Tony Maiorana was cutting pit beef at last year's Towsontow Spring Festival when he spotted a Towson State University student walking by and asked her if she wanted a sandwich.

Ruth Chidester said no thanks. She'd already eaten. And besides, she thought he was just trying to pick her up.

He was. It worked.

At 2 p.m. yesterday, Tony and Ruth tied the knot -- amid all the pit-beef smoke, crowds, noise and balloons of this year's Spring Festival.

The Rossville couple's 10-minute, high-visibility wedding took place on the front steps of the Old Courthouse in Towson -- surrounded by friends in yellow and pink, and several hundred strangers in shorts, tank tops and a few bare feet.

A "private" reception followed on the stone veranda on the courthouse's south side.

"A lot of people get married at a church or a hall," said Ms. Chidester, 23. "I wanted to do something different that I would remember, something that would be me and Tony."

Mr. Maiorana, 31, had been moonlighting at the Brownie's Catering pit beef stand last year, a break from his regular job as a lineman for the Chesapeake & Potomac Telephone Co. Ms. Chidester was a Towson State senior.

"I went with my roommate, and we were walking around trying to delay studying for exams," she said.

She recalled Mr. Maiorana telling them to walk around some more, get hungry again and come back. They did.

"To check me out," Mr. Maiorana said.

"To give him a chance," Ms. Chidester said.

They arranged to meet later at a Cub Hill nightspot, and soon found they shared favorite musical groups (Fleetwood Mac) and favorite dog breeds (Dalmatians and Labradors) and other "weird things that just clicked," she said. "And you [Tony] said you could marry a girl like me."

"I was looking," he admitted. "It wasn't long after we met that we knew we were going to get married."

Since then, "there have not been more than two or three days that we have not seen each other," Ms. Chidester said. She has since finished school and is working at TSU while looking for a job in medical education, in a hospital or corporate setting.

She was the one who came up with the festival wedding idea.

"She said, 'Wouldn't it be neat if we got married at the festival,' " Mr. Maiorana said. "I never thought it would ever happen. Too much hassle."

Ms. Chidester's parents had planned a church wedding for her, and they, too, were "a little skeptical" about the festival idea, he said.

But she was determined. She called Susan K. DiLonardo, executive director of the Towson Business Association, the festival's sponsor, to ask if it could be done.

"I thought it was very sweet," said Ms. DiLonardo. It's the first wedding in the festival's 26-year history.

"We explained to Ruth some of the potential drawbacks" of having the ceremony in such a public spot, she said. "We didn't want to turn it into a festival event."

But after thinking it over for two weeks, the couple still wanted to go ahead. Since then, Ms. DiLonardo said, "we've been acting in an advisory capacity."

It all went beautifully yesterday -- a sunny Saturday, for a 'N change, with temperatures in the mid-70s.

There was no Mendelssohn wedding march, but the crowd applauded as Ms. Chidester walked up the courthouse sidewalk with her father. She wore an off-white Victorian lace gown, and flowers in her hair. She carried a bouquet of daisies and white tulips. Mr. Maiorana wore a dark suit and a tiny stud in his left ear.

The Rev. Dave Rogers, of Grace United Church of Christ in

Baltimore, stood on the courthouse steps to perform the secular ceremony. He invited the crowd to "add your 'Yes' to the yes that Tony and Ruth have already said in their hearts."

The crowd quieted to hear their vows, in which they promised each other a union "modern enough to survive the times, and old-fashioned enough to last forever."

And they applauded again when the bonds were sealed with a kiss.

The Maioranas' warm feelings for Towson did not extend to their honeymoon plans.

They plan a week's getaway to Mexico.

The 26th annual Towsontown Festival continues from 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. today, with live entertainment on three stages. Head for the courthouse and look for the crowd.

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