In 1978, after 13 years as an IRS computer analyst, Jay A. Schaffer quit for a life of travel, adventure ... and interesting jobs he'd leave when they grew dull. The Carrick native and Duquesne University grad started with a cross-country bicycle trip. He's hopped countries like lily pads: exploring Caribbean beaches, climbing an Ecaudoran mountain, running with the bulls in Pamplona. In between he sold Good Humor ice cream, wielded a shovel at archaeological digs, babysat at national parks and manned the desk at a New Mexico ski resort. Now the 64-year-old Schaffer -- who calls his Wilkins Township home "base camp" -- has published a book about it all. He spoke with CP about Stepping Out of the Parade (PublishAmerica). Despite the book's title, Schaffer marked a quarter-century in his longest-running gig, department-store Santa, by playing the role in last year's Macy's holiday parade.
Could you have traveled and pursued a career?
I belonged to a flying travel club when I was working. It was like interrupted sex. You'd just get into the place and you had to get back to work. I thought, "This isn't really travel. I want to stay at these places."
Two days after I quit, I had my rear wheel of the bike in the Atlantic Ocean, and rode it till my front wheel went in the Pacific. As I sat on the sand in Oregon and looked out at the ocean, I said, "This is my life. This is what I want to do."
Traveling cheap creates experiences.
Especially if you're by yourself. Because then you don't just default to your buddy.
Any cardinal rules of travel?
The first one is, to most people, you're the only American they ever actually sit down and talk to. So I feel a great responsibility to behave myself. Not make cultural faux pas. And to be honest. Because if you just say, "Aw, America's the greatest thing and blah blah blah blah," they're gonna know you're bullshitting them.
I'm an islandophile. 'Cause islands have a beginning and an end to them. You can sort of get the whole thing in a month or two. I've been to 47 Caribbean islands.
What intrigues people about your story?
Most people come up with a "wish I could do that"-type thing. That's what got me started. "Well then, just go do it."
It's not just travel. It's anything you do. Don't keep doing the same thing over and over again. Just taking a different bus home. How many people work on the 32nd floor of this building [PPG Place] and yet never get off at a different floor just to see what's there?
You're also a tour guide ...
For a company that specializes in multiple-night field trips for students. This is my 17th year.
You're single -- lifestyle prerequisite, or function thereof?
Even if you had a wife, a live-in, that would want to go with you, automatically you lose something, because you're with somebody. If you go out by yourself, a lot more of these experiences occur. I dated a very wonderful woman for years; we just broke up. She always let me take off, for months at a time. I'm not sure she liked that. She was just being nice.
Is your experience unique?
When you're out bumming, there are people really bummin' -- I mean, for years. I've been out in the Amazon, and we come up this stream coming down from these jungle mountains, and here coming down is someone who'd been up there exploring it, backpack on his back. No matter how far you're going, there's somebody coming from further than you.
Jay Schaffer signs Stepping Out of the Parade. 7 p.m. Fri., Jan. 19. Barnes & Noble Booksellers, 100 W. Bridge St., The Waterfront, West Homestead. Part of a free New Writers Night event. 412-462-5743
- Jay A. Schaffer has backpack, will travel.