A Tattoo Parlor

by tobias crabtree

The Inland Empire is a place all it’s own. When I first heard someone say it, I thought they were making it up and that it was some kind of inside joke. It sounds to me like some kind of place from a fantasy novel. Come to find out, it’s a term that’s used by the general inhabitants of the land. No fantasy involved. I’m not sure the extent of the Empire but it includes Riverside, Moreno Valley and San Bernardino as well as several other Socal cities. It’s generally defined as a place that is distinctly not LA. It has a tough personality. For years I’ve tattooed out of Moreno Valley and Riverside and I have a place in my heart for the average Inland Empire denizen. I’m a Colorado boy, born and raised at the foot of the Rockies. I did not grow up on the mean streets. I did not have to fight to survive in my private christian school. I learned about street justice and gang lingo by watching movies like Warriors and Colors and felt a little frightened when I thought about how I would fit in if I were to be suddenly tossed into the streets of Oakland. In other words, I grew up sheltered from the places like the Inland Empire.

Being a tattoo artist in an area certainly helps a person understand it’s demographics a little better. I worked at Inkaholics when I first started. Brian Foster was co-owner with an old cat named Tattoo Don. There was flash on the walls, floor to ceiling. Tough guys and hookers and gangsters and servicemen and other eclectics were among the clientele. It was an eye-opening time for me.

Now I visit Foster on a regular basis. He’s opened a new shop in Riverside and the evolution is incredible. He and I have changed. Our intentions are more deliberate. The bookshelves are filled with the words of philosophers, visionaries and mystics. The Elizabeth Street crew is kind and generous, the kind of people you are excited to see. There’s a contagious feeling among fervent artists who practice and share. I plug in and recharge and learn. It’s cool.

I tend to see the things I write in picture form. The world, to me, begs to be drawn. And so I draw. I like to take it in, let it filter, and then turn it loose again. Among the things I observe, there are way more things that are hidden. These hidden things are telling stories that affect the more obvious stuff. When I draw, I am trying to tell the story and hint that there is more to the world than what is directly observable. To allow the wonder to be. And when I write, my intent is to draw pictures with words and give your mind a chance to walk down between the trees and turn over a rock or two just to see what might be living there. I don’t want to use $50 words that cause anyone to stumble, I’d rather use the language that is the easiest to latch onto, so that we can feel something together.

Simply, when I write, I’m trying to draw pictures with my words. And when I draw, I’m trying to tell stories with my pictures. If there could be a final product it would put us in the same place either way — in the middle of being human. Being human and humanly being. We are Beings. We are action verbs. We are wonderers and wanderers; explorers inside and out. Be kind to the mysteries, they need us just like we need them!

I hope this wasn’t too far out there. I don’t want you to think I’m weird…I want you to know it for sure.

Thanks for reading my junk.

Post script :

Elizabeth Street Tattoo is located in Riverside, California. It is a grand collective of artist from diverse backgrounds. Should you ever want a tattoo, or visit with cool people, I’d suggest you go there. They are not normal, they are extra-ordinary. If you know how to look for things on the world wide web, you’ll find them. If not, contact me, I still answer to smoke signals and morse code.