Motorcycles, Travel & Adventure


Motorcycle TourMagazine

About On The Mark

Having piloted a motorcycle for many years, Mark has many thoughts floating in his helmet and he's ready to share them with us.

Name: Mark Byers

Current Rides: 'Honestly, his stable is in such a constant flux that we can't keep track of it. If you need to know, just ask him.

Favorite quote:

If you have ten thousand regulations you destroy all respect for the law.

- Winston Churchill

Goin' South

If you haven’t seen the business on I-95, I know you’ve seen the billboards: there are currently about 175 of them between Virginia and Daytona Beach. When US-301 was the big dog of north/south routes, there were more than 250 billboards and they started in Philadelphia. If you haven’t realized, the place of which I speak is “South of the Border,” or “SOB,” the absolute pinnacle of kitschy Americana just inside South Carolina’s border with her northern sister.

I was like many who saw the corny signs, with slogans like “You never sausage a place!” I took SOB for a schlocky place designed to drain the wallets of those foolish enough to stop on their way to the beach. Then one night, I was on a call with Dr. Seymour O’Life, discussing my upcoming trip to South Carolina. “Oh man,” he said, “you HAVE to check out South of the Border! It’s pure history!” Not one to disregard Doctor’s orders, I got off at the exit underneath the 200-foot, sombrero-shaped tower.OTMPedro

I suddenly found myself in a garishly-colored small town that envelops US-301 like a gaudy serape. A 97-foot-tall “Pedro” welcomed me to the biggest tourist trap in the world. There are so many things to enjoy: the tower (whose bottom is an arcade), multiple restaurants and food stands, including one dedicated to ice cream (calling Shira Kamil!), a 200-room motor lodge, 100-space campground, a reptile lagoon, and an amusement park. I didn’t have time to partake of a panoply of pleasures, so I limited my sample to the “Mexico Shop East” and the “Sombrero Restaurant.”

The store was exactly what you’d expect. If you want to have a white trash theme party and wear a red, white, and blue sequined tank top emblazoned with the Pedro’s logo, look no further. Betsy zoomed in on the Blenheim Ginger Ale, an SOB exclusive, while I used the restroom. That’s where my revelations started: the thing was scrupulously clean and there was an employee actively

cleaning it. I also realized that every employee had spoken to us and was friendly and engaging. The retail floor was clean and the acre of logo’d tourist crap was neatly organized. One neat touch is the bumper stickers they sell, at five cents for a small and ten cents for a large, all on the honor system, with the money put in small wooden boxes. Postcards are the same, at ten cents apiece or twelve for a dollar. It is the diametric opposite of a Wal-Mart.

We retired to the restaurant and found the history of the place on the menu: it started in 1949 when Alan Schafer put an 18 X 36 beer stand up on US-301, right across the border from the dry counties of North Carolina. When business boomed, he added a 10-seat grill. In 1954 came a 20-room motel. The 60’s brought a cocktail lounge, gas station, and souvenir shop, along with something ELSE illegal in North Carolina, fireworks! Shortly after he realized I-95 would pass his front door, Mr. Schafer added a barber shop, post office, drug store, variety store, and a go-kart track. Eventually the 200-unit motor lodge and 100-space campground were added, along with the brewing and bottling plant for the famous Blenheim Ginger Ale.

I pondered this history as I downed a couple delicious chicken tacos with sweet tea served by an equally sweet waitress and I realized that Seymour’s view of SOB was all right and mine was all wrong. Instead of viewing it as someplace to avoid, I realized that SOB is a living monument to the spirit of an American entrepreneur. It all started in the fabulous 50’s with a guy selling beer out of a shack and is now an entire town, employing hundreds of people and serving tens of thousands of travelers per year. It is amazingly clean and well-kept and the staff is friendly. They don’t have any illusions about their workplace - neither it nor they are pretending to be something else. They’re in the business of kitsch, business is good, and I now view Alan Schafer as the redneck Walt Disney. Betsy and I are seriously considering coming back on the moto to stay in the motor lodge so we can get the full-on, no-holds-barred, intravenous schlock experience. You should come.