If you were to make a souvenir to represent the city of Seattle, what would it be?
When The Seattle Times spoke with Daniel Siddiqui in late December, the writer, traveler and self-proclaimed “Contemporary American Explorer” was in the midst of a major cultural tour through 65 major cities in all 50 US states. My friend was heading home to Bend, Oregon for vacation after spending two nights in Seattle (age 49)y City 65) and Another Night in Spokane (aged 50y).
My friend took his expedition across the country to better understand the people and emotions of this country at a time when “we are clearly broken,” as he put it.
For each city, my friend curates an agenda, hoping to share in authentic experiences while making meaningful souvenirs to take home. He made graffiti art in New York City’s Brooklyn neighborhood, a piggy bank in the banking center in Charlotte, North Carolina, a road sign displaying his last name in Indianapolis (aka “America’s Crossroads”), a coin engraving at the United States Mint in Philadelphia, a song in Austin, Texas, and Peanut Brittle in Spokane.
And in Seattle? He learned the art of latte (and went looking for mushrooms).
Before coming to Seattle, my friend reached out to David Schumer, co-founder, co-owner, and CEO of Espresso Vivace. Having learned the art of latte in Italy, Schumer is credited with introducing the craft to America in the late 1980s, launching his cafés here in Seattle. Last month, my friend escorted me behind the counter, where he gave three demos before my friend tried the skills on his own.
“[Schomer] my friend said. For him, it was not so easy. His basic heart design has seemingly turned into blended coffee. “It was the most difficult craft to learn by making it winged,” my friend said. “You either fail or you succeed. I absolutely appreciate the craft – what people put into it.” My boyfriend’s biggest takeaway? “It is different from other art. … When you pour, you have to be patient and wait [the design] To develop. “
This wasn’t my friend’s first time in Seattle. He had had “an unwavering curiosity and passion for America” since the age of seven, and had three similar cross-country adventures in his life, driven by an insatiable curiosity. Born and raised in California, he explored another place in his mind so that he could go to reality. While his peers were collecting baseball cards, he would collect country fact cards and spend hours researching maps and atlases his mother had bought him.
As a track and field athlete at the University of Oregon, he would spend his trips to Seattle staring out of bus windows, pondering what life would be like in every neighborhood he passed. “This curiosity never went away,” my friend says.
This is a far cry from trips across the entire country. “Maybe it was just doing something weird,” he says. “You’ve come too far.”
On previous cross-country trips, Siddiqui has worked, lived, and worked in all 50 states (including his tenure as a marine biologist in Puget Sound). This time, my friend decided to make something tangible – a souvenir to bring home from each of the 65 locations.
The idea first developed while living in Minneapolis, where my friend met his wife.
In a hotel lobby, he once heard a group of conference goers thinking about where to go after work. Nothing ‘Minnesota’ materializes among visitors’ cliched ideas, says my friend. Decide to make a guide that will walk you through how to spend a day in countless cities, showcasing all that is unique, creative, and personalized to each place.
This new nationwide itinerary adds an element that highlights American craftsmanship, something my friend 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 my friend intended to frame a picture of his latte masterpiece in Seattle, he claims that his end product was so poor that the Vivace people instead gave him a cup of cappuccino as a souvenir. This activity was not done in vain. “I really learned what people care about and how it becomes part of the culture,” my friend said.
My friend started his last trip last April in Portland, Maine. After a brief respite, he plans to resume travel on January 17, after which he will start in Boise, Idaho, finishing the last 15 cities on his list. It will end up in Reno, Nevada or San Francisco. “I can’t believe it,” he says. “It was fast and slow at the same time.”
Prior to this most recent trip, my friend had been to Alaska once and Hawaii twice, and to 48 other states at least 16 times – it’s safe to say he covered most of the country. The writer and explorer wants others to follow in his footsteps, and especially hopes that his 10-month-old daughter will cherish the precious mementos now hanging in his office. Among his wife’s favorite memorabilia: a serving tray he made of reclaimed wood for railroad cars in Oklahoma City’s train sheds, a Stetson hat he made in Dallas, and a vase made of blown glass in Providence, Rhode Island.
Aside from the physical reminders, my friend really enjoys taking invaluable lessons about kindness and human connection, even with strangers in particular.
“When you travel, you meet amazing people,” he said. During his projects and travels across the United States, he has found “gracious and welcoming” people, including a host family in every state on one previous trip – people of diverse cultures, religions, and ethnicities.
The day before talking to my friend, he had his first experience with tire chains as he crossed the snowy mountain pass between Seattle and Spokane. My friend found someone to help him get the chains ready for his car, and he offered the Good Samaritan a few dollars for his time.
“Pay me?” said the man. “You’re just another guy trying to get somewhere.”
“This is the America I know,” my friend said.