What do Arabian bred horses, Whole Foods, and Southwest Airlines all have in common? Two words: Dan DeRusseau.
Right now Dan DeRusseau is probably tending to one of his Egyptian mares on his Austin, Texas breeding farm he runs with his wife, Louise. He has no idea I am writing about him as he strokes the mane of his beautiful black colt with a glass of Pinot Grigio in his hand, relishing his last moments of his weekend. The sun is setting, daylight savings time style, and Dan could not be more at ease. He knows in the back of his mind that he and Louise are lifetime breeders to 1994’s US National Reserve Champion Stallion, Thee Desperado, and that makes him proud. He’s not gonna lie, he loves his life. You’d never guess it but tomorrow morning Dan will switch gears and be back at work tending to the Whole Foods meat section. He’ll be in the air traveling by way of Southwest Airlines to perform food safety audits for the twenty-three stores in the southwest region that he is in charge of. He does this so that us customers can rest assured that all the meat we buy is not hormonally enhanced. Well done, Dan. (As Melville Ulmer would say: pun intended).
I was drawn to Dan’s story back in January when I read about his adoration for Southwest Airlines in a SkyMall magazine. Although I have never bought anything from SkyMall (and do not intend to), I do enjoy the articles. In the article about Dan and his beef he called Southwest the “company plane” which surprised me because most people would not want to take Southwest on a business trip seeing as though it has no first class (which the business travelers thrive on) and has a free for all seating arrangement. The company plane, huh? Interesting…I always thought of Southwest as the cheap and fun way to go but I guess I was wrong. It just surprised me to hear Dan refer to Southwest as the company plane because I would have thought a company like Whole Foods, with skyrocketing sales, would have a real company plane! I looked at Dan’s picture holding the tri-tip with rubber gloves and thought “what makes a guy like Dan want to travel on Southwest?” The answer was in the next paragraph…ahh…Yes…it’s because of “the employees” and also because “flying on Southwest is like a party!” True indeed, Dan! True indeed! When I started thinking about it, all my best flights have been on Southwest and many times I have laughed out loud at the jokes the pilot or the flight attendants tell us over the loud speaker. My favorite was when the plane was only half full and everyone had their own row, the pilot got on the loud speaker and asked everyone to move to the window so that we could wave to the competitors as we taxied so that they would all think, “Damn it, there goes another full Southwest flight again.” There was another incident on Southwest where I was given free drinks on a flight to Ft. Lauderdale from Chicago for singing the theme song to Growing Pains with my friend Lindsay DeWall over the loud speaker. Why? I still don’t know. But what I do know is that I agree with Dan that Southwest is by far the “filet mignon of the sky.”
After reading the article on Dan, I began to wonder what else this meat loving food auditor does in life. So I made a note to Google Dan DeRusseau on a rainy day and find out what his story was all about. God, do I love Google. It was there that I found out about Dan and Louise’s breeding farm and the intense ’94 Champion, Thee Desperado. Wow. With a few clicks of the mouse I learned that Dan’s life consisted of so much more than ground buffalo and honey roasted peanuts.
Overall, it makes sense that Whole Foods, Dan, Arabian mares, and Southwest are all related because each one is Quality with a capital Q. Well, it’s tough on me to say that about the Arabian mares because of the fact I had a near fatal accident with a horse back in ’89 but I let it slide because of the other three. Now when I grace the aisles of Whole Foods, sampling the best hummus display in the world and orange slices to die for, I think of Dan and Southwest Airlines. I think about his life out there in Austin, sipping that Pinot Grigio with thoughts of raw poultry and Thee Desperado on his mind. (Doesn’t that sound like a James Taylor song?).
John Mackey, if for some odd reason you are reading this I have to say thank you for putting out so many samples on Saturdays and Sundays at Whole Foods because it ends up feeling like you got a free lunch! I also think it is phenomenal that you have taught your employees who man the peach slice stations to not to give you guilt when you go for seconds.
While there are times I have to fly on an airline other than Southwest because Travelocity.com says so, I try my hardest not to. I think the company that Herb Kelleher has created has done such a great job of maintaining is top notch status as the “filet mignon of the sky” in more ways than one. For example it’s the flight attendants like Kevin, the guy in the picture below, that make it an enjoyable journey. Some say it’s all about the legroom on a flight, I’d beg to differ. It’s people like Kevin that make you forget about the legroom by bringing humor and intensity to the flying experience. Herb, if you ever read this, please make a note to give Kevin a raise. His love for Southwest is truly one of a kind.
I wish the best to Dan, Lousie, John Mackey, Thee Desperado, Kevin, Herb Kelleher, and all those manning those sample tables at WF and serving peanuts and humor up in the skies. Keep up the intensity and don’t change.