But the biggest difference, according to people with feet in both Washingtons, is attitudinal.
Rep. Jim McDermott (D), 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 an apartment on Eighth Street SE. “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. “It can take forever; nobody honks.”
In this Washington, they have been known to honk.
“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.” Joan Haffey worked for the D.C. branch of a Seattle-based company for more than a decade. She adored her West Coast colleagues but remembers being caught more than once making snarky comments during conference calls with the home office.
“They would never, ever do that,” she said. “Unless they were better at using the mute button.”
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 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 NW, has his ticket.
“We plan on being loud, proud and present on Sunday,” said Potter, who works as 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 C. Gray ever visited Seattle? “I’ll have to check,” said his spokesman Pedro Ribeiro. “I know he’s been to Portland.”