and Cars and Tattoo Charms
By Molly Buck
was the first sunny, non-humid morning in months as my
friend Ross and I boarded the Long Island Railroad at
Manhattanís Penn Station. We were heading for The First
Annual Tattoo and Hotrod Convention at the Vanderbilt
Ballroom in Plainview, NY, which took place the weekend
of August 18th. I had never been to a convention of this
nature before and had no idea what to expect besides shiny
hotrods, girls in '50s dresses, and some bizarre tattoos.
In the end, my expectations were accurate, though easily
During the train ride, I reflected on the best tattoo
I have ever seen, on the arm of my good friend, Brooke.
It started out as a vibrant blue toaster, cord and all.
Then a few years later she showed up with an entire red
and white checkerboard countertop under the toaster, a
box of cereal, a bottle of milk, a cereal bowl and a spoon.
It was a complete breakfast scene in bright primary colors
on her right arm below the elbow. She has been my
hero ever since.
contemplating whether I would find any tattoo that impressed
me more than that, I struck up a conversation with the
blonde in dark sunglasses and bright red lipstick who
joined our cab ride to the Vanderbilt. She informed
me that this show was a particularly big deal because
unlicensed tattoo artists were allowed to participate.
Being thoroughly naÔve I expressed surprise that people
were getting tattoos there and asked if people bought
hotrods there as well.
"Iíve bought hotrods at these conventions before,"
she said. "You get a good deal. You can get
a whole hotrod kit at these shows for $3,000 to $5,000.
These guys got nothiní to do all day but drink beer and
work on cars."
I then asked the obvious, and was thrilled to hear her
response: "Iíve got tattoos all around my waist.
I have a foxy little dress Iím going to change into when
I get there to show my stuff." It turned out
that her boyfriend owns a tattoo store on the Lower East
Side and had a booth at the show. She would be spending
the day doing some free PR for him.
Upon being dropped off at the gorgeous 1950s Vanderbilt
Ballroom, the first thing that caught my attention was
the absolute harmony between the shiny red, pink, yellow
and flame-painted hotrods in the parking lot, the rockabilly
music blaring from the loudspeakers, and the silver &
teal sheen of the marvelous building.
A perfectly-coiffed woman in a red flared dress named
Gwen Sprinkle gave me a tour of the various hotrods in
the lot. Her favorite was a glistening pink í59
El Dorado with huge fins, a convertible roof and taillights
shaped like lipstick tubes.
Vanderbilt is completely adorned in Art Deco furniture
and artwork, with a balcony that surrounds the entire
main ballroom, a stage, and two full bars. It was
an obvious destination for this retro gathering, but could
also be an ideal venue for a wedding reception or swing
dance party. We arrived inside in time to catch
most of the tattoo contest. Each contestant came
onto the stage and modeled his or her tattoo while the
announcer asked four standard questions: How long
did the tattoo take? How long have you had it? Who is
the artist? What does it mean to you?
There were a large number of "sleeves" in the
contest, which are tattoos that cover the entire arm from
shoulder to wrist. Andrea, the 3rd place winner
of the color tattoo contest, sported a sleeve with a maiden,
mother and crone, designed by her fiancť at Phantom 8
in Englewood, Colorado.
My two favorite tattoos in the contest were a huge black
and white John Wayne tattoo on the back of a very large
man and a color tattoo of "Catholic schoolgirls fighting
in church" on the thigh of a young woman, who modeled
it in a plaid mini-skirt and pigtails. A close second
to these two beauties was the black and white tattoo on
a womanís torso of her grandmotherís gravestone.
it turns out, I would not have made a very good judge,
I learned by talking with Oliver Peck, one of the judges
from Dallas, Texas. "Theme and taste should
not be a part of the decision," he informed me, when
I lamented that none of my favorite tattoos won.
"It is about how well the tattoo is done. Are
the colors solid? Is the outline straight and clean?
How difficult was it to do?" Since we couldnít
talk about taste in tattoos, I asked him what his favorite
hotrod was. "Thatís easy, the í57 Oldsmobile
Ė the black one with flames." Iím sure that
choice had to do a lot with how well the engine ran.
At this point I decided to check out the vendor booths
upstairs in the balcony surrounding the main ballroom.
I unknowingly entered "Satanís Sideshow," to
find t-shirts with sayings like "Satan Loves Me."
I left pretty quickly, but not before buying a gas station
attendant patch with "Tor" on it, for my co-worker
of the same name. I later learned that the patch was a
tribute to Tor Johnson, a well-known horror film actor
whose credits include a number of Ed Wood films.
Next, I headed to "Koolsville Kollectibles"
down the hall. The exhibit was full of í50s furniture,
glassware, pin-ups, toys, clothing and more, and was run
by the very sweet and kitsch-loving Woody & Mari-Anne.
After scoring a great deal on a fabulous sequined tank
top, I went to the bar to congratulate myself with a vodka
By the time Ross and I left the convention, our heads
were reeling with images of tattoo artists by the hundreds
inking designs onto adventurous attendees, slick-haired
bikers in leather and rolled-up jeans, stylish women with
varying degrees of clothing on (depending on where their
tattoos were), noisy hotrod and easy-rider motorcycle
engines gunning continuously, and an overall sense of
awe for a subculture in which contemporary artists and
retro-culture connoisseurs collaborate to create an atmosphere
of true pop art and decadence.
The highlight of the entire day occurred on the ballroom
stage just before we left. A woman clad in a sequined
thong body suit came out on stage and proceeded to pick
up a series of sparkly hula-hoops with her feet, spinning
them up her legs to her waist and then up to her neck,
one after the other, until she had close to 20 around
her entire body. When she spun these 20 hula-hoops,
they covered her from head to toe, so that all the audience
could see was 5í8" of flashing hula-hoop action.
Sheís my new hero. Iíll have to find a way to break
this gently to Brookeómaybe over breakfast.
in your reading?
Check out past ATOMIC features.
© 1999-2009 ATOMIC Magazine, Inc.
ATOMIC Magazine Inc., 917 Orchid Drive , Lewisville,
All site content, including images and text, is copyright © 1999-2013
ATOMIC Magazine, Inc. & www.RetroRadar.com
This material may not be reproduced, borrowed,
or used for any purpose except by written permission of the copyright
and Conditions of use.