Brian O'Donnell sits waiting in his sleek, white Ford Mustang. Ten minutes go by, then 20, and almost a half-hour later the Towson State University student spots her. She's walking through the parking garage's third-level door wearing a white T-shirt adorned with green lizards.
With a triumphant "YES!" Mr. O'Donnell shifts the Mustang into gear, creeping behind her, ready to make his move. But he's not interested in striking up a conversation with her -- he wants something more valuable.
Her parking space.
The cat-and-mouse game is part of campus life at Towson State, where about 9,800 commuters compete for 4,143 parking spaces on campus. And the parking frenzy is at its worst when the school year begins, as commuters compete for coveted spots in the two garages closest to classrooms.
Despite 500 temporary spaces added to the campus this semester, and other nearby lots, students say they would rather give blood than park down the street and hike 10 minutes to class.
So, inside the garages they zip around corners, barely avoiding collisions in the two cramped lanes that head in opposite directions. They kick their cars into reverse at 15 mph -- while other cars approach. They pull three-point turns while surrounded by other vehicles.
"I'll keep waiting until I get a spot or until my classes are over and I'll leave," Mr. O'Donnell, 21, says half-joking. "I'd rather be 15 minutes late for class than have to walk. Sometimes it's a pain, but parking anywhere else would be too far to walk."
"It's just a matter of time," says the business major, a four-year veteran of the parking game. "I haven't missed a class yet."
There are many levels of players. Young students driving aimlessly in circles through the garage, casting wistful glances at empty spaces marked for the handicapped. Cautious students who arrive before 8 a.m. and stay all day -- despite three-hour gaps between classes -- because "it's too risky to leave and come back." The lucky ones who move through traffic and spot a miracle: the red taillights of a parked car about to go into reverse.
Then there are those such as Jason Keuberth, who would never rely on luck. Positioning himself by the exit, he waits for classes to end, sending forth a multitude of fresh bodies who jangle sets of car keys.
"You've got to time it just right," says Mr. Keuberth, a 20-year-old art education major who has about a half-hour before his 11 a.m. swimming class.
The typical wait? About 30 minutes. But wouldn't it be easier to park in the half-empty lots down the street?
"Too far. . . ," Mr. Keuberth says with mock horror. "This way, it all works eventually. It's obnoxious, but it works."
University officials say there is plenty of space to accommodate commuters. Typically, most college campuses have a ratio of two commuters for each space, because not all commuters are on campus at the same time, says Donald N. McCulloh, Towson State's vice president of administration and finance.
"There really isn't a problem," he says. "If you want to park in front of the building near class, then there's no parking, but if you want to park 10 minutes away and walk, there's a lot of parking.
Towson State recently purchased the Citicorp building at York and Cross Campus roads, giving the campus 500 more spaces.
"The frustrating part is a lot of people complain that there's no parking when we know that there is," Mr. McCulloh says. "We're not asking you to park a mile away; we're asking you to park a little bit farther away and take the shuttle bus to class."
Student Geoff Payne shares those sentiments. He parks in the lots on Auburn Drive, near the stadium.
"It's real cutthroat in the parking garages," says Mr. Payne, 26, a chemistry major who boycotted the garage years ago when someone turning a corner clipped his bumper. "It's crazy, especially in the morning. People almost hitting you, whipping around corners, it's crazy."