We had occasion just a few weekends ago to drive to Florida and back over a long weekend. Mrs. Working Stiff, who is generally not fond of a long drive, was a very good sport and we had a good trip all in all. It helped that road conditions and traffic were as good as we could have asked for along the entire trip, and I’m happy to report that we don’t have another flat tire story to relate!
We were scheduled to set out southward several hours before dawn on the morning of February 9th – a Thursday, but the ominous weather-person talk of an approaching snowstorm grew louder and louder. With the latest available information saying that snow would be starting in our area at around midnight Wednesday, our planned departure of 3:00 AM Thursday seemed less and less appealing. We made the decision to quickly finish our over-packing, load up the car, ice the cooler, put far too many snacks into a handily-reachable bag, and get outta Dodge!
It was one of the best decisions we’ve made in a long time. Road conditions and visibility were excellent. Traffic was even light enough that we opted to just stay on 95 all the way through Baltimore and even past Washington. We breezed through with no issues at all. Any time you drive past DC without hitting much traffic, believe me, you have accomplished something (or gotten away with something)!
In just over 4.5 hours of fast and reasonably pleasant cruising, we made camp for the night at an exit about 20 miles shy of Richmond. The exit advertises a town called Ashland, which may very well be an actual place that exists, though to me, over numerous trips, the Ashland exit meant the usual busy conglomeration of all the chain hotels along with tons of eateries and gas stations. I think there is a Starbucks somewhere and I have spied a Krispy Kreme sign also. There is a Cracker Barrel there that would have been our leisurely breakfast stop had we carried through with our original plan for an early morning departure. We don’t eat a decadent Cracker Barrel breakfast very often but an early start and a long drive is a good excuse. “Sure, I’ll have the Extra-Sodium Breakfast Feast and I’ll even try one of those “grits”! Dee-lish!
We were nestled all snug in our room at the Sleep Inn and Suites by about 11:00 PM and had not seen a single snowflake, so Mission Accomplished! As it turned out, according to our neighbor back home, who was in charge of worshipping our cats while we were away, we ended up getting about 6” of snow by the time it was all over the next morning. As luck or the weather gods would have it, almost all of that was melted away by the time we got home on Monday afternoon. I never had to lift a snow shovel – yippeeee!
The rest of the trip went very well, including a very nice family event. Palm Coast Florida via one night in Raleigh, and then home again with a stop for the night in another Virginia town just off a 95 exit called Emporia. We stayed at another Sleep Inn there as well, and I recall that I had stayed at one during another trip south late last year. Mrs. Working Stiff and I both thought they were clean, decent rooms. With the included substantial breakfast at under $100 total – not bad for a highway stop. We will look for them again in the future, should the need arise. They are part of the Choice Hotels chain, which is the same company as Comfort Suites, Quality Inn, Econolodge, and others. The Working Stiff hereby endorses them! www.choicehotels.com
So, enough about that. One of the highlights of our trip was our homeward-bound stop at one of the Biggest Daddies of Roadside Kitsch – South of the Border. Now, anyone from the northeast U.S. who has ever driven to Florida probably remembers the seemingly endless chain of billboards that must start around the Virginia – North Carolina border, telling you that you are getting closer and closer! They always feature “Pedro” and I think they may have gotten more politically correct over the years. “Pedro is Waiting for you – 125 miles”, then “Visit South of the Border and have lunch with Pedro – 82 miles” – that sort of thing. And it goes on and on as you get closer and closer to the exit, which is just inside the South Carolina border. Many of us will remember that entering South Carolina meant that finally you could buy fireworks. Many an east coast south-bound road trip has been made over the decades to load up on fireworks for the coming 4th of July.
South of the Border started up in the fifties as a quiet beer stand and truck stop and expanded from there, adding fireworks in the early sixties. There is a gas station, mini-golf, motel, several restaurants, and an assortment of gift shops. It is all very colorful, fun, and gaudy, in a faux-Mexican theme complete with a giant Ape and several dinosaurs. (Well, why not?) It is an easy highway exit so if you are passing by, you really need to stop. Fill up the tank, grab a coffee, load up on fireworks, and take in some wonderful and cheesy roadside Americana.
Here is a link to the Wikipedia page for South of The Border.
The Working Stiff