It was past midnight in a popular local nightspot, the favorite of many downstate legislators, when the bandleader called on "all the sons and daughters of the Confederacy" to join in a somber rendition of "Dixie."
"Old times there are not forgotten," warbled the misty-eyed crowd , dotted with legislators, as patrons lumbered to their feet.
as the fifth-generation daughther of an industrial state that sided firmly with Union forces during the War Between the States, I didn't budge -- and was promptly treated to stares ranging from curious to hostile for my "Yankee" tendencies.
Although Richmond is only a two-hour drive from the White House, Northern Virginians who visit the legislature here soon find that it may as well be on another planet.
Capital of the Old South during the Civil War, Richmond proudly hosts a legislature run by those whose sympathies are with the state's rural, agrarian interests -- not the sprawling urban development of their upstate cousins.
Legislative leaders show little apparent concern for problems involving condominiums, freeways, population density and air pollution -- to the everlasting frustration of members who represent the burgeoning population of the state's five northernmost jurisdictions.
For years, upstaters have complained that bills on these and other issues dear to the hearts of suburban dwellers have been doomed even before they were introduced, vanishing forever into the yawning chasm that separates what many call the "Two Virginias."
For their part, downstate legislators make only token efforts to disguise the antipathy they bear toward the upstate crowd. "They may live in the Old Dominion," grumbled one veteran legislator about the constantly changing population of the Washington suburbs, "but they're not Virginians at all. Why should we be doing anything to help them? None of them stay here very long, anyway."
Northern Virginians have such a bad reputation in Richmond, deserved or not, that new legislators from upstate have been known to develop mock-Southern drawls almost overnight to enhance their appearance as old-line descendants of the commonwealth.
There's no evidence, however, that any number of "y'alls" can smoothe things over. Virginia's Statehouse is dominated by the likes of Sen. Ed Wiley, a white-haired Richmond Democrat who has been known to call some Northern Virginia representatives "boy," and Sen. Harry Michaels (D-Charlottesville), who smokes his cigarettes in a long holder and sometimes carries a dapper gold-tipped cane. Several other lawmakers from the hilly Southside area, including Sen. Virgil Goode (D-Rocky Mount), sport backwoods accents that would put the Beverly Hillbillies to shame.
"It's no wonder that delegates like David Speck of Alexandria feel out of place. Speck, a Republican, a Jew and a Northern Virginian, concluded early in this year's session that a low profile would be his best strategy.
The tactic paid off. In his first session, Speck won legislative approval for a measure mandating the creation of homeowner warranties for condominium dwellers -- a feat which some old-timers found noteworthy.
Perhaps at the base of Virginia's enduring North-South squabble is the economic gap between the two regions. Northern Virginia's recession-proof economy, which has kept pace for the last 40 years with the growth of Washington's bureaucracy, provides a lush tax base that downstate politicians find mouthwatering. They reason that tax monies raised in the Washington suburbs should be used to balance off the economic woes of other, less economically stable areas of the state.
But politicians in Northern Virginia -- called "Upper Tidewater" by some legislators -- complain long and loud that their constituents are not getting a penny-for-penny return on their tax investments -- a complaint that is widely viewed in Richmond as selfish and narrow-minded.
Such complaints backfired when Northern Virginia legislators joined Gov. John N. Dalton in pushing for a statewide tax for the Metro subway system.
"Why should a housewife in Roanoke pay for Metro?" downstate legislators said as they eliminated support for Metro from a state gas tax bill and saddled Northern Virginians alone with an additional phased 4 percent gas tax.
While Northern Virginia legistators have sought tools to control the urban sprawl they say is threatening to turn suburban land into parking lots, downstate legislators are eager to attract new development. They say they are much more worried about paving the gravel roads in their rural districts than about the placement of new shopping centers in the state's northern suburbs.
Even more divisive is the deep-seated distrust of change by many older, tradition-bound legislators.
"Change does not come easy in Virginia," commented an upstate legislator one day after watching a string of consumer bills defeated. "For most of them, the past is more glorious than the present or the future will ever be.
"As long as we keep coming down here trying to change things, we won't be the most popular kids on the block."