TAMPA — Daniel Seddiqui had never held a cigar until he hand rolled one at Ybor City’s J.C. Newman Cigar Co. this week.
“I don’t smoke,” he said with a laugh. “I won’t smoke this one. I just wanted to roll one.”
That was the 40th of 64 firsts the Oregon man has planned for this year.
Since April, Seddiqui has made graffiti art in Brooklyn, a train spike in Birmingham, a baseball bat in Louisville, a model car in Detroit, a 3D architectural model in Chicago, a sweetgrass basket in Charleston, a Terrible Towel in Pittsburgh and vinyl records in Cleveland.
After leaving Tampa, he headed for New Orleans to make Mardi Gras beads and help build a parade float.
It’s part of a journey he calls “A Piece of Your City,” with the goal of visiting every major U.S. city and crafting a memento of their culture, industry and history.
“I have an obsession with America,” the 39-year-old said. “This journey is about America and what uniquely shapes every destination. I want to learn every city’s culture. I’m driven by a curiosity to know America.”
His experiences will be documented in a book that explains the history behind each craft and includes instructions on how it is created.
Seddiqui was given a tour of the Newman factory, a history lesson of Tampa’s cigar industry and a walk-through on how they handle tobacco from delivery until the cigars are shipped.
J.C. Newman hand roller Luis Gonzalez then taught Seddiqui the art.
“It’s easy,” Gonzalez said as he rolled one of the 100 that he makes each day.
Seddiqui shook his head after completing the first of the two he rolled and said, “He only makes it look easy.”
He might give one to a friend, but the other will be on display in his home.
“I want a piece of every major city on my shelf,” Seddiqui said.
This educational journey across the United States is his fourth such trek.
“It’s become my job,” he said, one funded through book sales, speaking engagements and sponsorships, all under the umbrella of his Living The Map brand.
And it all began because he could not find a job after graduating from the University of Southern California with a degree in economics in 2005.
“I went through 120 rounds of job interviews and three years later I found myself still looking for work and living in a rental car,” Seddiqui said. “It was not even my own car. It was a rental because that was cheaper.”
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Realizing he’d seen little of the country outside of California, Seddiqui devised a plan to find work while traveling.
“I figured, why not take this rejection and make it an opportunity,” he said. “I decided to find 50 jobs in 50 states.”
Not just any jobs, but careers for which those states are known, and he would work each for a week and get paid.
“I probably had to make 5,000 calls to get the jobs, but I found them,” he said.
In 2008, Seddiqui mined for coal in West Virginia, made cheese in Wisconsin, served on the border patrol in Arizona and worked in a meatpacking plant in Kansas.
That book, titled 50 Jobs in 50 States: One Man’s Journey of Discovery Across America, was published in 2011.
Seddiqui then hit the road the following year in a journey he called “Going the Extra Mile.”
“I went to the hidden pockets and most impoverished communities in the country,” he said. “Mississippi Delta, South Chicago, Pine Ridge Reservation. I lived in each community for a month to understand what they go through, and I tried to address their problem. In Mississippi, I trained a town known for obesity for a 5K road race.”
His third journey, titled “The American Bucket List Challenge of Culture” and sponsored by the Weather Channel, had a goal of experiencing the nation’s unique cultural events throughout 2018. He participated in a Scandinavian festival in North Dakota, shot archery with the Cherokee Tribe in Oklahoma and judged a barbecue contest in Kansas City.
When he completed that journey, Seddiqui realized that, despite crisscrossing the nation for a decade, there were still cities, like Tampa, he had not experienced. So, he began planning the current journey.
“My curiosity is real,” he said. “I can’t fake it. When this is done, I will have been to every major and midsize city and thousands of towns. Anything that you see on a map, I most likely have been there.”
So, what have these journeys taught him?
“We have a divided America now, but we all unite behind our craftsmanship, innovation and entrepreneurial and creative spirit,” Seddiqui said.
Next, he would like to start a travel business that plans trips reenacting his journeys, one in which “visitors actually have hands-on experiences and connect with local locals in a unique, authentic way,” Seddiqui said. “Rather than taking a picture of a statue, create a piece of that city.”
But first, Seddiqui said his hardest job is waiting for him back home. “I have an 8-month-old daughter.”