South of the Border
- Grand Strand Weekend
- South Carolina for Kids
- South Carolina Bar-B-Que
- A Midlands Weekend
- Civil War Adventures
- South Carolina Waterways
- Three Days in Horse Country
- South Carolina for Seafoodies
- South Carolina Kitsch
- Gullah and African American History
- Upstate Weekend
- South Carolina’s Top Ten for Golfers
- South Carolina’s Offbeat Festivals
- Southern Comforts
- Lowcountry Romance
For generations, travelers along I-95 were treated to billboards for hundreds of miles, in which a stereotyped Mexican named Pedro with a penchant for puns (“chile today, hot tamale”) lazily exhorted people to come visit South of the Border (intersection of I-95 and Highway 301/501, 843/774-2411, www.thesouthoftheborder.com, daily 24 hours, free).
Begun in 1950 by Al Schafer as a beer stand servicing a dry North Carolina county just above the state line—“south of the border,” get it?—the entertainment empire near Dillon gradually grew to encompass motels, restaurants (Mexican and otherwise), gas stations, RV campgrounds, fireworks stands, sprawling gift shops, and even an adult entertainment store, the “Dirty Old Man’s Shop.” At one point, South of the Border, which covers nearly 150 acres, had its own police and fire departments.
A changing world and vastly increased entertainment options mean that South of the Border is but a shadow of its former self. Schafer gradually became South Carolina’s reclusive, eccentric version of Howard Hughes, dying in 2001 at age 87. Employees no longer all wear “Pedro” nametags. The borderline racist content of the billboards was watered-down for a more politically correct world in 1997. (“These baby boomers do not have a sense of humor,” Schafer said at the time.)
The main landmark here is the 75-foot, sombrero-clad Pedro himself, between whose massive legs you can drive your car. He sports a new neon paint scheme to fit the new times. While a mere 50 cents gets you a trip to the top to view the surrounding countryside, unfortunately the elevator is broken a lot and you won’t be allowed up at all on a windy day.
While its best days are clearly behind it, South of the Border retains its off-the-chart kitsch quotient, and is still a welcome respite from that particular stretch of mind-and-body numbing boredom along the interstate. There are over 300 rooms at the South of the Border Motel ($40–50), which might surprise you with the comparatively high quality of its rooms given the bargain price.
Strange-but-true fact: Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke once worked here as a teenager.
© Jim Morekis from Moon South Carolina, 4th Edition