By ALLAN TURNER
TARKINGTON PRAIRIE — It's an awesome day. Shayan Shakiba's '96 Mazda, desperately in need of a front-end alignment, judders down the two-lane at 70 mph. Smash Mouth pounds out wise lyrics at near-lawnmower volume. Shakiba's left hand is welded to the wheel, but his eyes, filled with a shrewd intelligence that belies his 23 years, are glued to the notebook on his lap.
"She teaches piano. That's why there are always kids around," he mutters to himself, scanning a hand-drawn map. "I love my job. I love my job. I help families find happiness. I help them have a healthier life. It is an amazing, tremendous day. Everybody's excited about me being here."
Outside, rainclouds gather and the mercury marches to the 90s. Insects buzz. Somnolent cows nod in the fields. But Shakiba, a senior civil engineering student at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn., pulses with energy. He's the sunshine man, the last of a dying breed.
Shakiba is a door-to-door salesman. He's one of about 150 traversing the state this summer to peddle hefty, multi-volume study guides — good for youths from kindergarten to college — published by the Southwestern Company, a one-time purveyor of Bibles.
Nashville-based Southwestern, which will put more than 2,000 students on the sales beat in the U.S., Canada and England this summer, the Kirby vacuum-cleaner company and some cosmetics marketers are just about the last of the big door-to-door vendors.
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