Once, the sight of a discreet, black-and-white oval country sticker on a car on the highways of America symbolized an international traveler, of rarefied prestige: The passing Volkswagen or Mercedes hailed from faraway D, E or N -- Deutschland, Espana or Norge.
But here in the United States, exclusivity is usually a losing battle, or at least an ever-shifting one. And thus, on bumpers and back windshields, OBX (Outer Banks) soon appeared, along with MV (Martha's Vineyard), RB (Rehoboth Beach) and others.
OBX was one-upped by OBXN (Outer Banks Native), and at some point the whole unspoken game disintegrated into madness.
Prince William County, eager to promote a more sophisticated image, introduced PW. And one company, CafePress, began advertising SBI (surrounded by idiots), MC (more cowbell) and, perhaps inevitably, the self-explanatory BEER and GOD. Among the religiously themed ovals is one with a mini-print of the Last Supper.
During a drive along Route 50 in Loudoun County the other day, it was not surprising to spot OBXs, RBs, BBs, NNs, ONCs and EQSs everywhere -- on Ford pickups, Jeeps and Toyotas alike.
But a more recent incarnation of the oval represents, in a way, a return to the original purpose, which was to identify the country of origin of cars touring the roads of Europe.
Here and there in Loudoun and Prince William counties these days, one can spot SRs, DVCCs and BRAMs, denoting South Riding, Dominion Valley Country Club and Brambleton -- three relatively new private developments, which are, after all, like countries unto themselves with definite borders (at times guarded) and governments.
"The intention was that people could put them on their cars, show a sense of pride, a sense of location," said Bill Perry, a vice president for Toll Brothers, the developer of Dominion Valley Country Club in western Prince William. "It's not a badge to get in or anything like that . . . but it's almost like you're a member of a private club."
Indeed, Patrick Twiss considers himself a citizen of South Riding before Loudoun County or even Northern Virginia. "We're our own entity," he said. So he was happy to label his silver Honda Civic with the oval SR.
"The gas station was selling them," Twiss said. "This community has a great deal of pride. I had seen them, too, for other communities -- for Ashburn and Brambleton."
The stickers, Twiss said, help him identify fellow countrymen when he's out roaming the no man's land between the borders. An SR will pass, and he'll offer a knowing nod or "give a little wave," he said.
In the parking lot of the South Riding Giant, Maria Little said she had struggled a while with the SR and all it represented. "I fought it in the beginning," she said. "I was like, 'I'm not going to do it.' "
She had resisted the move to South Riding at first, too, thinking the community might be "too Stepford-y." She moved anyway, though, and found that although it was a bubble, it was a more normal and culturally diverse bubble than she had expected. Eventually the oval seemed normal, too.
"It's kind of cool because you're driving around and you're on [Interstate] 66 and you'll see another SR," Little said. "It's cool when you say 'South Riding' and they know."
She closed the trunk of her red Dodge Caravan (which she said she had resisted buying, too) and drove off into the federation of suburban nations -- an SR, her badge of citizenship, affixed to her bumper.