February 2013 Archives

Tim Chidester

Tim Chidester Chicago Flag tattoo

When I came to Chicago 14 years ago to do improv, Tim Chidester was already a mainstay in the community, and over the years his stature has only grown. He always seems to be all over the city, but I most associate him with the long-running (and very obscene) Hot Karl at ComedySportz Chicago. I managed to track Tim down at the Annoyance Theatre before a performance of TimProv (an improv group composed entirely of guys named “Tim”).

CFT: What’s your Chicago flag story?

Tim: I got it because I moved here when I was 18 in 1987 and I got it the day of my 25th anniversary of being a Chicagoan. I’d been thinking about it for a while, I have other tattoos, but I really love this town and I consider myself a pretty true blue Chicagoan now and I thought it was a great way to mark the event.

CFT: Did you move here to do improv?

Tim: Yes. I knew this was the place to come because I was one of those improv nerds in high school. I knew my history of Saturday Night Live and stuff and so I knew Chicago and Second City was the place to come if you wanted to do it. I had offers to go to other colleges in Michigan but I wanted to get out and so I came here.

CFT: You went to college here?

Tim: I went to Roosevelt University. Class of ‘91. I came here and I met some Second City folks who taught there and that’s how I moved up the ranks. I was out of it for a while but actually my girlfriend worked with Mark Sutton, Mick Napier at Mrs. Levy’s Deli and she told me about them. I knew these guys, the Annoyance, when they were on Broadway. I took classes and then a couple people told us about iO and that’s how it grew from there.

CFT: You have a pretty traditional stars and the stripes. One of the things we’ve been seeing on the site is people having variations.

Tim: The only thing is little jagged ends that would be…

CFT: Is that any symbolism or is that just a cool design?

Tim: It’s 25 years so it’s the kind of thing, it’s not the age it’s the mileage, a little wear and tear on there. I liked it for that fact. This flag’s seen some shit.

CFT: All right. How long have you had it now?

Tim: Just since this past August, so not that long. I got it on August 31st. I made an appointment so I could get it that afternoon, so I had it that afternoon.

CFT: Do people know what it is?

Tim: Yes. They do know why I have it because they ask me.

CFT: Yours is kind of visible.

Tim: They ask me why I got it and I tell them why, I tell them the reason.

CFT: Do people go, ‘Oh, Chicago flag.’ Why?

Tim: They know it’s the Chicago flag. Even people out of state know what it is surprisingly. It’s a very recognizable flag. I’ve had a couple questions when I’ve been on gigs out of state where they’re like, ‘What is that?’ This is the only tattoo I have out of three that anybody can see so they always ask me about it.

CFT: Where did you get it done?

Tim: Mario Desa at Chicago Tattoo on Belmont. That’s where I got all of mine; like I said, one of three. I got them all there.

CFT: Awesome. Thanks a lot.

Tim Chidester

Brad Lash

Brad Lash Chicago Flag tattoo

At the same lunch where I had such a long chat with Molly and Zoelle Fishman, I also talked to their cousin Brad Lash about his Chicago Flag tattoo and I learned how to remember what all the points on the stars represent.

CFT: Brad! Tell about your tattoo.

Brad: My tattoo is a little more basic flag. It’s got the stripes on the side instead of the top. And it’s always an idea that I was playing with when I was a kid in the suburbs. For college I didn’t go too terribly far away, I was just over the border at Purdue. Nobody in West Lafayette, Indiana knew where Libertyville was, so I always said I was from Chicago. I didn’t really realize that that entailed until I actually moved into the city. I’ve been in the city for seven or eight years now, various places around the North and Northwest side. The idea of wanting a Chicago Flag tattoo was something that had been percolating for a long time, but I felt like I really needed to actually live in the city for a while to earn it.

And so I eventually did and I feel like even though I’m a suburban kid, coming down to the city was always something special. The city always represented this whole realm of possibilities for me, especially being from a family that didn’t travel much. When we went somewhere, we went downtown. That was our tourism. It’s always been a place to go to do something cool, because nothing cool happens in the suburbs. We used to joke around in high school and call our town “Liberty Thrill”. And we called Vernon Hills “Vernon Hill” because there was only one hill and it was the man-made sled hill. So there really wasn’t a whole lot going on. Let’s face it, we’re in the flattest part of the country but we’ve got suburbs named “Hills” and “Heights” all over the place. And “Mount”, Mount Prospect, thousands of miles from the nearest thing that could be considered a mountain. Anyway, I digress.

Not only did I feel like I earned the tattoo by living in the city, but also by visiting a lot of other cities in the United States and Canada—which, once again, as a kid who never really got the opportunity to travel much, I went on a lot of road trips in college and since and I’ve been to a pretty large chunk of the country and I’ve never been to a city that I liked more than Chicago. And maybe it’s homer bias, but New York’s too big and busy and LA is too dirty and Seattle’s too wet and Portland’s too weird. And I like all those places, but none of them are home and none of them is Chicago.

Which leads to, it’s really not much of a tattoo but I’d like at some point to get the rest of the arm finished and I’m still undecided, do I get other Chicago symbolism, or do I go with other places that I’ve visited and enjoy and do sort of a travel collage where home is still at the base.

Zoelle: That’s an interesting idea, but you’d always have to add onto that, because you’re never going to stop traveling.

Brad: I know, I know. And I’ve already got some ideas and I think it’d only be for really special places, like Ireland or Hawaii.

CFT: Was there any event or set of checklist items that made you feel like you’d earned a Chicago tattoo, or just sort of time and settling in and “yes, this is home”.

Brad: I think just time and settling in. Involvement in the community a little bit, and working for a non-profit organization that focusses on making Chicago a better place. And being involved in the music scene. And running this Chicago Hot Dog Tour has made me feel like I’ve come to own living here. Maybe what made me decide was when it became very apparent to me that it would be damned near impossible to actually go and live somewhere else permanently. That’s something I’ve always thought about, I’ve always wanted to live somewhere warmer or more mountainous or close to the ocean or just generally more geographically interesting, but this is a world-class city that’s got everything you could possibly want in a city and it’s small enough and manageable enough and my family’s here and my friends. And I’ve got a band and a hockey team and a fundraiser event. There’s a lot of ties I’d have to cut to leave. Whether I’ve set those roots in Chicago, or whether Chicago has wrapped its roots around me, I guess is open to interpretation. But I’m here and this is home.

CFT: In all your travels or here in town, do people know what your tattoo is?

Brad: Most of the time people do. I feel since I got it, the Chicago Flag symbolism has become a lot more ubiquitous part of the local culture. The first place I lived in city limits was right on Harlem Avenue in Edison Park, literally on the city border with Niles. Across the street was Niles. So it was barely Chicago. The house we were renting had a flag pole out in front of it so we strung up a Chicago Flag and then a Pirate flag underneath it, because, you know, four bachelors living together in a big, crappy house. It was perfect. But we’d have people be like, “Why do you have the flag of Iran up there?” “What flag is that?” What do you mean what flag is that? Have you driven by City Hall or the DMV or the Cultural Center or anything? C’mon. It was either having to explain to people what the flag was, or having to justify flying it by understanding what it meant. You know, people that did recognize it as the Chicago Flag are like, “Oh, well, do you know what all the stuff means?” By the time I got to rattling off what each of the points of the stars mean people’d be like, “OK, OK, I get it. I didn’t know that, you’re cool, you’re local, you’re legit.”

CFT: I can’t remember all the points.

Brad: I can never remember all of them. I know them generally by themes of which go with which star.

Zoelle: I didn’t know the points had meanings.

CFT: They do, but they’re things like “agriculture”, “industriousness”, “honesty”.

Zoelle: Six Sigma!

Brad: The Fort Dearborn star is all the foundational qualities that the city was built on, like agriculture and transportation and stuff. The Fire one is…

Zoelle: Sure…

Brad: I only know most of this because I have that set of art prints on my kitchen wall. The Fire points are all about the qualities of perseverance that allowed Chicago to rebuild and thrive. The Columbia Exposition one is all of the flags that Chicago has existed under, so it’s like Virginia Territory, the Indiana Territory, Illinois Territory, even before that it was claimed by France at one point, and then the sixth point is when Illinois became a State, which I think was 1818. And then the fourth one, the 1933 Century of Progress , is all the mottos, like “The Convention City” and “I Will” and the Park District motto “Urbs in Horto*”. The one I keep meaning to look up is salubrity, because I have no idea what that means.

Zoelle: Salubrity?

CFT: I think that’s celery salt.

Zoelle: That’s what they put on the hot dogs.

Brad: That’s what they use to turn the relish neon-green, instead of just pickle-green.

CFT: And, where did you get your tattoo done?

Brad: My kitchen table.


Brad: I’m close friends with a tattoo artist who works at Private Ink in Libertyville, now. He was between shops at the time. He showed up and brought all his gear one day and did mine and did a friend who got the constellation of her Zodiac symbol on her wrist. Just hanging out in my kitchen.

Zoelle: [Holding her smart phone.] Salubrious: favorable to or promoting health. So there you go.

CFT: We’re a healthy-promoting city.

Brad: Good to know. We’re the healthy fourth fattest city in the country or whatever it is.

Brad Lash

Molly and Zoelle Fishman

Fishman Chicago Hot Dog tattoos
Molly (left) and Zoelle Fishman

At a New Year’s Day brunch, my friend John was talking about his next tattoo, which will get him up on this site when he gets it inked. “But in the meantime,” he said, “you should talk to my friends Molly and Zoelle and Brad. They all have Chicago tattoos and they’re the ones that do that hot dog tour.” John introduced us all via Facebook and after some scheduling, they were kind enough to invite me over to Zoelle’s place for lunch where we enjoyed a delicious submarine sandwich and then chatted. Zoelle and Molly Fishman are sisters and Brad Lash is their cousin (his tattoo will be the subject of the next post here). Where my usual interviews out in public are about two minutes, I talked to the three for twenty-five minutes overall, about their tattoos and the realities of hosting an unexpectedly popular charity event. So this one is just a bit longer than we’ve done so far.

CFT: So you guys have nearly matching Chicago hot dog tattoos. Tell me about your tattoos.

Zoelle: We decided to get them right after our Uncle Eliot passed away. He was a huge Chicago hot dog fan; Chicago food fan, really. I really like it as a symbol of the city, because you see them everywhere and Vienna Beef, obviously, is here. So that was really what prompted us to get them. And I think we all, all of us and the cousins talked about getting them at the same time and me and Molly were the only ones who did.

Molly: Also, I really wanted to get it because Eliot was super funny, that’s just one of the traits everyone knew about him, was that he was was hilarious and having a tattoo of a hot dog is kind of funny. It’s really weird when you go on vacation or something, where your tattoo shows. You know, here it’s so culturally relevant, but I went to Greece and no one understood it.

Brad: They don’t know what a hot dog is, there.

CFT: Do people in Chicago recognize what it is?

Molly: Yeah, I’ve often been stopped, mainly when I’m getting hot dogs, people are like, “Oh my God!”. I get in line at Hot Doug’s people are like, “No way!”

Brad: Like, “you must really like hot dogs!”

Molly: Yeah, and I’m like, I am standing in line with you for 45 minutes, so yeah.

Zoelle: Whenever I go to the Taste people always see it are like, “Woah!” or on the train, pretty much any time during the summer. Whenever it’s showing. Although, it has not gotten me any free hot dogs, I should point out.

CFT: It should.

Zoelle: It should, I know. Maybe it’s because it’s the actual Vienna [Beef] drawing.

Molly: You know, maybe we should try at Vienna Beef.

Zoelle: I know. I went to Gold Coast and they were like, “no”.

CFT: So that’s copied off the Vienna Beef sign.

Zoelle: It’s totally copied.

Vienna Beef Factory
Photo by kyducks, CC BY-ND license

CFT: This is a perennial Chicago question: do you actually like the bright green relish? The fluorescent?

Molly: Yeah, I like either one.

Zoelle: Yeah, I like all kinds of relish. I’m a pickle fan in general.

Molly: Agreed.

CFT: Some people are very firm about their relish. I can’t taste the difference, but visually…

Molly: I think it’s just visual thing.

Zoelle: I’m definitely not picky about relish. I definitely will eat a Chicago-style hot dog over a hot dog with any other toppings. But I don’t always eat them like that. Sometimes just mustard.

Brad: What!?

Molly: Oh, really?

Zoelle: Really.

Molly: Maybe if you’re a BBQ or something.

CFT: Are you both life-long Chicagoans?

Zoelle: We grew up in the suburbs and I went away for college, but came back. And Molly’s been here the whole time.

Molly: I went to college here and just stayed here. We both live in the city now.

Zoelle: When I moved back here was right before Eliot passed away and the timing for my coming back to Chicago and really committing to stay here was kind of surprising the way our family history turned out at that moment. So, I felt it cemented the decision to get a Chicago tattoo and really be a Chicago native. I tried other places and they just didn’t work.

CFT: You guys do a tour of hot dog places in memory of your uncle?

Zoelle: We’ve done four. We basically get a bus… Carrie and Brad mostly do the organizing and Molly and I are sort of peripheral.

Molly: Brad could probably talk about how it started, the origins of it.

Brad: So my sister went out to Hawaii to teach right after graduating college and the first time she came back to the mainland was for a winter break. She was really jonesing for some real Chicago food. She also had a boyfriend with her and wanted to hang out with my uncle and show her boyfriend the city and so Eliot came with this grand idea, let’s drive around the city and we can show you all the neighborhoods and we can make it hot dog tour. So originally the idea was his. I only met up with them for three of the five stops. They just went in their own cars and drove around the city all day.

Zoelle: Wearing t-shirts with iron-on letters.

Brad: Yeah, I still have mine. It’s just a plain red t-shirt with the felt yellow writing. My sister ended up getting behind the grill at Byron’s and cooking up some hot dogs. It was their way to hang out, see the city, and spend time together. We had the idea to try and make it a charity event and we were going to do it the following summer or the next time Carrie could come back to the mainland. We ended up not being able to do it that summer and then the following winter Eliot passed away. So then the following summer once Carrie moved back, we decided to do it in his memory and do it as a charity fund raiser. Since he was a big music guy and a Blues guitarist, we decided to do music education charities. The first year was kind of loosely organized and we only had thirty people on the tour. We went to seven stands that first year. It took forever.

Zoelle: It was so hot.

Brad: The air conditioner was broken on the bus. It was, like, 95° out.

Zoelle: It was a really emotional experience. I remember my dad and Kim—Kim was Eliot’s wife when we were kids, they got divorced but Kim always kept in touch—it was a really hard thing to do the first time, especially for them. To have the humor and the experience, but it was really part of grieving as well. So the first time was special in that regard.

Brad: It was a lot of family, it was a lot of Eliot’s friends. You talk about the grieving process, but through the hot dog tour we sort of grieved as he lived. He was always like, “Let’s eat, let’s joke around, let’s have fun.” Everything was a joke or a game with him. So the first tour embodied that. People had so much fun that it’s grown to the point of unwieldiness now. We get Facebook messages from total strangers that have found the website or the Facebook group somehow and want to come on the next tour. It’s kind of lost it’s meaning a little bit as it’s grown bigger.

Zoelle: This last year we had two buses. Seventy-five or eighty people.

Molly: It was crazy.

Zoelle: It was insane. There’s beer drinking on the bus. There’s just general rowdiness.

Brad: We got local breweries to donate product. We got some of the local sports teams to donate raffle items. And it’s sort of made that jump to a real fund raiser event. As the tour’s gotten bigger, we’ve been trying to get smaller with the charities we donate to. The first two years we did the Old Town School of Folk Music. They’re great, but they don’t need the small amount of money that we’re going to provide. The third year we did Rock for Kids and this year we did Girls Rock Chicago whose, you know, their total operating budget was five figures. And a low five figures. So the money we were able to give them really did make more of an impact. But the amount of work that went into just the planning and logistics and everything for trying to raise even that small amount of money, it ended up being essentially a second full time job for me for three or four months last year.

Zoelle: It’s a lot of organizing.

Brad: We’re not really sure what we’re going to do with it this year, if we’re even going to keep it up or if we’re going to try something different or if we’re going to try and scale it back.

Zoelle: But there’s lots of good pictures online.

Brad: The mission remains the same. Live life and enjoy it like Eliot did.

CFT: It sounds like you guys need to make the decision, is this a family and friends annual get-together or is this charity fund raiser? You know, awesome to have to make that decision, that both of them are viable.

Brad: It’s like we’ve created something that’s now gotten bigger than us and our family and the question is do we want that responsibility?

Molly: It’s kind of weird how big it got. I was at work and somebody showed up in a Hot Dog Tour t-shirt and I was like, “Oh wow, you were on the Hot Dog Tour?” and they were like, “yeah, were you?”. And I’m like, “yeah” and they were like, “how do you know about it?” And I was like, “well, my last name’s Fishman.” It was one of Carrie’s friends and they were on the other bus and I never saw them.

Brad: Carrie brought friends she used to teach with and they had so much fun that they brought in all these other people that we don’t even know—they’re friends of friends of friends. They’re great people, but…

Molly: It’s cool, but at the same time it’s kind of difficult to manage.

Brad: We’ll see, we’re going to have to decide. Probably kind of soon.

CFT: Cool. So, just a technical question about the tattoos—where did you get them done?

Zoelle: At Revolution Tattoo on Western. Max. He had done a couple other hot dogs.

Molly: And he had one. His brother had a hot dog tattoo. They weren’t like what we have where it’s the logo, it was like a hot dog astronaut or something weird like that. Shooting lasers out of its eyes.

Brad: I had Mike draw me up an idea for a hot dog riding an El car, like it was a rodeo, so the El car was bent like it was bucking. He has the art still, but it would have been a half-sleeve, to do it to the level of detail that he’d drawn it.

Molly: You should do it!

Molly and Zoelle Fishman
Molly (left) and Zoelle Fishman

Molly Fishman hot dog tattoo
Molly Fishman’s hot dog tattoo closeup. The E is for Eliot.

Zoelle Fishman hot dog tattoo
Zoelle Fishman’s hot dog tattoo closeup.

About CFT

We love all sorts of Chicago-related tattoos and love interviewing the people who have them. If you've got one or know someone who does, please let us know at tats@chicagoflagtattoos.com.

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