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The horror of South of the Border

with 4 comments

I was heading south down I-95 through North Carolina yesterday.  If you have ever made this journey, you will know that I was bombarded with billboards for South of the Border.  It’s a kitchsy tourist stop that, over time, has expanded into quite a little empire with an interesting history.  I’ll let Wikipedia explain some of the nuances:

South of the Border was developed by Al Schafer (1914-2001), who founded a beer stand at the location in 1950 and steadily expanded it with Mexican trinkets and numerous kitsch items. He had a great deal of success because of his location, which was immediately across the border from a dry North Carolina county, and grew his small business into what was, by local standards, an economic empire. South of the Border grew to over a square mile, required its own infrastructure, and had its own fire and police departments. Schafer became reclusive, building a large compound of interconnected houses outside the Dillon city limits. At South of the Border, he kept secret apartments hidden in the backs of restaurants and shops.

The billboards start from miles out, offering up a mix of ethnic stereotypes and the downright weird.  I swiped these two examples from Wikipedia:

We decided that this would be a fun place to stop, gas up the car, feed the dogs, and be entertained by a cheesy roadside attraction.  Here I am right after stopping (I’m holding dog leashes, in case you are wondering what this particular pose is):

Be sure to note than van behind me.  It had a tiny sign that read “Blue’s electronics”.  We stopped in the parking lot for a while to feed and walk the dogs, and during this time Blue wandered around on foot and eyed us suspiciously.   He also, at one point, walked through the car wash and inspected it.  The dogs were being uncooperative, and we soon noticed that the place was crawling with what looked like feral cats.  Not what you want to see at a place that heavily advertises its food.

Still, we gassed up the car and I went inside the gas station to purchase a coke.  It turned out that they didn’t sell cokes at South of the Border, presumably because it is too mundane of an item.  They also didn’t sell beer on Sunday, which I learned because someone had written “no beer sold on sunday” on tattered pieces of cardboard which were displayed throughout the store.  It looked like someone had gone from off ramp to off ramp and swiped the “will work for food” signs from various hobos and just written on the back.

Undeterred, I moved on to the bathrooms.  The men’s room had individual stalls for all of the toilets, including the urinals.  At first, I thought this was a nice little touch.  Upon closer inspection, it became clear that people had used the urinals for an excretory function that the urinals are not designed to handle.  It looked like the Augean Stables.  I’m not a squeamish guy, but I bolted from the bathrooms and told Anne (who was waiting for me under the watchful leer of Blue) that it was time to leave and never look back.

South of the Border will always live on in my nightmares.


Written by Scott

June 16, 2008 at 2:57 pm

4 Responses

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  1. Nothing like a little local color. Reminds me of the “See Hitler’s Thing” billboards that were plastered on I-10 from west Texas to Arizona. Disappointingly, they have a WWII era VW Thing rumored to belong to the mustachioed nut. I figured some GI had swapped a pack of Pall Malls to a Russian for Hitler’s thing. Luckily, someone explained the truth to me before I submitted myself to a similar experience.

    I’m glad Anne & the dogs survived.


    June 16, 2008 at 4:36 pm

  2. Hitler’s Thing is such a dirty tease.


    June 16, 2008 at 7:39 pm

  3. I remeber going there as a child and getting a couple little toys, like a plastic frog with rubber legs that would jump when you squeezed an attached bulg. Hours of fun, that.


    June 17, 2008 at 11:42 am

  4. I nearly got cholera. That plastic frog was definitely the better choice.


    June 17, 2008 at 11:44 am

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