PULLMAN — The Dutch king and queen came to my neighborhood Wednesday … and it nearly got me killed.
This, of course, was probably all my fault. I’m one of those guys who never RSVPs to anything — not even a buddy’s wedding.
So when I got word that all media needed to sign up in advance to follow around King Willem-Alexander and Queen Maxima of the Netherlands as they toured Pullman, I completely ignored the instructions.
When I headed over to Gotham Greens hoping to catch the Dutch royals as they toured the future world’s largest greenhouse atop the Method Soap Factory — driving slowly down the service road toward the parking lot — a hulking ginger-haired man in a sharp sport coat sprinted down the middle of the street toward my Chevy.
He waved his arms over his head, and that’s when I spotted the gun on his hip.
“Pull the car over,” he yelled. “Now, pull over and turn off the engine.”
I panicked and turned off the ignition with my car in the middle of the street.
“No, no. You’re blocking the road,” the ginger-haired guy carrying a sidearm said in an irate voice. “Move it over there! Now!”
He took a step back. All I could see was his pistol.
Long story short, the wild man with the gun was a Secret Service agent. He probably wasn’t going to shoot me for driving down the street, but at the time I thought I might be a goner.
The rather traumatic encounter, however, did not deter me from following the king and queen around the neighborhood the rest of the day.
I headed over to Gwendolyn Brooks College Prep, where the king and queen surprised five kids with a trip to Amsterdam to study urban gardening and gave the city 60,000 tulip bulbs.
Despite my not having an RSVP, I caught up with the royals thanks to good ol’ fashioned Dutch kindness.
A friendly Dutch press escort brought me along on an “exclusive access” tour of the high school that I’m pretty sure I wasn’t supposed to attend.
Now, I’ve talked to President Obama long enough (about a minute) to inspire him to send Secret Service on a beer run. But I’ve never had the pleasure of hanging around with royalty — although Pullman once was a hot spot for dignitaries back in the 1880s.
So, the first thing I did was what I figured most people would do, given the opportunity — I took a weird selfie with the king and queen in the background.
[Photos DNAinfo/Mark Konkol]
During every stop while touring the school — presenting the tulips, getting serenaded by spoken word poets, visiting computer class and sipping Diet Coke with commoners — the royals were gracious, sincere and down-to-earth in a way that certain local leaders are not.
Gwendolyn Brooks College Prep students selected to study urban agriculture in Amsterdam, a gift from the Dutch government.
For instance, it was clear that King Willem-Alexander knew exactly how to put high school kids at ease while he visited the Brooks computer lab.
After a little chat about computer code writing, the king spotted the Netherlands soccer T-shirt student Javier Frausto was wearing and smiled like a guy who found a new friend. It wasn’t forced. There wasn’t a high-five.
“You like soccer?” the king asked, nodding approval when Javier answered in the affirmative. “Good, good.”
During a little chat, Javier put the king on the spot, asking the king whether he thought the controversial penalty call in the 2014 World Cup match between the Netherlands and Mexico was legitimate.
“He told me he didn’t want to comment,” Javier told me after the king walked away.
“It’s probably because he knew it shouldn’t have been a penalty and Mexico should have won,” Javier added.
Oh, the things kids will say to kings these days, right?
As for Queen Maxima, just about every girl at Brooks who got to meet her raved about her elegant style — from her snakeskin high heels and matching handbag to her dangly earrings and chic, silky turban hat.
The quadrilingual former investment banker-turned-queen politely chatted with local business folks and Pullman neighbors who were excited just to be in the presence of royalty.
The queen laughed loudly, smiled with her whole body and even politely blew her nose in public without being self-conscious around so many cameras.
At a short picnic outside, Mariellen Boomsma and her son, Brandon, whose family owns Pullman-based Dutch Farms, talked with Queen Maxima about the company’s cute semitrailers. They were decorated with a lesson on saying “eggs” and “cheese” in the Netherlands native tongue and lined the street as a welcome when the royal couple arrived on the South Side.
“This was great. How often do you get to see royalty around here?” Brandon Boomsma said.
“And I have to give her credit for walking in those fabulous heels,” his mother chimed in.
When it seemed that Queen Maxima might fit in perfectly at a craft -beer kegger in Pullman, Nick Lubovich of Argus Brewery ruined that fleeting illusion.
“Do you like beer?” Lubovich asked the queen.
“Oh, no,” her royal highness demurred. “I don’t drink alcohol much. When I do, it’s mostly just wine.”
Well, the king and queen are probably better suited for the Royal Palace back home than a Pullman row house, anyway.
Still, we sure had a nice visit.
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