50 Jobs in 50 States: One Man’s Journey of Discovery Across America
© 2011 Daniel Seddiqui
Disclaimer: I read from an advanced review copy of the book, available through NetGalleys. No compensation for a review, good or negative, was offered or requested, aside from my own potential enjoyment of the book.
Frustrated and crushed by scores of failed job interviews, author Daniel Seddiqui felt like an utter loser. After breaking down in the parking lot of his local Macy’s — after returning the suit he bought for one such interview — this athlete-turned-volunteer coach decided to pursue a dream, to ‘live the map’ of America by travelling throughout the continent and working a job in every state. With the support of his pseudo-girlfriend Sasha and a network of family and friends throughout the country, Daniel hid the road, determined to experience each state’s most signature job for a week.
The trip starts out fairly mundane — preparing care packages in a Mormon humanitarian office — but future states bring more sensational opportunities, like serving stock cars at the Indy 500, serving drinks during New Orleans’ Mardi Gras, and giving Hawaiian tourists surfing lessons. North America’s wealth in natural resources creates a wide variety of jobs, and Seddiqui seems to have gotten his hands dirty by engaging in most of them — meatpacking, farming, mining, and logging all feature. Aside from a streak of agricultural jobs (broken when he decides to sell real estate in Idaho instead of farming potatoes), Seddiqui is able to find vastly different work every week: at one point, he transitions from modeling in North Carolina to coal mining in West Virginia. His effort to find every state’s most culturally significant job is generally successful (cheese-making in Wisconsin, working with automobiles in Michigan), though there are surprises along the way. Seddiqui sometimes chose jobs slightly off the mark out of necessity (Sorry, Daniel, you can’t show up at Fenway Park and play for the Red Sox), but most of his fifty choices seemed appropriate. There’s overlap between his and Stephen Fry’s choices: when the British journalist visited each of the U.S.’s fifty states, he sometimes participated in that state’s most prominent job: both men realized that lobstering in Maine is far beyond their endurance level, both descend into West Virginia’s coal mines, and both participated in political rallies in New Hampshire (Seddequi makes “Obama Cares” posters and manages to slip a complimentary note to the president without being tackled and manhandled by the Secret Service, quite a feat given his partial Afghan heritage that had him mistaken as an illegal immigrant while in Arizona).
Seddequi’s account is certainly readable: I read the book in a single sitting, and found him generally pleasant traveling companion. His tone is informal and conversational, perhaps overly so –for at times he makes comments about people that seem inappropriate in this context. His deteriorating relationship with Sasha (which ends for good when he is in Arkansas doing excavation work and heartily agrees with graffiti that reads “Sasha Sucks”) gives the reader an idea of his emotional difficulties, He also makes comments about the girls he tries to date while on the road, which strikes me as entirely out of place. Aside from this, however, he was an agreeable host. While the book ends with a brief chapter about lessons he learned on the road and appears to be targeted as inspirational, I enjoyed it more for the occupational accounts. I learned much about some of the best and worst jobs in the United States, and his tales of on-the-road hospitality are heartening.
50 Jobs in 50 States will be available from Berrett-Koehler on 15 March 2011.