Indianapolis, Indiana, Peoga, digital nomad, elizabeth ehrenpreis, lizz ehrenpreis, betty mars, besting betty, remote travel, remote worker, digital traveler

THE WAYS IN WHICH WE MEET

I had planned to go NY > Boston > possibly Florida > either NOLA or Austin, but my plans changed last minute. I wanted a little more time in Oakland, and after an incredible week in Wisconsin, I realized I hadn’t had my fill of the Midwest. Enter Indianapolis.

Four or so years ago, when I was fetish modeling on the regular, I was searching about Tumblr for something or other and stumbled across brilliant photographer Rachel Schwebach. Her work was glorious and she was seeking models; I contacted her only to discover that she was nowhere near California. Over the years, we sent each other the occasional letter or postcard. Once she even sent me a gorgeous vintage black slip in the mail (we have an intersection of interest when it comes to the erotic–it only seems fitting that lingerie would make its way into our exchange).

I’m not sure exactly how I came to the conclusion that Indianapolis should be on my roster, but it popped into my head, and as I was entertaining it, dear Rachel decided to host an art horror extravaganza in Peoga, which, according to Wikipedia, is an “unincorporated community” in Indiana. Clearly, the timing was right: This was not something to be missed.

While plotting this out, I happened to hop on a phone call with Yitz, a glorious femme poet friend I’ve mentioned before. She and I met on a job nearly four and a half years ago and became instant friends. Yitz always speaks as if she’s letting you in on a clever joke. Her confidence in herself and her ability to enforce her boundaries is something I admire endlessly. Perhaps it’s a product of being so othered–maybe growing up as a Jew with an unconventional view of romance and sexuality in small town (read: conservative Christian) Ohio galvanized that strength of self in her, or maybe it’s just something that has come naturally to her, built into her along with her blonde curls and megawatt smile. In the entire time I’ve known her, she has been a bit of a nomad; I almost never know where she is as she bounces around much of the year, avoiding the winter of the Midwest for her own health and happiness.

When we both lived in Oakland, we would hop down to the happy hour at Disco Volante, a dive that had spectacular local musicians play on the regs (and some of the best happy hour food I’ve ever eaten), for long, meandering chats. As we both left Oakland and our lives changed, our friendship morphed into what it is now: A long distance exchange that involves months of silence punctuated by five hour phone conversations. Our phone calls are extended coffee dates. Whenever we happen to be in the same place, we manage to meet up, but that is an unfortunate rarity.

When I told Yitz my plans, she said, “Wait. Maybe I’ll come meet you.”

The first time I met Rachel face to face was when she pulled up in her little green sedan at the airport. After hugging (and loud “SO GREAT TO FINALLY MEET YOU!”s), Rachel’s first question made it even more clear that she was a woman after my own heart:

“So, breakfast. Frou frou or diner?”

“Diner, definitely.”

“I know exactly where we’re going.”

We pulled up to the Steer In, a classic diner that has been open since 1960 (and despite changing ownership, doesn’t seem like it has changed much since then), and started with much needed coffee.

Although these days it doesn’t seem that strange to build relationships through the internet, I’ve been making and meeting friends in virtual spaces long before it was normalized. My first high school boyfriend was someone I met through Bolt, an early social networking site; he lived only a few blocks away, but who knows if we would have ever connected if I hadn’t started annoying him via IM the year before I entered high school. Over time, transitioning friendships from virtual to real time has become easier. The awkwardness of knowing details about a person while still needing to adapt to their full person–the way they speak, the way they move through the world–has become less noticeable with practice, and the delight in discovering the full sense of someone new still never gets old.

Rachel is an absolute character and my kind of broad. She’s loud, hilarious, and extremely maternal; I have rarely met a person who is so invested in the well-being and general state of happiness of other people. I’ve always known her to be generous and sweet, but in person, those qualities are magnified tenfold. She runs around constantly making sure everyone is satisfied, delivering a combination of compliments, encouragement, and thoughtful questions with her delightful Midwestern lilt (thrown in with calling everyone “honey,” I don’t know how anyone could resist being charmed).

Rachel was raised in California, between Davis and San Diego, but has been in Indianapolis for long enough that she considers it her home. She often talks about California wistfully; she told me multiple times that because she spent her childhood there and hasn’t been back since, her nostalgia colors her memories of it, making it a fairytale land in her mind. She has a taste for the macabre; she collects and bleaches found animal bones and her inspiration for the weekend was to create a series of B movie horror film posters.

She left me in her downtown Indianapolis apartment while she took off for Peoga; I worked and waited for Yitz to join us from Ohio.

The next day, Yitz and I rallied early with terrible instant coffee (is there such a thing as good instant coffee?) and breakfast, and followed Rachel’s best friend and neighbor Casey up to the cabin for the art horror weekend madness.

The social group that Rachel has curated is a bunch of wonderful weirdos–a bunch of friendly artists who welcomed strangers as if they were old friends. We ran around, throwing on different costumes and assisting as we could with various horror-inspired shoots. A few of us also posed for Rachel’s Faceless project: A series of nudes in a variety of settings with their faces covered. Much of the time was spent hanging out around the smoldering fire pit, drinking beer and making jokes.

What was remarkable to me is that this is the second time in a month that I was immersed into a group of people who were essentially foreign to me and found myself adoring every single person. There was not one sour interaction, and the conversations about the kind of work we create and creativity and who we are was restorative and inspiring.

After long conversations around the fire pit into the night, where we ate s’mores while marveling at what (we supposed) was some sort of bioluminescent fungi at the edge of the lake and the clarity of the stars, Yitz and I made our way back to Downtown Indianapolis. The next morning, we woke up, had some truly terrible coffee, and took a walk around the neighborhood while waiting for Rachel to return.

Later that afternoon, Rachel, Yitz, and I worked silently in the same room for much of the day. We all marveled at how we could share this companionable silence. We’re all highly autonomous creatures that have become accustomed to stretches of solitude, so typically sharing such a small space can be a challenge, but the three of us had no real struggle with it. Casey, one of Rachel’s best friends and upstairs neighbor, came down to join us later in the day (and brought her delicious hazelnut coffee, thank goodness). Casey is a tiny brunette with a boisterous laugh; she’s the kind of person who, when she speaks, makes you feel like you’ve known her forever.  She and Rachel met through Model Mayhem and became fast friends and constant collaborators.

travel writing, travel writer, rachel schwebach, casey mcg, the wandering jewess, yitz, indianapolis, travel blog, traveling across the US, midwest, midwest travel

The rest of the afternoon was spent chatting about travel and future projects. Yitz shared her craft with us and made us all art journals for us–with space for us to add our own touches and then send back to her in the mail.

These creative babes have such big aspirations and beautiful brains. I don’t know how I keep finding these remarkable people; I don’t know how there are so many remarkable people in the world and how I keep managing to bump into them. I feel really lucky.

I walked away feeling like this was exactly the kind of experience I had wanted when embarking on this trip. I’ve had some major trepidation about embarking on extended travel, especially when I think about doing this more permanently next year, but so many of the experiences I’ve had thus far in the places I’ve been (Oakland, Wisconsin, and now Indiana) continue to solidify the decision to pursue this. The entire point is to go places I haven’t been before, meet new people, spend time with those that I love but rarely get to see, and put myself in situations that force me to stretch. And here I am, feeling like a lazy cat in the sun, with my limbs as far out as they can go.

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