by Lee Gutowski
“I do this and I stay at at it because I solve problems for people, and I find that deeply rewarding.” – TW Hansen
TW Hansen came to my rescue when my 2005 PT Cruiser, the primary distribution vehicle for the Riverwest Currents, got “accordioned” by a hit-and-run driver when it was parked on Humboldt Avenue on a fateful winter night as the Packers played their final game of the 2020-21 season.
Like many readers of this newspaper, along with a good percentage of the folks in Riverwest and beyond, Manyo Motors is my go-to car place. TW (short for Timothy Warren) runs the car dealership there and was at the ready to get me back into a vehicle that would meet my newspaper delivery needs and then some. He and the folks at Manyo set the Currents up with a fabulous Toyota RAV4, which is a peppy thing with plenty of room, removable seats, a new transmission and clutch and even 5 speeds – my preferred way to drive.
“I say this as a landlord and a car salesman. My life is about not living down to expectations.” – TW Hansen
In the process of selling me the car, TW found out that I was looking for a new apartment to move into at the end of March. Turns out, he’d recently bought a house that he was prepping to be ready for new tenants at exactly the time I’d need to move. The house is a big, beautiful Victorian right next to its “twin”, where he lives.
I knew TW mainly through Manyo Motors, and decided I had to write a Neighbor Spotlight on him so I could interview him and find out more about this decidedly driven (excuse the car pun), enthusiastic, multifaceted person that was successfully spinning many plates at once.
During an almost-2-hour-long, wide-ranging interview, TW had me guffawing many times at his lucid quips that reflect another of his interests (besides cars and obtaining houses): writing. It would have made for a great article to have TW write his own Spotlight, but what fun would that have been for me?
“My earliest career interest was to be a car designer. I would draw cars, with the dream of having them manufactured and becoming real cars.” – TW Hansen
TW was born in 1980 and raised in Delavan, Wisconsin. His dad is a civil and structural engineer who runs his own firm, and TW came up amidst “a proud legacy of bridges that stay up and sewers that run in the right direction.” His mom met his dad when she was a secretary at “one of the firms where he got his legs under him.” She quit working when she started having kids and turned her eye to being a professional housewife and mother. “She never did anything halfway,” TW says.
A curious and intelligent kid, TW was interested in many things as a child. “They didn’t know what to do with me,” he laughs. “They bumped me up a grade. Every hi-falutin’ modality of parenting they heard about on NPR, they threw at me.” The family had strong ties to the Lutheran schools he attended. In 2002, he graduated with his B.A. in English from Wisconsin Lutheran College in Wauwatosa. In speaking about coming to Riverwest for the first time, he recalls, “Venturing to this side of town was rare and exotic to a student (at Wisconsin Lutheran) … The mindset at the Lutheran schools I found to be pretty separate and insular. It’s in the world, but not of the world.”
American Movie, Mark Borchardt and moving to Riverwest
“I’ll tell you what exactly put the bug in me: it was (the documentary film) American Movie, which I got to see at a Q&A at the Rosebud back in 2001.” In the middle of the Q&A, someone in the crowd tossed a bottle of vodka at the film’s subject, Milwaukee filmmaker Mark Borchardt, who skillfully caught the bottle with one hand, deftly spun the top off the bottle, and took a pull from it. “That’s when Mark was still drinking, mind you.”
(He and Borchardt have since become friends and co-workers; the filmmaker often drives vehicles to and from auctions for TW.)
Thoroughly impressed and inspired by Borchardt and the movie, “the 21-year-old me thought movie-making was probably pretty easy. I decided that all you have to do is find a weird enough guy and get a camera on him, and a movie will happen!”
In 2003, he enrolled in the film school at UWM, “which has a wonderful program,” TW enthuses. “Very eclectic, and anti-commercial — possibly to their own self-detriment.” Xav LaPlae of Riverwest Film and Video provided TW’s entree to the neighborhood, since “I had to go to RW Film and Video to buy 16mm black-and-white reversible film. At that time, it was still on Locust Street, where Rockhaus is now. It’s still the only place you can acquire that film.” He attended film school from 2003-2012 off and on. “As off as on, really.”
Cars and movies
“These are twin passions of mine that go all the way back to the tiny logic that only makes sense to a four-year-old: I like cars because they’re in movies, and I like movies because they have cars in them. And it’s still true.” – TW Hansen
One of TW’s numerous side-gigs is doing picture car work. Which is to say, if somebody wants a specific car for their film or television production, TV commercial or what-have-you, “I’m the guy that finds it. In Los Angeles, it’s an industry. In Milwaukee, it’s me, and whoever I can get on the phone.”
Writing and music
One of the things that TW feels the pandemic has taken from him is his ability to sit down in a bar or coffee shop, spend a couple of hours and churn out a good couple of pages of writing – be it poems, lyrics, screenplays, or concepts for music videos.
He also misses live music and being able to go out and perform at the bars. He’s performed music under the name Economy Superstar. It is his email address and the name of his production company as well. “I believe in branding. The cut and thrust of American culture is marketing. Our great cultural hallmarks all come out of attempts to sell us coffee and steel-belted radials. Did you know Jim Henson used to be an ad man? That’s why Sesame Street sounds like a commercial a lot of times … ‘Brought to you by the letter A’ and all that.”
It makes sense that with his love of writing, music, movies and cars, TW has had a hand in making music videos for some iconic Milwaukee bands. In 2015, Hansen directed, shot and edited the video for the song “Downtown” by Platinum Boys. “I’ve got Joey Turbo in there playing against type as a cop; in a bit of magical realism, Joey the cop looks into a video camera and sees himself as a rock and roller.” There are scantily clad cute girls, a fun car chase and awesome Milwaukee locations – like Sunrise Foods right here in Riverwest. “It’s just over-the-top, deliberately dumb rock and roll.”
For the Indonesian Junk tune “Shake it With You” Hansen and friends built a soundstage in a garage to film the video in 2016. “That reminds me, I have to talk to Daniel James (lead singer/song writer of IJ) about comic books.” Turns out he’d acquired quite a few of them in lieu of rent money, and he knows James has a deep interest.
TW’s spinning those plates, keeping those projects that drive him up and running. (Sorry.) He’s busy as hell and enjoys what he does. And he makes it sound easy, just like the 21-year-old him thought it would be.
“I’ve pretty much blundered into everything I’ve done. That’s how I get a lot of jobs. I’m exceptionally good at blundering into things.” – TW Hansen