I snicker every time I see one of the Portland "The City That Works" vehicles whiz down my street. The slogan has aged terribly since it was conceived in the mid-1990s. Our city likes to pride itself on originality, yet this is a slogan that could belong to any American city. For years I have recommended that Portland remove the dated slogan from all city vehicles, and readopt the previous slogan, which was far more forward-thinking.
We'll discuss the previous slogan in a moment. First, some history about the need.
Only real Portlanders will remember this, but the custom of painting a slogan on city cars dates only to 1982. The hope was that by marking the cars so people could tell the vehicles belonged to the city, Portland would save money on maintenance and repairs.
You see, one of the favorite youthful pastimes during this era was to get in a sturdy, steel-framed Chevy Caprice and cruise the highway looking for other cars into which you could swerve and try to run aground into a guardrail, ditch or giant puddle. I'll admit I participated in this chicanery, and that it in turn was perpetrated against me.
The City Council hypothesized that by marking city vehicles more clearly, they would be less frequently targeted for bumps, taps and ramming. In practice, it would predictably have the opposite effect. Nevertheless, in January 1982 the city began considering potential slogans.
Then-Mayor Frank Ivancie had very strong opinions on what sort of slogan should appear on the vehicles. He was a noted superfan of the rock group Bachman-Turner Overdrive. He occasionally left office for days to follow the group and believed the band's sound was a perfect match for the city's blue-collar aesthetic. To him, it wasn't a question of whether a BTO song title should appear on city vehicles, but rather which title.
Ivancie pushed for "Let It Ride." His argument was that not only would people quickly begin to associate this classic groove with city vehicles, but the words "Let It Ride" would serve as a subtle directive not to ram the cars into guardrails. The City Council, however, vetoed the suggestion. "Let It Ride" was not a good slogan for a modern city because the words could be construed as anti-progressive.
Ivancie's next choice was "Roll On Down the Highway." He considered it nearly as good a BTO song that conveyed a similar meaning, though with a more forward-thinking message. The City Council was not swayed.
The logjam continued for several months, with the mayor and City Council unable to agree on an appropriate BTO title to serve as the city's slogan. At one point, another city commissioner suggested the 1973 Wings' hit "Live and Let Die." Ivancie hated this idea so much that he had the commissioner brought up on corruption charges.
Ivancie finally did what he had not wanted to do—he proposed BTO's "Takin' Care of Business."
He was not pleased to propose this slogan because although he knew he would meet minimal resistance, he felt defeated in selecting such a popular tune. Being such a huge BTO fan, it was disappointing to him that the slogan didn't come from a deeper cut.
The faces of the commissioners immediately lit up when Ivancie proposed it. You could tell they were recollecting the song's terse few guitar chords followed by the Jerry Lee Lewis-style piano tinkle.
The resolution was adopted, and "Takin' Care of Business…and Working Overtime!" was added to city vehicles. It remained like this until Vera Katz, a vociferous and incorrigible BTO critic, came into office.