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Driving North of the Border

Updated: Apr 24, 2022

In a week I’ll be heading north to Connecticut from Florida. Not sure if I’m going to rough it and go non-stop, which will take 20 hours, or give myself a break and stay a night at a hotel.

Whichever method I use, the drive serves as a cultural and therapeutic buffer between the north and south. Whenever I fly, the moment I step out of the airport at either destination is one of confusion. I’m trying to reconstruct what just happened.

I could elaborate about the cultural differences but let’s try to do it in two sentences. Leaving Central Florida for Central Connecticut is like leaving Olive Garden for your local Italian restaurant. One was inspired by the owner walking through the neighborhood and the other a flyover by the board of directors.

Anyway, I’ll be driving by South of the Border in South Carolina if anyone needs any fireworks, cigarettes, or Mexican-inspired clothing. It’s quite a place, like an abandoned amusement park except it’s still open.

Whatever you try to do at this series of shops and amusements everything is off in some way. The gas pumps don’t work, and the restaurants and hotels are never open, even though they’re not closed. There’s a giant tower of a sombrero but you can’t climb it because it’s not safe. Was it ever? As safe as anything was in the 70s.

I’ve stopped a few times and I always feel sad and ashamed: Sad because it must have been something in 1972 and ashamed because I fell for the billboards along I95. According to the South of the Border website, there used to be 250 signs between Philadelphia and Dayton Beach counting down the miles.

The billboards are heavy on humor - if not light on racial sensitivity - but are persistent, still, in their appearance hundreds of times through North and South Carolina. The complex was born as a beer stand by Alan Shafer in 1949 and expanded into the more elaborate operation it is now. At the time, it must have been a blast to stop there on a trip from the north to the south.

It’s conveniently located along I95 at the northern tip of South Carolina. Great real estate, and to the founders of South of the Border, job well done! You ruled the 70s, were still big in the 80s, and hopefully enjoyed a comfortable wind-down thereafter.

South Carolina on I95 is, as it is on every stretch of I95, a work in progress. It’s normally an uneventful, mostly rural route, two lanes north or south, with a nice median of tall trees along the way.

From there it’s North Carolina, Virginia, then sheer gridlock the rest of the way during rush hour. I may take the scenic Route 64 out of Richmond, Virginia, to avoid it but I’ll pull over and check the comfort level.

Nos vemos en Connecticut!



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