Sweet home Alabama, er, Virginia

By the

March 15, 2001

“Fairfax is a nice place, I suppose. Convenient to get to work from, it’s got some nice restaurants and a good school system. But no one is really from there. Well, I guess you are.”

So said the overly-chatty woman who had decided that the two-hour flight was her opportunity to hold court on my life. I had made the horrible mistake of assuming that since she had a novel a few hundred pages heavier than the one I held (which would put the grand total of printed matter in row 22 at roughly 3,000 pages), that she was a fellow conspirator in the prevention of unwanted seatmate conversation.

Au contraire. Ten minutes after takeoff, her hefty tome had hit the tray, which had been a little prematurely released from its stowed and locked position, and she began to deconstruct the details of my 21 years of existence over a Diet Coke and a bag of Doritos. Most of my life and future plans seemed to garner her stamp of approval, except for the unfortunate fact of my geographic origins. I thought she might prefer if I were from some small town in the Midwest, but she scorned her own home town, Des Moines, as provincial and issued a 10-minute long diatribe on the odiousness of St. Louis. Then she pronounced most of the West Coast “unlivable.” I failed to fully comprehend her doctrine of regional distinctions, but she seemed pretty intent on proving to me that my hometown really didn’t qualify as a seat of familial origin, despite the Siessegers’ 33 years in the area. Maybe she feels differently now.

Finally, Fairfax County is getting the dubious attention it deserves. The release of the 2000 Census data has helped to inform the whole country that not only has the Washington suburb experienced a population explosion, with an 18.5 percent increase since 1990, but half of the county has also breached the $90,000 median annual household income mark. (Take that, Somerset County!) And now The Washington Post has begun to run a series of articles on the county and its denizens. I hereby declare myself, as one of the few people who are actually from there, available for interviews.

A writer for the Post called the sub-metropolitan area “NoVa” in a recent article from the Style section. And then he called it “NoVa” again. Then he said that the only thing that distinguishes “NoVa” from any other suburb is that it happens to be the seat of the CIA and a host of other spook shops, including the Defense Intelligence Agency and the National Reconnaissance Organization. Well, I suppose he’s right there. I wouldn’t want to see the place that had more security-clearance badge-wearing bureaucrats per square foot than Northern Virginia. But I also don’t think this writer fully understands the nature of the beast he proposed to slay. Sure, he brought out the general creepiness of the suburbs in the dark (or in the park). And he did a decent job of describing just why “NoVa” has a mystique that other suburban spots lack. But he called the fiefdom of soccer moms and Soviet spies “NoVa.” No self-respecting Northern Virginian does that.
Why, you ask? Because “NoVa” is also the pronunciation of the abbreviation for the Northern Virginia Community College (NVCC). While we suburbanites have no more qualms about making up stupid pseudo-acronyms than the United Nations does (no one will ever convince me that UNSCOM is an acronym, it sounds like something floating in my fish tank), we don’t go in for linguistic duplication. Doublespeak has no place in our plot for world domination.

We’ve had a few minor setbacks, of course. Like the unfortunate spate of bumper stickers that appeared on pick-ups and 4×4s statewide a few years back that read, “Sportsmen for North.” That’s right, thanks in no small part to our conservative counterparts in the Tidewater, Piedmont and “SoVa” regions (who, in our fits of suburban sophistication, we roundly scorn, scorn, scorn?until we need to go horseback riding or to the beach), we nearly voted good ole’ Ollie North into the U.S. Senate. But the forces of suburban solidarity were too strong for him (and his slogan didn’t have quite the catchy, pocket-book appeal of current governor James Gilmore’s, “No Car Tax”).
Hollywood and the popular press haven’t helped us out any, either. As noted by the aforementioned “NoVa” writer, Clarice Starling and Hannibal Lecter dined on saut?ed cerebrum in our midst. David Baldacci, a native of the area, set his latest spy thriller, Saving Faith?which is rife with assassination plots and secret suburban bunkers?in the outskirts of Washington. And where else would the Ebola-ridden monkeys of The Hot Zone have been housed than in Reston? Maybe we should revise our tourism industry’s slogan, “Virginia is for Lovers,” to something more reflective of the popular perception. It seems that others would have the world believe that Virginia is for cannibals, communicable diseases, communists and, lest we forget, capitalists.

Not to mislead you, secession from the Old Dominion is not our intent. We like our colonial homes and our proximity to quaint little historic places like Mount Vernon and Manassas (and since most of us are either carpetbaggers or military personnel with Unionist sensibilities, we please to call that Civil War skirmish by that name, and not by the provincial Virginian moniker, Bull Run). We like our public school system and are really, really big U-Va fans. (Wahoo-wa!) We like our recreation centers, public parks and shopping malls, and apparently those who live outside our county limits do, too (witness the moneyed masses as they flock to Reston Town Center or Tysons Corner). We like it all, but ask us where we’re from and?if we think we can get away with it?we’ll say we’re from Washington.

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