The story from H-E-Double-Hockey-SticksWritten by David Yonke Editor, ToledoFAVS.com | | David.Yonke@ReligionNews.com
I almost went to Hell last week.
Nobody told me to go. I was just tempted to make the trip because I thought it would be a good story.
The cab fare was only $10 –- a helluva deal, especially for a round trip ticket. (Let’s face it, a one-way ticket to Hell doesn’t sound very appealing.)
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 religion reporter to file a story from Hell.
I admit. I hesitated briefly when I recalled an editor who forbade reporters from using the word “hell” in a story. We had to change it to Hades. Would he have made me use the dateline, “H-E-DOUBLE-HOCKEY-STICKS”?
Thankfully, I didn’t have to answer to him anymore. So I consulted the Associated Press Stylebook and found the entry for hell: the word should be lowercase, it advises, “But capitalize Hades.”
For my story, however, Hell would have to be capitalized because even though 27% of Americans don’t really believe in hell, Hell is for real. It’s the name of a little town on Grand Cayman in the Cayman Islands, just a brimstone’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 felt inspired to visit 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 wanted to know.
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 hellacious souvenirs, a T-shirt proclaiming: “I’ve been to Hell and back!”
That should be enough to persuade my companions, right?
Not a chance in hell.
Well, there’s this: Hell has a bright-red novelty store called the Devil’s Hangout whose owner, a septuagenarian named Ivan “Satan” Farrington, wears an outfit with two horns, a tail and a red cape and greets visitors with such endearing comments as, “Where the hell are you from?” and “How the hell are you?”
He tells tourists that he went to Hell “in a handbasket” and bought the shop in 1987.
After ringing up a snowglobe, hot sauce or coffee mug from Hell, Ivan tells his customers, “Thanks, now get the hell out.”
The town also has a post office where you can mail someone a postcard from Hell.
For my trump card, I pulled out a full-color “Best of Cayman Islands Tour” brochure explaining that Hell features a “spectacular rock formation” made of black limestone that “would make you imagine what hell looks like!”
Sad to say, my friends and family gave me hell for trying to get them to spend the day looking at limestone rocks and watching an old guy parade around in a devil’s costume.
My journalistic goal of writing a story from Hell went up in smoke.
But only temporarily, it turns out.
There are at least four other places in the world 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, Cayman Islands.
For one, you can sign up to be Mayor of Hell for a Day (for just $100 you get a certificate and a vial of dirt).
And if you go there in the winter, you can write a story that will never happen in the Caribbean: The day Hell freezes over.
Now, where’s that handbasket?
David Yonke is the editor and community manager of Toledo Faith & Values (ToledoFAVS.com), a website that provides in-depth, nonsectarian news coverage of religion, faith and spirituality in the Toledo area.