Josephine Whitson, a high school cafeteria worker, wanted to obtain a Fairfax County vehicle sticker for her car before the end-of-the-month deadline.
So, she grabbed her purse, put on her Washington Redskins windbreaker and went over to the government center at the Massey Building in Fairfax City -- where she found a line of about 200 people that wound down the building's steps and past the flagpoles.
"Maryland isn't like this," said Whitson, who used to live there. "In Maryland, you get your tags and you're finished. But, out here in Virginia, it's murder." (She was right that motorists who live in suburban Maryland don't have to buy county stickers for their cars. On the other hand, those who wait until the last day -- March 31 -- to buy their state license plates frequently find long lines.)
Fairfax County requires residents to pay $20 to $25 annually for a vehicle windshield sticker. The stickers go on sale Jan. 1 and must be in place no later than May 1.
It's possible to order them by mail, if you have paid your personal property taxes. But, those who apply after April 10 must do so in person, either at the Massey Building or at one of six other county government centers or 13 fire stations.
"This happens every year," said Rosalind Lloyd, supervisor of revenue collections. "It's just procrastination. People put things off until the last minute. I guess it's just human nature."
Those in the lines have been known to display great determination. Last week, people in the sticker line at the Massey Building refused to budge, even after a small electrical fire triggered alarms and firefighters came to evacuate the premises.
Yesterday's annual Arbor Day celebration, held in front of the Massey Building, got an unexpected boost when 200 car-sticker applicants turned in place, put hands over hearts and sang "The Star-Spangled Banner."
But by early afternoon, the fun was over. "How much can we pay you to get us to the head of this?" asked Sandra Mestre, 22, a sales representative who had waited for two hours and still wasn't in the door. "That's how desperate we are."
"It's a fun bunch of people, if the wind would just quit blowing," said William Beaver, 38, a computer science student. "But, I don't think it's very nice that the police are tagging cars in the county parking lot at the same time. I have to keep running back and putting dimes in the meter."
Debbi Porfeli, a 28-year-old mother who just moved to Fairfax from Ohio, and she needed a sticker for her van and a 1984 silver anniversary-edition Datsun 300-ZX.
"This is my first time having to do this," she said. "In Ohio, it's easy. They don't do this in Ohio."