Michigan Nice

The email arrived this morning. The message went: “Dear Sean, nobody gives a flying [cussword] about your random, unorganized thoughts on spiritualish matters. You’re not as wise as you think you are. Go to hell.”

Well, whoever you are, thanks for the upbeat letter. You sound like someone I could be friends with. Unfortunately, as it happens, I’ve already been to Hell.

Seriously. This happened last year when I traveled to Ann Arbor, Michigan, to make a speech at a Lutheran potluck. I had never attended a Lutheran church before, and I was a little nervous about it. But everyone told me that people in the Mitten State were so unwaveringly friendly they were often referred to as being “Michigan nice.”

When I arrived in the Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport, I was met by a Lutheran named—really—Prince.

Prince was a large, elderly man from Italian descent. He was built like a Whirlpool refrigerator. He spoke animatedly with his hands, and he wore more wrist-intensive jewelry than most televangelists. His mother nicknamed him “Prince” because—in his own words—he was an incurable mama’s boy.

“Hey, Sean!” Prince cried in the airport, using a booming voice. “Get the [cussword] over here!”

Prince was not your soft-spoken, shrinking-violet Lutheran. He was the kind of Italian guy who, whenever he opened his mouth, chunks of ceiling plaster fell like flurries.

He gave me a hug, slapping my back so manfully that I coughed up particles of my own bronchial matter. Before releasing me, Prince looked me in the eyes and said, “You ever been to Hell?”

This is not a question I am often asked while being embraced in an airport by a Lutheran. I was wishing I had brought pepper spray.

But then he explained that there was actually a town named “Hell,” located a few minutes from Ann Arbor. And it was Prince’s deep belief that everyone should visit this town once.

So there we were, riding in a Cadillac Seville, listening to Prince’s car radio play Captain & Tennille’s “Love Will Keep Us Together,” which feels very close to being stuck in a literal hell.

It was mid-November, it had recently snowed outside.

“This is good,” said Prince, noticing the snowfall, “Hell should be freezing over about now.”

Then he looked at me, probably expecting me to burst into a fit of laughter. Instead I smiled weakly and made sure my door was unlocked.

Our first stop in Hell was a saloon, where the band was playing music loud enough to alter the weather. We ordered a few beers. I ordered three miniature hamburgers which the menu had called “backsliders.” Prince got deviled eggs.

Prince told me there were a few theories on how the town got its name.

The first theory states that one sunny, summer day, two German travelers arrived in town, stepped out of a stagecoach, and exclaimed, “So schön hell!” (which is translated as, “So beautifully bright!”) A few passersby supposedly heard these foreign words, and the name stuck.

Another theory is that when the first explorers traversed Michigan, the search party was so beset by mosquitoes, disease, impenetrable forests, and extensive wetlands, that some of the explorers were losing hope. It was such existential misery that one of the pioneers cried out in agony, “This must be Detroit!”

But after everyone realized Detroit hadn’t been discovered yet, someone said, “Never mind, we must be in Hell!”

“We like our town name,” said one of the locals in the saloon. “It brings in tourist dollars. We get tons of visitors who come to hang out here. They pose for pictures, buy T-shirts, some folks even come to Hell to get married.”

“Married?” I said.

“Oh, yeah. We got a wedding chapel.”

I asked why anyone would choose to get married in Hell. The local man told me it’s an ancient Michigan belief that if you begin your marriage in Hell there’s nowhere left to go but up.

Later, my chaperone gave me the dime tour of Perdition. And trust me, there isn’t much to see. There really isn’t anything to do in Hell, aside from tourist gimmicks.

Such as, for a fee of $100 you can become mayor of Hell for a day. Or you can mail a postcard home. (“Things are great here in Hell, Mom!”)

Another major feature in town is the plot of land locals refer to as the “Scattering Yard,” where you can leave the remains of a loved one. Or more specifically, a not-so-loved one.

Other than that, there’s nothing to see. The little hamlet consists of a few businesses, a bar, and karaoke night every Tuesday. The place is so small that you could lob a rock from one side of town to the other and injure half the population. So why visit?

“Easy,” said Prince. “You visit a place like this so that whenever someone tells you to go to hell, you can say, ‘No, thanks, already been there.’”

Lutherans.

55 comments

  1. Friends - April 5, 2022 7:04 am

    This was so funny! You paint mind pictures with your words. Thank you.

    Reply
  2. Emily Ray - April 5, 2022 7:07 am

    Sean,
    You just succeeded in brightening the hell of insomnia from anxiety to laughter with your Michigan Nice piece. At least I will lie awake for the next hour with a smile on my face. By the way, you know Captain and Tennile hail from Montgomery, Alabama, right? Keep the faith, buddy! It’s the season of repentance. As you’ve already been to (you know where), you know the importance of turning back.— Emily, an Alabamian living in Virginia

    Reply
  3. Linda Willson - April 5, 2022 7:58 am

    And so there we have it…the perfect example of making lemonade when you’ve been handed a lemon. You rock Sean….

    Reply
  4. Ann - April 5, 2022 10:17 am

    I really hope whoever wrote you that email has an improved day and life and attitude. I really think they should continue to read your columns and take them “ in” as you see the real world in a positive way. I’m sorry for their words and hoping they will begin to have a better life. THANK YOU, SEAN

    Reply
  5. Sonya Tuttle - April 5, 2022 10:31 am

    Smiled all the time I read it. Love!! Makes me want to go and get a t shirt! Poor deluded man who wrote the e mail.

    Reply
  6. Leigh Amiot - April 5, 2022 10:35 am

    It’s easy to say horrid things via electronic communication. Sorry you are subjected to that. Your critic is certainly wrong about your observations. They’re a combination of being astute, empathetic, and compassionate, with a heaping cup of humor thrown in. Your blog is a nice retreat from other places online where piranhas feed mercilessly on others. At least when one wanders here, they are quite outnumbered. Some of the loveliest people comment on your work, I enjoy their reflections.

    Reply
    • Friends - April 5, 2022 11:07 am

      Leigh… I agree!

      Reply
    • Margaret Moore - April 5, 2022 1:02 pm

      You nailed it, Leigh, in such an observant and literate way that I hope you write and/or teach. Sean, keep on making the world a better place.

      Reply
  7. Norma Den🇿🇦🇿🇦🇿🇦 - April 5, 2022 11:10 am

    Sean you are so good. Some folk feel good by being plain nasty but you take it all & literally, turn the other cheek by turning the meanest of comments into something joyful for your regular readers. I hope that person has a good happy day with his/her attitude.

    Reply
  8. Marie - April 5, 2022 11:13 am

    🤣🤣🤣

    Reply
  9. Naomi Smith - April 5, 2022 11:16 am

    Don’t you just love people who are so unhappy, disgruntled, and miserable that they feel the need to spread it around?
    Thanks for your uplifting words. Keep on helping us regular folks find enjoyment in the gift that God gave you.

    Reply
  10. Liberty Belle - April 5, 2022 11:21 am

    How sad for the person who sent you the email. Let’s all send of prayer of goodness to that person! & wonderful for you to take it in stride & put a funny, witty response! Never change because you are uplifting!

    Reply
  11. David Birchall - April 5, 2022 11:22 am

    Nice to get an insight into an unfamiliar way of life. I’m from Dublin, Ireland, but have lived in Liverpool England for most of my life. Appreciate the glimpse into completely different cultures…

    Reply
  12. Paul McCutchen - April 5, 2022 11:22 am

    The first thing I am going to do is find it on the map. Being originally from Arkansas, I don’t think we have a HELL but we do have a diamond mine and a town called “Toad Suck”. I guess every state has a unique place for tourist.

    Reply
    • Friends - April 5, 2022 1:57 pm

      Paul, I live in Arkansas and have been thru Toad Suck
      many times. In 2012, it was voted by a global poll to be America’s #1 “most embarrassing or unfortunate town name”! 🤗 Hmmm… this may be some good material to get Sean started on a new story! The man is a genius.

      Reply
  13. David Birchall - April 5, 2022 11:23 am

    Nice to get an insight into an unfamiliar way of life. I’m from Dublin, Ireland, but have lived in Liverpool England for most of my life. Appreciate the glimpse into completely different cultures. Oh – and I’m also a professional librarian…

    Reply
  14. Dee - April 5, 2022 11:25 am

    Keep the faith, Sean. You’re here for a reason! Much love.

    Reply
  15. Jon Litwiller - April 5, 2022 12:02 pm

    We also have a Paradise Michigan which is a much preferred place to end up at.Come visit again.

    Reply
  16. Lynn Babcock - April 5, 2022 12:32 pm

    The email guy is exactly why we need writers like you. And prayers to his Creator. Glad you gave him his 2 minutes of fame. Surely the pinnacle of his life.

    Reply
    • Harriet White - April 5, 2022 12:50 pm

      😂

      Reply
  17. David Grant - April 5, 2022 12:43 pm

    Sean you just keep on keeping on my friend.

    Reply
  18. Harriet White - April 5, 2022 12:46 pm

    Sean, I absolutely love all of your writings. This one knocked it out of heaven smack in the middle of funny land. People just suck sometimes, but it makes a great story.

    Reply
  19. E M Hector - April 5, 2022 12:49 pm

    Then there’s the Steve Miller band singing – I got tears in my eyes
    You know you got to go through hell
    Before you get to heaven (Jetliner 1977)

    Reply
  20. Pingback: Sean of the South: Michigan Nice | The Trussville Tribune

  21. Cathy - April 5, 2022 1:23 pm

    Absolutely love your sense of humor! I like to start my day with a giggle or a smile and your writing does just that. Makes my day start out right. Thank you

    Reply
  22. beachdreamer - April 5, 2022 1:31 pm

    Love it! I have heard of Hell, but never been there..and don’t plan on going😊. I always learn too from your readers. Comments so interesting…like ‘Toad Suck’ Arkansas ! Couldn’t imagine haven’t that as my return address! Thanks again for starting my day with a laugh. You’re the best. God bless ❤️

    Reply
  23. Elaine Price - April 5, 2022 1:39 pm

    You know you are doing something very right when the enemy uses people to attack you for sharing hope in God. Never stop doing that…He is smiling. I bet you give Him a chuckle too🤣🤣

    Reply
  24. Fran - April 5, 2022 1:48 pm

    As kids growing up in Reading Pa we would laugh ourselves silly when we drove passed the road signs for “Intercourse” and “ Blue Ball”….

    Reply
  25. Judy - April 5, 2022 1:48 pm

    We have a Paradise here in Michigan. It’s far away from Ann Arbor–up north–in what we call the UP, Upper Peninsula. .
    You gotta go over a BIG bridge to get to the UP. Mackinac Bridge (pronounced Mackinaw). Beautiful country.
    I live about a 45 minute drive from Hell. These last two years…it has felt a lot closer.

    Reply
    • Tracy - April 5, 2022 5:47 pm

      Oh, yes, Judy. We do have Paradise. The UP=beautiful, beautiful country. And we have the Great Lakes. My happy place=Lake Michigan. I live about 45 min. from there. Yes, Michigan Nice is a thing. And Spring WILL come, right?

      Reply
  26. Nan Williams - April 5, 2022 1:54 pm

    Lutherans. After a lilfetime as a Presbyterian in Alabama who had frequently visited and/or worked for Baptist, Methodist, Episcopal churches – and yes, even visited Catholic, Jewish and various Pentecostal churches – I was called by the Lutherans to become their organist. At age 60, I’d played the piano or the organ in all the aforementioned churches and felt quite comfortable with all of those services.

    The Lutherans were something out of another world, entirely. They were definitely not from Alabama. They were from Germany, Scandanavia, Poland and the frozen MidWest. Many of them didn’t speak English and none of them spoke Alabama-English! But I wound up working for them for nearly 20 years and learning to love them.

    First off the refrigerator in the fellowship hall. Whereas all the other churches might have sweet tea or lemonade or, possibly soft drinks stored, the Lutherans had beer. Always a case or two just in case someone was at the church and got thirsty. Then there was the Men’s Bible Study which met at a local bar and was called the Lutheran Lager League – drink beer and study the Bible. And the food? OMG! They were the worst cooks in the world – maybe that’s the reason for all the beer.

    I could go on and on, but I think you get my drift. Anyway, thanks for bringing back those memories – and yes, I stayed with them almost 20 years!!

    Reply
  27. Nana - April 5, 2022 2:06 pm

    Sean, delete. Simply hit delete when a disparaging review comes in. For every sourpuss who decides to share his/her hateful comments, there are thousands of loyal readers who have your back.

    Reply
  28. Linda J Hendrix - April 5, 2022 2:23 pm

    Haha! Love it!

    Reply
  29. Ruth Mitchell - April 5, 2022 2:37 pm

    Your emailer is so wrong. There are lots of us who wait eagerly to read your daily musings. I’ve often heard of “hell on earth,” and now I know it’s in Michigan—literally and figuratively! 😊

    Reply
  30. AlaRedClayGirl - April 5, 2022 2:50 pm

    Apparently the commenter who sent the nasty email has never read the comments to your posts. If he had, he would realize that we love your “random, unorganized thoughts on spiritualish matters”. We also think you are wise beyond your years. He needs to be reminded that no one is forcing him to read your columns. Keep calm and keep on observing and writing, Sean!

    Reply
  31. Rhonda - April 5, 2022 2:51 pm

    Sounds like you received an email from a person with NPD. narcissist personality disorder. Literally nothing is ever good enough for them. They live virtually in hell

    Reply
  32. Patricia Gibson - April 5, 2022 3:33 pm

    I pity that person. They filled with a lot of hate.

    Reply
  33. Lynn - April 5, 2022 4:02 pm

    I so appreciate how you respond to these unsolicited e-mails with humor and grace. This post made me laugh out loud.

    Reply
  34. Susie Flick - April 5, 2022 4:20 pm

    Great way to turn around a terrible email! Some folks aren’t happy no matter what we say so keep on saying your wonderful words and helping most of us enjoy starting our day with your wordful wisdom!

    Reply
  35. oldandblessed - April 5, 2022 4:53 pm

    What a hell of story. Thanks.

    Reply
  36. David Karem - April 5, 2022 5:25 pm

    Sean, if you need someplace closer than Michigan, Kentucky has “Hell for Certain”.

    Reply
  37. Paula - April 5, 2022 6:22 pm

    Very funny.

    Reply
  38. Kathy. - April 5, 2022 6:48 pm

    If someone doesn’t like your writing, why don’t they just not read it? No reason to be ugly. Leave those of us who do like it to enjoy unencumbered by their ugly thoughts. Love to you, Sean.

    Reply
  39. Linda Moon - April 5, 2022 7:16 pm

    I’m sorry you received this message that I’m reading right now. The messenger is wrong…I get a flying-lift-up from your spiritual words. And when I’m dead I won’t be scared because I’ve heard that God’s got a comic’s sense of humor. Laughter is a good medicine for living and most likely in the inevitable ending of it, too. Hell, for me, would be the the absence of God in an after-life and the absence of humor in this one. And, I’d love to take a road trip to Hell, Michigan!

    Reply
  40. Jocelyn Piccone - April 6, 2022 12:58 am

    I ran 50k in Hell Michigan. Been to hell and back.

    Reply
  41. Patti Brennan - April 6, 2022 1:07 am

    Well, Sean, whoever wrote that nastiness must be having a very different life experience than I am. I’m surely not the first to tell you that what you write gets me through the day sometimes. Honestly, it does. I love your humor and wisdom, and I’m so grateful you’re a writer.

    Reply
  42. Slimpicker - April 6, 2022 2:53 am

    In the late 1950s there was another state with a Hell. Yep, you guessed it, California. It was an eternal hell, as the inhabitant abandoned Hell about 1960 an the state burned the town of Hell to the ground to make way for an interstate. I guess there are some good reasons for massive roads. They can get you out of California quicker and on your way to Hell Michigan.

    Reply
  43. CHARALEEN WRIGHT - April 6, 2022 2:59 am

    Reply
  44. Becky+Souders - April 6, 2022 7:44 pm

    Don’t underestimate Lutherans. If you ever have a chance to hear them sing hymns acapella, you will never hear more glorious harmony. Thanks for this one, Sean Dietrich.

    Reply
  45. Linda Moon - April 6, 2022 8:02 pm

    My comment won’t post

    Reply
  46. Linda Moon - April 6, 2022 8:41 pm

    my comment for today won’t post

    Reply
  47. christina - April 6, 2022 11:48 pm

    i love your classic Sean wit!

    Reply
  48. Kate - April 8, 2022 1:32 am

    I was so busy laughing about Hell, I forgot the article started from an insult until I was reading the comments. Nice job Sean.

    Reply
  49. Sheri K - April 9, 2022 1:06 am

    Sean, I don’t know if it still exists but about 30 years ago my husband and I were treated to a wonderful vacation in the Camen Islands. On Grand Camen there was a beach area that looked like an old lava flow and a little wooden post office named – you guessed it – Hell. It made for delightful pictures and a few giggles.

    Reply
  50. Debra Minotto - April 13, 2022 1:37 am

    Great writing! I spent my entire “growing up years” in MI, driven close by there- but have never been to Hell! Something to look forward to on our next visit to my beloved Mitten state.

    Reply

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