Joe Cocco

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Joe Cocco - Chicago Flag tattoo

This summer I noticed Joe’s tattoo while we were both running on the lakefront path and managed to catch up to him at a water fountain and tell him about the site. He emailed me a few days later and we met up for an interview at a Caribou Coffee (that’s now a Peets—I’m behind on interviews!). CFT’s Erica Reid was along for the interview and we tag-teamed on questions.

Fuzzy: So Joe, you’ve lived in Chicago your whole life. Your farthest move was 8 miles.

Joe: Yeah I grew up right by Oak Park, just inside the city limits. Same house that’s still there.

Fuzzy: So tell me about your tattoo.

Joe: I started running about 5 years ago now, and after I did my first marathon I knew I wanted to keep running. So I actually have on my other leg a band, and the back of the band, it’s roman numerals for 26.2. And then I wanted to get something that kind of represented Chicago and I had this idea pop in my head like, oh I can kind of do it on my calf because I run a lot , and it has a double meaning for me in the end. So that’s why I got the tattoo there. And I wanted Chicago just because I grew up here and this is home. I didn’t want to just do the straight flag somewhere else on my body, so I decided to do something a little bit different. And now I’m noticing the Chicago flag band around a limb or something a lot more. I don’t know if I just wasn’t paying attention, or started paying more afterwards.

Joe Cocco -Marathon tattoo

Fuzzy: Well I definitely think once you have one, there is that. There’s even a name for it. [It’s the Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon, or “frequency illusion”.] It’s the something effect of when you clued in to something that you suddenly notice it’s everywhere. How long have you had it?

Joe: Oh gosh, I think I got it two-and-a-half years ago, three years ago? Somewhere around then. Once I finally figured out what I wanted and called my guy that does my tattoos and he’s like oh yeah I can take you in a couple days.

Fuzzy: Awesome. So you had a guy? I notice that you have a fair number of tattoos.

Joe: Yeah I think I’m at 12 now or something. I started off going to Uptown and I got a few at Tattoo Factory over there. And it kind of just felt like a “here’s your tattoo / here’s your money”, you just really exchange for services. And then my friend introduced me to this other guy and he’s hopped around for a few different places, but he’s done the majority of the rest of them. So I’ve been kind of going back to him for everything.

Fuzzy: Is he a secret?

Joe: Oh no, his name is Pony Lawson. They’re starting up a new tattoo shop called Mayday! Tattoo Co. It’s somewhere in Lincoln Park. My friend got a tattoo covered up on his leg, and I saw the work he did, and I was like holy, that’s really good. Like you don’t even know there’s another tattoo there, so I’ve been going to him for everything else. So he did that one.

Erica: I love that, having somebody you work with that knows you knows what you like.

Joe: I told him I’ll visit when I come home, squeeze it in. It almost feels like I’d be betraying him if I went somewhere else. Fuzzy: Where your tattoo is on your legs, people see it and you’re out running a lot. You get any high-fives? Any “You’ve got an awesome tattoo”?

Joe: I get it all the time. Randomly, people will stop and be like wow I love your tattoo. Or people will say, just walking past each other, “yeah Chicago!” And I’m like, “yeah Chicago!” It’s happened quite a few times at festivals. Lollapalooza this past year, seriously I would get stopped left and right. We’d stop people too if they had a Chicago flag tattoo. It was kind of just a bonding thing. It’s pretty cool. But basically that’s exactly what happens on the trails. Someone will just run up to you and they’ll like, give a thumbs-up or something.

Fuzzy: Awesome. And now you’re moving. It’s the tiniest part of the move I’m sure, but did you think, how can I move now that I have this tattoo? I’m sure the thought was more, how can I move I’ve lived here all my life?

Joe: So that’s what’s really cool about the tattoo. And I actually have, the Chicago skyline down down my rib cage. And the question I get the question a lot “well what would happen if they build another building?” And I’m like well, it’s the same thing with if wehad got the Olympics, there were talks of adding a fifth Star on the flag. It’s a moment in time for me, so something that I’ll always remember. I mean this is the skyline as of 2012. It’s just like a freeze frame and I’ll always remember it like that. So I get to take a piece of the city with me everywhere I go. And not just a piece, it’s like a moment of time in this city I guess. I don’t really know how to describe it.

Joe Cocco - Chicago skyline tattoo

Fuzzy: Now that is an awesome answer because of course I asked a false question. Your tattoos don’t bind you to anything.

Joe: That’s also kind of why I like getting tattoos because I’m not a super artistic or drawing kind of person. It’s really a great way for me to express things. I think that a lot of people can do that through painting, drawing, or writing. That’s kind of how I do it, by getting stuff on me permanently.

Erica: I feel the same way too. It gives me more confidence and I’m like “this is me”. I feel more myself when I get something new because it obviously means enough to you that you want it to become a part of you. That’s pretty powerful.

Joe: That’s exactly it.

Fuzzy: Any awesome miss-guesses on the flag?

Joe: Oh god, yeah. I think someone once asked if it was Texas or something. The skyline is always “is that New York?” No, it’s not New York. Or because it’s just a line, people often think it’s an EKG, like a heartbeat or something like that.

Erica: I bet it’s kind of cool though knowing that you’re moving somewhere else but you’re taking that part of Chicago with you.

Joe: It really is. And I mean, this is going to sound kind of strange, but if somebody notices it, then it’s like they can see that Chicago really matters, and is a huge deal to me. And San Francisco is just kind of a new chapter to experience.

Joe Cocco - Chicago Flag tattoo

Joe Cocco - Chicago Flag tattoo

April McCarron

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April McCarron Chicago skyline and star tattoo

April sent in her tattoo and story to the CFT Inbox

Hi, I found your site and love it! I sent the URL to a friend who moved to Louisiana who is trying to design a Chicago tattoo.

I recently got my new Chicago tattoo mid march from Noodles Tattoo in Warrenville. I had my boyfriend design it for me, based on my original idea for the tattoo.

I’m originally from the suburbs and am now back in the suburbs after spending many years living in the city itself. When I was up for a few jobs as far as Seattle last year I wanted a Chicago tattoo before I possibly left so I started designing. I wanted something that would have the flag and the skyline elements in it. Yet something that was simple, feminine and one I could show off easily while doing my 5ks.

I ended up accepting a job to stay local for many reasons. So since my company allows visible tattoos and I plan to stay with them for many years I finally got back to deciding on a design and location for the tattoo yet I was able to take my time.

My tattoo is on my right ankle, it’s a heartbeat that comes out of a Chicago red star that turns into the skyline then back to a heartbeat before re-connecting to the red star. When complimented on it since March I describe the meaning as “It represents my love for Chicago and how the city is and will always be a part of me.” I’m in love with my new tattoo—it even looks great with a cocktail dress!

Colin Morris

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Colin Morris Chicago flag tattoo

Colin was the first person who was “street teamed” for the site. My fearless friend Noah was out-and-about, saw Colin’s tattoo and approached him to tell him that he should talk to me to be interviewed for the site. Colin had actually used this site to research designing his own tattoo and so was happy to contact me. We met up at the Hüettenbar in Lincoln Square and ended up talking for over an hour, which I have condensed down to this still-sizable interview:

CFT: So, what’s your story?

Colin: I’m from Akron, Ohio from the great Midwestern Rust Belt. I’m from the rubber capital of the world where Goodyear still makes its headquarters, but none of its tires. And I grew up in one of those suburban subdivisions. My dad was born and raised in Akron, mom’s a Canadian immigrant, but she grew up in Cleveland and we were always just—there. He told her, when they got married that, “I hope you like Akron ‘cause I’m never leaving.” He was born and raised there. His parents had a grocery store there. His name means something in Akron. He had a business that he started there and, like, that he actually just sold.

He was never going to leave Akron and none of us were, but I don’t know where I got it—movies I guess?—but I always had an urban ideal. I just always wanted to live in a big city, wanted nothing to do with the country. Although it was bountiful around me, abundant around me, I should say. We first visited Chicago when some close friends moved from Akron to here when I was a kid. We started visiting them pretty regularly and I just fell in love so hard and I’ve been fortunate enough to do a fair amount of traveling in my life. I haven’t relocated like you, but I got to travel to Europe a bunch of times and around the US a little bit—not quite as much as I’d like—and every time I go somewhere and have a great new experience I appreciate it for what it is, but it always just solidifies my opinion that Chicago is the finest city on the planet.

It’s got everything I feel like New York has to offer with none of the pretense of attitude. All of the stereotype of Midwestern warmth and humility is real. And that syndrome that a lot of Midwesterners fall prey to of feeling the need to move out west to a better life in California, I never got the bug. I feel like I know better—if Hollywood doesn’t call, don’t go.

I just feel like Chicago’s the place. It’s got everything a big city can offer and all the richness of the Midwest, so I’ve always known that I wanted a tattoo on my forearm that was some kind of bold statement about me and I wanted it to be very visible. I thought about maybe hiding it above my elbow, on my bicep and my wife reminded me that that part of me will melt more than my forearm when I’m older. She was playing the long game.

It’s been six or seven years I’ve been wanting a tattoo on my forearm, but couldn’t commit to a symbol that was sufficiently meaningful and I finally decided that the thing that would never change about me is the places I’ve lived and the places that have formed me as a person. So, I decided Chicago’s probably chief among those, my hometown, of course, and, then a little bit of time I spent abroad. I studied abroad for only nine months in Bordeaux, France, but during that time I became profoundly—I don’t know if it’s fair to say I was clinically depressed—but, very, very unhappy and very, very patriotic during that time. It was actually fall of 2008, during the presidential election and France also happens to be a really annoying place to live—very nice place to visit. So, that place has a really great city symbol as well, looks a little bit like the biohazard or fallout shelter symbol. So, I think those three places have played, like, the biggest role in forming who I am as a person. Those are the three places whose symbols I’d like to get tattooed on me, but I did Chicago first.

CFT: And it’s your first tattoo?

Colin: It is my first, yeah.

CFT: That’s a bold move—a lot of people start with a little one.

Colin: Fish between my toes?

CFT: Or something. My first one was on my ankle. And for Akron—are you going to get the Goodyear tire? Is that where the giant tire is or is that up in Detroit?

Colin: I think that’s in Detroit. We don’t have a giant tire. No, you know, Akron’s got a decent city seal. I like it because the seal looks a bit like a shield. It’s red, white and blue—very American—and, then the word, like, Akron is in a bold, all caps sans serif—it looks a lot like future.

CFT: Do people know what your flag tattoo is?

Colin: The only reaction from outside of town was mother. She was not thrilled with the idea, but once I was committed to it, now she doesn’t care. It’s a lost cause. I’ve already ruined her perfect creation. No, outside of town I’m not sure people will know because I’m not sure the Chicago flag is exactly iconic. In fact, one guy I work with actually—who has lived in the greater Chicago Metropolitan Area for many moons, is, like, raising a family there, he’s got teenaged kids, he’s been here a long time—and he didn’t know what it was and somebody had to tell him and he was like, “Oh! Huh, that’s our flag?”

I have had a lot of people say, “What are you, a Chicago cop?”, sort of, sarcastically. Which is, I guess, appropriate because my reaction is always like, “Do I look like I could be a cop?”

CFT: You have to tell me now.

Colin: Like, maybe a narc for the vice squad? I don’t know. No? In which case, that would screw me up, right?

CFT: Pop!

Colin: Yeah, don’t tell me anything. I don’t know. It’s kind of a goofy question. I hope that people are only asking me as a joke, but I don’t really understand it.

CFT: Where did you get it done?

Colin: Great Lakes Tattoo and it was done by one of the owners—Nick Colella

One thing that goes into the story of the tattoo is that my long time musical collaborator, best friend and best man at my wedding is a lifelong Chicagoan. He’s lived here all the 32 years of his life, his father is a city commissioner. He is as purebred as they come and last October he got married and this year his wife who’s from Florida and kind of ambivalent about Chicago, didn’t like her job, couldn’t find a good job in the same field in the city and found a job in Minneapolis and they decided to move, which is unthinkable for him because he’s Chicago pureblood through and through and it was very, very painful for me. It’s been awful. It was one of the things that broke apart our band and he and I decided we would get Chicago flag tattoos together at the same time on the same spot. That would have been a natural thing to include in our relationship.

CFT: Oh, good, so he did?

Colin: And he did. They don’t match—he got the skyline and it’s dripping. His original idea was he’s got this cool print which is the skyline in a paint roller. He got the dripping part and he left the paint roller out and he’s still deciding whether to add that addition. So we got Chicago flag tattoos together—February 7th of 2014—at Great Lakes Tattoo. I had Nick. He had another guy whose name I don’t quite remember. Mine took way longer. I was awful about it, Nick made fun of me, said, “Yeah, most people quit complaining about the pain a few minutes in, but this guy’s non-stop”.

Colin Morris Chicago flag tattoo

Colin Morris Chicago flag tattoo

Crystal Staley

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Crystal Staley Chicago flag tattoo

Crystal sent in her tattoo via the CFT Inbox:

I actually got it done when I was in college. It’s a stick and poke tattoo my friend did for me in her dorm room. I am a proud Chicago native. I got the tattoo as a reminder that it’s close to my heart no matter what happens or where I go.

Jake Weesner

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Jake Weesner

Jake sent in a photo of his tattoo with this short and sweet info:

Born and raised in Wicker Park, and now that I live in Denver, I felt I needed something to pay homage.

My tattoo artist’s name is Tony and it was done at Faith Tattoo Gallery in Golden, CO.

Bart Borrelli

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Bart Borrelli

Bart’s and story came in through the Chicago Flag Tattoo inbox:

Bart Borrelli: I moved to Chicago in the Summer of 2006 with a few of my friends after Graduating from the University of Dayton. This was my first time living in the big city and I came without a job or a real idea of what I wanted to do with my life. Over the next 7 years I created some of the best friendships I could possibly ask for and so many great memories (and a lot of great stories I’ve been told that I can’t remember). I moved in August of 2013 when I got a job offer out in Washington, DC that I just couldn’t turn down and also to be closer to family. I came back to the city in March 2014 for work and had wanted to get this tattoo for a long time and timing was just right. Why not in the city itself! I was lucky enough to have 3 great friends living in Chicago come and support me on my endeavor. Chicago will always have a special place in my heart and now a place on my body.

Bart Borrelli’s tattoo by Brian Buchak at Insight Studios.

Ken Churilla

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Ken Churilla Chicago Flag tattoo

Ken sent in a photo of his tattoo and this explanation of its meaning:

Saw your site and really dig it. All of my tattoos are personal and symbolic of something in my life.

I got my most recent one to celebrate the release of my first published book: No One Said It Would Be Easy: A Husband’s Journey Through His Wife’s Battle With Breast Cancer. The flag represents the city I not only call home but the city that has shaped me. Being a celebration of the book, the quill represents me as a writer.

The tattoo was done by Chencho Leon of 45th Street Tattoo in Griffith, IN. I grew up with Chencho and he’s a genius artist. He’s done all of my work.


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Reggie Chicago and Illinois Tattoo

Reggie sent in a photo of his tattoo with a great description of what Chicago means to him.

Reggie: My name is Reggie a.k.a Stamp. I grew up all over Chicago but Rogers Park is where I spent most of my 33 years.

Chicago means several things to me. The first being home… I grew up with family saying never forget where you come from no matter how life turns out for you.

It also means diversity. We have so many different cultures in the city it’s like going to a different country every few blocks. You can experience other people’s ways and customs in a way that no other city I’ve been can ever top.

The last thing is strength and survival. We can make it anywhere and through anything and that just comes from being in a city where, as I said before, is like going to a different country every few blocks. You have to learn what cool to do or say and what’s not. Growing up this way makes it easy to move out of the and fit in.

I got this tattoo done at a place called Magick Dragon in Lawrenceville, GA by an artist named Hair Braine. I’ve been wanting to get it for years and it just so happens that once I moved here I got off my ass and did it.

Man I love the site, it’s cool to see how much Chicago means to other people as well. BOY DO I MISS THE FOOD!!!!


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Sebastian Chicago Flag stars tattoo

I noticed Sebastian’s bold arm tattoo across the theater during a Neo-Futurists show in Andersonville and was able to snag him for an interview at Kopi Cafe a few days later.

CFT: So what’s your story? Are you a lifelong resident?

Sebastian: No, I’m not. I moved to Chicago. I grew up in Minnesota, outside of Minneapolis, and I moved to Chicago for college, when I was 19 years old. I was at the University of Chicago, and I really enjoyed it. And then I left, and I kind of traveled around, and then I went back to Minneapolis to go to law school. Then, I was trying to figure out where I was going go after I graduated, and where I was going to try to get a job and stuff like that. I thought about staying in Minnesota, but ultimately I decided to come back to Chicago even though I didn’t have a job lined up or anything like that, just because, you know, I had a lot of friends here still and I just really loved it and I wanted to give it some more time. I moved back in 2008, so more than 5 years ago now, and it’s been really great. I really enjoy it. I’ve been moving around a lot within the city, which is its own fun, but just this year, I bought a house. And it’s a new idea; rather than just exploring, kind of surveying the city, now I’m trying to focus, kind of put down roots in one spot, in the Albany Park neighborhood. Right around the same time is when I really decided to get a tattoo of Chicago, and I just kind of feel like I’m really tossing my lot in with Chicago. I guess I’m sticking around here.

CFT: Is that your first tattoo?

Sebastian: No, it’s my second tattoo. My other one is very little.

Sebastian staple tattoo

CFT: Oh! That is, in fact, very little.

Sebastian: It goes in the back as well, it’s a representation of a staple that’s going through my shoulder. Which is also based upon another thing that I love, which is also Chicago based—the University of Chicago Scavenger Hunt. Have you ever heard of it? It’s a pretty fantastic thing that exists. Down at the university every spring, the four days leading up to Mother’s Day, there’s an annual scavenger hunt, and it’s humongous, and it’s insane, and it really has grown beyond what you typically think about a scavenger hunt. It has people doing very strange and crazy things. I was involved for many years, even after I graduated, helping to make the list of items and being one of the judges. So this is related to that, for those who make the lists. It’s one of the judge tattoos. We make this list every year, and we staple it, but now we’re the ones stapling ourselves.

CFT: So other people have that same tattoo?

Sebastian: They do. So, two different Chicago loves that I have.

CFT: That’s amazing. I guess I asked if it was your first, because it is very large. That is a bold statement, that big of a tattoo. What made you want to go that big?

Sebastian: Well, I was actually inspired by a picture, and some of it’s in the Chicago Public Library in the Washington branch downtown in those hallways that lead off on the street. They’re kind of narrow and uninviting. I think the one that went past the teen center—they put a bunch of pictures on the wall, and one of the pictures was an old advertisement. It was like a Chicago Public Library, their internal flyers for I don’t know what—advertising an event maybe or just like “Chicago Library—you’re great. Go read books.” And there was one, it was of this woman and she had this big shock of red hair and her arm kind of had big muscles, and yeah, she had four stars like that. It wasn’t quite like this, it was actually on the whole arm—two on the forearm and two on the bicep, and I thought it looked super cool. I’ve gone back to try to find it, and I couldn’t. I talked to someone that worked at the library, and they didn’t know what I was talking about. I think it’s lost for the time being.

CFT: There was a series of ads that the library did that were oddly worded in that charming way when institutions try to be cool? But the pictures were very striking. I remember—like somebody DJing, but maybe what they were DJing on was like a stack of books—a turntable on a stack of books.

Sebastian: Clever, I like it.

CFT: The copy was something like “Yeah, that’s right. We know what the kids are hip to.” Or something.

Sebastian: That’s wonderful, and I am sure this was something similar to that.

CFT: I wonder if it was in that series.

Sebastian: I wouldn’t doubt it. I really love that. I like poster art in general—I think it’s kind of really fun. Particularly the sort you’d see during World War II telling people to “make sure to turn off your lights” or “loose lips” and it’s a really simplistic style. I just love that. So, that is what inspired it. I like that it’s bigger, and I really like that it crests the elbow. I think that it gives it another dimension to it, which is fun.

CFT: It’s big and bold and awesome. Where did you have it done?

Sebastian: This tattoo place in Roscoe village called Family Tattoo. It’s on Belmont, East of Western there.

CFT: You went to Law School, are you a lawyer?

Sebastian: I am.

CFT: I imagine work involves wearing long sleeves anyway.

Sebastian: Yeah, I wear a suit every day, although I have shown my coworkers, so they know about it. You see lawyers now, though—they have tattoos you can see. Women have tattoos on their feet and wear shoes without socks. It’s a brave new world.


Gerardo Zavala

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Gerardo Zavala Chicago flag tattoo

Gerardo’s big stars came in through the Chicago Flag Tattoos inbox.

Last July, I got the states where my parents are from in Mexico on each of my triceps. My dad is from the state of Michoacán (left tri) and mom from Nuevo Leon (right tri). It pays homage to my ancestors and never forgetting where my roots are from and the Chicago flag represents new beginnings and start to a new generation.

Chicago is where my parents met and if they hadn’t I wouldn’t be this much pride-full in Chicago. I also love our sports, architecture, food, people/culture and yes, even the weather. It still amazes me driving in from the West Side on the 290 and seeing the backdrop of our city. Never fails to amaze me. Chicago love! Chicago for life!

All tattoos were done at The Native Soul tattoo shop in Pilsen by my friend that goes by Mero.

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