Women on Wheels

In this round-up we are taking a look at women on the road or in the rink and learning about how they roll through Indiana.

Summertime has arrived, and we are hitting the road or heading back outside. Indy Maven had the pleasure of speaking with some interesting athletes, motorcyclists and car club members to learn about how they get around. 

Michella Marino – Roller Derby
Michella on roller skates
Photo Courtesy of Lynne Graves Photograph

A historian and humorous author based in Indianapolis, Michella is also a special kind of skater. Academia brought Michella to the sport she has now written a book on. ”I actually started researching the sport as part of my doctoral dissertation about a year before I started playing it. I finally decided that to better understand roller derby I needed to play it, so I joined the Pioneer Valley Roller Derby league in western Massachusetts. And once I started playing, I fell in love with the sport both past and present.”

When asked what she would like more people to understand about roller derby, Marino says, “Roller derby has a long and fascinating history and has been a coequal sport since its founding in 1935. Through most of the 20th century, roller derby was the only sport where women could compete on par with men and were allowed to inhabit multiple identities: woman, athlete, and mother, among others.”

This coequal aspect of roller derby made me curious about how the sport has impacted Michella’s confidence and relationship to women. Contact sports are a great way to build trust and communication, granted your teammates and you have each other’s backs. Michealla shared her experience, “There is space in this sport for every type of woman, and one does not need to have a sporting background to be successful in it–just grit and determination. Roller derby instilled in me the DIY ethos and what it means to really be a part of something bigger than yourself, all while being supported by badass women.”

You can learn more about Michella by following on Twitter: @MichellaMarino and the sport she plays in her book, Roller Derby.

Quin’na – Indy Jeep Gang

Quinna on step on JeepMaybe you’ve seen or heard a loud Jeep-or a dozen Jeeps-rolling around Indianapolis. Perhaps the motorists are part of the Indy Jeep Gang, a group of Jeep owners of color celebrating individual expression through Jeep customization and group excursions. 

I met Quin’na and her friends at Riverside park on a stormy Sunday evening this June. Even though turnout for the Indy Jeep Gang was low, Quin’na and Jessica showed up to represent and were willing to talk to me about their love of their cars.

“I’ve been driving a jeep about a year and half now. It’s been my childhood dream car, from Set It Off, when Jada (Pinkett Smith) rode off into the sunset… it’s a big old toy.” Quin’na’s childhood delight about her Jeep, aptly named Ur Highness, shines through in what she likes about being a part of the Gang. “The ride outs. I love the ride outs. When we are all together cutting off traffic, jumping curbs, breaking the rules. I love it.” 

In addition to the wild rides, Quin’na loves the community culture of having a Jeep. “We’ve got the duck duck Jeep, the Jeep wave. It’s the only car that comes with a family.” 

The Indy Jeep Gang connects Jeep owners across state lines and builds connections with other Jeep owners from all across the United States with annual events, parties, rides, camping trips and more. 

I asked Quin’na what she is most excited about doing in her Jeep ,and she gave a wonderful Indiana response, “I want to go mudding.”

You can follow the Indy Jeep Gang on Facebook.

Jessica – Indy Jeep Gang

Jessica sitting on hood of carSporting a dark gray Rubicon, Jessica shares her experience as a newer member of the Indy Jeep Gang. “As far as hanging out with them, I love that we show up in numbers. It makes it look good; the presence of 12-15 jeeps is like a force. Nobody has the same looking Jeep.”

Jessica ran into the Indy Jeep Gang by happenstance, got invited to ride with them and has been hanging out since. She shows appreciation for the way women in the group operate especially. “I was actually able to meet a group of females that I actually got along with. No one is in competition with each other. We bounce ideas off of each other. We have a good time. I feel like I’ve known them for a long time. We are always outside. If I feel like I don’t have it, they got it. If they don’t got it, I got it. Nobody is left behind. I feel like all women should be that way. It should never be oh I don’t know her– so what if you don’t know her? You brought her outside, right? Then you should take care of her.”

Jessica and Quin’na gave me some insight into the affinity space women inside of the Gang have made for themselves to build sisterhood and recreational time. They go by “Jeephers Creepers.” “It’s good, clean fun,” they say, smiling ear to ear. 

We talked over revving engines and bass-y speakers in Riverside park. I loved their excitement about being together, taking up space and sharing a common interest. Look out for the Indy Jeep Gang riding around this summer.

Julia Erin – Motorcyclist
Julia on Motorcycle
Photo Courtesy of Andi McCleary

Julia and I were connected through a mutual friend, and she was very generous in sharing her experience as a motorcycle owner and rider. Julia grew up with a biker dad. “Motorcycles were always a part of my life.  My dad is a rider and had me on the back as soon as I was big enough.” We love babies on bikes! 

That fatherly influence stuck around. I asked Julia why she chose the bike she has. “I ride what some call a “dad bike.” It’s really a love it or hate it motorcycle. A bright yellow ’96 Suzuki Savage 650.  It has a small frame, which is ideal for me at 5 foot 1.  The engine is a single cylinder, four stroke aka a “thumper.”  It’s pretty torque-y and fun to ride.  It found its way to me through a family friend, so it’s cool to give it a good home.  Wellll maybe not that good of a home…I should probably change the oil sometime. I’m on the look out for my next motorcycle, ideally a mid-80’s Honda Shadow.  Weird, I know, but I love them.  In the meantime, if you see a small lady on a big-bird lookin’-ass bike, feel free to say hello!”

Yes, say hi and maybe ask for advice if you’re interested because, as you can see, Julia knows her stuff and helps people learn to ride. When I asked what her favorite experience has been so far on her bike, she shared some sweet moments. 

“Leading the charge of the Pride Parade every year is probably what brings me the most joy.  It was amazing riding side-by-side with my father for the first time.  Teaching my partner to ride, and all of the great times we’ve had together while riding.  Teaching other women to ride and helping them overcome fears and doubt.  Gathering women across the state for riding events and fundraisers. I’ve met so many wonderful humans through the world of motorcycles.  Honda used to have a marketing slogan: You Meet The Nicest People On A Honda.”

Julia addresses misconceptions about riding, especially as a woman, “A lot of women tell me they’ll never get on a motorcycle.  This is usually followed by a story of a young man earlier in life putting them on the back of a sport bike and being extremely unsafe, thus scaring them away from bikes for life.  I just wish they knew there was so much more to it than that.  It’s not the safest activity, I’ll give you that, but it is so much more.  I always say, ‘you just gotta get there; you don’t gotta get there fast.’  I’m all about taking the safe route at your own pace.  It’s not just zooming around and testing fate. It can be so empowering and fun.”

If you’d like to learn more about Julia’s work check the Butterfly Bike Show event that she  put on to honor one of the residents on hospice at the Abbie Hunt Bryce Home.  You can also follow Julia on Instagram.

MISS ELEYES – The “Pink Cadillac” bike

Reeves on bikeArtist Eleyes Reeves was 12 when she first rode a bike–and she rode it home fast, away from “a teenager who was trying to make me his girlfriend.” At age 73, she’s spinning around town on her bike for totally different reasons–the “Pink Cadillac” is her main form of transportation, and she rides it to art galleries, to Kroger and to libraries, where she uses the computers to create her self-published magazine, “African American Arts.”

The Sun bike was a gift, and the IUPUI graduate has owned it for 30 years. “I have freedom, and I get to go very fast or slow, and I don’t have to ask anyone to take me anywhere,” Ms. Eleyes said. “Plus I stay healthy.”

Along with producing her monthly magazine, which features interviews with local Black artists, Ms. Eleyes is also writing a play and a book. Janet Fry met Ms. Eleyes at the Harrison Center’s “Storytelling Drawing” program. She learned Ms. Eleyes has 15 siblings, who all grew up in the Martindale-Brightwood neighborhood. The two artists quickly became friends and now go to a lot of events together.

“To connect on this level with another person about art is a feed-the-soul type of experience for me,” Fry says. “She’s always up for going to First Fridays and other events, and her energy is hard to match.”

To buy a copy of “African American Arts” ($5), visit the Ujamaa Community Bookstore or email Ms. Eleyes at warriorangel_arts@yahoo.com.

Melanie Short – “Miss Mayhem” Ford Taurus

Melanie Short drives a white 2014 Audi S5 to work at JRNY Counseling in Noblesville, where she is the co-owner, a therapist and an interventionist. When she competed in the Trailer Figure 8 race at the Indianapolis Speedrome this past June, she drove “Miss Mayhem”- an early 2000s salvaged Ford Taurus with all the glass knocked out, the inside gutted and steel reinforcements added to the doors.

A boat trailer painted hot pink and black was hitched to the car. “Lady Miss Mayhem,” a life-sized skeleton wearing a teal wig, sat on a chair affixed to the trailer. Short was in it to win it–it being only her second race, and the collision-hungry, jorts-proud crowd was standing room only. Her goal: Finish the 15-lap race first, while keeping her trailer intact and knocking off her opponents’ trailers–and trying to avoid hitting their actual cars. If your trailer gets knocked off, you’re out of the race.

Cars travel in a figure 8 on the 1 1⁄2-mile track, and they have to cross traffic in the middle. That’s where crashes most often happen and where Short has to make split-second decisions while driving 40 to 50 miles an hour: Speed up? Swerve? Slow Down?

“I went as fast as I could through the crossover to try to make it ahead of the guy coming from the other direction, and I didn’t make it fast enough, so he was able to hit my trailer really hard and knock it off,” Short says.

Short was fine–but Lady Miss Mayhem was demolished: “There were pieces of her flying everywhere.”

Undaunted, Short–who competed in her first race two years ago, when she turned 40–will be back for her third race on September 16 at the Speedrome. (And she’ll have a new skeleton with a new wig.)

“It’s just a whole hilarious spectacle,” Short says. “A friend said afterward: ‘It was so cool to see you living life ALL the way alive.’ And I loved that phrase. Because it’s exactly what I try to do.”

Speaking with each of these women reminded me of the beauty of having a passion. Whether it’s tricking out your toy, jumping curbs, jamming in the rink or cruising on a “dad bike,” there is something really special doing what you love. These women on wheels re-sparked my joy in riding my bike, so I hope to see you on the road! 

Dallas is a land steward, educator and mother to 3 four-legged children. You can find her in the woods talking to small beetles on blades of grass or drumming up barter circles amongst Black women in Indianapolis. Follow Dallas on Tiktok and Instagram.

Indy Maven Co-founder Amanda Kingsbury contributed Miss Eleyes’ and Melanie’s profiles to this article. Her most exciting adventure on wheels was driving a bright blue Ford Mustang convertible while reporting on a nine-day Harley-Davidson 115th anniversary ride from San Diego to Milwaukee.

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