BONUS: Better Living by Bicycle with George Hahn
Doug Gordon: This is The War on Cars. I’m Doug Gordon. Welcome to a special bonus episode of the podcast just for Patreon supporters. Do you know George Hahn? If you don’t, you should, and not just because he’s a great guy. It’s because if you are online or consume any sort of media in the year of our Lord 2022, he is hard to miss. It’s kind of hard to pin George down. He’s a men’s fashion icon, he’s a design aficionado, a writer, a social media star, an actor, a TV personality, a New Yorker. The New York Times called him an “urban raconteur.” You can find George as a special correspondent on Extra, the entertainment news magazine show. He occasionally fills in for Scott Galloway on Pivot, the podcast co-hosted by Kara Swisher, who is herself a former guest on The War on Cars.
Doug: So what does someone known for high style, a sharp wit and a moral compass to match—and of course, one viral video after another—have to do with the fight for safe streets and better cities? Well, let’s find out. George Hahn, welcome to The War on Cars.
George Hahn: Doug Gordon. So nice to be here!
Doug: I’m wearing jeans, sneakers and a Uniqlo black long-sleeve t-shirt. You have a very nice blue blazer, a blue tie, a very nice shirt, a pocket square, I believe. We’re sitting, so I can’t see what you have …
George Hahn: I have jeans on.
Doug: You have jeans on.
George Hahn: I’m wearing all, like, sort of very casual, unironed cotton. Very unstructured.
Doug: Definitely no offense to Josh, our engineer, but he is definitely the best dressed man in the studio right now, for sure. Yeah. Yeah, Josh and I are just like, you know, sweats like we just got out of bed, basically.
George Hahn: None of what I’m wearing requires dry cleaning.
Doug: Welcome. It’s great to have you. So George, I want to start with the thing that maybe our listeners might know about you if they—if they don’t know that much, and that’s a video that you posted to Twitter that took off and went viral. The context for this is that it’s September 8, 2020, and basically after months and months of a really tough time in New York, the national media and lots of people across the country were really almost having fun, delighting in how bad things seemed. Not to say it wasn’t terrible in March, April, May, June of that year.
George Hahn: We had some moments.
Doug: Yeah, it was bad. But by September we were kind of turning a page and starting a new chapter. You posted this video to Twitter.
[ARCHIVE CLIP, George Hahn: The city streets are a war zone! Look, there’s more people having dinner. Oh my God! And there’s people having drinks and laughing and, like, what’s happening? Oh my God! Oh my God! [whispers] Stop watching Fox News!] Doug: [laughs] George Hahn: I haven’t heard that in so long.
Doug: The best—you can’t see this, folks at home but, you know, when George says “Stop watching Fox News,” your demeanor totally changes. You kind of look right at the camera and just with this angry look, “Stop watching Fox News.” Let’s talk about that video. What prompted you to go out? You’re walking your dog, you’re holding your phone.
George Hahn: Yeah. Listening to this, as we’re listening to it, I’m hearing their tags, their dog tags jingling as I’m talking and walking. Yeah.
Doug: So what prompted you to post this?
George Hahn: That was inspired—I should say that whole rant was triggered by something that Molly Jong-Fast had said on their podcast. She was co-hosted by Rick Wilson at the time on The New Abnormal, and she might have said something on Twitter as well. And someone had sort of trolled her after posting a picture in her neighborhood of a very serene New York City street, and said that it was fake news and that she was lying. And my rant that you just played was literally, Doug, like a one take, like, 70-some-second response to Molly. And then she spun it out, and because she’s got a bajillion followers, it kind of like went crazy.
Doug: I’m looking at this right now. 6.4 million views. How did you feel when that took off?
George Hahn: I watched, literally almost in real time, my Twitter following, like, sort of blow up, and it just—it’s intimidating. And then it happens and people start talking about it, and then I’m thinking, like, is this gonna be my Citizen Kane? Like, is this as good as it’s ever gonna get? Like, in five years, they’re gonna be like, “Oh yeah.” Or maybe not even five years. [laughs] Doug: You’ll be doing dog food commercials.
George Hahn: Right.
George Hahn: But yeah, it’s kind of scary at first, but I kind of thought, “Okay, this is a moment. You can either use this or screw it up.”
Doug: It really was at that point, I think—people love to shit on New York.
George Hahn: Love to.
Doug: Especially when we’re down. And so to tie it back to your video, there was this idea that I really loved in it of, like, you’re defending New York City’s honor with this short, comical video.
George Hahn: I will ’til I’m dead.
Doug: Talk about your love of this city.
George Hahn: It started when I was a little kid. In fact, I was on my way here to meet you. I was on the subway, and it took some—like a slo-mo video on the B train going over the Manhattan Bridge, looking toward the Brooklyn Bridge. And I soundtracked the reel to “NYC” from Annie, the Broadway musical. Which was the very first show I ever saw. I saw the original Broadway tour, national Broadway tour in Cleveland. And that was in—like, I was like in third grade, and that was the time when I started to really think, like, “This NYC place,” And there was that song in it, “NYC.” And, like, I get a lump in my throat. And then my dad took me to New York when I was—like, a couple of years later, or maybe later that year. And I knew then I wanted to live here. He brought me with him on a business trip. And it was that place that I saw in movies and on TV shows. The “I ♥ New York” campaign was still happening. I love that music too. And I’ve done videos using it.
Doug: Actually, that campaign sounds like it’s something straight out of Annie.
George Hahn: Yeah, kinda.
George Hahn: It’s so ’70s and, like, they would have Broadway stars and, like—but yes, my love affair with New York started very early, even long before I ever got here.
Doug: And when you did get here, talk about what you did for work. I mean, you were an actor.
George Hahn: Mm-hmm.
Doug: And you were on that sort of like most New York of shows, Sex and the City.
George Hahn: Right.
Doug: So I feel like you have a resume that’s tied deeply to the city as well.
George Hahn: True. Yeah, I moved here to be an actor. And did that thing: I was a waiter, I was a bartender. My first job was as a receptionist in a very high-end hair salon. I worked with my cousin, Kathryn. She and I both—she moved here a year after I did. And …
Doug: I’m glad you brought Kathryn up, because I was thinking by the way that in my intro—and I didn’t want to do this because I didn’t want to put you on the spot—that I was gonna introduce you as the “second-most famous Hahn in America.”
George Hahn: [laughs] Doug: If listeners don’t know …
George Hahn: It’s totally true.
Doug: Kathryn Hahn from …
George Hahn: WandaVision, most recently.
Doug: WandaVision, yes.
George Hahn: But she’s …
Doug: It was Agatha all along. Right.
George Hahn: Agatha all along.
Doug: She’s fantastic.
George Hahn: She’s amazing. And so we worked together. It was our first gigs here. And she was living with her then boyfriend, now husband and father of her children, and making our way. And she went to grad school and did Williamstown. I was loath to leave the city. There’s my love of the city: I did not want to leave. I didn’t want to get a show and maybe do a tour. That did not interest me. Going to graduate school in another town or something did not interest me. I got very caught up in very early on a very New York City-centric lifestyle. I loved being here. I was not willing to travel. Whereas like a lot of young actors will do a national tour or something, I wasn’t willing to go there. After I left that salon where I worked with Catherine, I went—I worked at Joe Allen, and that was my first restaurant gig. And for those who don’t know, Joe Allen established what is now Restaurant Row. It is—it is like theater dining. And Joe Allen is kind of a clubhouse—still is after decades. It’s been around since the ’60s. In fact, the man himself, the namesake, just died last year.
George Hahn: And so many connections I made in the entertainment industry, whether they be agents, directors, other actors, producers, it came from there. I can trace so many things that happened to me professionally all the way back to that place when I was behind the bar or waiting tables on the floor. So what were we talking about? [laughs] Doug: I mean, for me, you know, I look at your resume and like I said, I think it’s so deeply connected to a certain type of New Yorker.
George Hahn: Yeah. Kind of started there. Like, yeah.
Doug: Sort of like Peggy Sawyer coming off the bus in 42nd Street, and wanting to make it big.
George Hahn: Almost like that.
George Hahn: Almost like that.
George Hahn: Really. But, like, it took a long time for things to happen. Like, I was not—like, people say to me now, “Oh, congrats on your success.” I’m like, “Mmm.” I would say congrats on my attention. I’ve gotten a lot of that. But still, it’s taken me a few decades to be an overnight success, or whatever this is. It’s been slow going, but one’s journey is one’s journey.
Doug: Exactly. Exactly.
George Hahn: It’s been a very unconventional path, my path here.
Doug: And I want to talk about 2016. So you had to leave New York at that point.
George Hahn: Yeah.
Doug: And I want to talk a little bit about that and what that meant for you. And—and obviously, you returned. You’re sitting here talking to me.
George Hahn: Mm-hmm.
Doug: So I want to talk about that kind of detour and why that was necessary.
George Hahn: I had hit a wall professionally. I was working for Joan Rivers as her social media director, which is a whole different story. Talk about, you know, again, it’s another piece of my New York journey. I kind of look at it and go, like, “How did all this happen?” I mean, it just kind of like—it’s insane. But I was hired to be—when Joan was still alive, obviously, to do her social media.
Doug: She’s talented, but not so talented that she could have hired you after she died. So that’s probably—yes. Yeah.
George Hahn: Her skills didn’t transcend on that level.
Doug: A real pioneer in comedy, but not in that way.
George Hahn: Right.
George Hahn: But she liked doing her own Twitter, but she had—like, she was a whole—she was an industry, really. So she had the comedy, but there was also the QVC stuff. She had a book coming out that year. She was on the number one show on E! She had a lot—there were a lot of balls in the air. And so the company, her company needed help sort of like solidifying all that. So I did that. After she died, the job wasn’t really what I was hired to do. I was hired to be funny. I was kind of hired to, like, be her on, like, Facebook and Instagram. Not that, like, anything went out that didn’t get her blessing, but—and I was left with very little income. Like, that was a really nice check. I probably should not have left, but it just—it was harder and harder and harder to do a job that I didn’t really care about anymore. Like, I didn’t care about jewelry and apparel, which is really what the job had become.
George Hahn: And so I had really no income coming in. My mother had become very ill, and I left to go to my hometown of Cleveland. And I thought, “Okay, let’s try this out.” And I wrote a thing on my blog. It was—it went viral. The question—I asked the question, “Is it time to leave New York?” And I look back on it, Doug, honestly, and I think, like, I had become one of those curmudgeonly New Yorkers who was bitching about the New York that they moved to and it’s no longer that New York anymore. Kind of—it’s not dissimilar to a sort of like a “Make America Great Again” nostalgia for, like, a state of things that never really were, but in my head it was a fairy tale of how amazing it was.
Doug: It’s funny that you say that kind of curmudgeonly old person idea of what New York used to be when you moved to it.
George Hahn: “It was so much better when I was young.”
George Hahn: Like, “Oh, shut up!”
Doug: Right! You were young. That’s what was different about it. I feel like the slogan for New York, or really any big city, should be “Don’t get used to it.” Cities change. Cities change. And the part of the agreement that you sign onto when you move to a city is that your neighborhood isn’t going to be exactly the same. The people might be different. The restaurant on the corner could turn into a cell phone store. That’s just sort of how it goes, and you have to be okay with the city being a dynamic place of change. I mean, obviously, you don’t want it to be the kind of place where it sort of is now where nobody can afford to live here. That’s a separate problem. But cities change.
George Hahn: Yeah.
Doug: They change.
George Hahn: What I learned having been away was really just what you had said, which is that your favorite restaurant or diner is gonna close. Barney’s is gonna go out of business, the Village Voice is gonna fold, a building that you love is gonna be knocked down and replaced with one that you hate. The people that you loved here are gonna either move away or die. And one of the reasons New York is New York is because it’s always changing. It’s like me, meaning it’s never done. It’s a work in progress.
George Hahn: Constantly. I am a work in progress. I live in a city that is a constant work in progress.
Doug: So let’s talk about your move to Cleveland then. So you moved to Cleveland. Now the benefit was: you were closer to family, you could afford a much larger apartment for a cheaper price than what you were paying in New York for a closet, basically. I remember following some of your blog posts from that time. Talk about your experience. By the way, I should put a disclaimer on this episode that we’re not shitting on other places.
George Hahn: No!
Doug: This is what we prefer. And I hope there are lessons here for what makes a city good and dynamic, not just New York.
George Hahn: 100 percent. Cleveland has amazing charms. It’s my hometown. I’ll always love it. And rent is practically free. You know, I had this, like, 1,000-square foot, gorgeous one bedroom with 13-foot ceilings, eight-foot windows, a view of Lake Erie in downtown Cleveland. Laundry in the unit with two courtyards—one for the dogs—a gym, a roof deck, three fire pits. You know, like a common work area, like a WeWork. And it was $1,400 a month. Transplant the whole old warehouse conversion thing that I lived in to, like, Brooklyn or Chelsea?
Doug: It’d be $14,000 a month.
George Hahn: Easily. Ridiculous. And I had one of the less impressive units in the place. And I lived with my mother for a year while she convalesced from a long stay in the hospital because we weren’t sure if she was gonna, you know, make it through. But she did. That was one of the reasons I went back to Cleveland. And then I got some work and managed to—I was able to get that apartment that I was just talking about in downtown Cleveland. I lived there for—I was in Cleveland for three years total, and the last two years I was in that apartment in downtown Cleveland. And downtown has been trying to sort of create this city kind of living experience. There used to be a downtown life. It’s a very suburban city. It’s built for sprawl. I lived there, and all the three years I never owned a car.
Doug: Which made you unusual even for downtown Cleveland.
George Hahn: Very. Very.
George Hahn: I took public transit. People kind of looked at me like, “Really?”
Doug: And I should say “unusual” in the, like, white person living downtown. There are lots of people in this country and in cities like Cleveland who are car free, not because it’s a lifestyle choice, but because of economic circumstances or other circumstances.
George Hahn: Doug, I did the math. It was cheaper. If I had taken an Uber or Lyft every day, if I needed to go somewhere by car, it was cheaper …
George Hahn: … than owning a car. It doesn’t occur to Clevelanders that all of these parking craters—like, I lived in a neighborhood of downtown called the Warehouse District. Downtown Cleveland is 3.1 square miles, and over—like, at the time, like, over 50 percent of the land space was surface parking. ‘Twas not always thus. You know, for tax reasons, there were all—like, all these buildings and warehouses were demolished in, like, the ’70s or something and in the ’80s, I think. But it’s ugly. Like, if you—when you fly over downtown Cleveland, you look down and be like, “What the hell happened there?”
George Hahn: You know? It does not occur to Clevelanders that that’s bad. When the guy who is from Cleveland and then came from New York and actually lived in the city had some ideas of what could make this city maybe better, because I literally had over two decades of experience with it, they were not interested. The attitude was sort of like, “Thanks for coming, but we do things a little differently around here.”
Doug: So you had a weird insider/outsider status when you were there.
George Hahn: Very much so.
George Hahn: Very much so.
Doug: Which is funny because I feel like when you move to New York, you’re sort of an insider the minute—you know, there’s a Colson Whitehead quote about, I think, the minute you notice something has changed is when you become a New Yorker. Right? Like I said, like, that cell phone store is now a grocery store. Bam, you’re a New Yorker. And whether that happens two years into your time here or two weeks into your time here, that when you’re a New Yorker. So what prompts your return then to New York? A sort of growing dissatisfaction. Obviously, things were getting better with your mom, thankfully.
George Hahn: Yeah.
Doug: And, you know, you’re not necessarily—it’s not like you suddenly had some massive windfall and thought, “Okay, now I can afford to live in New York,” right?
George Hahn: No.
Doug: So—but you decided to come back, and you moved into—how big is your apartment now?
George Hahn: 372 square feet.
George Hahn: Yeah.
Doug: Yeah. And you had perfect timing because you moved back here in …
George Hahn: Right in time for the pandemic.
Doug: … January, 2020. Right. So how does that change your perspective then on city living: to miss the city, you move back and then everything goes to hell?
George Hahn: It felt like a slap.
George Hahn: It felt like I was being slapped. Like I was being punished.
Doug: But your love for the city remains. So, like, how did it …
George Hahn: Right. My attitude was—and anybody who followed me on social media would know, like, what I started doing was doing, like, morning walks live on Instagram in Central Park with my dogs. And the gist was like because we were all terrified, we’re gonna be okay. And I didn’t present a persona online that was polished and clean and together. If I was having a bad day, you knew it. I broke down. Like, I had, like, a lot of Jimmy Kimmel, like, tearful moments.
George Hahn: And, you know, I fully embraced them. That’s part of my human experience. I had, I remember—talk about loving the city, I remember walking—when Broadway was shut down, I walked past the Shubert Theater. That’s where A Chorus Line played.
George Hahn: And my dad took me to that on that trip when I was a little kid, when he brought me with him. And so that has a very sort of like emotional resonance for me. And I did a video right then and there, and I got very emotional in it talking about how we’re gonna be okay. We are all gonna be okay. So I became—I realized I was becoming also a cheerleader for this city—proudly, happily so. A defender.
Doug: So George, you mentioned defending New York City. And one of the things that we talk about on the podcast is this idea that as much as we are trying to explain the problems with cars, we are also trying to make a positive, affirmative defense of cities.
George Hahn: Mm-hmm.
Doug: Why do you think it’s important to defend cities right now?
George Hahn: It’s important to defend cities all the time, especially right now. Most Americans live in the cities.
Doug: You’d never know it from how our policies work.
George Hahn: No. No. So when people talk—it’s hilarious to me when people talk about “Real America,” and they paint this Norman Rockwell, like, thing of rural. No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no. Real America is you and I right now, right here. We’re in the middle of it.
Doug: I always say, if you want to see Real America, go to the McDonalds at the Atlantic Terminal Mall just down the street from us, because you will see every type of American you can possibly imagine.
George Hahn: Yes.
Doug: All—and it all works. You know, New York’s not perfect. We have our problems.
George Hahn: Never will be.
Doug: But it mostly works, yeah.
George Hahn: Never will be perfect. That’s part of its charm.
George Hahn: There’s shit on the subway and I’m like, it’s amazing that it works the way it does. [laughs] Doug: Yes. But also a great place. Like, I think of the subway as sort of the civic miracle, where we’ve all come together to agree we’re all going to work, we’re all going to do our thing.
George Hahn: Mm-hmm.
Doug: And you’re going to work at a bank and you’re going to work at a grocery store and you’re going to school, and I’m going to a park or to a Broadway show, but we’re all gonna just share this space together for the 15 minutes or 50 minutes that we’re together. And it mostly works.
George Hahn: And sometimes it’s the best show in town.
George Hahn: But yes, it’s always amusing to me when people paint that, like, “Real America” versus, like, the “City America” bullshit narrative and then telling me that I’m this—I live in this liberal snow globe. And I’m going, like—or in a bubble.
Doug: The New York City bubble is a bubble where—I mean, certainly it varies by neighborhood …
George Hahn: But it’s kind of the anti-bubble.
Doug: Well, but it’s a bubble where you can go and be safe to, say, express your gender identity or your sexuality or your creative pursuits or your religion or your economic opportunities. And those types of things are not necessarily available in many other parts of this country. There’s a reason why young gay kids move to big cities because can’t be themselves where they’re from.
George Hahn: It’s the Emerald City. It’s the Emerald City. Not just New York but, like, San Francisco, Boston, Chicago.
Doug: Atlanta. You know, people move across the South. They move to Atlanta because they can express themselves decently there.
George Hahn: LA.
George Hahn: 100 percent. That’s what I mean. It’s not just New York. I mean, we’re talking about it because we’re here but, like, big cities in general, I’m a huge fan of them.
Doug: Yeah. Cities are where people come together and sort of agree to all get along.
George Hahn: The cities are where it’s at. And I don’t want to be a traitor to my roots, because I loved where I grew up. I loved my upbringing. I grew up in Lakewood, Ohio, which is just west of Cleveland. But I loved the city. I love what you get here. Yes, it’s more expensive. Shit, we pay through the nose. You know, a cup of coffee is a fucking mortgage payment. But look at what we get. I get Central Park as my backyard.
Doug: Okay. So I want to then use this as a way to transition a little bit, because I’m sure some listeners are like, “Okay, great. George loves New York. Doug loves New York.” We could talk about loving New York and loving cities …
George Hahn: All day.
Doug: Yeah, all day. But I want to talk about your interest in bikes, in buses, in progressive transportation. You are a sort of accidental advocate.
George Hahn: A geek about it.
Doug: Yeah, but you’re not your typical bike advocate. First of all, you’re—like I said earlier, you’re much better dressed than the average bike advocate. No offense, bike advocates.
George Hahn: Bicycling doesn’t require special clothes.
George Hahn: Contrary to popular practice.
Doug: And you often bike around town in, you know, jacket, tie, nice pants.
George Hahn: Well, it’s how I would—I wore a suit and tie to my job. That’s how I got to work often.
Doug: How did you get interested in this stuff? As George Hahn, actor, raconteur, how did you get interested in advocacy?
George Hahn: When I started my blog, GeorgeHahn.com, initially in its blog form was—I was writing about, like, tech-y things, and that was—then I became—realized I was interested in style and also lifestyle stuff from the perspective of someone who lives in a city. And since we are in this expensive city where space is a premium, I became very interested in ways to trick out what I call “effective living,” meaning the best use of the limited space that we’ve got. Like, people often—it’s hilarious to me that they think I’ve got this, like, fat wardrobe but, like, I don’t. Like, as I said, I live in 372 square feet. It’s a converted hotel room with a hotel room closet, which ain’t big. So effective living to me means: what’s the best way to get around and keep my ass in the same place it’s been since high school? That’s a bicycle.
Doug: [laughs] George Hahn: The bicycle is amazing.
Doug: What are you riding now?
George Hahn: A Brompton.
Doug: Ooh! Yeah, talk about effective use of space in a small apartment.
George Hahn: Yeah. I’ve always looked at people on Brompton and thought, like, they’re up to something and it’s really good, and I want in on it.
Doug: They’re cool little bikes. I have one, yeah.
George Hahn: The people seem to—people with them seem to be in on this secret. Like, they have this key to, like, how to be really smart about this. That was always my perception.
Doug: I always felt like the people I worked with who biked to work before biking to work was as big as it is now, they usually had a Brompton because they were the ones who were like, “Well, I just put it under my desk at work. I don’t have to worry about parking.” Which was always the first question anybody had if they wanted to bike to work.
George Hahn: Right.
George Hahn: It’s brilliant.
Doug: Yeah. And it’s stylish.
George Hahn: Beautiful! I wrote a piece on my blog. I am in awe of Andrew Ritchie, who was the guy who founded and created Brompton Bicycles. His original design is not very distant from what the Brompton is now. It hasn’t changed much over the decades. I think the first one he made was in 1976. They’re very beautiful. I think they should be part of the design collection at MoMA. That fold is amazing. It’s elegant and it works. So that fits into sort of like the long-ass answer to your question. This totally fits into my interest in effective, efficient living.
Doug: It’s funny how you’ve sort of taken that perspective of efficient living in your small apartment and extrapolated it out to the city itself. Because I feel like there’s often a disconnect where a lot of New Yorkers are used to living in small apartments, and they would never in a million years get like a La-Z-Boy and a sectional sofa and a king-size bed and expect it to fit in an apartment that’s 1,000 square feet or less.
George Hahn: Mm-hmm.
Doug: And yet they buy an SUV and park it on the street, and then get mad when there’s no place to park it.
George Hahn: I am a huge fan of constraints because constraints force you to be resourceful. Living here in New York, we spatially have constraints. I embrace them because they force me to be more resourceful. I look at my apartment every day. How can this be more efficient? How can I make this sexier with limited resources? And the Brompton brilliantly solves that problem.
Doug: You have a great video that you did with Streetfilms with Clarence Eckerson, Jr. about the bus and other—other constraints on cars. Let’s take a listen.
[ARCHIVE CLIP, George Hahn: Bringing the car into the city is a loser’s game, and people keep trying it over and over again. In terms of congestion, the cost of parking, tickets, getting towed, enjoy a horrible time. Have fun with that. Anything that, like, degreases the wheels, let’s just say, for cars and makes it more difficult, makes it a bigger pain in the ass for them, I am all for that. I’m not the city driver’s friend.] Doug: I love this because you’re pulling no punches. I feel like advocates a lot of times are like, “Look, I understand people need their cars.” And you’re like, “No. Fuck it. You don’t need a car in the city. You’re making the problem worse. You brought this upon yourself.”
George Hahn: I still stand by every word I just listened to there. And something happens to people when they’re in a car—it happens to me too. I feel it wash over me when I get behind a wheel: it’s a sense of entitlement. I turn into a dick like everybody else. And someone has to explain to me—because it’s never been explained to me, because it cannot be explained, why a driver’s destination is more important or pressing than a pedestrian or bicyclist’s destination. You know what I’m saying?
Doug: Oh, I mean, you see this all the time where it’s assumed that a cyclist is going nowhere important, but a driver going to the movies or the gym is like the most important person who ever existed.
George Hahn: Yeah, just something washes over you when you get behind the wheel of a car, because the car becomes an extension, like a prosthesis, like an Iron Man suit. And they feel like this—I don’t know, entitlement or invincibility, like they matter more. I don’t know.
Doug: But in the end, Tony Stark, he sacrificed himself for the greater good. So, you know, there’s a lesson to be learned there, drivers.
George Hahn: Yes, please. Snap your fingers and fry yourself please.
Doug: [laughs] There’s right now in American culture, we were talking about defending cities and how cities sort of seem to be under assault by the right, by a kind of suburban mindset. By lots of people right now, not just the right. But a lot of that has to do now also with perceived notions of conventional masculinity.
George Hahn: Mm-hmm.
Doug: And I want to play a clip from a sadly short-lived show with Scott Galloway on CNN Plus.
George Hahn: Oh, yeah.
Doug: You were a guest. I want to play this clip.
[ARCHIVE CLIP, Scott Galloway: So masculinity, that’s kind of the topic for today. What are any of your kind of top line thoughts on what it means to be masculine or a modern-day man?] [ARCHIVE CLIP, George Hahn: You and I are of the same generation, basically. And societally, with the men in our lives: our fathers, uncles, brothers if you had them, magazines, movies, TV shows, how to be a man is well sort of like laid out for you. You like a lot—you go for a lot of women, you liked cars—preferably gigantic ones that get a mile a gallon these days. You want the big house, you want the boat, you eat a lot of meat. You’re into sports. You drink a lot. I personally tick very few of those boxes. It’s not that I’ve ever sat and questioned, “Oh, am I really a man?” I know I’m a man. What has interested me is sort of disrupting the definition of what we’re traditionally taught.] Doug: So it’s funny to me and interesting that you put giant cars into that. And obviously, that’s red meat, no pun intended here, for The War on Cars. So talk about that. Why do we—what are your thoughts on why giant cars are so closely associated with traditional or conventional notions of masculinity?
George Hahn: My mother raised five of us through Cleveland winters with a station wagon. Why the fuck somebody some—why people suddenly need a basement on four wheels is astounding to me. Why you need a vehicle where the hood is taller than my mother. What is this need for these things? Why is everything—are we supersizing abso-fucking-lutely everything? What is this shit, this obsession with giant, big things? Like, SUVs nauseate me.
Doug: My theory about giant trucks and how we express ourselves through them—and you’re a fashion expert, a style icon, I mean, compared to me like I said—is that cars have so atomized society that the things that we can do when we live in close proximity to each other to express ourselves: how we dress, what we consume in terms of art and culture, are really hard to express when you’re whizzing by somebody else at 60 miles an hour. And your first impression of them, if you pull up to a valet at a restaurant or a parking lot at the mall, is not what you’re wearing, but what you’re driving.
George Hahn: I express myself and who I am and what I want to project onto the world with what I wear. That’s why I like a bicycle, because more people can see what I’m wearing. But the car or the SUV is an extension of what people—like, what the driver wants the world to think. Like, “I’m the big shot here. I’m the big guy.” It’s very strange, though, in terms of design. You look at, like, an Escalade, a Cadillac Escalade, which have just become—like the grille. When you look at the face of that car—and it’s the face, it’s not a friendly face. It’s like a villain in, like, a Transformer movie. And that is a deliberate design. They’re designed to look angry, intimidating, “I will fuck you up.” Like, that kind of a face. And guys eat that shit up!
Doug: How do we disrupt that definition?
George Hahn: Keep making fun of them.
Doug: Keep making fun of them.
George Hahn: That’s my tactic. I just laugh at these fuckers. Like, really? This is what you got? It’s just about actually being as ridiculous as possible.
George Hahn: It’s about, like—and I think some of them might even be in on the fact that it is ridiculous and they do it because it’s ridiculous.
Doug: I think so, yeah.
George Hahn: But I think it should be a prohibitive pain in the ass to bring a car into the city. Like, if someone’s in Jersey or wherever in the Tri-State area, and they’re coming into the city to see a show, to go to the Garden, you know, whatever, a car should be the least attractive option. Never, ever to my knowledge—I’m not an expert, but never has more cars been the solution to any city’s problems. Ever.
Doug: Well, George, that is a perfect note to end on. Thank you so much for coming on The War on Cars.
George Hahn: Thank you. I feel like I was all over the place. But this was—I love talking about this stuff.
Doug: The magic of editing. I’m gonna make us both seem entirely coherent. People will walk away from this thinking, like, “Wow, those guys were really smart.” Never will they know.
George Hahn: God, George is brilliant. Fooled them again!
Doug: George, where can people find you other than everywhere? Where’s the best place to go?
George Hahn: Other than everywhere? No, I am at my website, GeorgeHahn.com. I’m also on Instagram and Twitter at George Hong. And I’m also on TikTok at GeorgeHahnNYC.
Doug: I feel like I’m too old for TikTok, and yet you’re on TikTok. And we’re not that far apart in age.
George Hahn: It’s the platform where I have the most numbers. Go figure.
Doug: That’s incredible.
George Hahn: It is incredible. It’s—it astounds me.
Doug: All right. Well, I will put links in the show notes to the many places …
George Hahn: Oh, I’m on Patreon, too.
Doug: Oh, okay.
George Hahn: Yeah. Patreon.com/GeorgeHahn.
Doug: Well, if you’re supporting this podcast and you want to support another creator, go support George Hahn.
George Hahn: Boom!
Doug: Speaking of Patreon, a special thanks to all of you for supporting the podcast. Let us know what you’re up to. Email us with questions or comments at TheWaronCars (@) gmail.com. I’m Doug Gordon, and on behalf of my co-hosts Aaron Naparstek and Sarah Goodyear, this is The War on Cars.