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Putting the ‘T’ in tattoo: Commuters express their love (or disdain) for the MBTA with ink

Riders with T-themed body art say a transit tattoo is worth a thousand words.

Clockwise from top left, Adam Myerson's tattoo of the Red Line, Jack William Tat's tattoo of the 2001 version of the transit system's subway map, Damon Butler's depiction of a subway car snaking through the city skyline and Kris Haight's tattoo of the MBTA's "T" logo.

The Red Line always has had a special place in Adam Myerson’s heart.

In the ‘80s, as part of the local punk and skateboarding scenes, he took it to “the Pit” in Harvard Square while distributing flyers to promote his zine. As an adult, he bought his first home within walking distance of the Fields Corner stop in Dorchester, a triumph for “a poor kid from Brockton who relied on the T not for commuting to work, but for access to culture.”

“The T was our gateway to everything,” said Myerson, a 50-year-old cycling instructor. “I love the city, and I love the train. I love how significant the train was for me.”


Which explains why the transit line holds a place on another part of his body: his left calf, where an image of a Red Line train zipping past the Fields Corner sign is etched into his skin.

While not everyone has warm feelings toward the MBTA, especially nowadays, a growing cohort of commuters like Myerson wear their love — and resentment — for the city’s transit agency on their sleeves.

One piece of MBTA-inspired body art — a thigh tattoo of an Orange Line train with flames erupting from its top, complete with a set of devil horns — caused a stir online recently, when a photo of it was shared on Universal Hub.

Its owner, a drag performer by the name of “Slim Jym Shorts,” told NBC10 Boston it was a sense of frustration and indignation that led them to memorialize the infamous July moment when a train crossing a bridge over the Mystic River suddenly caught fire.

“I moved to Boston two years ago and it’s just been surreal to watch in real-time the decline of the MBTA,” the person told the news station. “So this felt very cathartic.”


But for many others — particularly longtime Boston-area residents — the inspiration for their unique and detailed MBTA tattoos is more sentimental.

Jack William Tat's MBTA ink is a tribute to the 2001 version of the transit system's subway map.John Tlumacki/Globe Staff

Take 30-year-old biomedical engineer Jack William Tat, who grew up riding the Orange Line from Malden to every corner of Boston, trips he views as formative. In April, he got a tattoo of the MBTA map as it looked in 2001, when he first started navigating the subway on his own. (The T switched to a more streamlined map design in 2013).

“As a kid, riding the MBTA nurtured my adventurous spirit, and also fostered my love of engineering,” said Tat. “So the MBTA map was the perfect tattoo to get.”

Most fellow passengers who noticed his tribute have loved the minimalist-style tattoo, either out of a sense of hometown pride or nostalgia for the old days.

But there also have been skeptics. Shortly after an image of his tattoo made the rounds online in April, the MBTA Transit Police weighed in.

“Yikes!!,” the department said in a tweet that included the photo.

Kris Haight said his permanent tribute to the MBTA — a 3-inch-wide rendition of the “T” logo on the center of his left forearm — is the culmination of a years-long obsession with all things transit.

He’s spent much of his adult life trying to make the system better, having worked with the advocacy group TransitMatters and served on the MBTA Rider Oversight Committee. It was his very first tattoo when he got it in 2016 at the age of 41.


Unsurprisingly, it attracts some attention. Lost travelers seem to feel comfortable asking him for directions. And when he worked briefly as a contractor for the T, it made quite an impression on upper management.

“They thought I was a little odd,” Haight said. “But then again, you know, it’s like working for Chevy and having Chevy tattooed on your arm.”

His only regret? He didn’t get it on his right arm, so he could embed a contactless payment microchip in it and simply swipe his tattoo at the fare gates.

Kris Haight opted for a large tattoo rendition of the MBTA's "T" logo to express his lifelong obsession with transit.Provided

But many who have gone to the lengths to get MBTA tattoos are neither super-fans nor detractors.

Damon Butler, a tattoo artist at Empire Tattoo in Quincy, said most customers looking for T-themed ink simply want to include a train or the T’s logo in Boston-themed collages, right next to the Citgo sign or the Bruins “B.”

It’s more about expressing Boston pride than celebrating the MBTA’s successes, he said. After all, diehard Boston fans are used to dealing with the highs and lows.

“It can go ahead and break down 10 more times, and people are still going to get them,” he said. “It’s like how the Red Sox didn’t win [the World Series for 86 years]. People were still ferociously loyal to the team.”

The “T” logo also is popular among tourists looking to take home a permanent souvenir, said Ramon Negron, a tattoo artist at Empire Tattoo’s Somerville location. Visitors who sit in his chair often speak highly of the T and its convenience for sightseeing, he said.


“They talk about how they spent the week coming from Germany, or wherever they come from,” he said. “And they talk about the ‘very interesting’ people they find on the T, if you know what I mean.”

As for tattooist Edwin Marquez, who works at Regeneration Tattoo in Allston, he said he’s inked his share of train imagery on locals, including the Red Line’s beloved view of the Charles River from the Longfellow Bridge.

But he stopped short of saying that his clients meant for their body art to celebrate the T’s reliability.

“It’s not because of how awesome or incredible this disaster of a transportation hub is,” Marquez said. “If somebody came in and said that, I’d probably say, ‘You can’t get tattooed, because you need to seek help.’”

Empire Tattoo artist Damon Butler has created several T-related pieces over the years, including this depiction of a subway car snaking through the city skyline.Provided

Spencer Buell can be reached at spencer.buell@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @SpencerBuell.