It was shortly before 8 a.m. when President Nixon left his Houston hotel, striding out so quickly that his phalanx of security men had to scramble to keep up. This early morning stroll, almost Trumanesque in its informality, was part of a recent campaign by the President to increase his visibility—and, presumably, his popularity in an atmosphere of post-Watergate disillusion. The previous day Nixon had been welcomed to the city by a crowd of 1,000, warmly received by a broadcasters’ convention and heckled by demonstrators—15 of whom were arrested. But the highlight of his trip was the morning foray that brought him into the Keystone Drugstore and into the clutches of waitress Marie “Shrimp” Hamilton. Neither is likely to forget the encounter soon.
Shrimp had just been talking about Nixon to a customer. “He said, ‘What are you going to do if the President comes in here?’ ” she recalls. “I told him, ‘Shoot, man, you’ve got to be kidding. He ain’t about to come by this little old place.’ Then I looked up and there he was.” Flanked by an aide and a Secret Service agent, the President strode to the store’s lunch counter, sat down and ordered coffee.
“For a second or two,” Shrimp recalls, “I didn’t know what I was going to do. Then I figured, I’m always kidding around with my customers and it wouldn’t be natural to change. I feel good in the morning, and people like to come by and have me jive around with them.”
It didn’t take Shrimp long to hit her stride. Married and the mother of two, Shrimp works as a waitress to put her husband through business school. Her pay is only $1 an hour, but her tips suggest she is the most popular—and the sassiest—waitress in town. Her treatment of the nation’s Chief Executive was no exception.
“I just started cutting up with him,” she says, “and he went wild over it.” At one point the President asked Shrimp—nicknamed years ago and now a shapely 5’5″—to step back from the counter and model for him. She blithely obliged, wiggling and pirouetting on the duck boards as the President and his entourage roared with laughter. Then she offered to take off her little waitress vest to give Nixon a better look. “All the good-looking guys belong to me,” she cooed, “including you.”
Then Shrimp glided up to the President and tenderly took his hand, as his aides fought to suppress their mirth. Leaning seductively over the counter, she rubbed the back of the President’s hand, then turned it over and scratched at it coyly. “You know what they say about this, don’t you?” she laughed. The President replied with a lopsided smile. “They say,” Shrimp went on, “don’t be like a dog and scratch for it. Be like a woman and ask for it.” As the President and onlookers howled in laughter, Shrimp skipped away down the counter.
Finally it was ail over, and Nixon and his aides rose to leave. Another customer picked up the presidential check, but Nixon gave Shrimp a $1 tip and his autograph. She took his coffee cup home as a souvenir.