- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 17, 2005

SOUTH OF THE BORDER, S.C. — I always have wanted to write that dateline.

South of the Border. Pedroland. The seventh wonder of Roadside America. The holy land of a nation’s kitsch.

On the way to Savannah, Ga., to see the Sand Gnats, part of a road trip to all of the Washington Nationals’ farm clubs, I knew I would drive by South of the Border, at the boundary between North and South Carolina, just off Interstate 95.

I had driven by hundreds of times in treks back and forth to Florida over the past 30 years. And I had stopped a number of times to get the Pedro experience. But this time, I had a chance to make radio history. I couldn’t pass that up.

I had a chance to do a live radio interview from South of the Border. Without extensive research, I think it is safe to say no one in the history of radio has done a live interview from South of the Border.

OK, well, maybe nobody had done an interview on sports talk radio from South of the Border.

All right, if we really want to be safe, I believe I am secure in saying no one in the history of XM sports talk radio has done a live interview from South of the Border.

It was truly a milestone in broadcasting.

If you are one of the unfortunate souls who has never passed by South of the Border, it is like a Pocono Mountains souvenir shop on steroids. It is a monument to bad taste and at the same time the only thing of interest along I-95 from Maine to Florida. More than 100 miles before you reach South of the Border, you begin seeing billboards with bad jokes promoting its symbol, Pedro, and the various attractions (for years, many of the billboards were in broken English until political correctness eventually forced a change):

“Best in this neck of the woods” with a picture of a giraffe.

“You never sausage a place (you’re always a weiner at Pedro’s)” with a giant sausage on the billboard.

The place was founded by Alan Schafer in 1949 as a small beer stand just over the border from the dry counties of North Carolina. It was originally called South of the Border Beer Depot and became South of the Border Drive In when he added a diner. Other pieces, such as a motel and gift shop, were added. The story goes that when Shafer went to Mexico to purchase merchandise for his gift shop, he met a couple of guys named “Pedro” and “Pancho,” and they came to work as bellmen at South of the Border, and thus the Pedro character identity was born.

If that is true, no bellman has been more celebrated. There is a 100-foot tall Pedro statue, so large cars can go between his legs; a giant sombrero, some 200-feet high; and dozens of signs and businesses all with Pedro’s name.

Now, maybe some wacky DJ at some point in radio history had the notion of broadcasting live from South of the Border or calling into his station or whatever. I asked the woman working at the South of the Border Motor Inn (where Pedro’s Pleasure Dome is located) whether she knew of any such broadcasts or interviews. She said she wasn’t aware of any.

I also asked her whether any sports figures have stayed at South of the Border. Again, she said she didn’t know of any, but I’ll bet there were a few NASCAR boys that stayed at Pedro’s before the gravy days began in racing. I guess what happens at South of the Border stays at South of the Border.

So I am standing outside Pedro’s Leather Shop on the pay phone waiting to talk to Charley Steiner on XM satellite radio’s baseball show, excited about the prospect of, at the very least, making XM sports radio history.

“Charley, I am coming to you live from South of the Border, here in South Carolina,” I said as the interview began.

Now, Charley, being a New York guy, didn’t seem to care about anything south of Battery Park, so he wasn’t particularly impressed. I don’t think he grasped the enormity of what he was part of at that moment.

Charley wanted to talk baseball. “So, Thom, did you think the Washington Nationals would be doing this well?” he asked.

So I started talking Nationals, but what I really want to talk about were the statues of gorillas and pink flamingos surrounding me.

“Charley, I’m looking right now at Fort Pedro, where you can buy artillery shells, rockets and mortars,” I said.

“So, Thom, do you think the Nationals can keep up this pace?” Charley asked.

I did my best but wound up talking about Jose Guillen’s hitting and Estaban Loaiza’s pitching. Not to belittle talking about the return of major league baseball to Washington, but, hey, it has been done.

I was talking history here.

So we wrapped up the interview. I hung up the phone, took my Pedro snow cone and genuine $5.95 maracas, got in my car and drove under the legs of the giant Pedro. I got back on I-95 heading south, with the giant sombrero in the rearview mirror, leaving behind my legacy in XM sports talk radio.

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