5623 Chapters
Medium 9781605098258

8 New Curves and Bumps in the Road

Seddiqui, Daniel Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub

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.

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10 Hitting Curveballs

Seddiqui, Daniel Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub

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.”

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5 Halfway Point Is Getting Rough

Seddiqui, Daniel Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub

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.

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7 Returning a Different Person

Seddiqui, Daniel Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub

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.

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11 Finishing a Journey and Embarking on New Dreams

Seddiqui, Daniel Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub

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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