Man's gift to grandmother becomes made-for-TV moment

Saturday May 12, 2012

PITTSFIELD -- William Bradford's latest tattoo may soon be flashed on a television screen near you.

His tale of getting a tattoo of his grandmother and traveling to surprise her with it was captured on a new reality television show called "On the Fly." Based on the stories of the staff, customers and terminals of South west Airlines, the 13-part series is set to debut on Thursday, May 24, at 9 p.m., on TLC.

But this story begins with another show.

A young man who's mantra is to make the most out of life, Bradford's a big fan of reality television. He especially likes TLC's "New York Ink," which follows the goings-on inside celebrity tattoo artist Ami James' SoHo studio, The Wooster Street Social Club.

On Feb. 7, for his 22nd birthday, the Berkshire Community College student and store clerk for Rite-Aid at Allendale Shopping Center made it his mission to get a special new tattoo from Wooster Street's acclaimed portrait artist Tommy Montoya. The portrait would be from a photo of his grandmother, Joan Amuso of Pittsfield, in her younger years.

While many people tend to get tattoos of loved ones whom they've lost. Bradford's first tattoo, incorporating a Boston Red Sox logo and birth and death dates, is a posthumous tribute to his great-grandfather, Joseph Gaudette, who died in 1999.

Bradford wanted to be able to get his second tattoo to surprise his now 80-year-old grandmother with it while she is living.

"She's just very special. We've been through it all together," said Bradford, who remembers fondly getting driving lessons a few years back from the spry Amuso.

So Bradford and his mother, Sharon Bradford, began re searching how to make Wil liam's dream come true.

The first step was getting to New York and getting in line, since the notable tattoo shop takes no reservations. The second step was beating the clock, because the day William Bradford had chosen to go to Wooster Street was the same day Montoya was heading to California.

The young man and his mother left Pittsfield around 7 a.m. on the morning of Feb. 7, arrived around 10 a.m., then waited for the studio to open at noon.

"But it was worth it. I was first in line," said Bradford.

But when the doors opened, Montoya was nowhere around.

"So we waited for what felt like forever. But I wasn't going to give up. The staff was great though. They were calling him like every two minutes," Bradford said.

Eventually they found Montoya, around 2:15 p.m. Bradford described him as being friendly and apologetic.

"It was awesome. He was great, shaking my hand and he wanted to know why I wanted the tattoo," said Bradford.

The body art, a black and grayscale portrait, was inked on the outside of Bradford's upper left arm, a smiling grandmother facing outward.

Meanwhile, Amuso, who was finishing out a winter in St. Petersburg, Fla. with her husband, Merton Amuso, had no clue what her grandson was up to. In fact, Bradford had told her not to call him on his birthday, saying he would be "busy all day."

Amuso thought it a little strange, since the two family members talk with each other every day, but eventually, she shrugged it off. He planned on visiting her in Florida in a month.

Knowing of the visit, but still unaware of the tattoo, Amuso sent Bradford a flier about a new TLC reality show being filmed with Southwest Air lines at Tampa Interna tional Airport, during the week Bradford would be landing.

"I just thought it would be something he would be interested in," Amuso later told The Eagle.

Bradford sent in his story.

"I wanted my 15 minutes of fame, but I also really wanted to make it memorable for [my grandmother] too," he said.

The producers of "On the Fly" took an interest, but it wasn't until the night of March 7, while William and his mother were staying in a hotel near Bradley Interna tional Airport in Hartford to fly into Tampa, that Bradford got the call that he would be filmed upon landing.

Early on the morning of March 8, Bradford called his grandparents and told them that they would be filmed greeting him at the airport.

"We gave them the excuse that they were filming a show about bringing families to gether," said Sharon Brad ford, Williams' mother.

The Bradford family landed around 10 a.m., and found a six-member film crew ready to meet and outfit him with a microphone.

"It was funny because people started staring and wondering what was going on. It turns out that Selena Gomez [of Disney Channel and pop song fame] was filming ['Spring Breakers'] at the same time in the area of St. Pete Beach," Sharon Bradford said.

"Then later, when I was chatting with the crew, it turns out we had mutual friends in Otis, and worked with a family friend [Director] Zack Snyder on ‘Superman.' It was like fate," she said.

After a few takes, in the landing terminal area, William and the film crew took a trolley over to the arrival area.

"I walked up to them and hugged them and said, ‘I got a tattoo.' My grandmother asked where, so I hammed it up and starting undoing my pants. But then I stopped and rolled up my sleeve," said Bradford.

"I didn't remember the picture. I don't know why he would think of such a thing, but it was amazing. I told him, I'll never grow old on my grandson's arm," said Joan Amuso.

Even after the film crews stopped rolling, the story continued, when the reunited family had their traditional post-flight lunch at a nearby American Legion.

"I had my Wooster Street shirt from the tattoo shop on, and a guy named Mike called me over. Turns out he was best friends with Ami James' apprentice, Billy DeCola, and had a tattoo from the shop too. Now he and I still keep in touch," said Bradford, "This whole thing, it just snowballed into greatness."

Merton Amuso, William's grandfather, called the experience "great" for his grandson.

"William's father is de ceased, and he's always spent a lot of time with us," said Merton Amuso. "He's always helping us. He's the kind of guy who takes everything to heart."

To reach Jenn Smith:,
or (413) 496-6239
On Twitter: @JennSmith_Ink


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