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?