Alison Howard is the editor of The Post's Loudoun Extra, based in Leesburg:
When I was growing up in Maryland, it was axiomatic that you were a this-side-of-the-river (meaning Our Side) person or a that-side-of-the-river person. You chose for life, the way swans and decreasing numbers of people choose mates--and for the same reason: You were ineluctably drawn to one or the other. But I discovered this was untrue. I turned out to be a that-sider masquerading as a this-sider.
When I went to North Carolina (a clue to my real identity) for college, I used to tell people I wasn't from anywhere. To have grown up in Chevy Chase in the early '60s is to have a geographically unlocatable childhood--not Northern but not Southern, not Washington but not anything else, either. Not much happened because there was nowhere--no town hall or a courthouse square--where people could say, "This happened to us, all at once, together." It was a wonderfully pleasant place full of wonderful people, but it was completely without gravitational pull.
When I returned to Washington (See? I didn't say Maryland) more than 15 years ago, I did what any this-sider would do: I made Maryland my address. Silver Spring had a decidedly wrong-side-of-the-tracks reputation among my neighbors in the more uppity suburb next door, but I soon discovered what it's really on the wrong side of: the subway tracks.
Take the Metro from Silver Spring to work in Northwest Washington, and you have to travel the length of Northeast, make a U and come back up, turning a 20-minute drive into a 55-minute subway commute. You have to be a really good person--worried about clean air, eager to walk because it's healthier--to lengthen your workday by an hour and 10 minutes. I was not always a good person.
But this is how bad I really am. When I figured out where I belonged, I moved to the farthest corner of the farthest Virginia county that could be called a D.C. suburb (although it doesn't like to be) and for several ridiculous years, drove 90 minutes each way to work.
This was not just about living in a place where I could finally have horses. I could have done that in upper Montgomery County (if I'd hit the lottery). No, my move to Virginia was about siding with part of my past. In my parents' mixed marriage--she a Washington-born Episcopalian, he a Louisiana-born Baptist with roots in southern Virginia--I got her eyes, his geography. Say what you will about the Mason-Dixon line, southernness begins on the other side--that side, my side--of the Potomac.
Donya Currie is a writer in Alexandria:
I have a dear friend who lives in Kensington, and we're lucky to see each other once a month. More often than not, it's once every three months. Why? It's the Beltway. It's the bridges. It's the fact that radar detectors are legal in Maryland, illegal in Virginia. "Those cops are sitting there with their radar guns just waiting to catch us," my husband says bitterly.
"Us," of course, means Virginians.
I have nothing against Maryland. I went to high school in Rockville, moved to Florida, then moved back to the area five years ago and found a funky little apartment in Takoma Park. But once I moved to Arlington (cheaper rent, bigger living space), I would balk if a Maryland friend suggested drinks after work. I would meet cute guys and agree to go out with the ones who lived in Virginia.
Maryland shrinks into the distance the longer I live in Virginia. I'll drive to Fredricksburg to shop for a couch but make up excuses to skip a poetry reading in Bethesda. The thought of driving to Takoma Park makes my palms sweat. Now, if I meet a potential friend and find out she's from Maryland, I just say, "It was nice meeting you," knowing I'll never see her again.