Paul Burman ducked past a parking attendant, scooted up a cement stairway and stepped into a downtown lot crammed with oversized vehicles.
"Oh," he said, sucking in his breath. "Jackpot."
Ordinarily, Burman and other members of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network might shudder at the sight of sport utility vehicles. But yesterday, the environmental activists sought out gas-guzzlers in an attempt to reach out to what some might see as an unlikely partner in the effort to improve state vehicle emission standards - SUV drivers.
More than 100 volunteers tucked an estimated 20,000 "tickets" under the windshield wipers of SUVs across the state yesterday, said Burman, a spokesman for the group. The white slips of paper included a postcard addressed to Gov.-elect Martin O'Malley, asking him to support proposed legislation that would create a "Maryland Clean Cars Program."
The program would demand that new vehicles sold in the state emit less pollution than is allowed by federal law and would require that SUVs meet tougher standards. Although a similar bill died in the legislature in 2005, group members are hopeful that a new clean car bill will be introduced and passed in the coming legislative session.
One supporter was 19-year-old Beth Aiello, who spoke with Burman moments after hopping out of her Ford Explorer.
"I think it's really good," she said of the clean car bill, adding that safety, not the environment, was her priority when deciding to drive an SUV.
Still, she acknowledged that she was not surprised when Burman and Louise Mitchell, a volunteer with the organization, approached her. "I've heard a lot about it before, bad gas mileage and everything," she said.
Joshua Tulkin, the group's organizing director, rallied a handful of volunteers before they split up to seek SUVs near the Inner Harbor.
Adopting stricter regulations, similar to those in place in California and nine other states, would lessen the amount of greenhouse gases produced by Maryland drivers, he said. and driving vehicles with greater fuel efficiency decreases dependence on foreign oil and saves money at the gas pump.
Tulkin and Burman urged volunteers to engage SUV drivers in conversation but avoid conflict.
"We want this to be a very positive campaign," Burman said. "We don't want anyone to get punched out because they touched the wrong Hummer."
Some drivers just shook their heads and drove off when Mitchell and Burman approached them.
George Singleton appeared more concerned about whether his Gay Street parking meter had to be fed on a Saturday than the environmental message. He explained that the Chevrolet Trailblazer that he was driving was not his.
Scott and Robin Hastings, tourists from Seaford, Del., said that they would pass the flier on to friends from Maryland. They drove a Ford Expedition, they said, because they needed room for their many foster children.
"Besides," Scott Hastings said, "setting off one of those rockets into space makes a lot more pollution."
Aiello and her friends, Steve Hynson and Jessica Novak, both 19, said that they did not often think of the environment, but that they supported more stringent emission standards.
"It's a gas hog," Hynson said of Aiello's Explorer. "I'm the one who usually has to fill it up."
A cigarette cocked in the corner of her mouth, Novak leaned against the vehicle to sign a postcard for O'Malley. "I'm trying to live," she said. "I want to be old."
Hynson said it was hard to think about environmental concerns yesterday. "It don't feel like global warming," he said. "It's darn cold."