I’m happy to report that the art of exaggeration is alive and well in South Carolina, Myrtle Beach being the epicenter of all things that are the World’s Largest, the World’s Greatest, and the World’s Biggest. As the local Ripley’s museum advertises, "Believe It or Not!"
I try hard not to be a complete fuddy-duddy (though my teenage son regularly informs me I fail dismally), but it takes a very naïve person to take all of Myrtle Beach’s claims at face value. Personally, I enjoy suspending disbelief and achieving, if only for a few seconds, that state of perfect gullibility that every advertising executive dreams about.
Take the Myrtle Beach visitor center: Did you know that it’s the world’s largest? Well, anyhow the signs claim it is, and I tried my best to believe them, but it’s just a little bit confusing, see, because by our count there are at least four Myrtle Beach visitor’s centers. Which one is THE largest? Perhaps they mean the largest in aggregate.
Speaking of large things, Myrtle Beach is ground zero for the invasion of Giant Mutant Sea Creatures. There is, of course, the Giant crab, just daring you to enter the restaurant of the same name. Oh, sure, he may look friendly, but I’ve seen enough B-movies to know better. The Giant Crab has obviously put off a number of other wary visitors, for this restaurant has gone out of business.
The Giant Crab
Just when you’re thinking, ‘Phew! I sure am glad I escaped the clutches of the Giant Crab!’ you find there’s something else to worry about. (Begin theme music…):
DUM-dum-DUM-dum-DUM-dum-DUM-dum . . .
That’s right, folks, it’s not safe to go into the beachwear shop anymore. Plus, everyone knows what happens to innocent beachgoers who take inflatable rafts out into the water. They get eaten by a forty-foot Great White Shark, that’s what. This is especially true for young blonde women, who WILL NOT LEARN that it is fatal to engage in hanky panky with their boyfriends in inflatable dingies, especially on Memorial Day.
But enough of this alarmist talk. Let’s look at some fun – and free! - ways to amuse yourself at Myrtle Beach. One of my favorite diversions is reading billboards. I’m here to tell you, in South Carolina they have billboards on top of billboards. There’s a lot of advertising for "gentleman’s clubs," such as the Café Risque and the Wa Wa Spa Oriental Massage parlor, which have a healthy rivalry going with the Bible Factory Outlet Store. You’ll see a sign for the Wet & Wild Adult Novelty and Video Store and then, just a little further down, a gigantic reminder that "Jesus is Lord", exhorting sinners to "Repent!"
It’s hard to decide whose billboard campaign is the loudest and, by extension, most successful, though surely a major contender is Sparky's. All up and down Highway 501, the major traffic artery to the Grand Strand, dozens of huge day-glow signs advertise Sparky’s, the area’s premier purveyor of FIREWORKS. (I’m obliged to use capital letters when I write FIREWORKS. It’s the law in South Carolina, according to Civil Code §20-3-422, which begins, "All citizens shall hereafter refer to any and all pyrotechnic devices as FIREWORKS [upper case]." Granted, I’m in violation of code here by not using three-foot-high day-glow letters, but since this website is based in New York, I can probably claim a technical exemption.)
Sparky’s sells a lot more than FIREWORKS. Where else, under one roof, can you find pecan logs, "Hotter Than Hell" hot sauce, Confederate flag key chains, bottled baby sharks, palmetto T-shirts, boiled peanuts, porcelain collectibles, exotic candy, Indian moccasins, PROUD TO BE AN AMERICAN bumper stickers, shark’s tooth necklaces, and genu-wine alligator heads?
South of the Border, that’s where. Yup, this venerable pit-stop off of I-95 has metastasized into the granddaddy of all roadside attractions.
Let’s face it; driving through North Carolina on I-95 is unbelievably dull. Even the prospect of the Big Bass Corn Maze doesn’t do much to liven things up. So, when the billboards for South of the Border begin to appear at relentless intervals, your average I-95 driver is practically mesmerized into stopping in Dillon, S.C. to see what all the fuss is about. We, of course, were no exception. Besides, we needed to use the rest room..
Pedro, guardian saint of South of the Border
Now I can’t even begin to do justice to South of the Border, or SOB as it’s affectionately called. Let’s just start with Pedro. He’s the mascot at SOB and he’s everywhere, most noticeably as the 97-foot-tall figure looming over the entrance. SOB sprawls over 135 acres, an endless procession of eateries, souvenir shops, thrill rides, and novelty attractions. How about a ride up to the top of the Sombrero Tower in a glass elevator? No? Or perhaps you’d like to stay at Pedro’s Pleasure Dome, equipped with its own wedding chapel. Just $99 will get you hitched.
It’s a darn shame, though, that Pedro’s Concrete Bazaar was closed for the season, as I really, really wanted to buy a concrete burro for my front yard. You know, the ones carrying the little concrete baskets? Maybe a little Pedro to lead the burro? That would be cute, wouldn’t it? .
Outside Pedro's Concrete Bazaar
I was in absolute awe - no, wait, in humongous statue bliss - at SOB. Hippos, gorillas, zebras, dolphins, rearing black stallions, saguaro cacti, lions, giraffes, and above all dozens of gigantic PEDROS populate acre after acre of this over-the-top Mexican-themed tourist trap. What’s Mexico got to do with South Carolina? Well, who cares!
But, getting back to things a little more specific to Myrtle Beach, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention golf billboards. Golf is definitely what you’d call a "growth industry," and it’s assuming epidemic proportions as baby boomers age. A baby boomer goes to bed seeming perfectly normal, then wakes up the next morning and thinks, "Hey! This would be a great day to play a few rounds of golf!" It’s all downhill from there. There’s no known cure for golf.
In Myrtle Beach, the afflicted can buy golfing gloves made of Cabretta Titanium Leather at the Golf Dimensions Superstore ("World’s Largest Golf Only Superstore"). I have no idea what the hell Cabretta Titanium Leather is, but it conjures up images of Ricardo Montalban purring, "Cabretta Titanium Leather . . . the richest kind.") Then, after paying a visit to the Golf Ball Outlet ("Used golf balls shipped everywhere"), the newly color blind (another well-known symptom of golf) can join the crush seeking the most egregious pair of golf pants at Martin’s Golf & Tennis Superstore.
Patriotic billboards are also very big in Myrtle Beach. There are several billboards for the Dixie Stampede, which, from what I can tell is a show featuring horses maddened by Dolly Parton waving flags in their faces.
Now, not to nag or anything, but I’d just like take a few moments here to comment on the fact that there’s an appalling lack of nationalistic sentiment in this country. What’s gotten into people? Americans seem just plain reluctant to display the Stars and Stripes these days.
That’s why it’s so heartening to be in Myrtle Beach, where it’s nearly impossible to be out of sight of something red, white, and blue for more than two minutes at a stretch. You can take your pick of American theme shows featuring everything from Elvis imitators in red, white and blue to a sequin-overloaded extravaganza called "BROADWAY! The Star-Spangled Celebration!" Even the gas station owners have gotten into the act, with marquees proclaiming WE SUPPORT OUR TROOPS.
(This makes me wonder: Just how are they supporting them? Are they sending gasoline to Iraq, by any chance? That would be a good idea, as they could sure use some over there.)
Hands down, though, the winner of my extensively researched South Carolina billboard competition conducted December 25-28, 2003 was the sign spotted on Ocean Drive in Myrtle Beach:
"Peace on Earth – We’ll Fight for It."