You have a very specific one liner bus hopper type tag. Is that where it originated? Hopping busses?
That was from scribing bus windows. There are elements to a graffiti letter, right? A. It has gotta look cool B. you gotta do it fast so you can get up in a sick spot and make it look natural. Another kid gave me props for being on so many bus windows. I always had a rock. I didn’t even use the little grinder, scriber tool. That’s cool but in terms of not being caught with a pocketful of utensils or whatever, the best thing is to find a small rock with a sharp side to it right before you get on the bus and when you’re done with it you just chuck it. But basically it’s just from scribing windows and wanting to do it really fast and if you stop and start too much it will look funky.
Was there anyone at that time that was innovating with those styles?
I learned a lot from the way people wrote at Embarcadero. Those styles and the letters my friend taught me. The basic letters I learned came from that graffiti alphabet he gave me. The big crew that he jocked was ARM, Always Rocking Munis, in SF. I’m sure they’re still around. That’s one of the longest running San Francisco bus tagging crews. They go back to the 80’s.
So he gave me this alphabet and how these letters worked, basic technique on how to put them together and you practiced that. With the alphabet you could take anything and make it look cool to the point you’re writing a whole letter in just graffiti letters, you know?
Then I went to San Francisco and found myself riding these buses with actual San Francisco writers and seeing how they do it. We’d be on the bus at nine o’clock at night going wherever we’re going and all of the sudden all five of us bust out ultras and just start getting up all over the freaking bus and the bus driver isn’t going to do anything about it and we’d just get off it and skate away. Sometimes we’d get on the bus and there’s a big stack of transfers and we’d just grab the whole stack and say, “thanks” and we wouldn’t have to pay for the bus for the rest of the day.
Who was up a lot in the peninsula at that time?
In the early 90’s I would take the bus all up and down the peninsula meeting skaters and checking out their spots. Then I went to Embarcadero, got into graffiti, came back, and started going more often to Stanford. Stanford was a great skate spot back then. No one would bust you. We’d just hang out there all day long and skate. It was sort of a hub for skaters, punks, and graffiti dudes from all along the peninsula. Palo Alto’s basically ORFN’s turf and being up all around there going down into San Jose even was really impressive. Before ORFN was ORFN he was a huge skater. He had a sponsor me video that had him ollieing and kick flipping sets of ten stairs, doing huge handrails, and all this stuff. Guys in Palo Alto were really into the LORD’s crew from San Jose, but their letters are kinda different. I remember my friend was like, “Those are toy letters,” but I was like, “No, no they’re just different.” He wanted me to write like the San Francisco guys write, not to do all this crazy stuff the San Jose guys were doing. That was the attitude, but I’d go to San Jose too. I was trying to go all city from San Jose to San Francisco and up and down the peninsula. But yeah, they had different styles that mixed in the South Bay stuff too. South Bay stuff was pretty cool. ORFN was absorbing a lot of San Jose styles.
I had a friend named TSK who moved to New York and wrote PACMAN and he is a long time graffiti writer. He started in ’92 or ’93 and he still writes graffiti. I don’t know if people know ORFN’s story but he really was adopted. That was kind of part of his thing. I went to his house back then to ride this mini ramp he made and he had a bag with at least 300 Sakura streakers, ha-ha.
He has a fetish for every little utensil. He’s collected everything. So I went to his house and he had packages of every type of sticker you’d ever want to use and some you wouldn’t want to use, every type of rare ink from Marsh Ink to regular ink. huge bottles of it. There was Marsh and there was another one that if you got it on your hands it’d give you cancer or something. But yeah it was a huge supply of stuff. I was pretty impressed.
It was weird going to Stanford as a high school kid. I felt very privileged. I was hanging out with people getting their PhD’s and shit. There were some cool skaters going to Stanford. We ended up learning a lot of cool things from them. One I remember was Magic Dollar. Ever heard of it?
No, what is it?
Magic Dollar kinda ties into ORFN having those 300 streakers. We didn’t have money for that stuff. Magic Dollar was a trend that lasted about two years, between ’92, ’93 and maybe ’94. You take clear packing tape and you put it on the edge of a dollar bill in a certain way. You’d find these old Pepsi machines, put the dollar in, the machine would take it, register it and start to suck it in. But if you held down the change button and pulled the dollar out, instead of Pepsi you’d get four quarters. It just made perfect change for your dollar. We’d have special missions at night where we’d go out and A. Drain machines and B. Do tons of graffiti along the way. Not trying to draw attention to those spots. Stupid kids started tagging on the machines, I never did. Actually, I did do that a few times but I realized that it wasn’t good. So we’d go on those missions and sometimes come back with $80-$100 in quarters. If we went out together we’d have to split it evenly. We’d also have a backpack full of sodas, Amos cookies and potato chips.
Sounds like a teenage wet dream to me.
It was a teenage wet dream. There was also ‘salting’ the machines, but I’ll leave that to your imagination. So after bombing we’d come back to the crib and in my room I had 100 cans of every type of soda and a bag of every type of snack from the snack machine. I had to hide that shit from my parents ha-ha. In the city if you go to an arts and crafts store there’s no way you’re gonna steal anything from there. That fantasy got played out a long time ago. But in the suburbs it was ripe for the picking. You go to any of those arts and crafts stores and they’d all have pilot ink and ultras! All the clear Krylons had phantom caps. After a while you couldn’t even find a phantom cap on a clear can of Krylon because so many graffiti writers had stolen them. There was also a type of shoe polish that had fat caps on them. I remember towards the late 90’s I went with some friends to Home Depot and we just loaded up a shopping cart almost to the brim with not just cans but full boxes of Rustolem and just walked right out the store. I don't advocate that shit at that level, but Magic Dollar was just a great excuse to ride on the bus or drive around from Palo Alto to San Jose and just explore. We’d just be rocking tags and collecting money.
It got played out though. It also worked on Bart tickets. You could get $20 or $30 from a Bart ticket dispenser but there were cameras and I heard some pretty crazy stories about people getting in trouble for that stuff. I just wanted to mention it because you were asking about how things have evolved in Palo Alto. We met people that knew the same tricks we did and we’d go out together. I knew a lot of people where we all skated, we all did graffiti and we all knew these little tricks.
When I hear you talking about hiding tags or saying it’s not cool to tag on soda machines your ripping off it seems like you had a way different way of looking at graffiti then most. Where do you think that came from?
My perception of graffiti is you gotta have an eye for spots, and respect certain things if you care about longevity. You gotta look at a spot and go, “How stoked would I be if I saw such-and-such writer on that spot?” The difference between what makes a toy a toy and a good writer a good writer is courage. You see a tag on a spot and there are two schools of thought: First is, God damn that took balls, that’s brave to get your tag on that spot. Wow. Then there’s also, wow, clever. You can do a tag on a bus window and it’s not hard to do but you think, “Oh wow, he scratched his name into that window and it’s going to last a long time and people are going to see that.” So there are a lot of people that think, “BOOM, I’m up on El Camino, I’m up on a billboard, I’m up on the side of a bus, I’m up on a train or whatever.” Those are huge adrenaline rushes but as you go from spot to spot you stay in action by doing the cutty tags you’re talking about. Why waste those tags too? Not every tag is going to be a blockbuster. I love seeing pole tags because I’d see other guys that had tagged there from ten years ago. I wanted to be the guy people saw in ten years. They’d see how I did that and hopefully they wouldn’t write their tag right next to mine. They’d find their own cool spot that’s similar but not mine. Yeah, poles, power boxes, rusty things. You see rust on the back of a sign you know if you write on that no one is ever going to clean it.
Was there a person that started doing it first or something that inspired everyone?
It just evolved. People that do graffiti, the psychological aspect is, “I wanna do my graffiti and have it be seen!” So they’re not looking at the little stuff because they don’t think people look at that, but it can be more personal. They want to run to the biggest stage and go, “TADA!” But yeah it was just an evolution; I can’t say any one person started doing it.
If you walk down the street and you’re a basic writer you bomb the place, in two weeks it’s gone. What a waste. You can walk down Mission Street and not even bring spray paint. Just have streakers and hit all the tiny little pieces of metal and that stuff could last a long time.
Do you think it started in the city or the suburbs?
I think it started in the city. In the city when people write on stuff they let nothing go to waste. If you go to 16th and mission, I used to go there a lot for punk rock shows, you look underneath an awning and on this green cloth on the inside of the thing would be covered in streaker tags or silver paint pens. Of course I give the city credit for that but then you go back to the burbs and there’s no scarcity of things to get your tag on. If you treat it like that, if it keeps spreading, that back of that green awning, to me that’s pure gold. I can’t even find a rusty pole in San Francisco that I would be the only tag on. But go to San Mateo and I’m gonna be the king of that stuff. Ha-ha. But there was no one else even trying to do that in ‘92, you know?
Besides you ORFN and REVRS who were some of the main people getting up at that time?
Okay, some of the guys that blew my mind at that time, people that I didn’t know how they got some of the spots they did, guys that were constantly up on the huge freeway overhangs would be MYK and JUL of TMC. They had the most mind blowing spots consistently up along the freeway. If I got up on one of those spots it would take me all night to figure out how to get up there and I’d spend the whole night just to get that spot. They would do that stuff like it was no thing.
Any concluding thoughts or comments?
Yeah, for me graffiti was a solo trip. Not something I did to conform or be part of a group. In fact, those groups didn’t even exist when I started and the only way I knew most other graffiti writers was through their work on the streets. That’s where I felt the connection. Like I never met UB40 in person, but every time I encountered one of his tags in the middle of nowhere that was him putting his money where his mouth was or whatever and that impressed me. It wasn’t like I was just sitting around a coffee shop wearing baggy pants, smoking cloves, and doing pieces in black books all day trying to meet girls. For me, it was like I purposely did graffiti to be rebellious and to create my own identity and to not fit in with most of my peers. At our high school you were either a gangster, a jock, or like a rich preppie kid that drove their parents BMW to school, or like a rich preppie jock that pretended to be a gangster. The only things I was into, going back to when I lived in Texas, were skateboarding, bmx, and punk rock. One time after bleaching my hair, I dyed it by soaking it in green pilot ink and just went to school and said nothing about it. It was cool I guess that after a few years of running around at night by myself with a backpack full of paint, getting in trouble all the time, that it became sort of popular. That in time being a graffiti kid in school would be as acceptable as being a gangster or jock or whatever. That girls would even become writers, though mostly just to hook up with graffiti dudes. But I would have never gotten into it if was popular or ‘cool’ in the first place. That was the whole point of it for me in the first place. If I was going to be a freak and not fit in at school, I might as well take it to the next level and transform it into some type of art, that’s all.