Visit any urban campus in America and the No. 1 complaint almost always will be the parking situation. Parking at USC became an issue in the 1960s as enrollment skyrocketed. The university dealt with it by building parking garages and adding a campus shuttle system. To enforce the parking rules, there was a regiment of parking officers, which, for nearly half a century, included "Miss Pat."
Don’t ask me how I did it, but in my last semester as a Carolina student, I managed to rack up a couple of hundred dollars’ worth of campus parking tickets.
If you’re an alumnus of USC — or just about any university in America — you can probably relate. There always seems to be too many cars and not enough parking spaces on campus for all of them.
I’m Chris Horn, your host for Remembering the Days, and today we’re looking back to when finding a place to park a car at USC began to require some effort, and what the university did about it. You’re also going to meet a former USC parking patroller who wrote tickets — lots of them — for more than 40 years. But before we talk to Miss Pat, let’s go back to when parking was not an issue on the Carolina campus.
During the Great Depression in the 1930s, very few students owned cars. Everyone walked to class — the entire campus consisted of the Horseshoe and a few buildings on Gibbes Green and just beyond. There were plenty of restaurants and theaters and such within easy walking distance downtown.
To top it off, USC regulations around that time stated, “the University does not encourage possession of automobiles by students.” That polite suggestion was adequate back then, but within a decade or so campus parking started to become a messier situation.
The 1951 Garnet & Black yearbook made a reference to the inevitability of students paying campus parking fines. And in 1959 the yearbook started talking about "relieving the parking situation."
When the Baby Boomers started to arrive in droves in the 1960s, those students were not going to be without their wheels. By 1970, there were about 10,000 students on campus, and the Garnet & Black proclaimed that “parking has not been a problem at Carolina, it’s been a crisis.” The editorial stated that three out of four students had trouble finding a place to park.
It was around that time that the university’s first big parking garage was built on Blossom Street and another one not long after on the corner of Pendleton and Pickens. Those garages certainly helped, but it seems that griping about campus parking had become a perennial pastime.
“I've been hearing people complain about parking for 30 years.”
That’s Chris Howard, who drove a student shuttle bus on campus many years ago and has worked full time ever since in the university’s student transportation and parking division. He says that along with building those first parking garages in the 1970s, USC launched the Shuttlecock system to ferry students from one end of the growing campus to the other in a further attempt to alleviate the parking issue.
Chris Howard: “The shuttle system was just students. No faculty and staff would even consider setting foot on one of those buses. They were little short buses. They'd seat about 30 people. There were five routes and one little bus on each route. They would get really packed right before a class. And then between classes they'd be empty.”
The 1979 Garnet & Black yearbook acknowledged the university’s efforts in launching the Shuttlecock buses, but the student editors felt that was only a partial answer to a big problem. Admittedly, the Shuttlecock system left something to be desired.
Chris Howard: “When I started, the shuttle system was run entirely by students, and I think that was the original idea. We were all students. But a student's main priority is not driving a shuttle. And as we were trying to grow the system and trying to get more people on it, we realized that college students aren't the most reliable because their primary focus is their school. So, if they had to study or something like that, they'd think nothing of calling in that morning and saying, ‘Hey, I'm not showing up.’ ”
“I loved driving the shuttle. That was the highlight of my college career. I think I probably would have done better in college if I hadn't been putting so much time in driving a shuttle. And I really enjoyed it."
In the early 1990s, Chris Howard pushed for the Shuttlecocks to get a more dignified name — the Carolina Shuttle — and the system also switched over to non-student drivers, most of them retired K-12 school bus drivers who turned out to be very dependable employees.
Improving the student shuttle system was important because the more that students rode the shuttles, the less they were apt to cruise around in their individual cars looking for parking spots close to their classes.
Still, a lot of students did just that. And they would often park in fire lanes, block fire hydrants or simply ditch their cars in places where they weren’t allowed. To enforce parking regulations, the university had a fleet of three-wheeled Cushman scooters driven by a corps of parking enforcement officers. One of them was Pat Fuller — or Miss Pat, as she likes to be called. She started writing parking tickets in 1974 and didn’t stop until 2019.
Pat Fuller: “Sometimes we wouldn't eat lunch. We just kept going. You could do 100 tickets a day. Durn, that's 5 or 600 a week!”
Miss Pat says there was no quota for how many tickets each officer had to write. She could write a hundred tickets a day without really trying because so many students were breaking the parking rules.
Pat Fuller: “Some of them, if you wrote them a ticket, they'd get mad. They would argue with you, fuss at you and some maybe actually use an ugly word. I'd say, ‘Hey, whoa, whoa.' I tried to talk them down. I said, ‘Look, you got a ticket for a reason. You can't block the driveway. You can't park in the fire lane. What if the fire truck had to get through? Can't do it. Can't do it.”
“Now, the guys got a little worse, and sometimes would curse you. But I’d say, ‘Hey, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa. I don't need to hear that today. I don't want to hear that today. You wouldn't say that to your mother, would you? 'No, ma'am.’ And then it got quiet.”
Miss Pat and her colleagues would cruise up and down the campus lots in their Cushmans, looking for cars that didn’t have parking decals or were parked incorrectly or not even parked in actual parking spaces. Even though she was no-nonsense about enforcing the rules, she would allow herself to be talked out of writing a ticket under certain circumstances.
If she heard something like this: student yelling not to write him a ticket , she might have a change of heart. Still, the rules were the rules.
Pat Fuller: “Some of them come to me and they leave a note. ‘I've lost my keys. Please give me a little time to find my keys and I'll be right down the move the car.’ OK. I would go with that. If they came up to me and they were that close and I hadn't started the ticket, I didn't write it. If I was too far gone in the ticket, they would go ahead and get it. Now, like I say, if they're in a fire lane or something like that, not trying to show no partiality, but if you're in that fire lane, you're going to get a ticket. If you're blocking the driveway, you're going to get a ticket.”
In the past 20 years, the university has built several more big parking garages and opened more surface parking lots. The Carolina Shuttle system has been replaced with large modern buses operated by the Central Midlands Regional Transit Authority, which now crisscross the campus like clockwork.
I wish I could say that parking on campus is easier than ever, but parking is always a challenge for any campus in an urban setting. What I can say is that once you find a place to park your car, the campus is more beautiful than ever … and it’s worth your while to take a stroll on it if you can.
That’s all for this episode. On the next Remembering the Days, get ready to put away your car keys and pull up a reading chair. We’re going to look back at the origin of the University of South Carolina Press, which has been turning out interesting books for nearly 80 years.
Until then, I’m Chris Horn. Forever to thee.