Mr. Obvious

This morning my boss asked me to get a quote for a private jet. I should have known by now, not to go above and beyond on certain things because it invites more questions, for which I’m normally not prepared. But as it is my last week at work I shrugged and thought, “Why not?”

I inquired after the company we normally used for such trips and asked after another one, introduced to us by some friend of my boss’s. This other company was much cheaper by a few thousand dollars. I raised my eyebrows and scoffed, “Well, I guess I know which one Boss will want to go with.”

My Achilles Heel, my boss will tell you, is my tendency to assume.

“You assume things, and then you are wrong. Never think you know anything when you can’t even be bothered to ask the right questions.”

It’s half true. I do ask the questions, I just ask silently, in my own head for a millionth of a second. It is, I think, a natural response when you are handed two vastly different quotes from two companies for what is essentially the same flight, to pause and think “Why? What factors make the prices so different? Is it the type of plane? The personnel involved? The marketing materials one company uses over another?”

I asked these questions, but chose to forgo the actions that ought to follow the asking of said questions: to hunt for answers. And it pains me to acknowledge that yes, after a year, I am still that silly girl that just passes around the information.

My boss is quick. I told him the numbers and he asked, “What kind of planes?”

I gave him a sheepish look, “Very good question,” and went back to my desk to find out. This time, I was more thorough, asking both parties what types of jets they used and why their service was cheaper or more expensive. Both parties returned with mounds of information. I processed it minimally before going back to my boss.

“Well, company B’s quote is cheaper because they use an older prop jet.”

He looked at me with a bemused half-smile, “And what’s a prop jet.”

“Um. I think it has the…” for some reason the scene from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade in which Indiana Jones flies a small plane into a flock of seagulls came to mind, and instead of using words I awkwardly tried to mime a prop jet. My boss sat and blinked.

“Prop,” he said slowly, prompting me.

“Yes. A prop jet,” I made the motion again, stirring my arms like an old egg beater with a failing engine. After a minute, my arms tired. “No? Am I wrong?” 

“Prop…” he looked at me expectantly.

“Yes…a prop jet…”

“Prop is short for…”

“The wings are propped up by the engines…?”

He was sitting on one of the short red armchairs and when I said this, collapsed back in amused frustration. I stood before him like a shitty comedian. This scene has played out many times in the past year.

“God,” he said, slowing straightening himself as though recovering from a punch, “Propeller! Prop! Propeller! How could you not know this?”

I shrugged.

“And what’s the other kind of engine?” he asked, ever hopeful that he didn’t hire an absolute ding dong.

I laughed mostly out of nervousness.

“I don’t know. Uh. The kind of engine that you find in a….car?”

He stared at me in the same way I stare at people I think are dumb as rocks – namely people who say things like, “Oh Taiwan! That’s in Thailand, right?” – and said, “A jet engine, Betty. A jet engine.”

Ah. Of course.

He went on to patiently explain the difference between the engines, using words like horsepower and thrust, drag and gas velocity, moving his hands through the air in a knowledgeable way. I could see the diagrams wafting crystal clear around his mind’s eye, just not in the air before me. I nodded slowly at his every pause, a check to see if I understood – not really – but still, I didn’t want him to think he was wasting his time. My boss was taking precious minutes out of his day to make clear the distinctions between prop and turbo jets, I wasn’t going to say, “Whoa whoa Boss, hold your horses. I drive a Prius and fly economy.”

So I stood very still and listened.

Finally, at the end of the lesson he smiled as though it were all very simple, “Get it?”

I nodded. Oh sure. Yes. Prop. Propeller. Yes. Of course.

“Okay,” he said, “So what’s the difference?”

“Um. Prop jets… use…propellers to push the air and…”

My boss shook his head, “Man, I thought everyone knew this. You learn this in high school physics.”

I pursed my lips and blinked and threw my arms up in the air, “Ah…I  I didn’t take that class.” Then I laughed because that’s what I do when I’m nervous and want to change the subject. 

He slowly pushed himself out of the armchair, almost dazed that I had been under his employment for so long. How did he let me get away with it? How did he let himself get away with it! A year with an assistant who not only made coffee without coffee, but didn’t even have enough beans to fill her own noggin.

“No you didn’t,” he said, “you definitely did not take that class.” 

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10 thoughts on “Mr. Obvious

  1. FIRST! just kidding, you'd be surprised how much a boss's attitude, exec's personality, or a founder's view really impacts company culture from top to bottom. If its any solace, the experience is probably not unique to anyone in your company and its probably not good for anyone who has to report to a higher up. Still, so insightful and interesting! I wish I could write like you do!

  2. Haha yeah I agree that an exec's personality really impacts the company culture… my boss is pretty hands off but that kind of allows things to go wild in certain parts and be tight and controlled in others – there's no unifying kind of leadership because the execs under him all operate really differently. Thanks for the compliment, and keep reading!

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