Joe's Road Trip 2011

Road Trip 2011: And So It Begins

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San Antonio, Texas

Road Trip 2011 begins today. Well, we had so much fun last time, why not? And there’s still a lot to learn, and enjoy, about this country. So I’m in San Antonio, and in a few hours I’ll pick up our first traveling companion and head down to the Mexican border at Laredo. Some basic facts about this year’s trip:

Route: From south to north, Laredo to Minneapolis, with longer stops in Austin, Texas–for the Austin City Limits music festival (the enjoyment part)–and Iowa, for the presidential politics.

Vehicle: A charcoal gray Jeep Liberty,* unnamed as yet…but I may call it: The Briquette.

Cast of Characters: As before, the brilliant and occasionally draconian Katy Steinmetz will serve as trip wrangler and fact checker. We’ll actually make a stop and visit the Steinmetz Manse in Springfield, Mo, along the way.

And this year we’re privileged to have the famed photographer Lynsey Addario along for the ride. Lynsey has spent the past 12 years overseas, primarily in war zones–she was kidnapped in Libya–and so she comes home to America with a clear eye and tremendous curiosity about what’s happened here while she’s been gone.

Which is important, because the mission is still the same–to find out what Americans are thinking at this very difficult moment in our history. And that’s been the most gratifying pre-trip development: you have designed this trip–I’ll be attending meetings with people ranging from the Patriot Party in Texarkana to a black women’s book club in Austin, with many stops in between. In fact, the itinerary that you, dear readers (and CNN viewers), have developed for me is so rich that I’ve decided to take fewer traveling companions along this year, although there will still be a few, like:

First Traveling Companion: Turk Pipkin of Austin, a true renaissance man–novelist, documentary film-maker and actor. (He played the evangelical boyfriend of Tony Soprano’s sister on The Sopranos–yes, the one with long gray pony tail.) Turk will be joining Lynsey and me in a few hours for the drive down to Laredo.

And Finally: As I said last year, you can’t micromanage a road trip. If you’re along the route and want to put together a group of people to meet with me, you know where to find me. The first week or two is jammed, but we’re still open to suggestions in Iowa and Minnesota.

And if you have any trouble finding Joe, you can always find me, Katy “Somewhat Draconian” Steinmetz, at katy_steinmetz@timemagazine.com. I’m here to field all comments, queries and suggestions.

*This was previously misidentified as a Jeep Pathfinder, a model of car made by Nissan. But we might still use that as a nickname for Joe during the trip (especially if we can get him an impressive walking stick). –KS

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