50 states, 50 weeks, 50 jobs: From West Virginia coal mine to banana pudding in Alabama

As a boy, Daniel Seddiqui liked to stare at maps. Later, traveling with his college track team, Seddiqui said last week, “I would just stare out the window of the bus. If I grew up here, what kinds of friends would I have had? I was always a curious child.”

It was that curiosity, spiced with desperation, that led Seddiqui to a journey into the heart of America. Beginning in 2008, he traveled to 50 states in 50 weeks, and he had 50 jobs.

A book followed, and Seddiqui, 33, will appear at 4 p.m. Wednesday in the Worthington Conference Center on the Lacey campus of Saint Martin’s University, 5300 Pacific Ave. SE. The presentation is open to the public and admission is free.

Seddiqui took part in a phone interview last week from his home in Denver.

Q. You came out of college with a business background. No luck finding a job?

A. It wasn’t in my cards. Maybe I didn’t have the passion in that field. Maybe they saw through me. A lot of the goals I had then had been athletic. In terms of careers, I had a safe, familiar path. I didn’t want to take any risks. I came out of college just wanting a job related to what I was studying, banks, financial research.

Q. But things got tough. The Great Recession was beginning.

A. I wasn’t the only one. I had no support system. My parents didn’t want me back in the house. I was pretty much on my own trying to make ends meet. I had been doing a lot of odd jobs.

Q. So how did the idea appear to travel the country for a year — 50 states, 50 weeks, 50 jobs?

A. I was traveling in Florida one spring break, sleeping on beaches, and a gentleman on a train asked me what I was going to do with my life. He offered me a position to work for a pharmacy company. He handed me his business card and took off. I thought how crazy it would be if I took the job and lived in Florida. It got me to thinking how many states I’d lived in. I’d only seen 20 states. I was just curious at that point what America had to offer. I thought to myself, I’m going to take this idea and nothing is going to stop me. Within five months, I had hit the road.

Q. How did you finance the trip?

A. I had absolutely no money. I had nothing going for me. I really had nothing to lose. To me, it didn’t seem like a risk. It was the desperation, not just the curiosity.

You don’t need money to make a dream a reality. What you do need is having confidence in yourself. Things will fall into place.

Q. Did they?

A. It was the recession, gas was expensive. This was the hardest time to find work. I just said, “If the why is strong enough, the how becomes easy.”

Q. Did you get paid at the jobs you had?

A. At 45 of 50, yes.

Q. How much?

A. From $2,000, high, to $400.

Q. Per week?

A. Yes.

Q. How did you get from place to place?

A. A Jeep Cherokee.

Q. In the end, how many miles?

A. 28,000. I flew to Hawaii and Alaska.

Q. Were you ever in danger?

A. I got held up at gunpoint in Detroit at the auto shop I was working in. I was hit by a car in California. I went to the ER two other times, a stomach virus, and bronchitis. I saw an ax fight in West Virginia, where I worked in a coal mine.

Q. Overall, what did you discover?

A. I felt that I found more hospitality than hostility. By far this journey went better than planned because of the nature of the people I met.

Q. And what did you discover about yourself?

A. Wherever I went I found commonalities of being a guest. They always provided a clean and safe environment. Every family had a towel on the bed with a washcloth. Every family had a dog. It became easier over time, and it also became more expected. I feel bad about that about myself. By the 45th state, I expected (a good welcome).

Q. So it was pretty much roses all the way?

A. One family kicked me out, in West Virginia. I shared my thoughts on a website, my experiences, (and wrote about) trailers on the mountainsides, churches are trailers, and they didn’t fancy that. They threatened me with a golf club.

Q. What do Americans have in common?

A. I think that’s difficult to answer. We are so different. We’re more different than the same. Different things shape us. (We have) different levels of ambition, different environments. The country is so diverse. The common thing is that we want to find comfort, things that make us happy and give us a purpose. I was with all walks of life, different religions. I stayed with cowboys, rednecks, Arabs, Jews, African-Americans. Every state has an emotion. In Washington, I knew it was going to be pretty drab because of the weather, but when the sun shines on Puget Sound there is nothing more beautiful.

(Also,) people could not shut up. People like to talk about themselves. I’m not a very talkative person (so) I was grateful that they were. It broke a lot of awkwardness.

One interesting point, on Long Island, many people had never been to New York City. People in Arizona hadn’t been to the Grand Canyon. People lack curiosity.

Q. How did you choose the jobs?

A. When I thought about Washington, I thought about conservation. (He worked for a conservation group overseeing Puget Sound.) In Oregon, I thought about loggers. In Nevada, I worked in a wedding chapel in Las Vegas. In Arizona, I was with the Border Patrol. The weirdest, I was a stilt-walker at Universal Studios in Florida.

Q. Did any jobs just not work?

A. A lot were disappointing, and surprising. Being a park ranger in Wyoming was something I was looking forward to, at Devil’s Tower, but it was very lonesome, probably the most lonesome I’ve been in my life. Lobstering in Maine, I got seasick every day. In West Virginia, four miles under the Earth, it made me appreciate what people do for a living, and through generations. That was impressive, and also dangerous. Six months later, people died at a nearby mine in an explosion

Q. Did there ever come a moment when you questioned the whole concept?

A. In Kansas, after a 900-mile drive, minus-6 degrees, that’s when I was at my worst, at the middle of the night on a country road in temperatures I’d never experienced.

Q. What was the weirdest food you were served?

A. A big ball of raw meat. I was staying with a Lebanese family. I ended up getting a stomach virus.

Q. And the best food?

A. Banana pudding in Alabama. With Amish in Pennsylvania, a crazy shoofly pie.

Q. Were there any special, very memorable moments?

A. I met my wife on the trip at State No. 45, Massachusetts. We married four years later.

Q. Do you have any advice for would-be adventurers — or armchair adventurers?

A. First, you should find your calling. Find your purpose in a field. Once you have that, you will always find ways to make it work. Go out and explore and find what you want, and things will fall into place. Don’t fear rejection or failure. If you are persistent and patient, it will come.

I provide a career-exploration service for college students. I give them an opportunity to have five jobs in five weeks in five states. (It’s called “Living the Map.”) Opportunities come in all forms. One thing leads to another.

The journey doesn’t end.