I ended up confronting this when the other guests and I were leaving the hotel for the con. The way it worked, unless you had a car, staff was your only means of transport between the hotel and the college campus where SITACon was held. When all the staff cars were filled up, Peter offered to take whoever was left. I ended up shacking up with that crowd and I recall a sort of flat silence in the car for the first few minutes of the ride. It was partially because we were still waking up but for me, I suppose I was savoring the irony of the situation: Speed Racer was giving us a ride to an anime convention! One of us eventually broke the ice. I, on the other hand, was still at a loss for words.
The first time I ever attempted a conversation with Peter came in the form of a quick hello at his table at Artists’ Alley—surprisingly, one of the hot spots of the convention. He was selling autographed Mach 5 minis, along with the rare toy of the fabled car that was released around the time of the MTV Speed Racer re-runs. I asked him about his feelings on the Wachowski Brothers’ adaptation that had come out months before; he said that he’d liked it but that there were some places where it felt over the top. We occasionally bumped into each other in passing for the rest of the weekend, each time managing a bit more small talk, each time Peter having a big smile on his face.
On Saturday I was killing time in the Artists’ Alley again, this time chatting with con circuit legend Steve Bennett, who’d also been invited, and a friend of his when Peter walked up to say hi. He’d just gotten out of a panel, barely anyone had shown up (then again nobody had really gone to the panels at SITACon), but he had a fun time talking with the people who did. I’ve forgotten who but someone invited him to join them for a quick smoke. Steve’s friend interjected that he would have to opt out, saying he’d just quit due to being fed up with all the city bans making him brave the elements. Out of nowhere, Peter says “Well, you know how you can get away with it, right?” He then explains how by going into a hotel bathroom where there are no heat-sensitive sprinklers in place, one could easily enjoy their cigarette without incident. After chatting a bit more, Peter headed off for another panel… and we were stunned speechless. Steve perks up, “Did Speed Racer just tell us how to get away with smoking?”
My last encounter with him that weekend was on Saturday afternoon. He’d moved over to the Dealer’s Room, selling what was left of the minis and otherwise just talking with attendees. (I found out prior to writing this that Steve had actually gotten the large toy version of the Mach 5 I’d mentioned earlier! Oh to not have disposable income.) I realized I’d be leaving early the next day without being able to see everyone properly off… and I’d yet to get a photo or something with Peter. It was the intimidation again—even though he’d been the greatest guy ever, something in the back of my mind felt like a total dork for asking him to do an audio bumper for my podcast. I was talking to Steve and some of the other guests again as I killed time. My reluctance came up. Steve was the one who told me he was in the Dealers’ Room at that very moment and he’d probably love to do it. Before I could say anything else, he looked me dead in the eyes: “Mike. Go. You don’t know when you’ll have this chance again.” It took me a moment but it registered; I booked it over to the Dealers’ Room.
The Dealers’ Room wasn’t all that spectacular but I spotted him right away, at the end of the row, off to the left. I walk up and we start talking again, this time, it’s more of an actual conversation—one that no matter what I do, I cannot piece together what we’d gone on about. It might’ve been how my dad passed on the Speed Racer and Ultraman tapes to me. It might have been me saying my respect for him as a voice actor. It might have been something about the con, for all I know, it drives me nuts that I can’t summon up any of it. Regardless, I do know that I got him to take a picture with me and he was more than willing to do the bumper. I shook his hand, thanked him, and strolled out with a smile on my face. That was the last time I ever saw him. I still kick myself for not getting one the minis but they were sold out by the time I’d gotten to him.
There are probably better stories that would trump this experience without trying too hard, but this is how I remember Peter Fernandez. As of last week, he’s passed away, the news hitting fans the world over out of the blue and like I said, it got me thinking about this experience. I’ve told some of these stories to friends but with his passing, I felt it was finally time to share them with everyone. (Then again, I never did any proper SITACon coverage for the podcast; the bumper still got thrown into circulation.) In retrospect, I’m actually glad that I held off on talking about it, because it wasn’t until now that I’d worked out why I was so nervous to begin with—it was the respect I have for him. This is a guy whose resume spans over 60 years, a veritable legend in anime, if not voice acting period. It’d be like meeting Go Nagai in an elevator; aside from the usual “I love your work!”, what the heck are you going to say to him? I’m thankful I can live and say that I got to meet this wonderful person, and learn something that I’ve taken to heart since: Don’t ever hesitate.