South of the Border Coffee Mug

If you’ve ever traveled along I-95 through South Carolina, you have seen South of the Border billboards. There are approximately 175 of them strategically placed along main highways in the Southeast (Virginia through Georgia) beckoning weary travelers to buy fireworks, have a meal, and shop in the gift shops.

South of the Border was established in 1949 as a beer shack, just south of the North Carolina border and its dry counties. It was later expanded into a drive-in. Over the years, restaurants, gift shops, a hotel, campgrounds, miniature golf courses, and a reptile lagoon were added, all of which are overshadowed by a 200’ high sombrero tower and a smiling 97’ high Pedro (SotB’s official mascot). This once tiny roadside stand is now a multi-million dollar a year business. It was also voted #8 in Travel + Leisure’s Kitschiest Roadside Attractions in America, which also includes the likes of Vent Haven Museum (home to 750 retired ventriloquist dummies) and Foamhenge (an exact replica of Stonehenge made entirely from Styrofoam).  

When I left home for college in 1992, I drove all the way from Florida (where I grew up) to North Carolina. Worn out, bored, and lonely from a long drive, I gave into Pedro’s black and neon signage and stopped there to stretch my legs. I’m a big fan of kitsch from way back, so I was mesmerized by all of the garish goods in the gift shop. It was at that time I bought the coffee cup along with a deck of playing cards.

This mug symbolizes both youthful independence and a weird fondness for the spectacular.  A few years ago, I accidently dropped it on tile and the handle broke. After a brief meltdown that included sobbing and expletives, I pulled myself together and fixed it with Super Glue.  Voila! Almost as good as new.

I still love tacky gift shops, by the way, and I suppose I should’ve added that to my list of idiosyncrasies on the authors page, but why provide more fodder for friends and co-workers?

Have You Seen the Beaver?

Last December, after years of dreaming, I finally visited Colorado.  I left the confines of the dead, brown landscape of Oklahoma and headed west.  Although I have done plenty of snowboarding, I had never experienced the acclaimed slopes of Colorado.  As with any journey to a vacation destination, the trip there seemed twice as long as the drive back home.  After a night in Denver, I headed out early to Beaver Creek, Colorado in hopes of beating the blizzard that was rapidly approaching. 

In my usual, extensive research of my vacation destination, I uncovered a “must see” destination in Avon, Colorado.  Beaver Liquors.  I have to admit that upon seeing the name, I began snickering uncontrollably.  My inner Beavis and Butthead emerged after ten years of dormancy.  On a side note, Beavis and Butthead are returning to the airwaves with all new episodes on October 27, 2011.  If you’re reading this Mike Judge, feel free to send me a monetary donation for the plug. 

Now, back to the Beaver.  In 1977, a slightly inebriated Rick Cuny entered a contest for “Best New Store Name” in Avon, Colorado.  Not knowing how this would change his life, he sat back amused with his submission.  To his delight, “Beaver Liquors” was selected as the winner.  This was three years before the opening of the now thriving Beaver Creek ski resort.  However, Rick immediately realized he may be on to something. He purchased the name and location where he would later open his world famous liquor store. 

During the 1980’s, Rick began to brainstorm on ways to capitalize on his brand.  Over the years, he has continued to design thousands of items touting the famous play on words after which his store is named.  Tee shirts, coffee mugs, calendars, hats, golf balls, post cards, and everything in between have been emblazoned with themes based on his store name.  The items range from a simple logo, to tongue-in-cheek, to R-rated.  Now, when you enter his multi-level liquor store, you will find a very large section is dedicated to the apparel and branded merchandise.  Conveniently located on the main road leading into Beaver Creek, it is an easy destination to find and a convenient stop for the souvenir minded traveler. 

Needless to say, I stopped by and loaded up on souvenirs to send to family and friends.  As for a matching pair of coffee mugs?  I kept them.  Now, every morning as I enjoy my coffee, I am reminded of the time I spent with the Beaver Liquors.  Cheers.