When Barry and I left Cayenne, driving a characterless rental car packed to the gills with our belongings, we were in a state of shock. Unused to navigating roads and freeways at 60 miles per hour, we took an unintentionally circuitous route out of Baltimore (i.e., we got lost). Our first stop was Crystal City, Virginia, outside Washington, D.C., where we took advantage of the lack of government security to walk unquestioned into Andy Johns’ office.
In a former life, Barry was a patent examiner at the U.S. Patent Office, where he and Andy met. Both were using their recent engineering degrees, but the intensive writing and lack of hands-on problem-solving was Barry’s downfall, and he left after only a few years. After almost fifteen years, Andy is still thriving at the PTO. “Hey,” he admits, “I like to write.”
The visit with Andy perked us up after our last days on Cayenne. There were so many interesting topics to discuss, from Andy and Sandy’s skiing adventures in Europe to the fun of splitting firewood. For quite some time now, Andy’s been actively involved with BookCrossing.com under the screen name “ResQgeek.” He puts a label with a number on an individual copy of a book, then releases the book “into the wild,” leaving it someplace for anyone to find. The person who finds the book is encouraged to log onto the website and enter comments, then pass the book along. The website allows you to follow along on the book’s journey and see what people thought of it.
As full-time adventurers, it’s time for Barry and me to become “BookCrossers.” As a matter of fact, one of our books began without us. Many years ago, as a joke, we gave Andy a copy of “Human Limbs and Their Substitutes.” We wrapped it up with a cutting board as a Christmas gift. Recently, Andy found the book in his attic and decided to send it out traveling (you can see where). It’s already been around the U.S., and if it wasn’t such a heavy beast, it would probably make it overseas.
After our lunch with Andy, we declined to pay our last respects to Ronald Reagan’s body and made it out of the D.C. area before the funeral-associated traffic mayhem began.
Traveling south on I-95 has its parallels with the Gulf Stream and the Intracoastal Waterway. The speeds are alarming (like the Gulf Stream) and you pass the same cars over and over (like the ICW). Like the ICW, it is monotonous. And away from Andy’s cheerful conversation, we fell back into recriminations, rehashing, and general depression over the Cayenne fiasco.
Crossing into North Carolina, we started thinking about a place to spend the night. Barry was struggling through pages of ads and coupons, trying to find the cheapest motel, when we saw our first South of the Border billboard. “Do they have a motel at South of the Border,” he asked? And what started out as a gloomy drive to a motel turned into a gleeful pilgrimage, complete with pictures.
Now, if you’ve ever traveled through North or South Carolina on I-95, you already know what I mean and you’re either rolling your eyes in disgust or chuckling. If you haven’t, I’m gonna try to describe it for you.
Each billboard tells you how far you are from South of the Border. We started taking photos when we were still 61 miles away, but all were out of focus until this one.
From New York to Florida, you’ll find the trademark billboards. Every one is black, with astro-bright colors, a sombrero, and a simple saying, like, “Keep Yelling, Kids! (They’ll stop!)” One guy came up with all those silly sayings. Close to the North-South Carolina border, they pop up every mile or so, like old friends. And when you arrive, you get to drive right through the legs of the largest neon sign east of Las Vegas, a huge “Pedro” character outside the original restaurant.
Small “Pedros” look across at big “Pedro” in awe.
Picture a place with acres of lousy restaurants, cheap motel rooms, gas stations, import shops, antique shops, miniature golf, amusement park rides, and fireworks stands. Doesn’t sound like much, does it? But it’s not what you do, it’s the way that you do it! From the swimming pool in “Pedro’s Pleasure Dome” to the sombrero-topped observation tower to the dozens of cute concrete sculptures, the place is full of whimsy and humor. And it’s the product of a self-made man, who took a theme and ran with it for over fifty years.
Meps makes a couple of new friends.
Barry’s hangin’ 10!
Embarrassing, but that’s me at the bottom.
Admittedly, in this day and age, S.O.B. is an anachronism. The sombrero and pidgin Mexican sayings on the billboards are no longer politically correct. Walking around, the paint is peeling and the place looks seedy. Still, it was a fun and crazy place to stop for the night, and who cares whether the guy who built it got rich? He has a great sense of humor, and he’s made millions of people smile. We’d been in the depths of despair that day, but the evening found us frolicking on the concrete statues like a couple of kids. The guy who came up with South of the Border didn’t just make us smile, he made us laugh and restored something we’d lost.
Y’all come back now, y’hear?