The concept that became my novel Go To Hell took 19 years to reach fruition. It started as a TV sitcom idea thrown out over Italian food with three friends during my senior year at college, morphed into a screenplay, then a novel, then a stage musical, before settling down as a YA novel when I needed a concept I could develop fast.
The first time I tried Go To Hell as a novel, it was going to be a very different story from the final product. Instead of a teenager, the protagonist was going to be an advertising copywriter in Manhattan. I wrote four pages before I shelved the project once again.
But I could never bring myself to throw out those four pages because I loved the way I tried to channel Douglas Adams in my hubris. I thought I might find a place to use some of the description again, but it never really presented itself.
So here, for those who are curious, are what almost became the first four pages of Go To Hell.
It was your typical summer day in New York City, which is to say it was hellish.
During the weeks that fall somewhere between Memorial Day and the Autumnal Equinox, creation makes its annual attempt at getting it right this time. Around the first of June, a thick haze will gather over the city which (if one could view it from the proper perspective) would resemble the primordial ooze from which all life sprang billions of years ago when a bolt of lightning stuck two amino acids and formed the first protein. Some misguided people believe that smog, carbon dioxide, and other signs of pollution are manmade things. Untrue. They are nothing more than nature looking humanity in the face and saying “go away.”
Unfortunately, since the construction of the Empire State Building, lightning has found much too easy a path to ground to have much of a chance of striking the proper chemicals. As a result, around August the magic moment is gone, the haze disappears, and everyone gets really, really, hostile.
In short, New York City gets its period.
Add to that chemical stew the hopes and dreams of the City’s inhabitants. Add every baby’s cry and every corpse’s death rattle. Add the bride’s giggle and the battered wife’s scream. Throw in the child’s laugh and the gunshot. Stir in Rush Limbaugh and Al Sharpton. Top it all off with irony, and when the summer breeze plots a southward course through Jersey, New York becomes a city smothering itself.
* * *
If New York City is hell, the Long Island Expressway is the River Styx. While the aptly-named LIE does not contain some of the Transportation Gods’ more interesting gifts (such as bridges that terminate in parking lots or exits that feed back on themselves) it is still probably their greatest practical joke. That is, of course, if it can even be attributed to them. Some modern metatheologians have theorized that the Transportation Gods cannot be involved in the design and maintenance of the LIE, since ‘transport’ implies movement along a route, which the LIE does not achieve of its own free will.
Driving along the LIE anywhere between 6:00 a.m. and 2:00 a.m. on a given day is much like wading through a swimming pool filled with catseye marbles; you can do it but it takes a lot of patience, much more effort than it is worth, and you won’t want to look at yourself in the mirror when you are done. Those who have come to know and respect this roadway will often opt for paying the ferryman Charon, disguised as the tolltaker on the nearby mass-transit system, to escort them instead.
This would be a perfect analogy if it were not for two problems. First, New York City is not hell any more than California is Los Angeles. The latter is only the best known division of the former. Second, one creature knew and respected the LIE more than anyone else, and as a result decided to use it that day. As a result, he was late.
Basil was starting to regret spending the weekend in the Hamptons. Granted, his job description pretty much called for regrets to be sidelined, but sometimes you just can’t control it. Sure, he had a wonderful time at the beach and had caught up on some sorely-needed relaxation, but now he was going to be late for work. He knew the system, but foolishly he thought he could beat it. He had woken early, gotten dressed, climbed into his car, and pulled onto the LIE at precisely 5:59 a.m.. Fate, however, was having none of it. One minute later, the little toggle switch at Expressway Control was thrown, and every vehicle and living being on the road ground to an immediate, unforgiving halt.
Damn it, damn it, damn it, he muttered in the literal sense, but it was no good. Despite his best efforts, inertia ruled the day. It was nearly forty five minutes until the traffic started to move, and then it crept along at a snail’s pace.
* * *
Those who live within the City have developed a more sophisticated (the anthropologist within us would call it “civilized,” the genius “insane,” and the lunatic “still insane, yet aesthetically pleasing”) technique of getting from one place to another. Those of you who are curious may want to give it a try, but should not. It is, in fact, quite dangerous for novices, much like learning how to suck a brick through a straw without taking the time to contemplate what will happen when it pops out the other end.
But for the endlessly curious, I will give you a sample illustration. Take a piece of paper. Mark a point in the lower left-hand corner. Now mark a point in the upper right-hand corner. Finally, take your pencil and draw a line from the first point, and do your level best to not make it reach the second point. When you have finally reached the second point in less time than it would have taken you to get a ruler and draw a line straight through them, you will be ready to navigate in New York City. Until then, leave it to the professionals.
New York hath no fury like a map maker scorned.