Charleston, November 2017

My last stop on my five state journey to complete the eastern side of the United States map was Charleston to acquire a West Virginia tattoo. I had an overnight Greyhound bus from Richmond to Charleston and it was one of the worst travel decisions I have ever made. There was no good way to get to anywhere big in West Virginia even from a neighboring state. The Amtrak would take an extra day and I wanted to make sure I arrived in a city big enough for a tattoo parlor and an airport so that I could fly home afterwards. The Greyhound was my only option, but unfortunately, it included a four hour layover in a tiny town with only a trailer for a station. I sat for all four of those miserable hours at 4 am among other stranded travelers with no room to relax and video gambling machines making way too much noise.

The bus finally arrived and I happily got on it and made it to Charleston. I had a few hours before my next tattoo appointment, and as tired and as sore as I was from having four fresh tattoos, I decided to walk to the shop. Google Maps gave me a direct route, but as usual, I wanted to take the scenic route along the river. I found a river walk on the opposite side of the recommended route and decided to walk it even though Google Maps kept telling me to turn around and walk on the other side. I saw a bridge taking me over the river some distance ahead of me, but for some reason Google did not give me the option of walking across it. I became a little nervous, thinking it was only for cars, but I refused to turn around and figured I would just hail a cab over if I had to.

As I walked the riverwalk, I noticed a gaggle of Canadian geese in my path. Knowing how feisty they are, I carefully maneuvered around them but was still chased and hissed at. Then it started raining. Hard. I came to the bridge I was to cross and saw a bike path winding up to it. I was not on a bike, but I did not have any other way to cross and I did not feel like waiting for a ride. I walked up the bike path and crossed the bridge in the pouring rain. I then realized this tattoo parlor was going to be in one of those strip-malls on a major road and not in some hip little neighborhood with interesting restaurants. As disappointed as I was in not being able to sit down for a quiet, served meal, I found a Wendy’s for a rare treat of a spicy chicken sandwich and dried off as the rain stopped. Still having an hour before my appointment, I wandered around a Rite-Aid to waste some more time.

I arrived at Black Eagle Tattoo before it opened and waited for a bit outside. I walked in with the artists who unlocked the doors and checked in. I met my artist, Hannah Scoggins, who seemed a little unsure of herself and had not yet drawn up the design. I told her what I wanted and the general placement. I wanted a design that would encompass the stars on my left upper arm and include my armpit to completely fill the area. I decided on paisley for West Virginia because I love paisley designs as fillers and when I looked up famous people from West Virginia, I found Brad Paisley, which was just enough of a connection to make sense to me. I only had a certain amount of money in my budget for the trip and thought it would be more than enough, but Hannah quoted the tattoo at twice as much. I would never negotiate the cost of a tattoo and I wanted to have enough money for a good tip, so I told Hannah that I only had a certain amount of cash on me and asked her to make it smaller. We decided in the end to only do the armpit.

I was nervous sitting and waiting, thinking I did not choose the right tattoo shop, but my anxiety was relieved when I saw what she had drawn up. It was based on the reference images I sent her, but beautifully pieced together in a way to fill the space that she traced out. Because I had a freshly retouched dragon above my armpit and a new raven underneath my armpit, I was not looking forward to the inevitable pain of my chosen location. I had originally asked for a red and black paisley to encompass the stars without eliminating them, but because only a few of the stars would be overlapped, I thought black outline would be the most effective and stand the test of time within that area. Plus, it would take less time and needling in such a sensitive spot. I was relieved, however, to discover that the armpit did not hurt much at all, and neither did the already sore spots that she was working next to. Hannah had a gentle touch, even on her very first armpit, which was ideal for the situation.

As Hannah worked, we mostly talked about our pets. She has a hairless cat, which was so curious to me. I was fascinated to discover they are not as easy and clean as I thought. Because they do not have fur, their skin is extremely oily, which rubs off and leaves dark oil spots everywhere. They actually have to be bathed every so often to keep them and the owner’s furniture, clean. This was surprising to me because I know one of the former New Jersey housewives has a couple of hairless cats and she has primarily light-colored furniture. She must have a professional hairless cat groomer on hand. The cats are, however, some of the friendliest and most personable cats around and Hannah was absolutely smitten with hers. We also talked music and tattooing and found many things we had in common. Hannah worked quickly and my armpit was done in less than two hours. She charged me less than our agreed price, but I still gave her all the money I had on me and left for the airport.

The Charleston Airport was extremely small, as expected, with only one restaurant, but it was outside the security gates, which I had already gone through. This meant no quiet dinner and drinks to relax before my flight home, which furthered this rather bland leg of my trip. I bought a couple of snacks from the vending machine and sat and waited for my flight home. My whole body was sore and I could not wait to get back to my bed considering I had not slept much on the bus the night before. Regardless, I considered my five state run extremely successful and thoroughly loved all of my tattoos. My West Virginia tattoo does not complete my upper arm as I wanted so I will have to come up with another idea to fill in the stars portion. My back, however, has been filled in nicely and I was nearly done with the rest of my torso and arms. It is a good thing I still have a lot of leg left, considering I still had nine more states and the rest of the world to go.

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