LAFAYETTE — Jim and Bonnie Parr have been given the royal treatment pretty much ever since they drove into Lafayette early Tuesday morning.
The St. Petersburg, Fla., couple are judges in Rand McNally’s “Best of the Road” competition, in which Lafayette has been named one of six finalists in the “Best for Food” category.
During their two-day stay, the couple, who go by the team name “Fun Finders,” has been whisked around in a party trolley, chauffeured in a limousine and treated to food at Don’s Seafood Hut, The French Press, Charley G’s and other eateries.
And on Thursday, during a news conference, City-Parish President Joey Durel presented the couple with a book about Cajuns, a key to the city and bestowed upon them the title of honorary Cajuns.
“This is not something we do lightly,” Durel told the couple.
While eating fresh seafood dishes prepared by Brian Landry, ambassador chef for the Louisiana Seafood Board, the couple expressed their reluctance to leave the city.
“It’s been wonderful,” Bonnie Parr said.
That was exactly the kind of sentiment Chef Patrick Mould was going for.
Mould was a part of the group that arranged the itinerary for the couple’s two-day stay in the city. He also served as the couple’s personal chef, he said.
“I’m kind of like a little ace in the hole, because no other city, up to this point, had given them their own personal chef,” Mould said.
While the couple still has two stops left, both in California, Mould said he really feels good about Lafayette’s chances.
“The Parrs really got it that our food is not only tied to our culture and our history, but also our day-to-day living,” Mould said.
The other finalists are Addison, W.Va.; Burnsville, Minn.; Gulfport, Fla.; Costa Mesa, Calif.; and Visalia, Calif.
A victory would be “huge” for the city, Mould said.
Winning towns and cities will be featured on the website http://bestoftheroad.com, in Rand McNally’s 2013 maps and in the USA Today, which is co-sponsoring the competition.
Winners will be announced July 22.
A victory would also help to solidify the city’s position as a food-centric place, right alongside New Orleans, Mould said.
“This will put us on the map,” he said.
Lafayette is the only city in Louisiana to be named a finalist in the competition.
For the Parrs, the trip fell right in with how the couple live their lives: by the motto “if it’s not fun, then we don’t do it,” Bonnie Parr said.
The couple, who met in 1995, retired from work as a schoolteacher and a mechanic the following year. The two both became clowns together and have since traveled the country and worked as volunteers. They both do volunteer clown work, they said.
The couple is one of five teams judging in five categories: Most Patriotic, Best for Food, Most Fun, Most Beautiful and Friendliest.
Each team was provided with a Saab, gas cards from Shell, vouchers to Country Inn and Suites and Radison and $1,000 in spending money.
The teams have been traveling since June 23 and each must complete their journey and arrive in Los Angeles by July 14.
The teams are competing against one another for $10,000 in cash and a Saab SUV, the Parr’s said.
They are being judged by creativity and originality and on their use of social media such as Facebook and Twitter, the couple said.
The last part has proven to be a challenge for the Parr’s, both of whom are new to the technology.
“It’s still a learning process,” Bonnie Parr said, jokingly. “Not only do we have to drive but we also have to Tweet and Twitter and all that.”
Still, the experience provided them with the perfect opportunity to travel and to see small-town America, which is “so much better than the big towns,” she said.