Upgrade Edition


Anything worth doing is worth doing again. This year was all about the upgrades. Let's start with the Mac. My Fome-Cor box had barely survived the first year’s travels. I turned to my furniture-maker to build a reinforced plywood replica of my original stylized Mac-box sturdy enough to lug candy around the city.

Of course, I wanted my Mac to be authentic in both look AND color. I turned to Fine Paints of Europe, faxing Pantone headquarters for the formula for Pantone 453, the color of the original Mac. I opened the paint can and stared into what looked like a $50 can of pea soup. Oh, dear. But, miraculously, as the paint dried, my Mac-box became that unquestionable 1984 beige.

My preparations continued. I stopped shaving 14 days in advance and scheduled a haircut for October 30th. I printed stickers saying "ThankingSteve.com" and days ahead, I traveled to the Ferrara Pan factory store to pick up my boxes of…

"No, we're all out of Appleheads."

What?? I panicked. What would I do without candy? Postpone? Cancel my trip? Scour every candy store throughout Chicago for over 200 boxes of Appleheads? No need to worry. The following day, I received a phone call. The factory had sent over a case of Appleheads for me, and early on Halloween morning--already dressed in my mock turtleneck and Levi's--I picked up my Appleheads and started on my journey.

Starting at Orland Park, I was immediately recognized and started posing for photos with employees I had met the year before. It was good to be back.

Tweeting my way between stores, I breezed through Naperville, as busy as ever. Customers joined in and tweeted about the fun throughout the following days.

At Oak Brook I reconnected with the fun, spikey-haired blond I had met on my first visit. The fun was really getting started. Chatting with some employees, I turned to an executive-looking man standing next to me. "Did you get some candy?" I asked.

"Are you with Apple?" he questioned, looking at me puzzled. I didn't know how to respond. "Did Corporate send you?"

Damn. SHOULD I say Corporate sent me? "Oh, no, I'm just doing this myself," I replied.
"So if I eat this--I won't die?" he asked. He took the candy.

I chuckled and assured him that none of the sealed boxes of hard sugar candy had ever left my possession, plus I was highly traceable--I had slapped a "ThankingSteve.com" sticker on every box of Appleheads.

On next to Woodfield, where the celebration really exploded. Kelly, once again wearing her black lace tutu, was there to greet me as the guys at the Genius Bar pulled people out from the back room to take photos with ThankingSteve. I had underestimated the Woodfield store the previous year, and this time they pulled out all the stops to make me feel welcome.

My heart was full of glee as I drove on toward Deer Park, where I had experienced such emotion the year before. I entered the store during a mid-afternoon lull to find most of the employees back near the Genius Bar. One woman stood answering a customer's questions by the door. I stopped and greeted her. "Thank you," I said, reaching into my box to give her some candy.

"No. We can't take anything from you."

I paused. "OK," I said, "I'll just go thank the others over there."

"No," she insisted. "We can't take anything from you. You can't do this, and I'm going to have to ask you to leave."

I stopped--a little stunned. Did she not realize that I was dressed like Steve Jobs?--on Halloween?--in the Apple Store? "You do know," I explained, "That I am only doing this out of my thanks and appreciation…"

"We know, and we appreciate that very much, but I have to ask you to leave now." It was pure corporate double-speak. Every other employee was at the other side of the store. She wouldn't even let me speak to them.

"How unfortunate," I said. "This store has been so welcoming in the past." I turned and stepped out the door.

I sat in my car, crushed. Well that's the end of this idea, I thought. I felt like going right home. Yet I had boxes full of candy and four stores still unvisited. I would drive right past one of them on my path home. I'll just make myself go to Northbrook, I told myself. That would be my test. I'd prop myself up, act the part, and if Northbrook was a flop, I'd give up and head home.

Northbrook is a nice store. In fact, it's the store where I most often personally shop. But my first year's visit had fallen at the end of the work-day, and it was admittedly a pretty unexciting visit. I was resigned to going home, but I committed myself to one more stop to prove that I could follow through. The rest of the day hinged on this store. I forced a smile as I walked into the Northbrook Court mall.

"WOOOOOOOOAAAAAAHHHH!!!!" Four Apple employees greeted me with cheers as I walked into the store. It was as if someone had called on my way and told them my mood needed to be lifted. "This is fantastic!!" Their enthusiasm actually caught me off-guard. For 4:30 in the afternoon, these guys had all the energy I needed. But it wasn't about me. Their spirit was infectious. Suddenly I saw the Northbrook store like never before, the guys helped me stage fun photos with poses (TWICE, when I realized we were shooting in portrait), and most of all--I was having fun. And I wasn't going home.

I was quickly over at the Old Orchard store, where everyone continued the good feelings. Old Orchard seems to be a very small, square store, but every time I turned around, someone else was smiling--encouraging and thankful. "Here," someone said, "this is for you," as he handed me a small packet of three round magnets with the Apple logo in black, orange, and silver. Apparently, Apple had prepared for Halloween visitors after all.

"Thank you so much!" I laughed, "No one EVER gets anything for Steve!"

I drove toward home to park my car and hop the train downtown to the last two stores. It was dark out as I arrived at the Lincoln Park store, a new store whose courtyard spills into the adjacent subway station. I was immediately encouraged seeing a few older gentlemen working at the store, a positive sign in an industry that often leans toward just hiring the young and hip. I was also immediately surrounded. To these men, Steve Jobs was not just the outsider's image of a cool, successful CEO. They had lived through the 1970s and 80s, and had memories of Apple and Steve similar to watching a child grow, or a good friend mature. Real memories. In hushed voices they took my hands to thank me--me, who was there to thank THEM.

A customer noticed us and questioned me, "Why are you doing this?"

I launched into an explanation of my outfit, the Mac, the Appleheads…

"No," she interrupted. "Why are YOU doing this?"

She was making me think. And making me explain specifically the obsessiveness, the perfectionism, the love of design that Steve Jobs embodied that impressed me so much. THIS was why I was doing this, why I was spending my day… THANKING Steve.

Mrs. Campbell and the Lincoln Park store had given me a double punch. I went on and visited the Michigan Avenue store last, taking photos and tweeting progress along my way. It had been a long day with its ups and downs, seeing “Steve” get kicked out of Apple again and rising to be back on top of the world. I had learned more than my share of lessons about importance, self-esteem, and humility, and for that I was truly thankful. Late that night, as if to remind me, I received an email titled simply: "Thanks."

"I was one of the geniuses you passed out candy to today at Northbrook. In an instant I remembered your visit from last year, as well.

Thanks so much for stopping by and keeping Steve's memory alive. It made mine and my customer's day."

IMG_3411Read about 2013