The Road Less Taken, On a Scooter: White River Junction Man Has Taken the Pulse of America on His Journeys
In the summer of 2011 John Fabian left his home in the Upper Valley for a lengthy trip on a Chinese-made motor scooter through the eastern U.S. and Ontario. The scooter, which Fabian dubbed the “Moto Fabini,” took him through the Appalachian mountain range in Vermont, New York, his native Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia and North Carolina, and into Toronto and Washington, D.C.
Fabian’s recently released, self-published book Road Wise: An Odyssey of Machine, Maps & Meditations documents what happens when a Buddhist vegetarian free spirit heads out into 21st- century, anxiety-ridden, debt-laden Fortress America.
Now 60, Fabian, who lives in White River Junction, has been habituated to life on the road since he was in his 20s. His journeys have been made by car, bicycle and now scooter, and they have taken him into every far-flung corner of the country. He prefers the rural to the urban, often doesn’t know precisely which road he’ll take when he starts out on any given day, likes to fold in detours to see old friends and acquaintances and insists on very little in the way of creature comforts, except what he calls a “Right Breakfast,” consisting of two eggs, toast and home fries.
He’s been through the love wars, is currently single and highly values the ability to cut loose and travel solo without having to worry about domestic entanglements. If this were a song lyric, it would risk sounding clichéd: Born to be wild, freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose, like a rolling stone. In conversation, though, Fabian is reflective about the path his life has taken.
“As you grow older, you want to have your close friends close but, boy, you really love your independence. It’s hard to make that real big commitment,” he said. Still, he recounts in the book making some side trips to see women who may or may not have been interested in taking their friendships with him beyond email correspondence.
The book is also about the physical wear and tear of riding a scooter through ferocious rain storms and ferocious heat, and pelting hail storms, and navigating roads that are not always in peak condition and, in one scary episode, being thrown from his scooter and suffering a laceration to his left leg. Then there are, of course, the people he meets along the way, many of them embarked on their own voyages of discovery: “When you’re out there that’s all you see, everybody’s doing it,” he said.
The road trip wasn’t only about the act of riding, but about the mental state of being out there, on the road, in the world. “It’s certainly a physical trip, but also an internal trip,” Fabian said. “A lot of what you read takes place in my head. ... It was a constant mental trip of, not so much probing why I’m doing it, but what was I experiencing while I was doing it.”
What he noticed on the 2011 trip and a cross-country trip he made last summer was that the Americans he met seem to be “disgruntled, a little bit unhappy; and nobody’s making it financially the way they’d like to. ... Here we are, we’re the richest country in the world. We’re so lucky, so educated but so tied down, so frightened and so limited.”
Fabian has criss-crossed the country many times, he said, and has never tired of it. “There is a lot to see geographically, it’s so amazingly diverse. And the scale! When you’re born in the East, (the scale) is very limited, very narrow. But when you break out of that and see the Rockies and the American Southwest and all the astounding places in between, it’s all quite fascinating.”
That old adage that says you can’t go home again proved true, though. Fabian was raised in western Pennsylvania, in the Allegheny Mountains, and on the 2011 trip he made a point of returning there to see whether the brick house he’d grown up in was still there. It was, but so greatly altered that Fabian was disappointed by its appearance. “There’s no sorrow but I surprised myself by how I was not prepared for the change. When you see how different it is, it’s shocking,” he said.
Fabian said he is not independently wealthy, so he finances his on-the-cheap trips through modest earnings derived from a small publishing company he runs that puts out electronic books on religion and philosophy, including one on Sufi mysticism, The Way of Illumination (The Sufi Teachings of Hazard Anaya Khan).
He already has another trip in mind but without the Moto Fabini, which is somewhere in central Washington, where he had to leave it when it died for good this summer. He covets a motorcycle this time, the storied Royal Enfield, which is manufactured in India and which he admires for its “classic looks.” It’s the kind of machine, he said, that calls for wearing a scarf and goggles.
The Southwest calls, or maybe southern California. There are the Southern Plains to be explored, Oklahoma and the Texas Panhandle. A return to the Grand Canyon perhaps, only this time he’d like to see it from the bottom of the canyon rather than the rim. Wherever he wanders, he said, he sees that despite the shouting about a polarized America, there’s still a common thread.
“We think we’re so different but we’re all in it together,” he said.
Nicola Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 603-727-3211.