YOU'VE HEARD the one about how many Virginians it takes to change a light bulb?
Four. One to change the bulb and three, true to the state's love of tradition, to reminisce about how good the old bulb was.
There is that Virginia. Historyland. Williamsburg. Capital of the Confederacy. Mother of presidents. (A long time since the last pregnancy, they quickly--and honestly--will add.)
Now, welcome to another Virginia. For anyone who has a trace of Potomac Fever -- and who doesn't in Washington -- this is a Virginia that defies stereotypes. It remains, as the late V.O. Key, the master Southern political scientist, used to say "a political museumpiece." Yet most of the exhibits and displays in this Virginia are as comtemporary as the Smithsonian's Air and Space Museum.
Here is one man's guide to that other Dominion:
* Pulpit politics: Thomas Road Baptist Church, Lynchburg. The moment you spot the built-in television cameras in the balcony, you'll know this is not your average church. This imposing octagonal building, supposedly patterned after a Thomas Jefferson design, is the home of television evangelist Jerry Falwell. And Falwell, a hometown boy who organized what is now a 7,000-member church in an old Donald Duck soft-drink plant, can be found in the pulpit delivering the gospel of his Moral Majority most Sunday mornings and at some Wednesday night prayer meetings. No admission but they will pass the collection plate.
* Electronic church: In Virginia Beach, just off I-64, sits a huge, red brick colonial-style estate that is home to another of the nation's television preachers, the somewhat less-political Rev. Pat Robertson and his Christian Broadcasting Network. The studios there rival anything in Burbank or New York and churn out a daily Christian soap opera ("Another Life") and a Johnny Carson-style entertainment show, The 700 Club. Daily tours and seats in the 700 Club audience. But don't call at noon: most of the staff and actors will be in the daily chapel service.
* Pentagon politics: You can't begin to imagine how immense the Defense Department is (it's Virginia's largest employer) until you either take a tour of the five-sided building in Arlington or, better yet, climb aboard a Navy warship weekends at the Norfolk Naval Station. NOB, for Naval Operating Base as the sailors call it, is the world's largest, and is home to 5,000-man nuclear-powered aircraft carriers to tiny torpedo-chasing ships. The Pentagon is open to visitors weekdays just off the Metro station there, but to understand what makes the admirals seek early retirement you have to take a weekend "open house" of a warship in Norfolk. Your guide probably will be a seaman apprentice (weekend liberty is for the chief petty officers) and when he tries to explains his ship's computer-guidance system you'll understand why the military spends billions in putting its recruits back in a classroom.
(A note to old salts: Yes, those are women on some of the noncombat ships and they are probably the biggest -- and most controversial -- change in the Navy since an admiral tried to do away with bellbottoms.)
* Suburban powerhouse: Head east from the Naval Station and you'll run into one of the fastest growing cities in America, Virginia Beach. It's not just a small resort anymore, and it is home to thousands of the state's increasingly important suburban voters. Sprawled like Los Angeles over a flat plain, it has all the joys and drawbacks of a boomtown, painted Navy gray. The Beach is where the Navy sleeps and flies its fighter jets, and it has one of the best beaches on the East Coast. Avoid Atlantic Avenue, the Ocean City-like main drag, and head for Sandbridge, near the North Carolina line. The city has refurbished an old Coast Guard Station there, and you can park all day for $1.50 with a broad beach with lifeguards almost to yourself.
* Organization politics: Last month several hundred politicans and what's left of the Byrd organization's once-powerful "good ole boy" crowd gathered near the town of Wakefield in the state's poor, hardscrabble Southside to eat the baked remains of a bony fish called shad and drink bourbon from stic cups. The rite they celebrate in the piney woods is called the Shad Planking, and for the mostly male, white crowd it is an annual gathering of a dying clan and a chance to recall the days when they held the balance of power in the state. Tickets, $10 each, are available from the Wakefield Ruritan Club. Order early.
* Computer politics: The Richard Obenshain Building, 115 E. Grace St., Richmond. Here sits the braintrust of the Virginia Republican Party, a Hewlett-Packard 3000 computer that can tell you how most households in the state voted as far back as the 1976 gubernatorial election that placed the GOP's John N. Dalton against populist Democrat Henry E. Howell. The computer room is off-limits to most visitors but the party's officials will be more than happy to brief you on how they have one of the best computer-oriented political operations in the country.
* Hunt Country politics: They call it the Atoka Country Supper, held on a Saturday each fall for the past seven years on Sen. John W. Warner's Atoka estate, about 60 miles west of Washington in Fauquier County's hunt country. As a result of the breakup of marriage No. 7 (to Warner), Liz Taylor is no longer a featured attraction, but there is no telling who will show up. Ronald Reagan and Zsa Zsa Gabor have been among the recent guests. Don't fail to peek inside one of Warner's barns: Yes, that's a swimming pool. Tickets are about $30 for a barbecued chicken lunch, from almost any Northern Virginia Republican.
* Politics in the raw: See politicans seeking votes from naked men. It happens every fall when politicians head for the hills, where they realize that coal money is the biggest single source of political funding in the state. Dawn will find the pols meeting the midnight-shift miners in bathhouses where they shower (most of them with lemon-fresh Joy, which is supposedly superior at cutting the coal dust). You may have to volunteer to hand out brochures for this.
There is more to the other Virginia than politics, of course. Toss away your standard travel guide and you'll encounter a sometime curious blend of the antebellum and supersonic--and often just by the interstates.
* Jarrell's Truck Plaza, I-95 near Kings Dominion. One of the biggest truck stops on the East Coast. Amid the fumes and the growling diesels of the 250 to 300 trucks that stop here daily is, you guessed it, a chapel for truckers, complete with videotapes with Protestant, Catholic, or Jewish sermons for the trucker who has lost his way along the interstates.
* Confederate Home for Ladies, 301 N. Sheppard St., Richmond. Here you can hear second-hand accounts of the "War Between the States," as it's called by the 26 daughters of Confederate soldiers who live here. Their home, once filled with the widows of soldier who fought in the war is filled with pictures of Robert E. Lee and memories of the lost cause that often echoes in state politics.
* Tea time in Richmond: Lunchtime at Miller and Rhoads in downtown and there is a scene straight out of the 1940s. Eddie Weaver has been in his tux at the fifth-floor Tea Room organ for the past 44 years, and you'll still find him there weekdays--along with some ladies in white gloves eating chicken salads, drinking ice teas and on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays watching models twirling about in the latest fashions.
* James River Ferry. There is a toll ($1 a car) for this ride, but it's a delightful one across the broad James from the Jamestown Festival Park to Scotland in Surry County near the Surry Nuclear Power Plant. While there, head into Surry and order a slice of peanut pie, Virginia's answer to pecan pie, but like the local peanut soup--another Virginia delicacy--much smoother on the digestive tract.
* SST Jetport. Dulles International Airport, just outside Washington on the Fairfax-Loudoun County line is one of the two places in the United States where you can see the Supersonic Transport land and takeoff. The Eero Saarinen terminal alone would be worth the trip and you won't have to ask is which is the SST. It's the plane that roars. Arriving Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturday at 12:20 p.m. and departures at 10 a.m. Wednesdays, Fridays, and Sundays.
* Ride to the Stars: The best ride in Virginia may not be in Kings Dominion or Busch Gardens, but in a hole in the ground in Arlington. It's the 194-foot 8-inch long escalator at the Rosslyn Metro station, a ride that takes more than two minutes and one that will challenge anyone's vertigo.
* Kepone Town. Hopewell, 15 miles south of Richmond. Along the Randolph Road (Rte. 10) you can find what appears to be an old gasoline station. It once was the home of Life Science Products Co., a small chemical company that churned out massive qualities of the pesticide Kepone in the mid-1970s, dumped a lot of it in the town's sewers and thus into the James River, polluting it for decades and causing what many caused the worst environmental disaster in the state's history. The disease called the "Kepone shakes" happened here in a town that used to call itself the Chemical Capital of the South.
* Nick's Seafood Pavillion. Seafood in Virginia is a must and no place is it better prepared than at this restaurant at the base of the Yorktown cliffs. You'll eat among the Greek statues, ferns, and huge chandliers that the late Nick Mathews and his wife Mary employed to make Yorktown more than the site of a Revolutionary War battlefield. At 50 cents the house salad is a steal with any meal and you'll have to travel far to find a better broiled bluefish at $6.50.
* American kitsch: "Everything sells here," says the switchboard operator at the Williamsburg Pottery Factory, a collection of 15 warehouses five miles west of the colonial capital. And indeed it does. The Pottery is a memorial to the American love of trivia (dried flowers, Christmas novelties and salt-glazed pottery) and it outdraws the established attractions nearby by millions. James E. Maloney, now a 72-year-old potter, founded it in 1938 to sell his dishes and today he employs a thousand workers offering an estimated 75,000 items from five miles of aisles. Open every day except Christmas. A challenge to the experienced traveler is to visit--and not purchase anything.
Finally, The Jeffersonian Virginia:
* Monticello. Jefferson's mountaintop home south of Charlottesville. It is a shrine to the man who was as close to a genius as any president. Virginians may have forgotten some of his radical ideas, but his inventions, including doors that close automatically and dumb waiters, are religiously preserved here. Open daily except Christmas, $3 admission for adults, $1 for children aged 6 and older.
* The Lawn of the University of Virginia. Here you can see Jefferson's "academical village," a quad of tiny rooms surrounding what was one of his proudest accomplishments. Students compete for the honor of being selected for a room (All-American Ralph Sampson opted to stay in school after being given a lawn room.) Free tours of the adjoining Rotunda are available daily.
* Mr. Jefferson's Capitol. He also designed the Virginia Capitol in Richmond after a Greek temple. Despite two additions, it remains a beautiful and small building sitting on a steep hill. Gov. Charles S. Robb works out of a tiny office on the third floor and on rainy days slips over to the nearby Executive Mansion through a labyrinth of underground tunnels. A must snack: Smithfield ham biscuits in the ground floor snack bar called "Chickens." Free tours start on the second floor.