The Ottumwa Courier

February 4, 2013

Chance encounter leaves a deep impression

Courier Staff Writer

OTTUMWA — The next time someone says, “You had to be there ...” to understand why a situation was so interesting, I’ll know just what they’re talking about.

Neither friends nor family seem to care about the odd encounter my wife and I had while taking care of some business on the Indian Hills campus recently. Rather than leave by the closest exit, Alta Vista, I told Carrie I’d  show her where we’d be attending a free concert the following day.

I’m not really an opera fanatic. Actually, I don’t even know any opera fanatics. But the chance to see a performance by internationally known bass baritone Simon Estes was too good to pass up.

“Come on, I’ll show you the Hellyer Student Life Center, where Simon Estes will be singing tomorrow,” I said.

I had just turned on my right blinker when a deep but gentle voice boomed out, “Excuse me, sir, can you tell me where I would find the Hellyer Student Life Center?”

Sitting in his car, leaning across the seat to his open window, was internationally known bass baritone Simon Estes. To avoid looking silly, I stared some more.

Finally, I said, “This is so ... I was ... I just told my wife I was going to show her Hellyer Student Life Center where Simon Estes was going to perform!”

Surprisingly, that did not get a huge reaction out of Mr. Estes. He did, however, laugh graciously then made a small joke in that Patrick Stewart/James Earl Jones speaking voice of his.

I told him to follow me and that I’d point as we passed Hellyer.

He thanked me, and I told him we were looking forward to seeing him perform.

He smiled a big smile and boomed (but gently), “Thank you very much for that, sir.”

As we drove off campus, I told Carrie I was glad she’d been there, since with my jokester reputation, no one would believe what just happened.

I shouldn’t have worried about anyone believing me. I should have wondered if anyone would care.

My wife and I couldn’t stop talking about our encounter. Such a classy guy ... and that voice! To me, saying this vocalist’s name, followed within seconds by hearing his voice in my left ear, was wonderfully weird.

Family and friends didn’t seem to appreciate the coincidence.

Don’t get me wrong: As an Ottumwan, I’ve met some of the many interesting people we get to see here in Iowa. Yet in a way, I felt this chance encounter was more exciting than shaking hands with Hillary Clinton, Rick Santorum or Barack Obama.

No one seemed to find this chance meeting even slightly interesting. I guess you had to be there.