Their Prince Has Come--to the Market


Alan White has made an avocation of scouring the royal residences of England. He's been to Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle (the Queen's weekend place). He toured Kensington Palace (former home to Charles and Diana, where the princess now lives) and scrutinized Marlborough House, onetime home to King Edward VII, looking for a plaque dedicated to Queen Mary.

"I go to England quite a bit--always on some royal hunt," said White, a special-education teacher in his mid-30s.

However, being a dedicated royalty buff who devours biographies of kings and queens, he will go wherever the royal pursuit leads.

That's why he was walking down Manchester Boulevard, umbrella and jacket in hand, to the Vons supermarket in Inglewood Wednesday morning. He was hoping to take a picture of Prince Charles on his first stop of Day 3 in Los Angeles--the Royal Visit.

"A guy in Sweden once said to me, 'You're black. Why should you be interested in the royal family?' " White said of a Scandinavian trip he took. "I said, 'Well, the British Empire was all over the world at one time and touched every culture and people."

This being the late 20th Century, though, the Prince of Wales and heir to the British throne was just touching the culture of Vons--picked as a symbol of Los Angeles' urban landscape. The mammoth store has only existed since the 1992 riots and features a special program to train local residents for employment in the store.

But the promise of a mere glimpse of Charles was enough to draw several hundred to the parking lot. The store was closed to the public while Charles got the royal tour--under an ugly sky that intermittently sprinkled rain.

"If it sounds interesting, we'll be there," said radio station 92.3 FM disc jockey Paul Ramirez, otherwise known as P-Funk. From the front of the crowd, Ramirez was broadcasting remote reports on his "house party" show.

Even non-Charles fans showed up. "I don't like the fact that he's being paraded through all our schools," said Suzanne Jones, a science coordinator at Ambler Avenue Elementary School, alluding to published reports of Charles' crumbling marriage and his own admission of adultery. "We're trying to teach our kids morals. . . . He doesn't represent family values."

Charles is concentrating on community projects in Los Angeles because those are his interests back home, aides say.

"He wanted to see how we built ourselves back up from the riots," said Jones in a sarcastic, been-there-done-that voice.

So why did Jones take the day off work to be there?

"I live across the street," she said with a grin. "And I want to see the (future) king of England."

They barely saw Charles as he got out of his Jaguar and headed straight into the store. But the hardy crowd waited him out. After all, a ribbon of people tamely stretched behind a police cordon of grocery carts offered the perfect "walkabout," as the British call Charles' forays into crowds.

Within an hour, the Highway Patrol officers revved up their motorcycles in anticipation of the royal exit and the crowd readied itself.

"Oh, he's little !" cried one woman with a baby strapped in a backpack.

"Without his money, he's broke just like us," Guy Gibbons mused as he waited to snap a photo.

Then, with a look of bemusement on his face, Charles headed for the captive crowd. They pressed forward, offering hands to shake, business cards, and a few words of advice. "Ask Jesus to save you!" cried one. Charles worked the line, shaking hands. Spying Tony Williams' brightly colored African hat, Charles pointed to his own head and nodded his approval.

Deejay Ramirez, flush from his encounter with the prince, turned to Gibbons and looked at his camera. "Did you get me, man? Did you get me?"

Ramirez beamed, his house party day complete. "He said he was listening to the station on the way over!"

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