south of the border

South of the Border, the Quintessential Roadside Attraction

South of the Border is an amazing guitar solo in the otherwise mediocre song that is Interstate 95.

Another View of the South of the Border Sign

Growing up, South of the Border was legendary. It was a mystical placed filled with fireworks, primary-colored souvenirs, and frozen desserts. Any kid lucky enough to have a family that made the road trip from New Jersey to Florida returned from summer vacations with magical tales of the place — and paper sacks overflowing with firecrackers, bottle rockets, and roman candles. And of course, their family car (typically a station wagon) was tattooed with the iconic South of the Border bumper sticker.

South of the Border Gorilla

At the decrepit age of 46, I finally made it to the Mecca of roadside attractions. I arrived at about an hour before sunset, providing the perfect light to make all the yellows yellower, and all the reds redder, including the sombrero and slacks of the gigantic South of the Border mascot dude. 85% of everything at S.O.B. is colored a slightly-orange yellow (like Velveeta cheese) and tomato red.

The grounds were populated by several gorillas and flamingos. I am not sure of their significance other than family photo opportunities. Maybe a hug for a road-weary and lonely traveler.

South of the Border is roughly the size of a college campus, filled with multiple gift shops, a fireworks store, places to eat and get ice cream, and a hotel/motel. Each gift shop has its own personality. One has a nautical/ocean/tiki/flamingo theme; another is upscale and hoity-toity featuring gifts costing hundreds of dollars, and yet another is a supermarket-sized building dedicated to Mexico-themed souvenirs. The nautical-themed shop resonated with me, since I live at the beach, and the staff was helpful and humorous. I loaded up on magnets, ashtrays (I don’t smoke), shot glasses (I rarely drink), coffee mugs, and of course bumper stickers (which cost a dime or a quarter, and the proceeds go to charity).

SOB

I purchased a lot magnets: sobmagnets

Since this was day-one of a 9-day road trip, I did not purchase a sack of fireworks, but I did festoon my vehicle with the classic South of the Border bumper sticker.

Finally visiting S.O.B. filled one of the many holes in my swiss-cheese soul. The mystery was no longer a mystery. I got to do what all the lucky kids got to do 40 years ago.

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PostScript. If I was still in college I would probably write a paper about how S.O.B. engages in cultural-appropriation or stereo-types Mexican culture. 25 years later, I’m just happy the place still exists.

The World’s Largest Horseshoe Crab

The world’s largest Horseshoe Crab is in Blanchester, Ohio. I know what you are thinking: 1) what is a Horseshoe Crab, and 2) why is there a crab in Ohio, which is no where near an ocean?? Horseshoe crabs are not true crabs, but they do live in the sea, and they are arthropods, and they have blue blood, and they look amazing… and the world’s largest one is a giant sculpture.

You’ll find it at the Freedom Worship Baptist Church in Blanchester, Ohio. Read more about it on Roadside America.

World's largest horseshoe crab in Blanchester, OH

World's largest horseshoe crab in Blanchester, OH

Last time visited: 2008.

The Superman Museum in Metropolis, Illinois

The Superman Museum (37.152684, -88.732646), or technically the Super Museum, in Metropolis, Illinois, is both a museum dedicated to Clark Kent/Superman and a comic book store/souvenir shop.

Superman Museum

Outside the brightly-colored (red, blue & yellow of course) brick building you’ll find a phone booth (just in case Clark needs to change), a green car reminiscent of the car on the cover of Action Comics #1 (the debut of Superman) and some contraptions that let you take a photo of your head on Superman or Supergirl’s body.

Phone Booth

Inside you’ll find a museum, and a comic book store skewed towards Superman and DC Comics. The best purchasable items are the glow in the dark Kryptonite rocks and the Kryptonite candy.

This Super Museum is worth a visit if you’re in the area, and I suppose it would be a must-visit destination for super-fans of Superman.

Big John: Metropolis’ Other Hero

Driving through Metropolis on your way to the World’s Largest Statue of Superman, you’ll find another large statue of a “super man”: Big John (37.144369, -88.716370).

Big John

Big John fits in the genre of roadside attractions known as Muffler Men: giant statues of square-jawed he-men, that beckon you to buy mufflers, or in the case of John, to buy groceries. John looks like a cross between the happiest lumberjack ever and Al Capp’s L’li Abner.

If you lived in Southern Illinois, wouldn’t you shop at Big Johns?

Big John

Read more about Big John in this lengthy article.

Last visited: May 24th, 2015.