Monday through Thursday, Vincent and April van de Camp's lives revolve around the office parks, strip malls and cul-de-sacs of suburbia. They work for America Online in Dulles and live in a two-bedroom Reston apartment.
But at least two weekends a month, the van de Camps are creatures of Washington, D.C. They check into the Georgetown Holiday Inn on Friday evening and don't cross the Potomac again until Sunday afternoon. For those 40 or so hours they savor Washington's attractions, visiting museums on the Mall, eating at trendy restaurants, sipping martinis at clubs in Adams-Morgan, shopping for groceries at Eastern Market.
"The burbs are dull and boring after you've been there all week," said April van de Camp, 32, as she painted on her lipstick at the Holiday Inn one recent Saturday night. "You're dying for some culture. But to just go in to the city and come back out, all in a few hours, is tiring and not worth it. You just want to be where there's culture and make the most of it."
Washington has long been a magnet for young professionals who rarely set foot in the suburbs. And the area is full of suburbanites who regularly visit the city to sample its clubs, theaters and restaurants.
But the growth of Northern Virginia's high-tech corridor has created a third breed: weekend-only D.C. dwellers like the van de Camps. They live near their Internet jobs in Fairfax and Loudoun counties to avoid a long commute to work. But by sleeping in the city on Friday and Saturday nights, at a hotel or a friend's apartment, they get the heavy dose of D.C. culture and nightlife they crave.
Stephanie Estee, 28, and Kristina Meyer, 32, share a house in Leesburg, a drive of less than five minutes from the AnnuityNet.com office where they both work. But they're not in Leesburg most weekends.
Two or three times a month, they drive into the District on Saturday morning and spend the night there. They try to crash at a friend's place but will split the $120 cost of a night at the Washington Hilton if that plan fails.
Estee loves to stroll through the Corcoran Gallery of Art, shop at boutiques in Georgetown and have late-afternoon drinks at the Hotel Washington downtown. Yet she wouldn't think of leaving Leesburg for an address in the District.
"I'm two minutes from work. I can run and cycle every night on the trails, and I can go home for dinner, come back and work late," she said. "If I lived in Washington, I would pay $4 or $5 in tolls and spend two to four hours a day driving in traffic, not to mention how the gas would add up."
No one has tried to estimate how many people have adopted this lifestyle, but recruiters and managers at information technology firms in Northern Virginia say that a number of their employees are in the habit of spending most weekends in the District.
"I hear this over and over again, of people going into the city and staying over," said Gregory Carper, a manager at PSINet, an Internet service provider in Herndon. "The jobs are out here if you're going to be in the tech industry, but the happening life is in the city."
Steve Zarpas, who has operated various D.C. bars during the past decade, said he runs into such people constantly. In fact, he is opening the Revolution Coffee Lounge in Herndon later this month in hopes of luring some of the techies who now hang out in the District.
"They're working and living in a cultural wasteland," Zarpas said. "Half of them are going downtown on the weekends and camping out just so they can soak up the city."
Those who move from suburbs to city on the weekends have even come up with a name for the practice: social commuting. They "commute" for the sake of a good social life. And unlike weekday commuters, they're doing most of their driving when the roads are uncongested.
Eric Lane, 27, who lives off West Ox Road in Fairfax but routinely spends Saturday nights with relatives in the District, says it takes him about 20 minutes to drive downtown on the weekend but would take him at least an hour on a weekday. He works a few minutes from home in Fair Lakes as a programmer at Datatel Inc., a higher-education software company.
"Commuting to the city during off-peak hours for social time has been much more a grace than living there and commuting to work every day," he said.
Most of the 25 social commuters who were interviewed for this report are in their mid-twenties to early thirties and make $35,000 to $85,000 a year. Most are single, and none has children.
They bought or rented homes far beyond the Capital Beltway for some of the same reasons as their neighbors. They wanted more house for their money, streets and malls without parking hassles and a neighborhood that was relatively peaceful.
"I enjoy having a quiet neighborhood, my big deck, and I can go grocery shopping and know where I'll park my car when I come back," said Steve Schupp, 30, a PSINet salesman who lives in a three-bedroom house in eastern Loudoun but spends almost every weekend with friends in Capitol Hill or Foggy Bottom. He bought his house for $170,000 and said he would have paid twice as much for a similar house near the Beltway.
"I like being in the quiet with woods and trees on three sides and seeing foxes and opossums walking around," said Jay Levitt, 28, who writes e-mail software for AOL. He owns a house in Fairfax near Fair Oaks Mall but spends a couple of weekends a month in the District.
But in terms of their daily habits and interests, the young techies living in Fairfax and Loudoun subdivisions are nothing like their family-oriented neighbors, which is one reason many of them are so anxious to flee the suburbs on the weekend.
"I live in the middle of Babyville, where everybody's married with their 2.2 children," said Kevin Galuk, 38, a systems engineer who has a $245,000 house in Herndon. "It's not exactly the swinging place for singles."
Galuk is a warm-weather social commuter. Every Friday night in the summer, he tows his 24-foot boat to the Georgetown waterfront and sleeps aboard. "It's like having a condo downtown," he said.
Meyer has the same feeling of isolation on her street in Leesburg. "There aren't any young people with careers," she said. "They're all moms with three kids. They're very friendly, but not the kind you'd hang out with."
Of course, the Northern Virginia suburbs also have ethnic restaurants, art films, crowded nightspots, trendy shops and historic neighborhoods. But as far as social commuters are concerned, it's a poor substitute for the urban color they find in the District.
"I go out in Reston, too, but it's just not the same atmosphere," said Erin Lynch, screaming over pulsating music at Heaven and Hell, one of her favorite hangouts in Adams-Morgan. Lynch, a sales representative for Oracle Corp. in Reston, lives in a Reston condo during the workweek but comes into the city two to three weekends a month and stays with a girlfriend who lives in Georgetown.
"It's a more diverse crowd here," said Lynch, 33. "You don't get the cookie-cutter crowd like you do in Reston. Adams-Morgan is like the Soho of Washington."
The Reston Town Center is barely a block from the van de Camps' apartment, but its big-box stores and chain restaurants are a universe away from the atmosphere the couple is looking for. "A fountain is the cultural hub of Reston," April van de Camp said. "I'm not into that. It's so dull and sterile."
Steve Fricke, a researcher at TechRepublic.com, an online high-tech magazine based in San Francisco, has noticed the same kind of urban weekend migration in the San Francisco and Boston areas. It's an attempt by young tech workers to have the best of all worlds, he said.
"They're trying to maximize everything--their comfort, the square-footage of their house and their entertainment level outside of work," Fricke said.
Social commuters concede that it's not a perfect arrangement. There's a certain rootlessness that comes with shuttling back and forth between city and suburbs. Some of them admit that they don't know anything about their suburban communities, beyond the nearest dry cleaner, video rental store and Chinese carryout joint.
Those who rely on friends to put them up in the District have to be careful about wearing out their welcome. Estee tells her D.C. hosts that she'll gladly return the favor the next time they need a place to crash in Leesburg. Of course, they never do. "Most people don't want to do the drive out to the suburbs, so you just have to try not to be a nuisance at their place," she said.
There's also the problem of finding time to run personal errands. Most social commuters try to squeeze shopping, cleaning and other chores into the workweek so they won't cut into their time in the city on the weekend. But it isn't easy.
Chris Boucher, 25, a salesman for an Internet service provider in Vienna, puts in as much as 60 hours a week at his job. He lives in a town house in Sterling but is almost never there on Friday or Saturday night. Just about every weekend, Boucher said, he is either visiting friends in Baltimore or crashing at a friend's house in Arlington after partying in the District.
Often he'll wake up in Arlington on Saturday morning, drive back to Sterling to catch up on errands, take an afternoon nap to get recharged, then head back to the District for another night of club-hopping. It puts a few miles on his Isuzu Rodeo, but it's worth it to be in the city on weekend nights, Boucher said.
"Whether it's Adams-Morgan or Georgetown, you're not bored," he said. "I may grab a drink in Tysons Corner or something after work during the week, but that's it. There are only like one or two decent bars out here that you want to go to more than once."
April van de Camp tried to get her fix of D.C. excitement by living in the city full time. For almost two years, she had a place in Adams-Morgan and commuted to her job at AOL. "I didn't have enough time to myself," she said. "I was too busy driving all the time. It would snow and it would take me four hours to get in. Then I'd get home and get paged and have to drive back out."
Now that she is married, living in Reston and going to the District for the weekend, her routine is less stressful and she spends more time enjoying the city than she did when she lived there, van de Camp said.
"I work better," she said. "I'm not as anxious thinking, 'I gotta get home.' I have more time on my hands to go into the city and commute for fun."
CAPTION: Vincent and April van de Camp enjoy Dupont Circle. They live and work in Virginia's technology corridor but love to live downtown on weekends.