As football teams meet, a comparison of two Washingtons
It's Washington vs. Washington in Sunday's NFL playoffs. Let the chest-thumping begin.
The Washington Post
Editor's note: It's Washington vs. Washington in Sunday's game, so a Washington Post reporter (named Hendrix!) wrote this nifty comparison of football towns. Here's what they think of us. (We already know what we think of them ... or, at least, of Congress.)
OK, their spire is taller than our spire. But ours is marble.
So what if the Seattle Space Needle has a few feet on the Washington Monument (605 and 555, respectively). Our Capitol Hill (seat of democracy, beacon of freedom to the world) is more famous than their Capitol Hill (probably a very nice residential neighborhood).
Their traffic is getting worse faster than ours. They have more tech jobs, but we read more books (at least, we order more from Amazon).
Our dazzling star rookie quarterback has better hair than their dazzling star rookie quarterback.
Sunday's wild card game is not just football team vs. football team, of course. It's city vs. city.
And in this case, it's Washington vs. Washington (the other one).
"No, the other Washington is Washington, D.C.," insisted Josephine Eckert, president of the local Washington State Society, a group for Evergreen State expatriates who live in the nation's capital. "When we say Washingtonians, we mean people from Washington State."
Oh they do, do they?
Well, in advance of the sudden-death match that will send only one city's team on in the playoffs, let us compare and contrast the real Washington ... and that other one.
According to stats, quality-of-life rankings and people who have lived in both cities, they are very different places. One is a Starbucks-swilling, bicycle-crazy, Amazon-obsessed metropolis with loosening marijuana laws.
The other is Seattle.
In stereotypeology, Washington West is flannel-wear, overcast skies and laid-back vibes. Washington East is button-down shirts, sizzling summers and résumé pride. True?
"It's true that Washington, D.C., is a place where your job is everything," said journalist Michael Kinsley, who decamped to Seattle in 1996 to start the online magazine Slate (which is now owned by The Washington Post). He returned last year to a Dupont Circle row house to be an editor-at-large at the New Republic. He found, in the Washington that produced Microsoft, Amazon and Costco, that entrepreneurialism was king.
"Everybody's got the bug," Kinsley said. "There's much less emphasis on what you do. If you just say you're raising money for a small startup, that's enough."
We're a bit bigger, with about 618,000 Washingtonians to Seattle's 609,000. And a lot richer; seven of the nation's 10 highest-income counties are in the Washington, D.C., area, while Seattle's King County comes in 86th.
But who's smarter?
Seattle wins if you count college degrees within the city limits.
But the brainy D.C. suburbs make us the nation's best-educated metropolitan region, census data reveals.
In fact, on many city rankings (often a scientifically dubious exercise), the two Washingtons post very similar profiles. We are the 43rd most livable city in the world, according the 2012 Mercer survey, Seattle is the 44th.
They rank sixth for walkable neighborhoods, D.C. is seventh. On the Sperling "manliness" index (with criteria including popularity of power tools and frequency of monster-truck rallies), they outman us by five spots (40th vs. 45th; Nashville is number 1, yet the Titans finished 6-10).
We're more congested, both on the roads (Washingtonians waste an average of 45 hours in traffic each year, Seattleites just 33) and in our sinuses (D.C. ranks 82nd on the worst allergies list, to Seattle's 91st).
But boy, do we slay them on violent crime (D.C. posts 21.9 murders per 100,000 residents, Seattle just 3.1).
But the biggest difference, according to people with feet in both Washingtons, is attitudinal.
Rep. Jim McDermott, D-Seattle since 1989, says his weekend Washington is much more relaxed than his Monday-Thursday Washington. Coats and business attire are still required in far too many D.C. settings, he said. And people charge from meeting to meeting "like they are running with the bulls," often against the crossing light.
"People run out into traffic here like they are in a competitive sport," said McDermott. "In Seattle, people wait for the light to change, and nobody thinks that's strange."
That Washington is renowned for its mellow niceness, even on the roads. Drivers are known to come to a stop if an oncoming car wants to turn left in front of them. There are times at four-way stops when nobody goes first.
"Everyone is waving at somebody else to go ahead," said Janet Vail, a 35-year Seattle resident who went to Georgetown University and makes frequent business trips to D.C. "It can take forever; nobody honks."
In this Washington, they have been known to honk.
"Driving there, I felt like the king of the road," reported the Atlantic's Jim Fallows, a decades-long D.C. resident who spent two years in Seattle working on special projects for Microsoft.
"You feel like a New Yorker in Kansas."
Some impatient hard-charging East Coasters characterize Seattle's courteous, deferential style as the "unbearable politeness of being."
The cities are also a continent apart in terms of political intensity. Here, politics and government are the local industry, of course. There, they are an afterthought. Four years ago, the Seattle-Tacoma area posted Nielsen's lowest ratings for the presidential inauguration.
Last week, when this Washington was fixated on the fiscal cliff, that Washington wasn't.
"Nobody was talking about it at all," said Vail. "The powder, that's what people were talking about. We've had some great snow."
Nothing may draw a bigger distinction in the two cities than the role of their respective football teams. The Seahawks have a lusty following, and CenturyLink Field is known as a raucous stadium.
But residents say the NFL, or any professional sport, doesn't dominate the way it does in this Washington, where thousands of burgundy-and-gold banners fly in neighborhoods rich and poor and from car windows old and new.
One common explanation of the mania for our team is that not much else pulls together the fractious capital, with a history of racial divisiveness, a reputation for transience and a culture of political blood sport.
"In many ways, D.C. has only the Redskins as an even faintly unifying theme across race and class and political outlook" and the region's sprawling geography, said Fallows, who was on vacation in the South Pacific last week during the showdown game with Dallas and had to huddle with his two sons around a laptop with a sketchy dial-up Internet connection to follow the action.
Seattle, meanwhile, has a life beyond football that includes the great outdoors, Microsoft and microbrews.
"If you ask someone in Seattle to list their sources of civic pride, the Seahawks might make the top 20," said Fallows. "In Washington, the Redskins will almost always make the top two or three."
Still, the other Washingtonians living in D.C. plan to make their presence known Sunday. Many of those not watching at Penn Quarter (a noted Seahawks bar), will be at FedEx Field.
Nate Potter, who grew up on Mercer Island next to Seattle and now lives on 14th Street Northwest, has his ticket.
"We plan on being loud, proud and present on Sunday," said Potter, who works as governmental-affairs consultant. "OK, polite and generally respectful, too. It is in our blood."
The Democratic mayors of the two cities have a wager on Sunday's game: The loser will fly the winner's flag over city hall for a day.
Has D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray ever visited Seattle? "I'll have to check," said his spokesman Pedro Ribeiro. "I know he's been to Portland."