A distinguished, handsome Italian gentleman saunters into a Miami Beach tattoo shop that's drenched in purple neon light. He's out of place in multiple ways. First off, it's a hot July evening, and he's bundled up in a long beige scarf. Second, he's dressed straight out of GQ with his leather boat shoes and matching fedora. Not exactly the place's typical clientele.
Suku Rivera, the manager of Salvation Tattoo on Washington Avenue, will never forget the guy, who will forever be referred to as the protagonist of "the Tom story" among Rivera's co-workers.
"I want to make a tattoo for my wife," the European tourist says, referring to an equally gorgeous woman in her mid-50s.
So the woman lifts the hem of her elegant gold dress and bends over the tattoo table. She then gets T and M inked onto her buttocks, one letter per cheek.
In South Florida, tourists looking for a spur-of-the-moment memento can hit up dozens of walk-in tattoo parlors in South Beach and Fort Lauderdale. In the smartphone age, apps such as Yelp aid impulsive decisions by providing GPS coordinates of the nearest place to get inked. But in Washington, D.C., health officials are proposing a new set of regulations that could temper regrettable body art. "Think Before You Ink" would require people to wait at least 24 hours before turning their bodies into canvasses.
Were the law to pass here, places in Wynwood and midtown would go relatively unaffected, parlor owners say. It's the walk-in places that dot the Beach (and sate the masses' desire for infinity-symbol and Chinese-letter tattoos) that would likely lose business. So employees there are uniformly opposed to the law, and a mere mention of it tends to draw expletives.
"If people have to wait 24 hours to get tattoos, they won't get them," says Jesus from Circus Tattoo on Washington Avenue. "It's like telling people to wait 24 hours to go to the bar." In his 20 years as an artist, he's aided young women in their quests to ink measuring tapes on their thighs that say "measure before you enter." He's also etched helpful reminders onto women's stomachs, such as "cash only."
Fort Lauderdale's tourists aren't any different when it comes to treating their bodies as temples. J.D. at Bulldog Tattoo recalls four Army buddies who got tattoos of characters from the kids' show My Little Pony. To make it worse, the colorful cartoon horses were all vomiting.
"That's who's serving our country," he laments outside his workplace on Sunrise Boulevard near A1A.
The common sentiment is that tattoo artists can police themselves. There's an industry ethic against inking the visibly inebriated.
"I'm a co-owner of this business," Rivera says. "Every time I give someone a tattoo, I'm putting Salvation's name on the line. It's in my best interest not to give someone a terrible tattoo."