If you were to create a souvenir to represent Seattle, what would it be?
When The Seattle Times spoke with Daniel Seddiqui in late December, the writer, nomad and self-proclaimed “modern-day American explorer” was in the midst of a grand cultural tour through 65 major cities in all 50 U.S. states. Seddiqui was heading home to Bend, Oregon, for a holiday break after spending two nights in Seattle (his 49th city of 65) and another night in Spokane (his 50th).
Seddiqui undertook his cross-country expedition to better understand this country’s people and passions at a time when “we’re obviously broken,” as he puts it.
For each city, Seddiqui curates an agenda, hoping to participate in authentic experiences while crafting meaningful take-home souvenirs. He made graffiti art in the Brooklyn borough of New York City, a piggy bank in the banking hub of Charlotte, North Carolina, a road sign displaying his last name in Indianapolis (nicknamed the “Crossroads of America”), engraved currency at the U.S. Mint in Philadelphia, a song in Austin, Texas, and peanut brittle in Spokane.
And in Seattle? He got schooled in the craft of latte art. (He planned to go foraging for mushrooms but that didn’t happen.)
Before coming to Seattle, Seddiqui connected with David Schomer, co-founder, co-owner and CEO of Espresso Vivace. Having learned latte art in Italy, Schomer is credited for introducing the craft to America in the late 1980s, launching his coffee shops here in Seattle. Last month, he took Seddiqui behind the counter, where he offered three demos before having the novice try the skills on his own.
“[Schomer] made it look so seamless,” Seddiqui said. For him, it did not come so easily. His seemingly basic heart design turned into more of a blended coffee. “It was the hardest craft to learn by winging it,” Seddiqui said. “Either you fail or you succeed. I totally appreciated the craft — what people put into it.” Seddiqui’s biggest takeaway? “It’s different than other art. … When you’re pouring, you have to be patient and wait for [the design] to develop.”
This wasn’t Seddiqui’s first time in Seattle. He has had an “unwavering curiosity and passion for America” since age 7, and has taken three similar cross-country adventures in his lifetime, fueled by an insatiable inquisitiveness. Born and raised in California, he explored elsewhere in his mind until he could go in reality. While peers collected baseball cards, he gathered country fact cards and spent hours scouring the maps and atlases his mom bought for him.
As a track and cross-country athlete at University of Oregon, he would spend drives up to Seattle staring out bus windows, pondering what life would be like in each neighborhood he passed. “That curiosity never went away,” Seddiqui says.
That’s a far cry from trekking across the entire country, though. “It might have been an eccentric thing to do,” he says. “I took it very far.”
On prior cross-country journeys, Seddiqui has worked lived and worked in all 50 states (including a stint as a marine biologist in the Puget Sound area). This time, Seddiqui decided to make something tangible — a memento to bring home from each of the 65 locales.
The idea first evolved while living in Minneapolis, where Seddiqui met his wife.
In a hotel lobby, he once overheard a group of conferencegoers brainstorming about where to head after work. “Nothing ‘Minnesota’” materialized among the visitors’ ideas, Seddiqui says. He decided to make a guide instructing how to spend a day in countless cities, showcasing whatever is unique and iconic and to each place’s character.
This newest nationwide itinerary adds the element of spotlighting American craftsmanship, something Seddiqui says should instill pride. “It speaks to our creativity and sense of innovation, as well as the freedom we have here to pursue such endeavors.”
Although Seddiqui intended to frame a photo of his Seattle latte masterpiece, he claims his final product was so bad that the Vivace folks instead gifted him a cappuccino cup as a memento. The activity was not done in vain, though. “I really learned what people are passionate about, how it becomes part of the culture,” Seddiqui said.
Seddiqui began this latest journey last April in Portland, Maine. After a brief respite, he plans to resume traveling Jan. 17, kicking off then in Boise, Idaho, to finish the last 15 cities on his list. He’ll end in Reno, Nevada, or San Francisco. “I can’t believe it,” he says. “It was fast and slow at the same time.”
Before this latest trip, Seddiqui had been to Alaska once and Hawaii twice, and to the other 48 states a minimum of 16 times each — it’s safe to say he has covered most of the country. The writer and explorer wants others to follow in his footsteps, and especially hopes his 10-month-old daughter will cherish the treasured mementos now hanging in his office. Among his wife’s favorite keepsakes: a serving tray he made from the reclaimed wood of train carts in the stockyards of Oklahoma City, the Stetson hat he made in Dallas and a vase created glassblowing in Providence, Rhode Island.
Aside from the physical reminders, Seddiqui genuinely enjoys encountering priceless lessons about human kindness and connection, even and especially with strangers.
“When you travel, you meet amazing people,” he said. Throughout his projects and travels all across the United States, he found “generous, welcoming” people, including a host family in every state on one prior journey — people of diverse cultures, religions and races.
The day before we spoke with Seddiqui, he had his first experience with tire chains while traversing the snowy mountain pass between Seattle and Spokane. Seddiqui found someone to help him equip the chains to his car, and offered the good Samaritan a few bucks for his time.
“Pay me?” the man said. “You’re just another guy trying to get somewhere.”
“That,” Seddiqui said, “is the America that I know.”
Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story stated Seddiqui went foraging for mushrooms. He planned to do so but was unable to.