Tom Hanks reads a story, talks typewriters and helps a couple in love during charming Texas Book Festival appearance

Tom Hanks points to his book, “Uncommon Type,” while discussing the 17 short stories it contains during a talk Saturday at  the Texas Book Festival. NICK WAGNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

By Charles Ealy, Special to the American-Statesman

About 1,000 people packed the sanctuary Saturday at the First Baptist Church in downtown Austin to hear Oscar-winning actor Tom Hanks talk about his debut collection of short stories, “Uncommon Type,” with Pulitzer Prize-winning Austin writer Lawrence Wright.

It was the highlight of a day of events at the Texas Book Festival, which was held at the state Capitol and surrounding grounds, with about 300 authors in attendance.

The day kicked off with Barbara Pierce Bush and Jenna Bush Hager sharing stories about their new book, “Sisters First,” with book festival co-founder and former first lady Laura Bush on hand in the House Chamber. The day also included a session with Dan Rather, author of the new book “What Unites Us” and the recipient of this year’s Texas Writer Award.

But it’s safe to say that Hanks was the biggest, last event of a day jam-packed with cooking demonstrations, children’s events and multiple panel discussions on politics and other current events.

DAY TWO: 5 things to know about the Texas Book Festival on Sunday

Hanks was genial and gregarious during his talk, revealing that he owns about 140 typewriters. Yep, you read that right. He has a typewriter obsession, he says, and there’s a typewriter in each of the 17 stories in his new collection.

Tom Hanks discusses his book, “Uncommon Type,” with Austin writer Lawrence Wright during the Texas Book Festival on Saturday. NICK WAGNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Why so much love for a rather technologically obsolete office machine? Hanks says he loves the idea of permanence – of putting ink on paper, and that most of his typewriters are from the 1930s to the 1960s. But he also says he loves the percussive sound of the keys hitting the paper, signifying that he’s headed for the end of something and helping him along the way.

Of his typewriter collection, he says with a laugh, “It’s easier than collecting player pianos.”

He talked about his love of the late Nora Ephron, the author and screenwriter of such Hanks hits as “You’ve Got Mail” and “Sleepless in Seattle.”

APPEARING SUNDAY: Mark Bittman looks at changing food scene before Texas Book Festival session

He says he complained about a scene between a father and son in “Sleepless in Seattle” and came up with new lines for his father character. Later, Ephron told him he was contributing to the movie as a writer.

And that started the idea that he might be a writer. But the writing didn’t come quickly. Instead, he thought about it for many years before attempting his first short story.

Hanks read a part of one of his short stories in the collection, “A Special Weekend,” which features Kenny Stahl, a thinly veiled autobiographical character based on himself. It deals with the 10-year-old who goes on a day trip with his mother in a sporty car, and his dad and his mother are divorced.

As Hanks dryly noted after reading part of the story, “Mom and Dad found the loves in their lives,” and he says his mother “found it on her third marriage.”

Wright noted that nostalgia played a prominent role in some of the stories, but Hanks said that of the 17 stories, 12 are contemporary. “I write from a lack of cynicism” rather than relying on nostalgia, he said, adding that he’s interested in “strange moments of serendipity where our lives change … with great connections that we don’t expect.”

“I’m a softie, without a doubt,” he said.

And in that regard, Hanks neared the end of the session by reading a note from a member of the audience, who proposed to his date. The proposal came from a man named Ryan McFarling, and the object of his affection was Nikki Young. Both came up on stage, with McFarling kneeling and Young crying in joy.

Yep, Hanks is a softie.

MORE TEXAS BOOK FESTIVAL: See all our previews and live coverage

An audience member photographs Tom Hanks as he discusses his book, “Uncommon Type,” on Saturday at the Texas Book Festival. NICK WAGNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Burger King’s new Whopperito is an attempt at a Tex-Mex mashup

Photo Credit: Burger King

It’s not as crazy an idea as  its Cheetos mac n’ cheese sticks, but Burger King’s newest Frankenstein fast food mashup does seem like it has the potential to generate as much Internet buzz.

Burger King has announced the Whopperito will go on sale nationwide starting August 15.

The Whopperito, unsurprisingly, contains exactly the same ingredients as a Whopper — beef, lettuce, tomatoes, onions and pickles — just wrapped in a tortilla. The whole thing is accented with spicy queso sauce instead of the traditional ketchup and mustard.

A photo allegedly of this new Tex-Mex monstrosity has already surfaced on the internet and it looks about as appetizing as you would think.


The Whopperito will be tested in stores over the next few months and will go for $2.99, according to Newsweek.

We will leave it up to you to decide is this cheeseburger burrito is innovative genius or an insult to the Tex-Mex name.





An appreciation: Long live the Texas horny toad

A Texas horned lizard basks in the sun at Franklin Mountains State Park in El Paso. Photo by Pam LeBlanc.
A Texas horned lizard basks in the sun at Franklin Mountains State Park in El Paso. Photo by Pam LeBlanc.

By Dave Thomas

Rare, almost anachronistic, the short-legged, stout creature will puff up when agitated and give you one hell of a glare when truly annoyed. It looks rough as a bucket of rusty nails, but is secretly one of the calmest critters around.

Wait, was I talking about the horny toad or myself? If it’s hard to tell, it’s easy to know why I love the disappearing saurians.

The state reptile of Texas is officially called the Texas Horned Lizard (or phrynosoma cornutum if you are feeling it). But there’s no reason — save for a little puritanical hand-wringing — not to call it a horny toad.

Longhorns are mighty symbols of our cowboy past, and armadillos are snuffling, shuffling Texan mini-tanks, but there’s something special about the horny toad. Click here to read an excellent and lengthy treatise by Texas Monthly — Our Toad to Ruin.

But if you want the short version, here are 3 things you should know about the horny toad.

A Texas horned lizard, hanging out with some harvester ants.
A Texas horned lizard, hanging out with some harvester ants.

They are disappearing fast — and might not come back

In the 1950s, horny toads were common across Texas, and Texans were shipping them off as fast as they could — from boys looking to make a nickel, to pet store owners looking to make a buck, they were plucked from the ground by the hundreds of thousands and sent nationwide, dead or alive.

Combine that with the steady march of development and the invasion of the fire ants — which were deadly to both the horny toad and its main food source, the harvester ant — and the reptiles were dropping off rapidly by the end of 1960s. The Legislature passed a law in 1967 protecting the critters, but it was too late.

Today, the horny toad is a threatened species and is rarely seen.

They squirt blood from their eyes

I did mention that their first defense against predators is to puff themselves up like a bristly balloon. But if that doesn’t work, an aggravated horny toad can send a stream of blood from the corner of its eye up to five feet away. Understandably, this freaks out some predators, while it is said to be foul-tasting to canine attackers.

One particularly famous horny toad inspired an animated icon

It was 1897 when an unlucky horny toad was sealed up in a cornerstone/time capsule during construction of the courthouse in Eastland.

More than 3 decades later, when the courthouse was demolished, the critter was said to have been found alive, a little worse for wear, but alive. Promptly named Old Rip, it was an instant celebrity (sort of like the Kardashian of its day) and went on a nationwide tour, including a stop at the White House where he met President Coolidge.

Unfortunately, for Old Rip, he expired after only 11 months of fame, and was embalmed and put on display in Eastland, only to have his corpse kidnapped in 1973. Old Rip was eventually returned — or not, some suspect it was an imposter.

Whether it was a hoax to begin with, or even if the horny toad mummy on display today in Eastland isn’t actually Old Rip, the story did give us one inarguable benefit: It sparked the creation of Michigan J. Frog, star of one of the finest Warner Bros. cartoons, “One Froggy Evening.”

Great Texas hair: Who wore it better?

By Dave Thomas

There is no limit to the pileous perfection a Texan can achieve if he just sets his jaw right and applies a little perseverance, poise and maybe a dab of Brylcreem.

Here’s a look at 4 categories of Texas excellence when it comes to crinigerous righteousness …


The pop culture beard

ZZ Top's Dusty Hill and Billy Gibbons, left, and Chuck Norris.
ZZ Top’s Dusty Hill and Billy Gibbons, left, and Chuck Norris.

The obvious choice: Dusty Hill and Billy Gibbons’ beards might cascade like a fuzzy waterfall over their guitars or whatever else falls under their mighty shadow, but two-thirds of ZZ Top still ain’t got half the mojo of …

The pro choice: No matter how close-cropped Chuck Norris might keep his whiskers in his advancing years (would you believe he is 76 years old?), it doesn’t erase the fact that he once plucked a single hair from his beard and skewered three men through the heart with it. When he does trim it, he uses a belt sander. Tom Selleck’s moustache dreams about Chuck Norris’ beard. One time …


The Texas musician hair

Willie Nelson and Lyle Lovett
Willie Nelson and Lyle Lovett

The obvious choice: The Red Headed Stranger. The braids. “Pigtails and all.” Everyone knows Willie Nelson is a musical, metaphorical Samson. But after all these years, there’s little mystery left, least ways when compared to …

The pro choice: Lyle Lovett’s hair looks like something that might skitter across the trail at dusk in the Piney Woods, leaving you to ask yourself if you really saw it and if you really want to be where  you’re at. Not that we are hating, no sir. Only a man of magnificent Texas character could sport that hair anemone and still be as awesome as Mr. Lovett.


The rugged sports beard

James Harden and Ricky Williams
James Harden and Ricky Williams

The obvious choice: James Harden (Houston Rockets) indeed has a mighty thicket on his chin, glistening like it emerged from a primeval bayou and darker than desperation. But how can we be sure Tom Cruise isn’t going to pull that mask off at any moment? Harden’s beard is so perfect it doesn’t quite look real. It is hardly as organic as …

The pro choice: Ricky Williams’ onetime beard was magnificently wild, hairs pointing every which way and odd spots where it looks like he fended off someone with a pair of clippers a moment too late. In the middle of that bristly blowout, he’s smiling like he just discovered teeth.


The iconic Texas woman hair

Farrah Fawcett and Ann Richards
Farrah Fawcett and Ann Richards

The obvious choice: Everyone’s favorite aurocephalous Seventies beauty, Farrah Fawcett framed that smile in cascading golden locks. To gaze at those teased tresses is to send your eyeballs on a roller coaster of desire. But youth and beauty can’t match …

The pro choice: Ann Richards coiffure (and would any other word do it justice?) reaches the level of perfection only age can attain. Sometimes it was silver-tinged and jauntily reminiscent of a mystical elven helmet from a forgotten era. Other times it was as pure white and serene as a cloud in a Bob Ross painting.

We ask people in line at Franklin Barbecue – why do you love Austin?

By Cody McCrary

Special to the American-Statesman

Continuing our #WhyAustin series, we went to talk with people waiting in line at Franklin Barbecue to find out what they like about our city. The sunny, warm weather and famous ‘cue had people arriving several hours before the Austin dining destination opened at 11 a.m.


Clarissa Hassfurder had been waiting in line since 9 a.m. with two of her friends and bridesmaids who came to visit. Hassfurder moved to Austin from Indiana two years ago and enjoys the eclectic scene in Austin.


Hassfurder’s friend, Kelsey Worth, was on her second trip to Austin. Worth said she enjoyed Voodoo Doughnuts and that she loves to come visit from Indiana.



The third of the friends, Chelsea Abanathie, who is from Wisconsin, was enjoying soaking up the sun while waiting for her barbecue.



Todd Squire moved to Austin a year and a half ago from Seattle, Wash. Squire said he handles the Texas heat by swimming and enjoying the various outdoor happy hour options around the city.


Cyndi Carter was entertaining visitors from Chicago and said she cannot get enough of the friendly people and great weather since moving to Austin from Dallas two years ago.


Lenny Neslin, who came straight from the airport, luggage in hand, to Franklin Barbecue had visited Austin once before. Neslin, who lives in New York, was in town for a college reunion with three other Austin novices.

Where would you like to see us visit next?

We ask people at Zilker Park – why do you love Austin?

By Cody McCrary — Special to the American-Statesman

During our gorgeous spring weather, Zilker Park is an Austin staple for locals and visitors of the nature-friendly city. We went out to Zilker to ask people what their favorite thing is about Austin in our new #whyaustin series.


Taylor Skinner, a 22-year-old University of Texas student, takes her dog Tinsley to play at Zilker Park several times a week. Skinner, who was born and raised in Austin, said she enjoys the dog-friendly nature of the city and the food scene.



Mia Foos was spending the day flying kites with her daughter and said she loves that Austin is so kid friendly. Foos, who is pregnant with her second child, was due the day after we spoke with her.



Erin Beck and Macey Taylor said they like Austin because it is such a culturally diverse city that still maintains a small-town feel. Beck moved to Austin from Florida three years ago and works in sales at the Driskill Hotel. Taylor is an executive assistant at Kasasa, a wholesale financial services company headquartered in Austin.



Spencer Young, who attends Tom C. Clark High School in San Antonio, was in town taking in the sights and sounds of South by Southwest. The 17-year-old was enjoying the warm weather and playing guitar with some friends.




Lilith Chenaux, who was visiting from Houston, said the Zilker Dog Park is her favorite thing about Austin. Chenaux works at an animal shelter and was spending her day with her sister and her dog Pixie.



Amanda Costanzo was watching her sister’s dogs, Mabel and Ginger, while spending the day at Zilker. Costanzo, who works at the Whole Foods at the Domain, said she loves how cultured Austin has become in recent years.



Ahead of Michelle Obama’s SXSW visit, we ask what it means to find your passion

By Cody McCrary – Special to American-Statesman

The hustle and bustle of downtown Austin has been amplified the past few days with the arrival of the annual South by Southwest Festival.

It will only get busier Wednesday when first lady Michelle Obama will lead a keynote Music panel that focuses on education for girls, music and finding passion in life.

We went downtown on Tuesday and asked SXSW attendees what it means to them to find their passion and act on it.



High school seniors from the Houston area, Shalroz Charania and Rabia are volunteering at SXSW this week. They have had fun learning how things work behind the scenes and are hoping to get a chance to see Michelle Obama speak.


Robert Dawson is a Web developer who was in town from the San Francisco area. Dawson said he is enjoying the festival and Austin nightlife and is planning on seeing Michelle Obama’s talk.


Niyanta Spelman feels passionately about climate change and environmental awareness. Spelman is the executive director of Rainforest Sponsorship, a nonprofit located in Austin that helps protect tropical rainforests.


On her first visit to Austin, Melanie Morgan got to experience some hot spring weather – a little different from Centennial, Colorado, where she works for the city. Morgan was at SXSW getting some ideas for the innovation team to which she was just appointed.




Meredith Frost (top) and Michelle Romano said that the MashBash party put on by Mashable that showcased the future of the Internet was their favorite SXSW event. The two work for ManpowerGroup, a human resource consulting firm in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.


Gustav Borgefalk, who came all the way to SXSW from Sweden, is the co-founder and head of business development for Sqore, a competition-based recruitment platform.

Austin’s cutest couple contest 2016: A poem

Pam and Chris LeBlanc smooch at the Puppy Love mural outside Mud Puppies on East Riverside Drive.

Roses are red
Violets are blue
Do you and your sweetie have a love so true?

If you both live in Austin
and think your love’s the best…
You should enter our cutest couples contest!

If you’re voted the winners,
you and your honey will eat
at one of Austin’s finest restaurants – our treat!

So enter a photo
and tell us your story.
The two of you may bask in a year’s worth of glory.

For those of you Austinites
without a partner in crime,
vote for the couple whose love is sublime.

2016’s cutest couple
is out there somewhere.
It’s time to pick ’em out – love is in the air!


The facts: Enter until Feb. 3, vote until Feb. 10. Please only enter a photo in which you are a part of the couple. The photo with the most votes by Feb. 10 will win a $100 gift card to Uchi/Uchiko, one of the top restaurants in Austin according to our restaurant critic, Matthew Odam. The winning photo will also run in Austin360 on Valentine’s Day. See full rules and more at the contest homepage.

Giant pumpkin transformed into ‘Donald Trumpkin’

Image credit: CNN/Twitter
Image credit: CNN/Twitter

By Cox Media Group National Content Desk

An Ohio woman has captured GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump’s likeness on a 384-pound pumpkin, and the creation is quickly going viral.

The “Trumpkin,” as the creation has been nicknamed, is the work of Jeanette Paras. She is known for drawing caricatures of noteworthy people on pumpkins, though she does not consider herself an artist.

In past years, Paras has drawn caricatures of George Bush,  Bill Clinton, Lady Gaga and Miley Cyrus. She says she does the pumpkin drawings for fun and does not sell her creations.

She puts them on display for others to enjoy. The “Trumpkin” includes a yard sign that mimics a Donald Trump campaign sign, with the slogan, “Make Pumpkins Great Again!”

According to the CNN report, Paras said the hardest part of the process is choosing the pumpkin shape that best suits her subject.

For more, visit CNN.

5 things to know about the Royals’ dramatic Game 1 win in the World Series


By Cox Media Group National Content Desk

Kansas City Royals celebrate after Alcides Escobar (2) scored on a sacrifice fly by Eric Hosmer during the 14th inning of Game 1 of the Major League Baseball World Series against the New York Mets Wednesday, Oct. 28, 2015, in Kansas City, Mo.  (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)
Kansas City Royals celebrate after Alcides Escobar (2) scored on a sacrifice fly by Eric Hosmer during the 14th inning of Game 1 of the Major League Baseball World Series against the New York Mets Wednesday, Oct. 28, 2015, in Kansas City, Mo. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — After five long hours, the Kansas City Royals beat the New York Mets 5-4 Tuesday night to take the first game of the World Series.

But this was no typical game. From one player’s devastating news to a surprising power outage, drama on and off the field quickly made headlines.

Here’s what you need to know:

  1. The hard-fought matchup tied for the longest World Series game ever by innings, according to ESPN. The 14-inning game also earned the title of longest World Series Game 1.
  2. The Royals’ Alcides Escobar hit an inside-the-park home run in the first inning. That hasn’t happened in a World Series game since 1929, according to NPR.
  3. Royals pitcher Edinson Volquez’s father died of heart failure before the game. According to The Associated Press, Royals manager Ned Yost said Volquez did not learn the news until he left the game after pitching six innings.

“It was just, you know, it was sad, a sad situation,” Yost said. “You find out an hour before the game that your starting pitcher’s father passed away, and it was hard. But again, you wanted to honor the family’s wishes, and they requested, ‘Don’t tell Eddie. Let him go out and pitch Game 1 of the World Series.'”

Another source – who asked not to be identified – told the AP that Volquez learned about the death before the game.

Daniel Volquez, 63, died in the Dominican Republic.

  1. A power outage briefly halted Fox’s broadcast in the fourth inning, according to ESPN. As a result, the game was delayed for about seven minutes.

“A rare electronics failure caused both the primary and backup generators inside the Fox Sports production compound to lose power,” Fox said. “The issue was immediately addressed, although it resulted in the audience missing one at-bat during the time needed to switch to carriage of Major League Baseball’s international feed, powered by a different generator on site. The on-field delay was due to replay capability being lost in both teams’ clubhouses.”

  1. Google Fiber had its own technical difficulties. According to CNN, the service went down for about an hour in Kansas City, preventing fans from watching the game.

Google apologized on Twitter, saying, “We’re so sorry about the outage in KC.”