I almost went to Hell last week. Instead I ended up at the beach.
Nobody told me to go to Hell. I was just tempted to make the trip because … well, you know that going to Hell would be a real scoop for a religion reporter.
The cab fare was only $10 –- helluva deal, especially for round-trip fare. (Let’s face it, a one-way ticket to Hell doesn’t have much appeal.)
But I quickly found myself trapped between a rock and a hot place when I tried to persuade my wife and friends to join me.
It didn’t seem like such a hot idea, they said.
They didn’t understand that this was a once in a lifetime — maybe a once in an afterlife-time? — opportunity for a journalist to file a story from Hell.
I admit I hesitated briefly when I recalled an editor who had forbade reporters from using the word “hell” in a story. He thought it was offensive (do you?), and we had to use “Hades” instead.
I wonder if I would have had to use the dateline, “H-E-DOUBLE-HOCKEY-STICKS”?
Thankfully, I have a different editor now, but I consulted the Associated Press Stylebook and found an entry for hell: the word should be lowercase, it advises, “But capitalize Hades.”
Hell is the name of a town on Grand Cayman in the Cayman Islands, in the Caribbean Sea just a (brim)stone’s throw south of Cuba.
Our group had been sailing on the Carnival Liberty cruise ship and Grand Cayman was the last port of call during our (dare I say, heavenly?) vacation in the Western Caribbean.
I was the only one in the group, though, who was interested in going to Hell. Everyone else, for some reason, was more interested in chilling out in the azure waters of Grand Cayman’s world-famous Seven Mile Beach.
What the heck did Hell have to offer, they asked.
Well, I had done my homework and learned that Hell has a gift shop called the Devil’s Den where you can buy, among other items, a T-shirt proclaiming: “I’ve been to Hell and back!” (Saw a few people sporting those when we got back to the ship.)
That should help persuade my companions, right?
Not a chance in hell.
Then there was this: Hell has a bright-red novelty store called the Devil’s Hangout whose owner, a septuagenarian named Ivan “Satan” Farrington, wears a red outfit with two horns, a tail and a cape and greets visitors with such endearing comments as, “Where the hell are you from?” “Hot as hell, isn’t it?” and “How the hell are you?”
According to reporter Richard Bangs, Ivan tells tourists that he bought the shop in 1987 and went to Hell “in a handbasket.”
He also likes to say he was born on July 17, 1934 then punch the numbers “7,” “17,” and “34″ into a calculator. When he turns it upside down, the display, as every math nerd knows, looks like “H-E-L-L”.
After ringing up souvenirs such as snow globes, hot sauce or coffee mugs from Hell, Ivan tells his customers, “Thanks, now get the hell out.”
HELL-OOOOoo, Ivan, is there no end to your hellacious one-liners?
The town of Hell, Grand Cayman, also has a post office where you can mail someone a postcard from Hell.
Still struggling to persuade my group to join me in a quick trip to Hell and back, I pulled out a full-color “Best of Cayman Islands” brochure that boasts of Hell’s “spectacular rock formation” made of black limestone that “would make you imagine what hell looks like!”
Sorry to say, my friends and family gave me hell for trying to get them to spend their brief time on Grand Cayman looking at limestone rocks and watching an old guy with a goatee parade around in a devil’s costume.
I could see that my journalistic goal of writing a story from Hell was going up in smoke.
But only temporarily, it turns out.
There are at least four other places on earth named Hell, and one of them is in Michigan – just 75 miles north of Toledo.
No need to travel to the tropics to go to Hell. And Hell, Michigan, has a few things you can’t get in Hell, Grand Cayman.
For one, you can sign up to be Mayor of Hell for a Day (it’ll cost you $100, but you get an official certificate and a vial of dirt from Hell).
And if you go to Hell, Michigan, in the winter, you might be able to report a story that you would never get in the Caribbean: The day Hell freezes over (cue the Eagles album).
Now, where do I find a handbasket?