No Nonsense Advice From an Old Man on a Plane

The old man twisted around in the airplane seat, trying to get comfortable. He gave up on reading the newspaper. The way he was jammed in, he couldn’t turn the pages anyway. He felt he should speak to the young woman seated uncomfortably close to him and here is No Nonsense Advice From an Old Man on a Plane.

He nodded hello and said, “These damn airlines keep shrinking the seats. Pretty soon they’ll be stacking folks like lumber.”

The woman smiled. It was a nice smile. She was a pretty girl, he thought, a redhead like his granddaughter, but a bit younger. She asked, “Are you going to Pensacola on vacation?”

“Nope. Been living thereabouts most of my life. My son wanted me to move to Charlotte, but I can’t do that. If I die when I’m off up there, God won’t know where to find me.”

She laughed. It was a nice laugh. “My aunt lives in Pensacola. She loves it.”

“Yep. It’s a right nice place — clean and not too big. What’s bringing you down here?”

“To get a job, I hope.” She held up crossed fingers.

No-Nonsense Advice

“I have an interview with Regions Bank tomorrow.”

“What kind of job?”

“It’s the manager of human resources. I really want it.”

“Then you go in there and you get it.”

“I want to. I’ve been studying their description.” She turned her laptop to show him.

“Okay. I’ll let you get back to it then.”

“No. Please. I’m actually happy to talk. I’ve been driving myself crazy worrying about the interview.”

“Can you do what they need doing?”

“I think so. I’m doing almost the same job now. But the recruiter told me I have a lot of competition from people with more experience. I only have four years in HR and I’ve been a supervisor for not even a year.”

“You say you’re doing that same job now?”

“Yes. But only for a few months.”

“Are you any good at it?”

“I think I am.”

“There’s no think about it. Can you do the job or not?”

“I can if I get the chance. But I’m afraid I won’t beat the competition.”

No Nonsense Advice

“If that’s the case, I tell you what you should do. When this plane lands, turn yourself around and get right back on it, and go home.”

Her head bobbed up. “What?”

“Go on home. There’s no point you taking up those folks’ time if you’re not there to get the job.”

“I’m here to try to get it.”

“Well, the way you’re carrying on about what you don’t have, they’d be damn fools to hire you. And I wouldn’t trust them with my money if they did.”

She smiled and shrugged. “I sound pretty negative, huh? I’m just anticipating them deciding I’m not strong enough.”

The old man pointed a calloused finger at her. “Tomorrow, you are going to be the only person in that room who knows what you can do. So if you don’t tell them they won’t know. And tell it without all the buts and onlys. Get them out of your mouth. You don’t have only four years of experience. You have four years.”

Her face clouded again. “I have another problem. I’m divorced and I have a little boy. I’m also afraid they won’t want me when I tell them. They’ll think I’ll take a lot of time off.”

What? What are you gonna tell them? That you have a boy? Does your boy keep you from doing your job?”

“No. Not at all. I’ve never even used up all my sick leave. And my aunt will help me with him. But I’m afraid they won’t want to take the chance on me.”

“You’re gonna let those folks mind your business for you? Hear me and hear me good. If you don’t want folks minding your business for you, keep your damn mouth shut about it!”

She laughed. “You sound like my granddaddy.”

“Maybe I am.” His grinned. “What’s your grandmama’s name?”

“I’d better not tell you. I don’t want to find out.”

The plane landed and they walked to the baggage area together. She was going for her suitcase, but he put up a hand to stop her and snatched it off the belt. “Here you go,” he said as he set it beside her. “Now, you remember what I said. Go in there and tell those folks why they should hire you. You get that job!”

“Thank you. I obviously needed some no-nonsense advice. I’m gonna tell them what I can do.” She hugged him and almost skipped away.

The old man watched her go, then headed out. He felt a little younger than he had when he boarded the plane. He felt needed and it lifted him up. He felt a surge of strength that reminded him of the muscled and tanned young man he’d once been.

As he headed home he was thinking, remembering — seeing himself as he was when he stood in the wheelhouse of the tugboat, Norvelle, navigating around the sandbars on the Chattahoochee or making the run to Key West or New York City. He rolled down the window to feel the wind in his face.

When he came to the road home he didn’t turn. He headed his pickup toward the Port of Pensacola. There was a café there where boat captains and men from the port ate, and he had a hankering for fried fish and grits.

The old man in this story is based on my daddy and his no-nonsense advice — a quick-witted, cussing, tobacco-chewing tugboat captain and a tough, independent man even into his nineties. He took what education he had from a set of Compton’s Encyclopedias, but he was life-educated and common-sense smart — smart about people. I didn’t always want his no-nonsense advice. But looking back, he never told me a wrong thing to do.

By Ruthi Birch

June 3, 2021