When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro. - Hunter S. Thompson

02 June 2007

South Of The Border - June 1, 2007

South of the Border is a very politically incorrect tourist-trap institution (check out the website... hoo boy) on the border of North and South Carolina, just off of I-95. The billboards get especially dense starting 200 miles on either side of it, but they go as far south as Florida and God alone knows how far north. [Update: As far north as New Jersey.]

Stopped here this morning for a tank of gas, paying 10 cents a gallon extra so's I could get a nice photograph of Pedro.

He - and the theme park - have seen better days.

Post update, 6/2/2007: Here's a terrific article--sadly, an obituary--on Alan Schafer, the marketing genius behind South of the Border. He died in 2001, having turned a post-war beer stand just across the state line from dry counties in North Carolina into a a $40 million kitsch empire:

Alan Heller Schafer was the man behind each of the 250 billboards. They stretch from Daytona Beach to New Jersey to lure motorists to his South of the Border tourist attraction. On Thursday morning, Mr. Schafer died after a long battle with leukemia. He was 87.

For more than five decades, South of the Border has attracted restless travelers, reportedly as many as 8-million a year. The $40-million Mexican-themed complex includes motel rooms, campsites, gift shops, restaurants, an amusement park and a large observation tower shaped like a sombrero. The park, with about 750 workers, remains one of the largest employers in an economically depressed county.

Its mascot is the wise-cracking Pedro character made famous by the billboards and created by Alan Schafer.

South of the Border straddles US Highway 301, which used to be a main route to and from Florida for northerners. When I-95 was built--the Interstate system, built in the 1950s, destroyed most of the old-school roadside attractions by diverting traffic, increasing road speed and discouraging detours--Schafer had sufficient political juice to make sure that I-95 was diverted slightly so that the interchange with US 301 would be at -- ta-da! -- South of the Border, SC.

A friend reminds me that we have something else to thank Alan Schafer for: he bought, and saved, the Blenheim Bottling Company, makers of the ultra-spicy Blenheim's Old No. 3 Ginger Ale, which is fine for drinking by itself, but makes the most exquisite bourbon-and-ginger known to modern man.

Related article: Roadside America on South of the Border

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