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The nauseatingly hot, humid breath of Cerberus poured over me as the three headed hellhound barked and snarled at my fleeing form. There are few that Cerberus has ever pursued with greater passion than he (Or should that be they?) hounded me, after all, I had previously passed through Hell and escaped up the River Styx, an accomplishment a mere handful of mortals can legitimately claim.

Five years earlier I had marched into Hell of my own accord, convinced that I could survive and thrive in the land of bilk and money, unaware that the fire and brimstone I would find there would nearly consume me and that only a charred and scarred remnant of who and what I had once been would emerge; but emerge I did. I had gone to Hell for that most trite yet powerful of reasons, love for, and pursuit of, a goddess. A goddess whose superhuman powers and attributes allowed her to walk within the bowels of the underworld and remain untouched; my own private Persephone whom even the underworld could not besmear.

I had dared dreamed that a mere mortal could thrive where the gods walked unbounded and in my hubris I followed my goddess straight to Hell, a decision that brought unto me an eternity of seething and suffering, a never  ending torment until at last she ferried me back up the River Styx and returned me to Earth, much to the consternation of both Charon and Cerberus.

With the aid of my goddess I had escaped Hell, I had secured freedom, and for two years I had remained free only to again follow that darkest of rivers to that saddest of locales. I had willingly reentered Hell for the same reason I had gone there initially, for the sake of love, and now Cerberus barked, snarled and chased me as I traveled southbound on US 19 through Tarpon Springs, Florida.

I really hate Florida. If one were to go on a Hajj searching for Hell on Earth then one would surely wind up in the Sunshine State. I will not enumerate the logic nor logistics of my loathing, suffice it to say that in the spring of 2015 my beloved goddess Durga moved to Florida and that when I followed her to Tampa Bay in August of that same year I was both optimistic and naïve. Neither of those conditions lasted.

Florida was so hellish for me that we did indeed reverse our southbound travels down the River Styx when we instead traveled up the cold, dead river twenty-seven months later. After over two years in Hell we left Tampa, a locale I hoped never again to visit, for a more enlightened and enlightening locale. Alas, hope is a commodity so easily shattered.

I managed to stay free of Hell’s, er Florida’s, clutches for just over a year until I allowed myself to be coerced to touch the tawdry soiled soil of Florida in December 2018 when Durga and I drove from Raleigh, North Carolina to Jacksonville, Florida where we rendezvoused with son Sean and his S.O. Lauren.  Jacksonville, for those not in the know, is so far north in the state that some of it is actually north of it’s neighboring state to the north, Georgia. This geographical anomaly comforted me as I reminded myself that Florida covers nearly 450 miles/720 kilometers of Latitude and that we would trespass a mere half-degree/three dozen miles downward into the maw of the unholy mecca.

Not so for our trip this year when Durga and I entered the belly of a mighty bird that winged us straight into the heart of Hell itself. I was back in Tampa and, despite being met by family and friends at the airport who loved me, I was feeling queasy. The queasy was low heat, back-burner stuff until noon on Saturday when Durga and I decided to hit the cool aired, chilly ocean beach of Dunedin’s Honeymoon Island State Park and we began driving southward on US 19, the eighty-feet wide expanse of asphalt that cuts through the plethora of tawdry retail establishments and lawyer/plastic surgeon hawking billboards, that quintessential Florida primary road that stands out as a long, jagged scar a scant half mile from the Gulf of Mexico. Quintessential Florida!

For a year-and-a-half I drove up and down US 19 between my home in Trinity and my job in Clearwater and seemingly every day I would drive by as First Responders pried the dead, the tortured and the shattered from the mauled scrap metal that had been cars on their way to somewhere so important that lives and limbs could be sacrificed to the Hell that is Florida.

Ah, US 19! The route where people drearily plod step-by-step to their low paying jobs, sweating beneath the broiling sun or wading through the monsoon rains, as drivers whose cars cost hundreds of thousands of dollars blare their horns at them for daring to make them pause and wait as the downtrodden, impoverished workers cross with the light at intersections. US Highway 19 epitomizes all that is wretched and regurgitave about Florida, a perfect metaphor for multi-trillion dollar development of swampland.

Despite my disgust and discomfort I managed to avoid a panic attack as I rode shotgun down US 19 and much of my tension eased when we turned off of the dreaded deathway of 19 onto Curlew Road. I scanned both sides of Curlew as multitudes of cyclist rode up and down the sidewalks, their handlebars laden with plastic sacks filled with bottles of beer and more potent punches, people who cycled slowly, legs churning at a cadence of perhaps forty-five revolutions per minute, most without helmets, another perfect unseemly simile for the Sunshine State.

And then we drove over the causeway, paid our entry fee and meandered through the scrub vegetation to the northern end of Honeymoon Island where my beloved and I sat side-by-side reading novels, walked hand-in-hand up and down the sandy shore and stood toe-to-toe in the chilly brine, a lovely, three-hour, far-too-short interlude brought to us by the State of Florida.

We have a son in Florida, a fact we all bemoan, and until he is free of the Stand Your Ground, Doctor delivered, Double-D State of iniquity and absurdity I am destined to return to Hell time and again, a fate to which I am resigned in the name of love and family to follow until he moves to higher ground or the oceans’ rising tides sweep the thin strip of Hell off the map.

Cerberus, we shall meet again.