Observations in VanCity

What I Learned from Hanging Out on Commercial Drive this Weekend

Photo I took on Northcote Rd in South London of a tattoo I thought was fugly. Eyes on your calf? Why?!

I love people watching. This weekend and friend and I gawked on Commercial Drive; a street in East Vancouver that’s the epicenter of drumming circles, poetry slams and devil sticking in the city. Well, that’s not entirely true, over the years in between Italian specialty markets it’s been gentrified by sport bars and coffee shops filled with macbooks.

As we sipped our americanos watching everyone and their dog wearing a bandanna walk past we noticed that 90% of ‘young’ pedestrians had tattoos. I wondered: has the city had enacted a law stating that all people under the age of 35 within a 5-block radius of The Drive must permanently brand their skin with a symbol that epitomizes who they are? A snake. A forest scene. A Looney Tunes character.

It should be noted that I do not have a tattoo. There are many reasons for that: they’re expensive, I don’t like being repeatedly jabbed with needles and I’ve never found an image I wanted on my body for all time. I consider myself lucky; I strongly considered getting a crown tattoo on my lower back when I was 22. Yeah. That’s what happens when you know your name means princess… and you’re a bar star.

Another reason I’m thankful for not getting that tattoo is that the me of today would be mortified to have a tramp stamp. I’ve come to the conclusion that whatever I like today I probably wont like ten years later; that’s how growing up as worked thus far. I used to dye my hair every three weeks (pink, orange, platinum blonde). I used to wear army boots with dresses. I used to date a guy who rode a recumbent bike. I would never do any of those things again, so what’s the point of spending $200 on something that I can’t grow out, give away to goodwill or delete from my facebook friends?

Of course, many of my dearest friends have tattoos and I don’t judge them like I did all those fauzhemians on Commercial Drive this weekend. I understand what their tattoos mean and where they came from, but when I see a youngish girl walking down the road with a jack-o-lantern tattooed in blue ink just above her knee I cringe. Or shudder – like I did when I saw a girl with a large tiger face on the top of her thigh! What the hell does that mean? What does a knee/thigh tattoo say about you?  That you’ve run out of space on your arms? Or is the knee/ thigh tattoo the fashionable body part of today, like how barbed-wire armbands were in the late 80s, celtic knots were in the 90s and sleeves have been since 2004?

However one thing I do enjoy about these tattoo trends is that they help to identify what generation a person is from and how old they probably were when they got it. Guy with a Tasmanian Devil on his shoulder blade- he was 18 in 1992.

Based on our informal survey this weekend my friend and I concluded that tattoos are the new way of conforming. Years ago getting one was a way to stand out from the crowd. Today having clean skin makes you different, a freak even. Which is good, because I’ve never been someone who likes fitting in.

4 Replies to “Observations in VanCity”

  1. carrie says:

    Sometimes tattoos don’t mean a thing. At all. I’ve confounded more than a few people when they ask about the “meaning” behind one of my tattoos — so funny how people who are asking me specific, pointed questions about my body and how I choose to decorate it, are offended and think I am the rude one when I don’t give them some stupid ass boring spiritual crap about a tattoo.

    So now I just make up random shit. And I read a great quote once: The only people who care if you have a tattoo or not are the people who don’t have tattoos. (which is not true at all, but sometimes I like to mutter it to myself, strictly for kicks.)

    Thankfully, I am past the 35 year old mark, so maybe I won’t be not-so-secretly made fun of next time I have to go to Commercial Drive. Or maybe I am already being made fun of as the grey-haired tattooed old lady…. or maybe just ignored. Yeah. Invisible.

    Can’t we all just get along, with our stupid fashion choices, or random reckless tattoo ideas, or crazy-ass hair? No?


  2. Dave Gagnier says:

    While I think there are a few people who do regret their tattoos (Taz guy likely being one of them), I imagine that a few people look at their tattoos in a way not dissimilar to the way you do – as markers from a point in time.

    I look at my tattoo (I think you’ve seen it) – a rebel alliance insignia from Star Wars, with the word “echo3” in Imperial code around the base. Hugely nerdy to those who can recognize it – there’s no way around it, but even though I’ve lived through the embarrassment of being a Star Wars fan post-1999, I don’t really look at it anymore and see “Star Wars” so much as I see the other things associated with it: My theatre company, friendships gained and lost – all that jazz. I haven’t seen “Star Wars” in years.

    Honestly though, more often than not, when I look at my tattoo, I just see my arm.

    In the end, it’s just another form of expression – albeit a more permanent one which makes the choice to get one more significant one – or maybe it doesn’t. The person wondering why that guy has eyes on his calf was surely once stared at in similar fashion by someone who wondered why her hair was pink or blue.

    I think most people who wonder why would be kind of disappointed in the answer though, right?

  3. My tattoo is in a place that I can cover easily. I did that on purpose because it is for me and only if/when I want to share do I show it.

    Others are maybe the opposite.

    I like clean skin and I like tattoos and I like that I don’t see mine unless I want to.

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