Seahawks vs. Redskins, Washington vs. Washington
Sunday, January 6, 2013
EDITOR'S NOTE: Would you believe the Other Washington -- one puny little town -- thinks it can top a whole state? Check this silly trash talk:
By Steve Hendrix, The Washington Post
WASHINGTON -- Okay, their spire is taller than our spire. But ours is marble.
So what if Seattle's 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.com).
Our dazzling star rookie quarterback has better hair than their dazzling star rookie quarterback.
Sunday's NFL wild card game is not just Washington Redskins vs. Seattle Seahawks, 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 team on in the playoffs, let us compare and contrast the real Washington … and that other one.
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 to D.C. last year to be editor at large at the New Republic. He found that, in the Washington that produced Microsoft, Amazon and Costco, entrepreneurialism Is 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 start-up, that's enough."
We're a bit bigger, with about 618,000 Washingtonians to Seattle's 609,000. 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 reveal.
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, a Democrat who has represented his Seattle district in Congress 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, who walks to the Capitol from his Washington apartment. "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 the District of Columbia. "It can take forever; nobody honks."
"Driving there, I felt like the king of 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," Vail said. "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 passionate 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 Redskins mania 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 weekend 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," Fallows said. "In Washington, the Redskins will almost always make the top two or three."
Still, the other Washingtonians plan to make their presence known today. Many of those not watching at Penn Quarter (a noted Seahawks bar in the District of Columbia), will be at FedEx Field in Landover, Md. Nate Potter, who grew up on Mercer Island and now lives on 14th Street N.W., has his ticket.
"We plan on being loud, proud and present on Sunday," said Potter, a governmental affairs consultant. "Okay, 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."