Sibylle Ehrlich is just getting into her silver-gray Camry parked in a prime spot near the Nordstrom Rack entrance at Towson Town Center. Usually, she walks since she lives across the street.
Cars are lined up behind an Escalade SUV waiting for Ehrlich's parking space. Traffic has been circling through the lot like Apaches around a wagon train in a John Wayne Western.
"I drove because I went to another mall today," she says. "I only take the car when I have to.
"It's not worth it," says the 77-year-old retired Goucher professor. "I don't fight it. I'm certainly not going to circle around and around and around."
Ehrlich is in a perfect spot. And other drivers, who are on a post-holiday shopping mission, covet it. They are exhibiting behavior that falls into one of four categories of mall parkers, according to a recent study.
The study by the Response Insurance Group of Meriden, Conn., described the types this way:
"Search & Destroy" parkers are those who would be on the lookout for Ehrlich. These drivers "roam the aisles in search of the perfect spot to open."
"Lay & Wait" drivers, who may be the most annoying, position themselves at the end of an aisle, which they then regard as their turf, while they wait for a space to open up.
"See It & Take It" drivers simply pull into the first space they see. They're the least stressed out, according to the survey.
"Stalkers" are "perhaps the most predatory," the polltakers say. They follow shoppers leaving the store to their car. This method is fraught with pitfalls. Search & Destroyers and Lay & Waiters may easily outflank the Stalker and zip into the spot. And, the shopper you are following might be lost.
The survey, which studied the driving habits of 1,001 adults, shows women are more than twice as likely to trail folks to their cars than men: 12 percent to 5 percent.
Stalkers are subject to ridicule from their fellow parkers.
"I'll gesture like this," says Steve Moulds of Millersville. He leads you on as if he were bringing you to the promised land, or at least a parking space. "Come with me, and I'll walk as slow as possible to my space. I'm way across the lot."
At Towson Town Center, Jessica Lowe of Parkton is a parking stalker with a polished technique. She drives her targets to their cars: "I say get in my car. I'll take you to your car."
The Response polltakers seem to have missed at least one category of parkers: The drivers who rely on divine intervention.
"I pray to Jesus," says Brittany Bosley of Owings Mills. Her search is complicated by the two kids in the back seat of her convertible.
And some people just squeeze in anywhere, defying categorization.
"You know the place next to the handicapped spot where there's lines so people in wheelchairs can get out?" says Carter Parkinson of Hunt Valley. "I park there."
A security officer at the center says lots of perfectly healthy people pull right into the handicapped slot without the slightest hesitation. Drivers bounce onto the concrete islands even when an officer tells them not to. And security police have to break up the occasional fistfight. Sometimes people get possessive about a spot when they finally find one. They don't want to give it up. It's a power position for people without much power.
Many parking seekers are annoyed by the vans and SUVs that deceive you into believing a space exists next to them. When you get there you find it filled with a small car.
Jeff Brockner and Marni Solomon pop out of a BMW about 30 feet from the entrance to Nordstrom.
"We got lucky," says Brockner, who uses no particular strategy. "Just the pure first spot I came to."
That, of course, makes him a See It & Take It driver.
"I usually go straight up to Level 5," Solomon says. "We would never have come this way if it wasn't 12 o'clock on Tuesday afternoon. We'd have gone straight up."
Which is a pretty good idea. There were plenty of empty spaces on the fifth and sixth levels while people were orbiting down below like slightly demented space travelers.
And Solomon says she doesn't mind a little bit of a walk.
Richard Foltz, 15, rides his skateboard.
"You just pop it up and grab it," he says. "Don't have to park it, lock it, remember the keys."