member of an extended family. For the most part, it is subtle—being picked up from the airport rather than told to “catch a shuttle,” finding flowers on the nightstand when a visit coincides with a wedding anniversary, that kind of thing.
Maybe it’s the tattoo mana, that mystical, magical, supernatural force and power that exudes from our pores when we arrive at a new port of call or, for that matter, when we pass through any busy airport. Sure, there are horror stories of having tattoo equipment confiscated or being hailed off to some bare-walled interrogation room because of a teenage DUI or an accusation from an angry girlfriend that got on your police rap sheet back in the ’70s, but there are plenty of positive experiences to balance the negative ones.
Take for example, the time I was stalled at the Miami airport by a security guard that took one look at me and demanded my luggage be wrapped in Saran Wrap. At a cost of thirty-five dollars, I might add.
“How come on one else has to wrap their luggage?” I asked, knowing I had been singled out. “Everyone else is queuing up and getting on the plane.”
“Sorry,” said the guard, a uniformed lady in her mid-thirties.
“But I travel quite a bit and this is the first time…”
“Can’t help you,” said the official.
“I’m a reporter,” I said. “I run a tattoo magazine.
“Tattoo magazine? I have tattoos, she said.”
Next thing I know, she pulls up her pant leg and shows me her butterfly. Then she pops a couple buttons to expose the Boston Bulldog on her shoulder. “Wow,” I say and, just like that, with wrap-free luggage and no more questions, I’m through security, climbing the ramp and on the plane.
More than once I handed a copy of my magazine (with a picture of me in it) to an airport cop who stood between me and the boarding gate. It always gave me a chuckle to look back and see three or four security personnel huddled around, flipping pages, smiling and giving me the thumbs-up.
And then there’s the other side of it, like when my wife, Mary (who was wearing a sleeveless dress that revealed her Robert Atkinson and Leo Zulueta ink), and I landed in Houston. The George Bush Intercontinental, they call it. We had just gotten off the plane. As we exited the gate, it was rather sobering when the hundreds of people milling about and seated at the various gates went completely silent. Eerie is what it was. I guess they don’t have women with full sleeves in Texas. At least not at the airport.
It’s relatively unpredictable but, nowadays, walking around with tattoos is not the big deal it was a decade or so ago. You know, back in the days when people saw a tattooed person coming toward them on the sidewalk and crossed over to the other side of the street. The rule of the day back then was to wear a long-sleeved shirt and button up your collar. Otherwise, it was straight to the security pat down.
But times have changed, and tattooing is much more accepted, especially in big cities. The profiling that erroneously labeled everyone with a tattoo an escaped convict (or worse) has been replaced with people you’d never suspect flashing their ink in public. Just last month, I saw a stewardess with a rose tattooed on her ankle and a pilot with biceps ink from his days as a military flyboy. But even if they don’t have tattoos themselves, there seems to be a relatively cheerful reaction and even enthusiastic questions from onboard personnel, which is a heck of a lot more comforting than having the plane surrounded by squad cars and guys with too-short haircuts and cheap overcoats marching down the aisles and hauling me off to be interrogated.
All in all, traveling to a tattoo event or a visit to a shop is (except for the cramped seats, mediocre food and lack of legroom) pretty enjoyable. Good friends, new people to meet, maybe even a party or two. And it’s especially nice when the experience in the airport or on the plane is a pleasant one. You know, free of hassles and not being made to feel like some weirdo. But, on the other hand, that can be cool, too.
As editor in chief of Skin&Ink magazine for over fourteen years, Bob Baxter guided the publication to a Folio Magazine Editorial Excellence Award, making it America’s most respected and educational body art publication. He currently edits and writes a Daily Blog at www.tattooroadtrip.com, the ultimate E-zine and resource site for international tattoo artists and collectors. He also has his Tattoo Chronicles series and the 101 Most Influential People in Tattooing right here @ Vanishing Tattoo. To ask questions, make comments or demand an apology, you can email Bob at email@example.com.
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