My alarm woke me up at 4:00 AM central time. I had laid out my outfit the night before. Camouflage pants and my black pea coat would make it hard for me to be seen in the treeline. My backpack was already packed with my digital camera, 2 brand new krylon spray cans (Black & White), 4 left over 94 color cans (Beryle Green, Blood red, Freedom blue, and mars orange), 1 white marker, knife, pepper spray, headlamp, and one fat black sharpie. I fixed coffee and took the dog out to use the restroom. By this time, it was 4:40.
My initial plan was to hit a few of the park spots I scoped out for my final morning in Austin. There is something in this Texas air. As I rode my bike down Lamar toward downtown I realized I hadn’t felt this free in sometime. The sun hadn’t come up yet and there wasn’t a soul out on this Sunday morning. I had vowed to hit the base of the Congress bridge that serves as the central vein that connects new Austin from old Austin. First stop was a bridge along a barren creek off the main road where I didn’t hear a single peep in the 3 minutes I was there. I rode another mile towards downtown dropped the bike a few blocks away. Tagged the pre selected spots and ran back. I did this at a few cement pillars that are placed right in the middle of downtown Austin along the riverbed around Congress. I moved farther north to drop some slaps (Stickers) and then after hitting 3 large targets I knew it was time to move. I quickly disposed of my JUMP bike & called my Lyft to take me south on a trail that locals kept bringing up during my trip. I had heard that there was large stone man made structures along Barton creek. It was time for me to do my final mission at the Green Belt.
By the time I got there it was 530am and was facing a dark trail head that lead into a silent forest. The only sound I could hear was the sound of a few birds chirping their wake up calls. This is the one spot I hit the whole trip that I didn’t give any pre planning to. This violates one of my big rules. Always have a serious plan. By this time, I was aware of the large homeless population that resides in greater Austin. That’s why I brought the knife and pepper spray. Nothing against the homeless but we all know they have a reputation of acting erratically at times. My cousin Abraham that grew up in Cottonwood Kern County always carried pepper spray on him because it A: it’s 100% street legal, B: a great way to stop a jumping or a robbing with little physical effort, & C: absolute dirty sneaky move coming from a man. Its hard out here. You can get killed doing graffiti, no going around that horrifying fact.I followed the river into the darkness until I heard nothing but the running water. I couldn’t see the creek but I followed it’s song north east deeper into the forest. I found a bunch of trail marks, cement blocks, and wood signs but none of these large man made structures all the locals had told me about. That’s when I hear the owl hooting alerting the forest that there was an intruder. Barton Creek is on a bed of soft limestone in the middle of a wild forest. My native California trails have much more man made structures available for tagging. I hate seeing spray paint on trees and rocks because its unnatural. That’s why I tag trail markers, stone bridges, water reservoirs, and of course the classic rundown home. I like tagging out in nature because I can breath and not have to deal with the paranoia of getting caught.
The deeper I went into these dark woods the more I realized how afraid I was. It was colder than I expected, bigger of an area than I expected, and there wasn’t a single soul out here. I was alone.This went on for another mile or two till I realized I hadn’t seen one trail entrance or exit since I had entered this small canyon area. The woods started closing in on me, I could hear every single blade of grass move with with wind. I came across a cinderblock wall and wrote my tag about 5 feet across it. It felt really good. Doing that centered me in the moment and reminded me I was out there on a mission. Graffitti takes a lot of courage.I realized I had to center myself so I went to the riverbed and right on cue I heard the water getting more vicious and thunderous until I came across a beautiful waterfall. I sat on a rock, closed my eyes, and listened to my surroundings. I thought about how my flight leaves at 10:15am and how I was lost in the woods in butt-fuck nowhere. “How was I going to get out of this one?” When I opened my eyes I headed back on the trail. I saw a bouncing light heading towards me flashing behind trees creating shadows in the brush. The light was a runner’s headlamp! I waved the jogger down and asked him for an exit and he told me I wasn’t far. I had to head north east another mile then North up a stone hill for one more. He told me that the trail should lead me to the freeway entrance. I shook his hand and told him thank you. We both went on our way.
Everything looked just like how he had described it down to the dog leg and trail marker with a 15-foot entrance to the limestone hill. It led me up a dry creek bed and with every step the owl’s hoots got louder and the tree leaves kept rubbing each other creating this haunting chatter. In that moment I heard something rustle and yip behind me through the bushes. I didn’t have to turn around to know that I was being followed by a coyote. He probably smelled the breakfast taco in my backpack. I turned around and put my headlamp to it’s brightest feature. I also put the pepper spray in ready mode. I hope I spooked it and kept walking. That’s when I heard it yip and bark behind me. I had the light out and it came out of the brush growling. I didn’t even think. I threw my hands as high as I could and howled like an orangutan. “OOOOO! OOOOO! OOOO!” The Texas coyote took several shuffle steps back. I saw its courage shirk in that moment. You know that saying “everything bigger in Texas?”, this coyote looked like a wolf and was much bigger than its California cousins that hang out in my neighborhood. Out of fear I hit it with a heavy stream of my pepper spray. The injured coyote let out a scream that made it sound like I kicked it in the throat. I ran as fast as I could and realized I got the pepper spray on myself. I was temporarily blinded, wandering through the dark woods, and was possibly being followed by a now angry coyote. When I regained my vision I realized that I had wandered into an encloser that held a space ship sized power generator and 3 giant phone towers. I was on a hill facing the freeway, I literally fell into a taggers dream situation. 1.)Large public space 2.) Hard to get to 3.) Possible freeway audience. I tore the place up for about 20-30 minutes, it was life changing. I climbed up one of the towers and put my face for everyone to see. I also made sure I was everywhere until all my cans ran out. I finished up with the markers and was ready to find a way out.
I thought that I would be able to just leave at an exit toward the freeway but the one the runner described was locked with a chain and key. I started to realize that the enclosure I was in was surrounded by an 8 foot barbed wire fence and I was covered in evidence. One side was encased in the natural barrier of the Travis County brush. I tried going under, over, and just couldn’t do it with the equipment I had. The image of my wire clippers sitting on my desk in San Diego haunted my mind. I had to ditch the spray and markers in a trash can I found and follow the fence for an exit. I found a wall to a giant white building that I thought was a ranger’s outpost. I wear gloves (no spray residue on my hands) and got rid of my cans so my lost hiker story should hold up. When I went around the wall I saw a kids swing set and matching slide. I had wandered onto someone else’s property….. in TEXAS. The home was a mansion that had a back yard leading into the wood. I immediately knelt and assessed the situation. Everything was quiet and turned my headlamp off long ago because the sun was beginning to come up. I saw that one bedroom light was already on and I probably had only this chance to make it without causing a ruckus. I took the risk and sprinted through the yard onto the main street. I jogged a couple blocks then sat to call my Uber. When they arrived they told me I was in a gated neighborhood and he needed a code to get in. Thanks to GPS I ran to the gate and scaled it in two tries. I hopped in the car and said “GET ME THE ABSOLUTE FUCK OUT OF HERE!” As we rode away I looked up at the rising sun and saw my name on the tower I was just on.
All of this hassle could have been avoided if I followed my own set of rules.
Disclaimer: OUTLAW is not my real tag but the name I am using to write this story.
Every street artist needs to have limits. All the OG’s have one central rule that should go without saying but here it is. No destruction of homes, schools, or places of worship. Yes, I view graffiti as beautiful art but the general public views it as a menacing activity. For me there is one main rule that all my other rules rotate around. DON’T GET CAUGHT.If you are wondering what level of “writer” (Graffiti artist) I am, I will have to say that I am a “toy”. Simplest way to put it is a “toy” is someone who sucks at graffiti and is new to the scene. I am testing out a few names but for the purposes of this bombing trip I only used one of my aliases. I have a cool “Throw” or “Throwie”(quick 3-D bubble letter of your name, classically two color for fill and outline), “Hollow” (same 3-D tag with no fill color), and a clean “Tag” (written script of your name). I also do all three styles on stickers and mass produce them at my workshop in San Diego California. I draw them by hand, scan them into my computer, and print them onto Wal-Mart sticker paper. I started tagging mid way through 2018 drunk on trip to San Francisco in the famous Embarcadero. I stumbled into a CVS and bought a fat industrial sharpie and just went to town. I didn’t know what the fuck I was doing, it was stupid, it was disrespectful to everyone that lives the serious graffiti lifestyle. The fact of it is, I had to get it out of my system. I try to keep myself super strict when I get the itch because I try to have a set of rules that I personally live by. The more research I have done I realized that this game is so much deeper and dangerous than I could have ever thought. This isn’t just some cute shit you see on a T.V.
This whole thing begins and starts with Respect.
As mentioned before…
1.)Don’t get caught.
Pretty simple right? Wrong, you first need to understand the gravity of what you are getting involved in. You now have many enemies; territorial tagging crews that actually bang, a homeless population ravaged by mental heath woes, and of course the treacherous police. I try to operate as a ghost. I pride myself in my research, practice, and dedication to my notepad. The little flavor and style I have are from hours and hours of practice. The notepad makes sure I’m not out there thinking up designs on the fly. I’ve tried that before and at my level it doesn’t come out good. This also makes sure I can tag a wall in under 30 seconds. I don’t want anyone to even know I was there. This is easy to do with tags. Throw ups are similar but a whole different level of stress because they take a couple of minutes to do the fill and bubble letter. Did I already mention takes a lot of courage to do graffiti? I always feel stupid at some point when I’m out on a mission. What the fuck am I doing? I have a good job and a clean record. Is this worth throwing all that away?
The fact of it is once you hit the street and it gets cleaned up your tag is put into a database and then court starts tallying the cost of cleaning that same tag or name. This database is under the umbrella of the gang unit. There is a story of a high school kid who was a legend out in Santee that got a bill for $20,000 in damages to the city when he got caught.
This shit can ruin your life. This isn’t a fucking movie.
2.) Do your Homework
I take this shit really seriously.
Weeks before I touched foot in Austin I was already reading articles and looking up tag spots on the internet. I reviewed maps in reference to where I was staying. I went to Austin under the disguise of a “journalist” there to write an article on SXSW, an all encompassing art festival and networking mecca. Truth is I was there to tag. My cover gave me access to ask the police, street workers, and the public their opinion on “graffiti.” This means I had all the information I needed at my fingertips. Scoping out a place and doing a practice run is great for safety and not running into unforeseeable problems. I can’t tell you how many times dogs and motion censor lights have fucked my plans up but if you find them on a practice run you can find ways around in the future. Not doing my do diligence would be a disservice to myself.
This is why me going to the Greenbelt for the first time without at least one walk through was ignorant.
Tools are everything. Details make a big difference. When I arrived in Texas and got my living situation set I made a list of what I needed for my weekend long mission. For public tagging I use krylon because it’s a steady constant B- can for single layer script and it is one of the first cans I used as a kid. Better paint are for my throw ups. Rain boots are key, they help you get into rivers and hard to get spots under bridges. I mentioned those sheer clippers earlier because why go over a chain link fence when you can go through it? If I had these I wouldn’t have had to risk my life trespassing on someone’s property. In the state of Texas, my brown ass basically ran though that yard with a death wish.
A map is one of your most valuable tools. You can create an escape route, path to where you want to tag, and easy way to mark where you’ve been and where you are going. This all goes back to having a plan. I was constantly looking at an Austin map for weeks before plotting my moves. I loved how the city was smack the middle of so much green. I love the contrast of urban structure engulfed with natural beauty. I view graffiti as the cherry on top. I create graffiti in hopes that they can be the new hieroglyphs.
-Talk to the Locals
Gangs are real. Stabbings are real. Shootings are real. Jail is real. The consequences to doing this shit are real. No one knows the terrain as well as the locals. Without talking to the locals I wouldn’t have known that downtown was going to be blanketed with undercover cops and to basically not tag anywhere in the public light. This was enormous because my initial plan was to go out under the disguise of Saint Patrick’s day and SXSW. Looking back that would have been a mistake because honestly I don’t remember a time I was down there where a cop wasn’t in my line of sight.
This gave me an advantage.
Use the festival as a distraction. The police have local sized force trying to contain a national event. I saw state troopers called in to help supplement the need to contain this level of tourism. This basically made the outskirts fair game and if I played my card right would make my job very easy.
3.) Unless you bang, don’t touch someone else’s work.
You can get straight up killed for covering up someone’s work. Also if you are way worse than a neighboring artist just find another spot. It’s disrespectful to the years it took that writer to get to that level of graffiti.
4.) Do this with a purpose.
This is why I do graffiti…
My life has been suffering. My father was in and out of jail. Him and my mom had a very turbulent relationship during the course of my childhood. He was a pot head and a drunk that couldn’t hold down a steady job. He never laid a finger on my mom but I saw him say some of the nastiest shit I have ever heard in my life. When it came to disciplining me, I was ruled with an iron fist. This came from both of my parents, in Hispanic culture it is common place to beat your children. It’s been made into memes and jokes but truthfully that shit was an absolute horrendous experience. I do agree that children need to learn that there are consequences, but beating a child with a leather belt as hard as you can until he’s black and blue is abuse. My father also did it in anger, he made me put my hands on the wall and put my ass out bare so I could feel the cold air before my ‘whoopin.’ I still remember laying in bed wondering why God hated me as a 7-year-old. I remember praying for all of it to stop.
My older brother is a half brother from my mom’s previous marriage. The only time I ever was struck in the face by my father was when I called him my “half-brother”. The fact that there is such a definable line between us has made our bond so much stronger. Though my father ran our home like a tyrant, he was the only father my only brother my really knew in his life. His genetic dad was absent emotionally. I truly have little to no respect for my brother’s biological dad. Growing up there was a jealousy that grew between us. He saw in me a son who though disciplined harshly was growing up in a loving home with a father that actually wanted him. His dad didn’t even want him and his step Dad was kind of an asshole. I was jealous that my Pop was much easier on him than me. He never laid a hand on my brother, that was my moms job. He always got a pass from her most of the time if we are going to be honest. I remember him and my dad didn’t always get along but seeing them become best friends is one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever witnessed.
My dad also took in my cousin Louito who is my mom’s brothers son. My mom’s brother is a piece of shit who said that he wasn’t his son because of Louie’s mother was so “promiscuous.” Louito’s life was hard. He sold drugs . My mom and dad took him in for a couple years and I treated him as a brother. To this day I believe he was a good enough artist to change the world. He did an Aztec mural in East Bakersfield that stood for over a decade behind an old school Movie Rental shop across the street from Jefferson park. He was shot at 19 years old a couple miles from our house. He was selling dope and was caught up.
His case is still open.
He was the first dead body I ever saw. My other cousins who lived that life all came and loved on me because I was so young. This is the part Hollywood gets wrong about the streets. Yes, there is a family bond in suffering but funerals and murders can permanently break you.
My family used to be heavily involved in organized crime. We come from old Mexican money that came during the bracero movement. My grandfather saved up enough to buy property and the money flourished with investing early in California land. Throughout the years different offshoots of my family tree have used that wealth for different avenues of business. During the late 90’s I had family involved in the Tijuana drug trade until one of my eldest cousin was murdered and thrown in an ally like a piece of trash. I didn’t even get to go to the funeral because it was deemed as dangerous. They realized they were in too deep, parlayed, and pulled out of the game.
My father was caught up around the same time. He was caught smuggling 60 pounds of Mexican brick weed across the border and had to serve two years in federal prison. It was hard seeing him humiliated to that point. When he came out of prison he was different. He had found religion and turned a new leaf on the violence that once plagued his heart. For me I was disgusted by his presence because he acted like nothing was wrong. He acted like he had always been this divine religious person when I knew that wasn’t the case. I hated him.He expected me to immediately forgive him for everything me and my mom had to go through. There was a point where if her sister didn’t take us in, we would have been on the streets of Bakersfield.
We had so many fights during my teenage years. My hormones were firing off and he had to face this monster he created. When he came home from jail he noticed my buzzed head, wore saggy corduroys, and flannel attire. “I’m not raising no cholo in this house! Think of your cousins!”
Truth is I grew up in two of the most violent neighborhoods in Kern County (Jefferson Park/Baker area & Lamont) but the reason we lived there was because it was close to family. My family was also on a budget because me and my siblings were always sent to private Catholic school. My parents having to always work extra jobs and hustle for cash was always rubbed in our faces. “Were doing this so you can go to that damn school!” I always wanted to go to public school, because that’s where all my friends from the neighborhood that grew up with went. All my friends that drank, smoked pot, and did graffiti went to that school. At private school I was always just another spic or wetback. The older I grew up those neighborhood kids got deep into the gang scene and would become my bullys on my walks to school. Imagine walking through one of the roughest neighborhoods you’ve been in wearing a uniform. I had no escape.
Around this same time 9/11 happened and my brother started training his body and mind to go to war. He was in his 20’s and his life wasn’t going the way he wanted so he enlisted one year later. I am about to make a very unpopular opinion heard hear now.
I hate those soldier coming home videos.
The main reason is this, “have you ever seen a good bye video?” The reason being is those coming home videos remind me of the goodbyes. I still remember saying bye to my brother before he would go on his flights to North Carolina. My father a former soldier telling him to “keep your fucking head down.” Our dad went on to say “if your out numbered run, no one will think you’re a coward.” The one that still haunts me to this day is him looking him in the eyes and saying “do whatever it takes to come home.” Its hard looking at someone you love realizing this could be the last time I ever see you.
These goodbyes were heartwrenching. I still remember my whole family driving home the first time he went to Iraq in complete silence. Our family was just as broken up as when my dad was in jail.
I also think those videos are extremely disrespectful to the families who have their children coming home in caskets draped in red, white, and blue.
Not everyone comes home from war. War is real.
Those years were rough. My brother lived and breathed the same air as the Baghdadi people for several years of his life. He told me that we he wouldn’t have survived if he didn’t grow up in the hood. My brother told me it was a lot like our childhood running though the streets of TJ on quads with our cousins. Just lawless. One of his greatest accomplishments was breaking an Al Qaeda graffiti code that lead them to some high level targets. He learned that in the streets. After my brother’s military contract was up he finally came home a hero. One thing I will say is the day he came home is still logged in my mind as the greatest day of my life so far. It’s the last time I truly remember our family being together.
6 months after my brother came home we watch my father breathe his last breath in a hospital in Portland Oregon.
When we put him in the ground I didn’t just lay my Papa to rest but he was my coach, my teacher, my enemy, my role model, my best friend, and many other things. The biggest thing was when he died there was an apology that I never got being lowered into that grave as well.
I became that kid crying in his bed again wondering why God hated him so much?
The last 10 years this unhealthy rage has been building in my soul. I tied to cope with heavy drug use, violence, and enough alcohol to kill a regular human being. I played rugby in college and loved to destroy my body. I was so numb from my father’s death that pain became the only thing that felt real. When college was over and rugby was gone there was a hole in my soul that could not be filled. This coupled with entering a brutal corporate jungle crushed all dreams and aspirations I had in my unhappy life. Last year a suicide attempt woke me up and if it wasn’t for one of my greatest tragedys I wouldn’t be where I am now. This last year I got sober and did a lot of soul searching. I realized that a lot of my life was trying to appease others. I finally got control back. I didn’t have anything left I needed to prove. Being someone who was raised in abuse makes you feel broken at times. I honestly don’t feel deserving of anything. I have become my own worst enemy. Street art helps me vent that self loathing into something the world finds dark but I find beautiful.
This transformed me as an artist.
My art was always for others to critique and tell me how talented I was. It was a tool for the attention I craved so much from the world. I have been featured online, once in a gallery at SDSU, and have sold a few commissions. I needed something pure. I am classically trained and have taken classes for years and practiced like my life had depended on it. When life hit me hard growing up I always took to my notepad to vent with making my own cartoons. Graffiti gives me an outlet that I can never take credit for. Its so humbling knowing you created something that someone is going to absolutely hate. Something that will create so much discomfort that it will cause someone to notify the authority’s. This is my way of rebelling against a world that I have found to be unfair to me.
Society has told us that things need to look a certain way. We need to live these cookie cutter lifestyles to achieve happiness. My happiness comes with the destruction of public property and manifesting it into my art. Yes, its selfish to claim this space but that’s why the authorities are out here busting graffiti artists. Art is not a trendy factory made reproduction of things that were once imagination. ITS NOT SUPPOSED TO MAKE YOU COMFORTABLE. Art is being pushed out of our society! You see this everyday with the gentrification of major cities. Local ethnic groups that gave the area all of its character are being kicked out by yuppies from other cities who can afford the outrageous housing rates in hip parts of town. I saw a lot of this in Austin and “gentrification” was the word I kept hearing. “Keep California out of my Texas”is the local’s slogan. I realized that Austin is Instagram pretty. What I saw weeks before though my phone was a cleaned up version of every single metropolitan city in this country. Doing graffiti gets you up close and personal with the homeless as well as the druggies. Austin had plenty of both. I knew this city wasn’t what I thought it was after my first run in the University of Texas. I saw graffiti that said “POLICE STATE” “ECONOMIC DESCRIMINATION” on a street corner. After seeing all that I had I realized a lot of it was fake. I came to be mystified and that was not the case. I will go deeper into my trip to Austin and the underlining question of race in “OUTLAW PART II: Bad Hombre in Austin.”