So who's tagging Ann Arbor? According to a fifteen-year-old white, middle-class Pioneer High School student we'll call Mike, it's mostly people his own age. "It's an underground thing. It's really between the skaters and the stoners," he says. The more you tag, the more popular you become, says Mike--not at school, he's quick to point out, but around town. Everyone's aware of its illegality, he says.
Tagging can be a rite of passage. Mike says that to join one exclusive "group" (it's not a gang, he says), you have to tag at least thirty locations. In addition to spray paint, they gut marking pens and replace the tips with sponges for more ink coverage. Skaters sometimes use pre-tagged mailing labels. "They'll skate by and slap them places," says Mike.
Everyone has their own style, he says, showing me how a more experienced tagger instructed him to merge the letters in his tag for a more cryptic, personalized look. Some of the most popular tags among Mike's peers are "soap," "girl" (done on what Mike says is a paint-guzzling white background), and "mooh." Members of the skater tagging "tribe" also mark their skateboards with their own unique tags.
While taggers around town are mostly teens, says Mike, he's heard of some as old as thirty. Among the town's graffiti celebrities are the infamous Gexir, and also "K-R-K"--a tag that isn't easily intelligible. (The less readable a personal inscription, the cooler it is, says Mike.) Markings can include everything from symbols to lettering to directional arrows to faces and other images.