Medium 9781605098258

50 Jobs in 50 States

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Like lots of college grads, Daniel Seddiqui was having a hard time finding a job. But despite more than forty rejections, he knew opportunities had to exist. So he set out on an extraordinary quest: fifty jobs in fifty states in fifty weeks. And not just any jobs—he chose professions that reflected the culture and economy of each state.

Working as everything from a cheesemaker in Wisconsin, a border patrol agent in Arizona, and a meatpacker in Kansas to a lobsterman in Maine, a surfing instructor in Hawaii, and a football coach in Alabama, Daniel chronicles how he adapted to the wildly differing people, cultures, and environments. From one week to the next he had no idea exactly what his duties would be, where he’d be sleeping, what he’d be eating, or how he’d be received. He became a roving news item, appearing on CNN, Fox News, World News Tonight, MSNBC, and the Today show—which was good preparation for his stint as a television weatherman.

Tackling challenge after challenge—overcoming anxiety about working four miles underground in a West Virginia coal mine, learning to walk on six-foot stilts (in a full Egyptian king costume) at a Florida amusement park, racing the clock as a pit-crew member at an Indiana racetrack—Daniel completed his journey a changed man. In this book he shares stories about the people he met, reveals the lessons he learned, and explains the five principles that kept him going.

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12 Chapters

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Experience 1 Reality Hits But No Turning Back

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As he handed me a check for $250, my dad made no effort to hide his doubt that I could complete my journey. “See you in three weeks,” he uttered skeptically. With tears in her eyes, my mom sprayed Windex across my car windows and promptly wiped the glass clean. Standing beside us, my brother videotaped my departure with the precious Sony camera I had purchased on credit just a few days earlier. I took two cases of water from my dad and put them on the floor of the car. With every move, my body shivered. Anticipating the journey ahead, I was shrouded in uncertainty. My throat choked up as though bricks were stacked from my stomach to my neck. I swallowed the emotion, climbed in my Jeep, and reversed out of the driveway.

This is it; no turning back. My mind raced as I repeated the words: No turning back. I was scared. I knew there was a chance I wouldn’t succeed, but I had flushed the possibility from my mind. Failure simply wasn’t an option, no matter what obstacles I encountered over the next fifty weeks. While I drove slowly through the familiar streets of my hometown toward the on-ramp of the highway — the on-ramp of my journey — the car was silent. I had turned off my cell phone. The radio was off. But my mind was rambling. Where am I going to end up tonight? Where will I eat? Do I have enough money to eat? Should I cash the check my dad gave me? Ambivalence hammered through my thoughts like static noise, and I needed to drown it out before it got the best of me.

 

2 Hitting Rock Bottom and Rebounding

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Though I enjoyed Nebraska, I didn’t mind leaving. I was passing back through South Dakota on my way to Wyoming and looked forward to visiting the new friends I had met a few weeks earlier. The Klein family was out of town on a hunting extravaganza, so I drove 550 miles straight to Rapid City to visit Sugar Ray.

It was a long drive and I couldn’t help reminiscing. I thought of everything I’d been through in such a short period: wrestling a steer at the rodeo, the plane ride over Fargo, my farewell party at Metal Craft, hauling hay in Nebraska. This is just the beginning, I thought. I could feel myself growing comfortable with life on the road and perpetually being the new guy in town.

I was mostly lost in such pleasant thoughts, except for an aching dose of reality: I had been waiting for Sasha to return my call since leaving Omaha that morning. It was unusual and unsettling not to hear from her by midday. I knew something must be wrong, and as time wore on, I grew more concerned. I tried calling again, but without luck. I had no choice but to wait.

 

3 Turning Obstacles into Openings

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Just as I crossed the Columbia River into Oregon, my brother called. It was getting late and I didn’t feel like answering, so I let the call go. The moment I heard his message, however, I was shocked at the news: I was on the front page of Yahoo!

I sped off the next exit of the highway and checked my GPS for the nearest hotel. I searched frantically for Internet access. When I arrived at the hotel, I rushed through the lobby to hunt for a computer, pride and disbelief racing through me simultaneously. Yahoo was my e-mail provider, my web-site host, my main source of news, and for years I checked Yahoo first thing whenever I went online. It was surreal to think that this time I would find myself on the front page. Beyond that, I knew that being featured on Yahoo would do wonders for the visibility of my project.

When I found the computer room at the hotel, I anxiously pushed my way to a seat. “I’m on the news!” I shouted, and as others looked on in surprise, we read the headline: “Man attempts to work 50 jobs in 50 states in 50 weeks.” The article sparkled at me from the screen like a million-dollar diamond. I started cheering and ran outside. I felt a surge of confidence and energy. Adrenaline was pumping through my veins and I felt invincible. In my euphoria, I thought it was the perfect moment to call Sasha. After three anxious rings, someone answered with a foreign accent. “May I speak to Sasha?” I asked.

 

4 Not Just about Me Anymore

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Show me what you’re doing here. Show me how to weld,” the reporter commanded. It was my first day working for Local 83, and I had little idea about what kind of work a boilermaker actually does. Regardless, there I was standing in a welding lodge with a reporter from a local Kansas City TV station. Luckily, I had taken metal shop in high school, so I knew how to strike up a torch and cut through metal; and for everything else, I had Randy Cruse beside me to explain it to the reporter.

“We build and maintain power plants throughout the Missouri Valley,” Randy noted. Randy, the president of the Brotherhood for Boilermakers, was to be my mentor for the week. “We are employed in repairing, repiping, and retubing commercial steam and hot-water boilers used for heating and domestic hot water in commercial buildings and multifamily dwellings,” he elaborated. Though I grasped the basics, I was eager to know how all the pieces of this profession worked together. In many ways, the job of boilermaker reminded me of my project. Though I knew what I was doing on each particular day, I didn’t always understand how everything fit into the big picture until more time passed.

 

5 Halfway Point Is Getting Rough

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It was 9:30 p.m. when I pulled over to take a picture of the “Welcome to Wisconsin” sign. After 980 miles, the two-day drive had pushed my body to the limit. It was mid-February, and I had driven away from Mississippi’s sixty-degree warmth into Wisconsin’s six-degree cold. Having spent a month in the South, I wasn’t prepared to face the wintry chill of the Upper Midwest — specifically, in the small rural town of Theresa, about an hour northwest of Milwaukee.

The owner of Widmer Cheese Cellars, where I had arranged to work in Theresa, had reserved a room for me at a local motel. Wisconsin is considered the nation’s dairy state, and as such, produces over 2.6 billion pounds of cheese per year. Mr. Widmer, the owner of Widmer Cheese Cellars, had hired me after seeing a message from me on his desk, asking for work. The day before he got my note, his son had seen me on The Today Show and mentioned that I wanted to work at a cheese factory in Wisconsin. Mr. Widmer had offered me a place to stay, but his daughter contracted the stomach flu, a virus I wanted to stay far away from. That night, I walked through the motel lobby with my usual luggage: computer, camera, and toothbrush. “I’m here checking in; last name is Seddiqui,” I told the concierge.

 

6 Hitting My Stride and Taking Control

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Memories of rednecks, four-wheeling, shooting guns, and grilling corn ran through my mind as I crossed the border into Indiana. It had been only two years since I last visited the state, and I was eager to experience it all again. One thing had obviously changed: The town of Milan, where the movie Hoosiers was filmed, had become a metropolis — at least in my eyes. When I last visited the Tush family in Milan, located in southern Indiana, I couldn’t fathom living in such a rural hamlet. But after staying in even smaller places in Wyoming, Montana, and Oklahoma, Milan didn’t seem so tiny after all.

I was in Milan to visit Amy Tush, the former track coach at Northwestern University in Chicago, and spend the weekend with her family. I had been Amy’s assistant coach a few years earlier, and we had become close friends. Her family knew I was excited by my return to Indiana, and remembered how much I enjoyed four-wheeling the last time I visited, so they prepared another weekend of wheels for me. As we drove together to their friends’ backyard ATV course, I was once again struck by the endless parade of pro-life billboards and American flags. Along the way, we saw children fighting over whose turn it was to play with a wheelchair, an odd but telling reminder that cars, motors, and wheels seem ingrained in the culture of Indiana. When we arrived at the enormous farmhouse where the Tushes’ friends live, they strolled right over to offer us cold beers. “How ya been, Danny?” Marvin asked. “We’ve been following you on the news.” “Doing great! Looking forward to riding again,” I replied. Though he was a grown man and father, when it came to motors, Marvin was as excited as a kid.

 

7 Returning a Different Person

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The illusory exchange of “will I ever see you again?” still resounded in my mind. A year had passed since Sasha and I exchanged those words outside her apartment complex. Back then, nothing was certain, but I knew I had to leave. I knew I had to retreat to California and figure things out; perhaps, I thought at the time, I could return to Atlanta as a successful, more stable human being.

At the time, I wasn’t fit to stay in my job selling kitchens at Home Depot. I was too shy, too insecure to talk to strangers about something I knew nothing about — countertops, cabinets, and faucets. My salary was 100 percent commission, and on a good week, I would earn twenty-five dollars. I was too ashamed to admit to Sasha that I was running dry. I couldn’t afford to live in Atlanta anymore; I couldn’t afford to be her neighbor.

The truth is that back then, I had nothing going for me. I had no direction. The money I had saved was being chewed away by my lackadaisical life. With every day that passed, I had less money for rent and food, and I was losing weight from skipping meals.

 

8 New Curves and Bumps in the Road

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Driving up the coast of South Carolina’s Lowcountry, the region between the hilly Piedmont and the Atlantic Ocean, I could barely tolerate the humidity. I was sweaty and sticky, and at times, the sun was so bright, I felt like I was getting a tan inside the car. But sunshine alternated with dangerous thunderstorms, as the radio kept warning me, and several times I had to pull over to the side of the road to brace myself for the high winds and pouring rain. Thanks to Mother Nature, it wasn’t necessary to pay for a car wash.

I had planned on making a brief stop in Savannah, Georgia, but the city is too beautiful for a passing glance. The neighborhoods are shaded by ancient weeping willows, and everywhere you look, there are outdoor cafes, courtyards with fountains, and well-kept parks and public squares. The residential streets are lined with elegant southern mansions I’d only imagined before arriving in Savannah. So I decided to spend the night and even contemplated staying the weekend. But I knew I had to keep moving to get to South Carolina to start my next job. South Carolina’s welcome sign greeted me as I crossed the border: “Smiling Faces, Beautiful Places.” Perfect. It was beautiful, and feeling lighthearted, I was smiling from ear to ear as I drove through the marshlands and waterways, watching egrets flying above. I drove toward the coast to reach Kiawah Island Resort, where I was scheduled to work. South Carolina is known for its tourism and resorts, so I had arranged to work at one of the state’s — and the country’s — most prestigious golf courses.

 

9 Adapting to New and Different Cultures

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Am I in Amish Country yet? I wondered as I drove through the rolling hills of Lancaster County. I couldn’t be; there was a gas station back there. On the pavement of the two-lane highway, there were white circles every twenty meters; I later learned that these are there to warn cars to keep a two-circle distance from one another to prevent tailgating. As I drove around a turn, I spotted a horse and buggy trotting along on the shoulder of the highway. No way; this is so unreal, I thought to myself. But there they were, a little girl and her father riding in their own lane next to the heavy car traffic. If not for the large reflector on the back of the black boxy buggy, I might have overlooked it as it was obscured in the shade of the trees. So the reflectors are important modern additions. I drove slowly and carefully as I approached from behind. I could hear the horses’ hooves pounding the pavement and was eager to catch my first glimpse of the Amish.

When I finally arrived, I searched for a place to eat and found a “Pennsylvania Dutch” restaurant. I didn’t recognize any dish on the menu. I ended up eating chicken croquettes, Amish breaded chicken. It was so good, I wanted every other dish I’d never heard of. From the window of the booth I sat in, I saw a line of horses and buggies following one another to a park across the street. I decided to walk over and see what the occasion was.

 

10 Hitting Curveballs

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You’ve gotta come to Newport by Sunday morning,” Tim urged. It was Saturday night, and I was standing in Times Square on my second date with Tara. I wanted to stay through the weekend and spend more time with her. There seemed to be some potential, and I found myself wondering if she would become my girlfriend.

“Looks like I have to go,” I told her. “But I’ll come back.”

Tim Walsh, Ambassador of Tourism for the city of Newport, had e-mailed me months earlier about working in the tourist industry at the Visitors Bureau. He didn’t specify the exact job I’d be doing, but it didn’t matter — after reading his e-mail, I was convinced he was offering me a job in the right industry for the state of Rhode Island. Tim had contacted me while I was still trying to figure out what kind of work best characterized the Ocean State. My research and the advice I’d solicited from local residents had not been sufficient, and Tim proved to be persuasive.

“Great interview on NPR. You should work for us when you come through Rhode Island. Which month will you be here?” Tim wrote. He even offered to arrange for me to stay with a local family for the week. I’d never before relied on a stranger’s input to help me choose a job, but Tim sold me on his proposal, to work during the “Blackships Festival” in July, when, he pointed out, Newport is “the sailing capital of the world.”

 

11 Finishing a Journey and Embarking on New Dreams

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Waiting in a terminal at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, I watched eager passengers standing in line to board my plane to Anchorage. Most were elderly white-haired men carrying fishing poles onto the plane. This reminded me of passengers boarding my flight to Vermont with their skis. Just before boarding myself, I made the last call on my list of photographers in Alaska, hoping one would pull through with a job offer by the time I landed in Anchorage.

As with New Jersey, I was headed to Alaska without a job already lined up. But unlike New Jersey, my flights were booked and I only had one shot, one week, with no backups. At this point, I was utterly exhausted from the forty-some-odd weeks before. I wasn’t in the mood to make endless calls or to sell my project again. This time I was going to cross my fingers and hope for the best.

In Anchorage, I got off the plane and walked through the terminal, pausing beside a stuffed fifteen-foot grizzly bear. I anxiously dialed in to my voicemail. “Hi Daniel, this is Clark Mishler. I just got your message. Let me know when your plane lands and I’ll come pick you up.” Clark is a successful and very well-known National Geographic photographer. All my worries about finding a job, finding a place to stay, and even about having to relocate within the state, immediately dissolved. I called him right back to tell him I had arrived. I didn’t want to admit how desperate I’d been, but I knew he was my savior. I had depended on fate in Alaska, and my good fortune surpassed my hopes. My week could not have gotten off to better start.

 

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