The price of regular gasoline hovered around $3 last week along Route 29 near the entrance to Piedmont -- one of the farthest-flung subdivisions in the region, where two-hour commutes are the trade-off for 4,000- to 7,000-square-foot houses, and where every other driveway, it seems, has at least one sport-utility vehicle.
In many ways, residents of western Prince William County, on the edges of suburbia, would seem likely to be among the most concerned about the recent spike in gasoline prices, given the hours they spend driving, the cavernous houses they heat and their preference for gas-gulping Durangos and Land Cruisers.
Although some homeowners were given pause last week, an informal survey of a handful of residents in Piedmont -- a development near Haymarket -- found that most were as committed as ever to the large-house, long-commute lifestyle that continues to proliferate.
Along Michener Drive, Vickie Coyle, who drives a paid-for SUV, said the higher gas prices have hardly made her second-guess her decision to move to the rim of suburbia -- the only place she and her husband could afford the lifestyle they wanted.
"You just don't have much choice in this region," Coyle said, joking that the government "should give us a tax break for living out here."
Her husband, who's in the military, will soon begin commuting to Bethesda. Although they have considered buying a more efficient car to replace the SUV, Coyle's strategy for coping with higher gas prices is, for the most part, sheer hope.
"I'm just hoping it's not a long-term trend," she said.
Neighbors along Michener Drive said they've noticed that houses that used to sell in a couple of days have been staying on the market for a couple of weeks lately. They've had plenty of conversations about gas prices lately, particularly after the Labor Day weekend, when the usual question, "Where'd you go?" became instead, "How much did it cost to get there?" said homeowner Shawn Landry, who commutes to Arlington County.
"A lot of people bought SUVs on this street," Landry said. "And now a lot of people are going, 'Oops.' "
Even so, he and his wife, Cheryl, said they need their Dodge Durango for their camping trips and for the daily hauling of their kids and their stuff. Their other car is a Jeep. They cannot imagine trading it in or abandoning life in their new, quiet subdivision for a shorter, cheaper drive to work. Landry, a computer technician, predicted that more employees will begin working from home or figuring out other ways to spend less time on the road.
"The quality of life out here is just so good," he said. "People will adjust."
Down the street, however, Jean Cummings, an interior designer who often has to drive as far as Maryland to deal with clients, said the higher gas prices have made her wonder whether moving to the outer suburbs was such a great idea.
"I really regret it," Cummings said. "I was from Fairfax County, and I wanted someplace quiet, a newer house. At first I thought this was a good investment, but now I think it's not worth it."
Her Lincoln Navigator costs about $70 to fill up these days, which, given her long-distance driving, she has to do once a day. That, coupled with the ever-present exhaustion of being on the road, has made her begin to think of trading not only her Lincoln but her 4,000-square-foot house for something smaller and closer to work, Cummings said.
"It's just too much stress," she said. "I think I will definitely be moving back to Fairfax."
Down the road, Gerri Wright, who had two Nissan SUVs in her driveway, said she and her husband, who runs a concrete business, would move to another town in another state before they'd consider moving to a smaller house closer in.
Wright, who said they're consolidating shopping trips and carpooling more, said she could not imagine forgoing life on a golf course, no matter how much gas prices rise.
"You live here because you want to be farther out," she said. "You balance one against the other."