The Mercedes and Volvos start pulling up to Great Falls Elementary at 7:45 in the morning. Trunks pop open, and out come bags bulging with empty milk cartons and dog food cans, yard refuse and the rest of the previous week's trash.
Every Saturday morning, this parking lot off Georgetown Pike turns into a temporary trash dump. It's been that way since 1955, a vestige of Fairfax County's rural past, when residents tossed their garbage into the back of a pickup and headed for the local dump.
The last of what residents have come to call parkouts are in the county's affluent northern corner. And when news leaked out last month that the county wants to shut them down and make users pay for curbside trash pickups like everyone else, fans of the temporary dumps launched an open revolt.
Far from resenting the trip down country roads to deposit trash at the parkouts, some residents of Great Falls and McLean love the trek. While county workers hoist their trash to the back of brown garbage trucks, they linger over morning coffee, catching up on the latest news and gossip. Supervisors and senators shake hands there in election season.
Besides, many homeowners in Great Falls and McLean, two of Northern Virginia's most affluent locales, do not want noisy garbage trucks rumbling down their narrow, tree-shaded lanes -- not to mention the effort required to drag trash cans a half-mile or so down a winding driveway.
Where else will Nancy Van Ogtrop catch up on the latest news around town? Or how will Frank C. Carlucci, a former defense secretary, avoid wrestling with heavy trash bins? Where will John Adams, a Washington lawyer, bump into his clients in a -- er, casual -- setting outside the boardroom? Where will Roger Mudd find the touchstone of otherwise isolated suburban life that he likes to compare to the village post office?
"I like vestiges, and I don't think we should do away with them," said Mudd, the veteran newsman and parkout habitue for his 30 years in McLean. "It's one small little sweet moment in suburban life a lot of people look forward to."
Like curbside pickup, the parkouts are not free. The county started charging for the service in the early 1990s, even as it began shutting them down in areas where subdivisions were replacing the last of the county's dairy farms. But now Fairfax says the number of parkout users in both communities has declined to a little more than 800 a year. Without a fee increase of $100 to $285, the service will run a deficit of $46,775 this year, a subsidy the county does not want to pay. Unless more people use them, the last of the parkouts will close within the year.
"We do not have a problem with providing the service," said Jim Maglione, the county's assistant chief of trash collection and recycling. "It's just that it is a bit of a specialized service, and the bill has to be paid."
Fans of the parkouts are spitting mad -- and they're fighting back, beginning with a flood of e-mails to their county supervisor, Stuart Mendelsohn (R-Dranesville) and a petition drive that started Saturday at both locations. Suddenly the biggest issue at the parkout is the fate of the parkout itself.
"For all the taxes we pay, we get nothing," Van Ogtrop said as she signed the Save the Parkout petition. Her tax bill in Great Falls just jumped $1,100, she said. "We don't call the police here a lot. This is the one little perk we get." She hopped into her Volvo and drove off.
The Board of Supervisors will decide the parkouts' fate this month when they approve next year's proposed budget. In a tight budget year, the trash dumps are competing for survival with dozens of pet projects. Mendelsohn says he is working with county staff members to find ways to reduce the cost of running the parkouts, by cutting hours or trimming the number of sanitation workers who hoist trash from car trunks to garbage trucks.
"It's a critical need and a major social interaction for a community that doesn't have houses next to each other," said Mendelsohn, who campaigns at the dump. But privately, some supervisors who represent less affluent districts that lost their parkouts years ago say they may be hard-pressed to justify continuing the service.
Many parkout users have deep roots in Great Falls and McLean. But newcomers to these tony suburbs of estates and large wooded lots do not, and they live in new subdivisions where the homes are close enough together to warrant a homeowners association that arranges curbside pickup.
"The new people coming in are living in housing off cul-de-sacs and circles, more traditional," said Eleanor Anderson, president of the Great Falls Civic Association. "They don't really care."
Parkout users say they are not fighting about the money -- a commercial trash hauler would charge about the same fee, give or take $40 -- a relatively small sum in places where at least half the homes are valued at $500,000 and up. What they are holding on to is a country way of life they see vanishing before them.
"I don't mind them raising the fees, and I would be very disappointed if they got rid of the parkout," said Carlucci, a secretary of defense under President Ronald Reagan who throws the week's trash into the back of his Mercedes every Saturday morning.
"We have a long driveway," Carlucci said. "It's quite a chore to lug garbage cans down it." Besides, he said, empty cans are an eyesore when they're left out after the garbage truck swings by.
"We all come out of the woods and dump our trash and talk," said Adams, who lives on a dirt road off Georgetown Pike. His street has no curbs, gutters, sidewalks or streetlights. "The county gives me one thing: I can drive three miles every Saturday to dump my trash."
In McLean, the parkout's elimination would also end a 20-year volunteer tradition of planting trees in public spaces with money collected from newspapers brought there for recycling.
In Great Falls, a small group of old-timers arrives at the parkout even before the cars drive up, just to drink coffee and schmooze. The sanitation employees, who work the parkout shift on overtime, get generous tips at Christmastime. And one man's trash can turn into another man's pot of gold: On Saturday, Raymond Bridgett took home a Craftsman lawn mower discarded by a man who told him he is now paying for private lawn service.