After sudden rainclouds and sudden rainstorms, all of which avoided me as I slept in my warm hotel room and landed squarely on Zara as she foolishly went out to experience and enjoy life, we drove from New Orleans to Baton Rouge. We noticed as we drove that we had stopped caring at all about any journey that was under, say, eight hours. If it took above eight hours, then, yes, we would admit, that was a long drive. Anything else was a hop, skip, or jump.

Not even a big one, at that.

Seven hours, fifty nine minutes?

Whatever, man.

I could do that standing on my head.

We got to Baton Rouge in the early afternoon, and, after we’d navigated our way through the heart of the city, drove down Ronlyn Domingue’s long, leafy street, once more, as we had so many times before, slowing and accelerating to check house numbers against an address we had written down from email, once more, as we had so many times before, finally pulling into a strange driveway to meet people we’d never met. And Ronlyn and Alison Aucoin and Alison’s daughter Ella welcomed us, brought us into the house, and gave us a taste of Southern hospitality.

Here is a list – by no means exhaustive – of the things I learned during my all-too-brief time in Baton Rouge.

1. Ronlyn’s name, Domingue, is pronounced to rhyme with ‘meringue’, and Alison’s, Aucoin, is pronounced after the French, ‘au-quoin’.

2. A (charming) custom of Louisiana is to address people by title and first name: Miss Ronlyn, Miss Alison, Miss Ella. Mr. Simon, Miss Zara.

3. Miss Ronlyn’s hospitality puts the warm embrace of my Greek and Italian friends’s families to shame. She laid out coffee, tea, water, things to eat, as soon as we arrived, offered us places to quickly nap (I, always ready to take a siesta, gratefully accepted)… and later cooked us one of the most delicious home-cooked dinners I’ve had in my life. Dish after dish of Southern-style cooking emerged from the kitchen, each one a meal in itself.

4. Miss Ella, shy at first, turned into a long-limbed ball of energy as the hours came on. She runs in that curious, flat-footed manner that children have, the soles of her feet slapping at the floor as she ran backwards and forwards with toys.

5. Ronlyn’s partner, Mr. Todd, has an easy, generous laugh, and a face lit with a humorous intelligence. He seems to be the kind of man who thrives on good conversation, genuinely curious to learn more from us, happy to share from his own stores of knowledge.

It wasn’t so long after we first got in that I had to sleep, not wanting to fade into a discombobulated, slurring streak of pale-faced Australian as I had on previous stops along the way. After excusing myself from Misses Ronlyn, Alison, and Ella, and grabbing some much-needed sleep, I woke to find that more plates of refreshments had been laid out and Mr. Todd had arrived.

One of the key features of the TNB compound is going to have to be a deck for drinking beer on at night, because this trip has brought me into contact with far too many people who I’ve thought <i>Man, I’d like to just sit out out under the stars and hit some beers and talk</i> about. Mr. Todd, Miss Ronlyn, and Miss Alison certainly under this category. They treated Zara and I like family that was not, perhaps, long-lost, but who had been away on a very, very long cruise. There was the kind of warmth and intelligence to the gathering in Baton Rouge that you find with people who are basically kind, people in touch with their humanity. After the soullesness of some of the one-horse towns and gas stops we’d passed through, it was a welcome touch of familial-feeling acceptance.

Also, there were squirrels.

Ronlyn’s lawn, the following morning (and I still can’t get over how good that dinner was), drew a team of the tiny creatures, two of whom set to as we watched them from out the clear glass windows. I stole a sideways glance at Zara and knew without a doubt that she was hoping one of the combatants would be knocked out so she could swoop on the comatose rodent and bag it before it had a chance to regain consciousness.

Once more, as we had so many times before, we had to leave again too soon the next day. This time we went on our way with bags of food for the road, kindly decorated for us by Miss Ella.


I could eat so many of those praline cookies right now.

They were so damn good.

We knew we had two more stops and then it was back to LA, and we were done.

Relief or regret?

Hard to say.

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SIMON SMITHSON is an Australian writer and editor. He is currently based in Melbourne, Australia, but frequently finds himself in Los Angeles and San Francisco. His work has appeared on both sides of the globe in print and online in publications such as BLIP, Every Day Fiction, Beat, The Loop, My Sinking Boat, and more. He has a tumblr at www.simonsmithson.com and he runs a lifestyle experiment at www.selfhelpless.net.

29 responses to “TPAC 2010 – Day 23: Sir, I Believe You Meant to Ask, Who’s THAT”

  1. Alison Aucoin says:

    Aw Mr. Simon, I think you summed it pretty well. That hospitality, fun, and food are why Miss Ronlyn and Mr. Todd are my same-aged parents & they always will be. Their house really is my second home. I miss ya’ll and can’t wait until you come on back!

  2. wordzwordzwordz… Miss Ella’s ebullient smile … wordzwordzwordz … Ronlyn’s blinding Viking stove (or is it Wolf?) … more wordzwordzwordz…

    I apologize Simon. I’ll have to re-read this in the morning. My head is spinning and I cannot focus.

    • Simon Smithson says:

      No apologies necessary, K-Dub. I believe it’s a Viking?

    • Ronlyn Domingue says:

      Viking, yes. Todd and I did as much restoration work on our house ourselves as we could, and that behemoth was a present to myself. It’s used often. And I had five burners and the oven going the night Z and S were there.

      • My dream (besides finding socks that fit, of course) is to one day own a Viking stove and Sub Zero fridge.

        Until that magical day, I will continue to drool over yours, Ronlyn! 🙂

        • Ronlyn Domingue says:

          You’d think in this century, we could find socks and underwear that fit.

          When I was a teenager, I watched the cooking shows on PBS and frothed at the mouth over the Viking stoves. Track me down when you’re ready for the big purchase. I’ll give you my honest feedback on the Viking. Some things I LOVE, some things, well…. No matter what, I rather cook with gas.

          Dream it, Kimberly, and it can happen. I got mine. Why not you, too?!!

  3. Jude says:

    I want to go to Baton Rouge and meet the kindly folk who took such good care of your travel-weary souls – who fed you, watered you and loved you. What more could you ask for…?

  4. Zara Potts says:

    Oh, Baton Rouge. Oh, Miss Ronlyn, Miss Alison, Miss Ella and Mr Todd.
    Such wonderful company. Such wonderful memories.
    Let’s go back and let’s get the compound RIGHT NOW.

  5. Gloria says:

    Zara is so stinkin’ cute.

    Okay, I admit it: I didn’t actually read your post yet. I will! But right now, bed beckons. I looked at the photos, though. And, well, my deep thought before signing off for the night is that Zara is adorable.

  6. Ronlyn Domingue says:

    That you and Miss Zara felt embraced like family is the loveliest of compliments. Indeed, you are family–in the way people connect in a meaningful way. I’m Southern by birth and 1/4 Sicilian by blood, so maybe I’m culturally and genetically inclined for this hospitality thing. 🙂

    Any time, any place we are, you’re welcome to visit and be firmly stuffed with homecooked vittles. You will get pralines.

    Oh, and I remember you warned everyone that you would abuse their hospitality (some distant TNB post), and you didn’t. You both were most gracious guests. Fibber….


    • Simon Smithson says:

      The way we felt embraced like family was the loveliest of receptions, too, Ronlyn. Thank you again for opening your house (and your kitchen!) to us.

      Homecooked vittles and pralines you say…? Hmmm. Let me just check flight prices…


      I may have twisted the truth, just slightly, about the abuse of hospitality…


      • Ronlyn Domingue says:

        P.S. Mr. Todd read the piece and enjoyed it very much. He is the man you described–and then some.

        P.P.S. With enough advance notice, I might try to make pralines myself. I have my grandmother’s recipe. I’ve never mastered the timing to spoon them out on wax paper to make the little circles. That’s an art. Instead, I’ve had to pour the mixture in a pan and cut it like fudge. Tastes the same, just looks different.

        • dwoz says:

          how could it possibly taste the same if it’s a different shape?

        • Simon Smithson says:

          @Ronlyn: Oh, I’m so glad! I liked Mr. Todd immediately.

          Home-made pralines? Ye gods! I can only imagine how fat I could get, because I doubt I’d ever want to eat anything else.

        • Zara Potts says:

          There’s no way that they can be better than the brownies. No way. They were just too damn fine for words.

      • Ronlyn Domingue says:

        @dwoz: Well, chocolate chip cookie dough baked in pan as bars tastes different from the same dough baked as cookies. A culinary mystery. The taste and texture of the pralines don’t seem to be affected by the different shape. (I notice subtle things like that.)

        @Zara: I’ll make you brownies. Then the two of you can chase squirrels to burn off the sugar high.

  7. James says:

    @poster above me
    nicely put!

    thanks I agree with the article
    Flights to Cheap

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