The Bey of Biscayne
If you were a denizen of My Home Town in the mid 1960s and heard the phrase “south of the border,” you would’ve either thought of one of two things, or both.
If you’d never traveled to All Points South, it would’ve referred to Mexico. If, however, you’d driven down the East Coast to South Carolina, it would’ve also referred to Pedro’s South of the Border.
And what was (and still is) Pedro’s?
Pedro’s is a sprawling, 300-plus-acre campy tourist trap just south of the North Carolina border (thus its name). It has a motel, restaurants, gas stations and shlock galore, including, of course, the age-old Dixie Deelite — fireworks. It is a dreckophile’s dream-come-true.
In 1966 my childhood pal Peter MacIntyre, though sophisticated beyond his years, wasn’t well-traveled, so to him “south of the border” meant only Mexico.
And how is his ignorance of a tourist trap relevant to this tale? Read on and you shall see.
In fall ’66, Peter was On His Game. He was about to start his sophomore year at St. Lawrence after a very successful freshman year. He was a scholar, a varsity athlete and a full-fledged brother of Sigma Chi or some other renowned fraternity. He was a Big Man on Campus, except he lacked one thing — a car.
But the car issue had an easy solution — and a long-standing one at that. His grandfather had a 1938 Buick Roadmaster he’d bought new, driven little and had garaged for the last 20 years, saving it for his only grandson — Peter.
The Roadmaster was the ultimate luxury car of its day and, as far as I’m concerned, the most beautiful ride ever to come out of Detroit. It was huge, loaded with every convenience and option, and had a monster engine. In short, it was the perfect vehicle for the perfect gentleman. And it was Peter’s for the asking. Only two things stood between him and that car – his mother and grandmother.
While his grandfather figured the Roadmaster was ideal for a BMOC, his mother and grandmother begged to disagree. Actually, they didn’t beg at all. In fact, there was no discussion about it. Instead, they decided a 30-year-old car, even a near-mint, top-of-the-line, luxury car, went as well with a 1966 college boy as a raccoon coat, a straw boater and a ukulele. So they pooled their mad money, grabbed Peter and headed off to Gladd and Leaper to get him a righteous set of wheels.
Given what was on the lot and in their purses, there were only two choices.
They were Chevys, one a ’59 Biscayne, the other a ’60 Impala. They were both in great shape and in the same price range — a lordly 500 frogskins.
The Biscayne was a bronze-and-tan two-tone. The Impala was a white convertible.
It was no real choice at all. The Biscayne, in addition to being a year older, was a lower-end model. The Impala was Chevy’s flagship. And while a convertible in the Adirondacks was hardly practical, it would’ve been one helluva lot of fun (and status) in the month or two it could be driven with the top down. It was, in short, the perfect BMOCmobile.
Peter checked the cars’ interiors, he sat behind the wheel, he kicked the tires, and just when he was about to say yea to the Impala, he noticed the bumper sticker on the rear bumper. It said “South of the Border.”
Peter fantasies of idyllic cruising through fall-foliage-lined country lanes, one hand on the wheel, the other resting on the shoulder of a lovely coed, came to a screeching stop. While he knew almost nothing about cars, he knew even less about geography. But he did know this much: He was not going to buy a car that’d been driven in Mexico. And he didn’t. The Impala stayed on the lot; the Biscayne went home with him.
A fiery end
And what of the Roadmaster?
Grandpa MacIntyre was a salty dog, figuratively and literally. He was a career Navy man, having started as an enlisted man and eventually becoming an officer. His career spanned 30 years, and early in it he’d circumnavigated the globe in Teddy Roosevelt’s Great White Fleet. To him, his wife and daughter-in-law’s buying the Chevy was akin to a mutiny … and a successful one at that. And there was nary a thing he could do about it; forget stringing them up from the yardarm. Suffice it to say, it rankled mightily.
Not long after Peter got his Biscayne, Grandpa got rid of his Roadmaster. He sold it to Orville Paye for a song. Unfortunately, the song was Johnny “Guitar” Watson’s karmic masterpiece, “Ain’t It a Bitch.”
Considering what Orville paid for the car versus what he could get for it, it looked to be The Deal of Century. He immediately stashed it in his garage and went looking for buyers, but before he could find one, tragedy struck. The garage went up in flames and the Roadmaster and Orville’s dream of The Deal of the Century with it.
And what did Granpa MacIntyre think of The Great Roadmaster Shtuss of ’66 and its sad ending?
No one knew, since he never again mentioned any of it.