The call comes unexpectedly.
"My name is Daniel Seddiqui. I'm out here at Three Chimneys. It's a horse farm," he says. (Pause.) "Smarty Jones is out here."
You now know all that Daniel Seddiqui knows about Kentucky. Or did before he got here this week, fresh from Vermont, where he was making maple sugar — which is, we suspect, all he knew about Vermont before he had spent a week there.
This is the story of a guy who has had 29 jobs in 29 weeks because he couldn't find a job in the conventional way. His plan is to have 21 more in the next 21 weeks in 21 of the 50 states he has left to conquer.
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Daniel Seddiqui is spending a week in every state in the union, doing a job that represents that state's signature industry. This is week 29. It's a romantic adventure dreamed up by a now 27-year-old, a kid with a bachelor's in economics from the University of Southern California who thought his degree was "safe, smart," an all-purpose ticket to just about any good job out there.
Boy, was he wrong. He traveled some. He worked some, doing some coaching of the women's cross-country track team at Northwestern University. Sent out 18,000 résumés, he said. Got 18,000 no-thank-yous.
He just didn't think it was right that every kid out of college should have to suffer like he was suffering.
Maybe, he thought, his generation wasn't looking hard enough. Maybe America had a lot to offer that nobody was looking at.
He thought he'd go look for them.
So far, he's been a petroleum engineer in Texas, a logger in Oregon, a Border Patrol agent in Arizona, on an Indy pit crew in Indiana, an ordained minister performing weddings in Nevada and a meat packer in Kansas.
He had been up close to horses once before on the trip. That was week three when he was in a South Dakota rodeo. (And that was "the first time I was with a horse that wasn't attached to other horses and being led.")
On the first day of his life in Kentucky, he was holding the tail of a mare (a word he learned this week) while a vet palpated her uterus.
"I was right there," he says and laughs with incredulity.
The next day, he was mucking stalls. Where that stands on the glamour scale next to palpation of uteri was unclear.
He says he learned a few things right off the bat. For starters, "the horses are worth more than me." For another, "the people are amazing."
How amazing? This is the first place he's been that he has a four-bedroom house on the property all to himself. His Three Chimneys hosts have taken him to the Keene land sale, where he saw a horse sold for a cool million, and to the race track on Wednesday when the sun finally shone and the dogwood obliged. They have plans for a big Moon Pie and Ale-8-One feast. (He can hardly wait.)
At the end of the 50 weeks, he has plans to finish the book he's been writing along the way. It will be called Living the Map and could be out in early 2010. You can follow his journey now at livingthemap.com.
Tony Burton, general manager for broodmares at Three Chimneys, says what's funny is that the whole thing has been inspiring to those who've ushered Seddiqui around.
"You see a lot through his eyes," he says. "You take so much for granted. And you see it fresh this way. It's been great. He's been real willing."
And he's being paid a groom's pay, which is nice. It pays for the gasoline to get to Tennessee, where he'll work in a recording studio in Nashville next.
Of all the things he's done so far, Seddiqui thinks he liked being a weatherman in Ohio best. Though, please note, his gig in Las Vegas also gave him great florist skills.
In the meantime, also know that the life lessons have been "pretty outstanding" as well. He will never not know where his steak came from. He will never take for granted the syrup on his pancakes. He will never again miss a Kentucky Derby.
And he will know, on that first Saturday in May, that someone a long time ago held the tail on that horse's mother while a vet did what he had to do to make it all possible.