On the Road

A trip to find out what's on your minds

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The South is ... Stone Mountain, Ga., a shrine to the Confederacy. It's Auburn Avenue in Atlanta and Selma, Ala., hallowed ground for the Civil Rights movement. And it's Freedom Tower on Miami's Biscayne Boulevard, the symbol of Cubans' flight from Fidel Castro's tyranny.The South is ... crawfish etoufee and beignets in New Orleans, black beans and rice in Tampa's Ybor City, lobster in the Keys, and barbecue as only Southerners can do it.

The South is ... bluegrass, blues, zydeco and hip-hop.

The South is ... proud Appalachian mountain clans whose ancestors hailed from Scotland and Ireland. It is the rich Cajun culture of the bayous. It is a burgeoning Hispanic population everywhere in the South. It is the tragic and heroic history of black Americans from slavery through Jim Crow and into the current era where they hold sway over politics in many towns and cities.

The South is ... high school football games, thousands of suburban neighborhoods, traffic jams and transit systems, acres and acres of kudzu, a landscape of scattered retirement communities and golf courses. It's urban metropolises peopled by immigrants from throughout the nation and world, and rural hamlets where families measure time in generations.

More than anything, the South is a collection of stereotypes, most partly true, none completely true. And as the Nov. 2 elections approach, Democrats and Republicans alike are plotting their Southern strategies — especially in key swing states such as Florida and North Carolina. Politicians and their strategists all claim they know what you think and want — but do they?

Photographer Jim Stawniak and I are taking off on 4,000 miles of planned road trip to find out what's on the minds of Southerners —values, jobs, church, race, schools, and which team is going to win the Southeastern Conference bragging rights this year. The trip will take us from the hurricane-battered shores of Florida to Elvis' Graceland, from North Carolina mountains to Gulf fishing villages.

Jim and I aren't interested in preaching. However, we expect that we'll be preached to, and we're interested in listening to what is truly on the minds of our neighbors. At the very least, we hope to meet many fine folks, perhaps you.

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