Go Here: South of the Border
Usually when I’m traveling, I avoid kitschy tourist stuff like the plague. Most often it’s has little to do with the actual culture of the place I’m visiting, and I get bored pretty easily. The infamous South of the Border (SOTB) is an exception, though. Seated on the line between North and South Carolina, this 1950s roadside mecca is nothing but kitsch, and its massive scale and outdated motif make it a place worth visiting.
If you’ve never driven down the east coast via I-95, let me tell you what it’s like: it’s like being strapped into a crappy, low-powered massage chair for two days, watching a yule log; there is nothing to see. For years I had seen the tacky bumper stickers, always on rusted bumpers, advertising SOTB as “America’s Favorite Highway Oasis,” and I’d laugh and think about how terrible a highway oasis sounded. Fifteen hours into a mind-numming drive down the coast, though, I changed my tune.
Hilariously unfunny billboards announce your approach beginning almost 100 miles before SOTB, creating lots of buildup for what ends up being a huge, decrepit and outdated tourist rest stop/fireworks warehouse/t-shirt shop/place you can get maple-flavored corn dogs. A tall sombrero structure towers over the entire complex, and someone in the tower screams things like “arriba!” at what seems like random intervals. Ever been to Tijuana? It’s nothing like Tijuana, but it’s sort of like a replica that someone might design of Tijuana if they had never been there, and were given fifteen seconds to research it before building.
My traveling companion and I arrived at SOTB pretty late at night, and because we are the classiest broads, we slept in the back of my station wagon. Pro tip: if you crack the windows while sleeping in the parking lot, don’t open them so wide that stray cats can get into your car. SOTB has more stray cats than I have ever seen in my life, and I met most of them in the back of my Passat that night.
SOTB also has a wedding chapel and a $99 honeymoon package, which gets you a legal marriage certificate, a night in the honeymoon suite (with waterbed!), champagne and breakfast the next morning. Each summer weekend, dozens of couples say “I do” If there is ever a man who manages to tame this icy heart, it will surely be at ‘Pedro’s Pleasure Dome.’
Standing in the center of it, you can’t help but ask yourself how this monstrosity came to be. I learned that SOTB was the brainchild of Alan Schafer in the 1950s, and it started as a roadside beer stand. When a supply delivery arrived addressed to “Schafer Project: South Of The [North Carolina] Border,”Schafer got the idea to keep the border name for his roadside attraction, and began importing souvenirs from Mexico, as well as two employees; named Pedro and Pancho. Because Americans are mostly terrible, Schafer took to calling both of them Pedro, and to this day all SOTB workers, regardless of their actual name, gender, race, or preference are called Pedro. What the what.
If you visit, be sure to buy yourself a souvenir, but watch out for cranky dudes: