Civilization beckons with red and orange lights. They're faint at first, glowing brighter as you drive north. The little green sign marking the border sneaks up on you.

"Entering Washington," it reads.

Just like that, you've escaped the rugged backwoods of conservative Oregon and made it to a land of freedom and equality. A land where, as of midnight Thursday, Dec. 6, a harmless natural intoxicant is legal after 99 years of misguided prohibition. A land where gay couples genetically programmed to love each other are finally preparing to have their relationships recognized by the law.

Portland is situated on the south side of the Columbia River and the wrong side of history. It's not that the people of Washington are smarter, braver or more just than we are—they're all three. They love freedom more; they love each other more. Until our own state evolves, we must accept them as our moral and intellectual superiors.

We wanted to get to know them better. Starting just over the state line, in Vancouver, USA. (Yes, the marijuana-legalization measure narrowly failed in Clark County, getting 49.66 percent of the vote. Likewise, only 47.38 percent of Clark County voters favored gay marriage. Maybe that's because of the county's proximity to primitive Oregon and the volatile tribal region of Clackistan.)

We drove toward those red and orange lights. As it turns out, they're part of the Joe's Crab Shack restaurant and tacky T-shirt stand along the river, something we discovered on a crawl of the 'Couve bars. We pressed on, making friends with five awesome locals, learning about how we can take advantage of the city's progressive marriage and pot laws, and catching a concert and movie. We even ate their pizza and drank their beer.

Everywhere, the natives welcomed us, sharing lessons from their homeland. In some ways, Vancouver lives up to its reputation as a miles-long strip mall. But, tucked among the sellers of mozzarella sticks and snow tires, you'll find things arty and progressive even before the coming influx of dope-smoking gay-rights activists.

By neglecting to push our state laws forward, Oregonians have ceded the high ground.

Now, we must learn the Vancouver way.

Hopefully, this edition of Willamette Week marks the start. 

—Martin Cizmar

Paradise Weed Beer Bar crawl Headout Music scene Top 5 Couverites Pizza Top 5 bands Same-sex marriage Food cart Kiggins