Chuck Anderson and Jimmy Lawrence were laughing, swapping large, round, come-from-the belly whoops that seemed to bounce off the pinball machines, when a thin man in a dark suit stepped into the semidarkness of the Hill's Club Bar and introduced himself.
"Hi. I'm Governor Harry Hughes. How are you?" the man said, shaking hands with the young meatcutters and then leaving their Friday afternoon revelry behind as he went to greet the proprietor of this, one of Southern Maryland's most famous eating and drinking establishments.
"Want to buy us a drink?" Anderson called after him, and the whoops began again. "The governor came by and he didn't want to buy us a drink," he said, turning to Jimmy Lawrence and Booby Lawrence Bucler. "He's tight." Another whoop. "He's real tight."
With Jimmy Carter not yet out of the Rose Garden and Walter Mondale, Rosalynn Carter and other notable presidential surrogates campaigning elsewhere, Harry Hughes spent the weekend carrying Carter's message to the flatlands of Southern Maryland and the Eastern Shore.
The idea, according to Carter's Maryland campaign manager Ed Crawford, was to solidify the president's support in the conservative Democratic areas of the 1st Congressional District, to push for a Carter sweep of those convention delegates in the May 13 primary.
On the way, Hughes spent 18 hours campaigning in seven counties, stopping at six bars and restaurants, four food stores, a post office, a gas station, a beauty parlor, a community college, an art show, a special Olympics, a memorial service and a wedding, sometimes urging mostly small, mostly lukewarm crowds to vote for Carter, and other times just stopping by to say hello on his own.
"Carter has restored to the White House the decency and integrity that the people of this country expect and deserve," said Hughes at his first stop of the two-day swing, a little Calvert County resort town called Chesapeake Beach, whose glory faded when slot machines were banned.
"He has done more for our environment than any other president," Hughes added. "He has done more for our cities . . .," the governor went on, as the 70 children of the Beach Elementary .SURROGATE, From C1> School chorus tried hard not to fidget while wating for their moment on the stage.
Harry Klein, owner of a fast-food store in town, listened stolidly. "I heard about this through our delegates,"he said. "I wanted to hear what the governor has to say." Does Klein support Cater?" "No, not at this time, not with that new tax on oil he put in."
His friend Leonard Redding, who came to Chesapeake Beach to retire, was more sympathetic. "Yeah, I support Carter," he said. "The poor man's having a rough time."
It was a 300-mile campaign swing that had more to do with the past than the future, a tour of local bars and local stores and local community action projects with local pols serving as tour guides, showing the star attraction to their neighbors and friends.
Gordon Trueman, a Calvert County commissioner, managed to keep the governor in tiny St. Leonard for a full 15 minutes, making up for the time lost when Huges stopped to cut a ribbon at a rummage sale along the way.
Trueman is the big man or this tiny town, the owner of Trueman's lumber store and the Trueman gas company, which dominate the 200-yard-long business district--but his credentials as a campaign advance man are spotty.
"You didn't tell me he was coming, Dad," complained Trueman's daughter, Kay Fornman, who runs a nearby day care center, as her father looked anxiously up the road for the governor's gray Chrysler LeBaron. "I'm not dressed to meet the governor."
Fornman at least was in outdoor wear. Pat Moore and Alice Schulz were sitting underneath the dryers of Lady Carol's Hair Salon, oblivious to the outside world, when Hughes came in and out, shaking their hands and smiling and moving on.
"He looked very nice to me," said the 77-year old Schulz a few minutes later. "He must be a nice person. Is he the governor? What's his name? Howard Hughes?"
Hughes' name and face may not have been familiar to Mrs. Schulz, but the delegates and county commissioners and mayors and state senators of the Eastern shore and Southern Maryland knew him well enough. He is the governor who grew up in rural Maryland -- in Caroline County on the Eastern Shore.
As governor, he is the man who can make the difference in getting a new bridge built over the Choptank River, or keeping legalized gambling out of Ocean City, or answering a host of other local concerns.
So while the trip may have been made in President Carter's name, it was Harry Hughes the local pols were turning out to see.
"What I'm doing here I'm doing for this man," said Ocean City Mayor Harry Kelley, pointing to Hughes as he presided over a breakfast of about 80 local Democrats, an assortment of judges and delegates and poultry growers
"What do I think of Carter? About the same as you do." This with a knowing wink.
Kelley knew his duty, and he performed it with panache. He made sure Hughes had all the proper lapel pins -- a chicken from the Delmarva Poultry Institute, a marlin from the deep sea fishermen and a Carter-Mondale button -- then gathered the breakfasters to hear the governor.
"Carter has brought dignity and respect to the highhest office in this country," said Hughes, begining his spiel all over again.
"This Iranian situation. Frankly, I think he's been handling it well. . . . The president has to deal with a nongovernment, with some fanatic up in the hills. . . "
"I guess I'll see maybe 1,000 people all told," said Hughes, as the caravan reached Salisbury, a large industrial city on the Eastern Shore. "The important thing is the interviews with the local media, the newspapers and TV and radio stations."
As he spoke, Donna Martin, a reporter from WBOC-TV in Salisbury was getting set to interview the governor and giving her cameraman-for-a-day, gubernatorial aide Joe Coale, a quick lesson in the mysteries of minicams
"I couldn't get any cameraman to come out on Saturday," she explained apologetically.
"What do you want me to shoot?" Coale asked, as Hughes moved into position.
"Just get his head and shoulders, that'll be fine," Martin responded. "Bring it in a little."
"I can't focus."
"Bring it in a little more."
"I can't focus that close. . . . Now all I've got is his nose . . . Okay, the tapes are rolling, take it from the top."
"Governor, why do you support President Carter?"
"Well, for a lot of reasons. Most important, he has restored a sense of honesty and decency. . ."