TAMPA — Standing in her salon, with her freshly done hair and immaculate makeup, Theresa Henry looked anxious as 4 p.m. approached.
"Once she gets started, she'll be fine," her husband said. "It's like going into the ocean or a pool you've never been in before. Once you start swimming, you'll be fine."
Right at 4 p.m., two black sport utility vehicles pulled into the parking lot of the small Carrollwood strip center, home to Hair Expression.
"They're here," Henry said, nervously shuffling papers at the receptionist's desk.
The front door opened.
"Hi, Condoleezza Rice," the former secretary of state said, holding out her hand.
The two hugged.
Henry led Rice to a chair for a quick talk about the process. Then she began shampooing the hair of one of America's once most powerful women.
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Henry's mind has been reeling since she got the call from Washington, D.C., last week.
Rice was going to be in town for Super Bowl XLIII, and her D.C. hairstylist wanted to know whether Henry could fit in Rice during the week.
How did they get her number? Henry wondered. No matter, of course, she would take the job.
"I was very surprised that my name came up," said Henry, 48, owner of Hair Expression. "I don't know how they got my name, but I think it is a great opportunity to display my talent and my credibility."
Rice chose Tuesday, a day that Henry usually closes her shop.
"I'm kind of glad they picked this day," said Henry, a beautician for 18 years. "I can really give her some attention."
Tuesday did not get off to a strong start for Henry. She woke up to a flat tire. She went to one shop to get it fixed. Too expensive. So she drove to her salon on a small replacement tire.
"That wasn't going to ruin my day," said Henry, a mother of three. "If I had to catch a cab to be here, I was going to be here."
Hours before Rice arrived, a member of the State Department security team inspected the salon.
Henry's husband bought Diet Pepsi. The D.C. stylist told Henry that was the beverage Rice liked.
While in the Tampa Bay area, Rice also attended a Lightning hockey game Friday and spent time at Innisbrook Resort and Golf Club in Palm Harbor.
During the weekend, her name was floated as a contender to be the next Pac 10 commissioner. When asked Tuesday by a Times reporter if she was considering the job, Rice said: "Gosh no."
She is going to spend her time writing a book and focusing on education issues, Rice said.
As Henry worked on Rice's hair, the two "chit-chatted" about the television commercials Rice missed during the Super Bowl because she was at the game.
Rice also watched The Express, a movie about Ernie Davis, the first African-American to win the college football's Heisman Trophy.
Two hours later, the event that Henry had so anxiously awaited ended. Rice paid the standard $60 fee, plus a $20 tip, and was gone.
"I felt like I hit the mark," Henry said. "When she left, she said she enjoyed the whole experience. That's what I like to leave with all my customers, whether you are high profile or not."
Demorris A. Lee can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 445-4174.