The dictionary defines serendipity as, “Finding valuable or interesting things by chance.” Forest Park has serendipity to spare. We often have chance meetings with friends and neighbors. Serendipity can even occur in downtown Chicago.

It happened to me at DePaul University’s downtown campus. Professor Paul Booth, a longtime Forest Park resident, had invited me to participate in a conference he organized titled, “A Celebration of Sherlock Holmes.” Many of the speakers were from the world of academia, so Paul thought it would be fun to invite a real detective. My one-hour segment was titled, “A Chat with a Private Detective.”

Paul has been professor of Media and Cinema Studies at DePaul for 13 years. In 2013, a student suggested he host a conference to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of “Dr. Who.” Only 15-20 people attended, but Paul was happy to see the mix of academics and Dr. Who fans. So he organizes yearly conferences. Attendance continues to increase for these free, family-friendly events. Three hundred attended the Harry Potter conference. 

As I prepared for the Holmes conference, I decided it wasn’t going to be a mere chat. It would be a big presentation. I readied props and prepared an outline. I was also excited about the dinner the night before the conference, where I would meet my fellow speakers. Unbeknownst to me, Paul caught COVID, so the dinner was cancelled. 

Nonetheless, I arrived at the campus on May 7 bearing my props and a bag of my books. I was also rocking my blue sport coat. I looked forward to meeting Paul and was disappointed to learn he was ill. Suddenly, I spotted a good friend of mine, Rev. Guillermo Serrano. He was a pastor at my former church and loves to attend literary events. We grabbed lunch, while he described the presentations he had attended. One was led by a lawyer, who had packed the classroom.

After lunch, I went to that same classroom. I laid out my props and my stack of books and placed my outline on the podium. As Guillermo and I waited for the large crowd, a mother and daughter entered the classroom. Jenny turned out to be a teacher and her daughter, Avery, is a high school sophomore. They came because Avery wants to become a private detective.

I was happy to find out they were former Forest Parkers. Jenny misses the diversity of our village, while Avery has fond memories of attending Field-Stevenson. I described private detective work and told Avery she had the right personality for the job. I gave her some suggestions about how she could acquire some experience.

Meanwhile, the throngs I was expecting didn’t materialize. I had violated one of Sherlock’s basic rules by making a false assumption. Finally, Guillermo stood and informed me that my time was up. I was stunned. What about my props and my stack of books? Guillermo was kind and purchased two copies.

At first I was disappointed by the small turnout but later realized I had inadvertently achieved my goal: “A Chat with a Private Detective.” Paul had also achieved his goal. Despite COVID and being absent from the conference, he had organized a wonderful event. 

Serendipity brought me together with Guillermo, Jenny and Avery. Plus, my preparation for the conference will be useful when I make my big presentation at the Forest Park Public Library. It will be on Monday. May 16 at 2 p.m. It’s titled, “Tales of a Retired Detective.” I’ll bring my props and books and will again be rocking my blue sport coat.

John Rice

John Rice is a columnist/novelist who has seen his family thrive in Forest Park. He has published two books set in the village: The Ghost of Cleopatra and The Doll with the Sad Face.