Cross-country-roaming ‘man and a van’ stop in West Seattle


Story and photos by Jason Grotelueschen
Reporting for West Seattle Blog

“Just a man and a van.”

That’s the tagline from the website, published by writer and “motivational speaker” Jay Pfaffman, who is in West Seattle this weekend as the guest of Seaview resident Alison Keith (both are pictured above). 

Pfaffman departed Knoxville, Tennessee, in early May, and has been driving westward ever since. Keith had never met Pfaffman prior to this weekend but was an early fan of his site — “he’s a great writer, and the blog is really fun,” she says — and she invited him to come to West Seattle during his journey, which he did. Keith and about 20 of her neighbors threw a party for Pfaffman tonight, and we stopped by to chat and to get a look at “Walden,” his trusty Volkswagen Westfalia van. 

Why embark on such a journey? 

“Because I really didn’t have a reason not to,” according to Pfaffman.

He had been a professor at the University of Tennessee, but learned in the spring of 2010 that he wasn’t being granted tenure. The rest of the story, from his site:

September 7, 2010 my house burned down. From late September until April 30 I lived in a lovely house that the insurance company rented. Now I am a motivational speaker who lives in a van down by the river. If that sentence doesn’t strike you as funny, you might read the story In Which I Become a Motivational Speaker or at least click the link there to the Saturday Night Live skit to which I allude.

Since I moved out, I have mostly imposed on people (who didn’t seem to mind the imposition) and a few nights, actually lived in my van. The current plan is to hit Knoxville one more time to see the doctor while I still have insurance and then head west, and probably north, since it’s going to be getting hot.

I don’t know how long the trip will last. At this point, for better or worse, I don’t have an end date.

Pfaffman said he lost most of his belongings in his house fire, and what’s left is divided between “a 10′ x 10′ storage unit back in Knoxville” and his faithful van, which had belonged to his father. He made the decision earlier this year to hit the road.

Since leaving Knoxville, Pfaffman has traveled west via Kansas City, Denver, Cheyenne, the South Dakota Badlands, Glacier National Park, Portland, and arrived in Seattle on Saturday afternoon.

In his van, Pfaffman enjoys the sink and stove that have served him well during the trip:

Keith and her neighbors treated Pfaffman to local fare such as a pie from Shoofly Pie Company, and wine selections courtesy of their “neighborhood wine club.” Several neighbors picked up t-shirts and stickers from Pfaffman, adorned with his “” logo.

So what’s next for Pfaffman? He plans to head to Vancouver B.C., then back south along the California coast, through Phoenix and visiting the Grand Canyon, and eventually making it back to Birmingham, Ala., in time for Thanksgiving with family.

“After that, we’ll see,” he said.

6 Replies to "Cross-country-roaming 'man and a van' stop in West Seattle "

  • Jiggers August 29, 2011 (10:53 am)

    At least he got a van…

  • katiem August 29, 2011 (12:54 pm)

    What a resilient, adventurous fellow. Good for him! Thank you for sharing his story.

  • kirida August 29, 2011 (6:27 pm)

    Great story! Alison is such an awesome person!

  • Mike August 30, 2011 (1:16 am)

    Is he posting on yet? He might be sticking to paved roads mostly, but I’d bet his travel story fits well with that group.

  • K&N August 31, 2011 (12:26 am)

    Really, there is no reason he shouldn’t do this. It’s inspiring to see someone has the guts to just go through with one of those wistful, crazy ideas that comes to you but is too often trodden down by life’s barriers and reality. Truly nothing holds us back but ourselves. I wonder how his motivational speeches are.

  • John Martin September 3, 2011 (12:35 pm)

    I met Jay in Seattle at Fremont Coffee. I couldn’t resist finding out more about his van when I saw his bumper sticker and tag from Knox county, TN. I grew up in that area. Jay’s a great guy and I love road trip adventures. On The Road is one of my favorite books. I’m writer, too and have written one road trip book called The Bird. It’s a middle grade novel. I wish I could spend sometime with Jay on the road! What an inspiration. For those of you who like books that boys love, checkout my website

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