South of the Border Neon Sign

South of the Border at Night

South of the Border is a roadside attraction that needs no introduction. I’ve written about it before: South of the Border, the Quintessential Roadside Attraction  (if you do need an introduction).

I visited the attraction twice in December of 2019 — once during the day (12/3), and once at night (12/10). During the day, all the shops & restaurants are open for business. At night, the shops are closed & the place becomes a neon ghost town.

I didn’t plan on visiting South of the Border at night, but when I passed it — all lit up like a bowl of electric candy — I could not resist. How often do you get to explore a tourist attraction when you’re the only tourist? Rare. I stopped, walked around, it was worth it.

I saw one other guy, and we were both taking photos of the giant Pedro statue:

Pedro Lit up at night

The Hot Tamale restaurant & “hot dog” statue:

Hot Tamale

Fort Pedro Fireworks store:

Fort Pedro Fireworks

Pedro’s Pantry convenience store:

The Pantry

Ice Cream shop with Christmas Tree:

Ice Cream

Giant neon sombrero tower:

South of the Border Tower

“Never Fart” (Josh) sticker on a dumpster:

Never Fart

The big, colorful neon South of the Border sign visible from the highway:

South of the Border Neon Sign

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.