New Friends and Neighbors


The morning of October 31, 2013 broke with rain. Warm, clammy, soggy rain. I furrowed under my covers and thought of not getting out of bed. Last year’s frustration had put a dampening cloud over today. But the forecast held more than a dreary day in store: a day full of new friends and neighbors.

With foggy windows and threadbare tires, I packed an umbrella along with plastic garbage bags and set out on my trip. The rain and traffic slowed me down. As I trekked from store to store, some faces were familiar, but some were missing. Employees had been shuffled to different stores and the cute spiky-haired blonde was nowhere to be found. I turned round and round in one store to faced a group of wide-eyes faces in Apple t-shirts.

"These are our new hires," their leader introduced me. They were starting work during the busiest days at the busiest time of year. Their faces were beaming. I thanked them and wished them luck as they plunged into selling iPhones and iPads. The store was packed wall-to-wall with people and needed all the help it could get.

I traipsed on through the rain and looked up at one nameless store, bright cubes of color placed prominently above their door. I knew these colors--it was the Microsoft Store.

The front facade was covered in a gleaming colorless surface, interrupted by edge-to-edge walls of glass. I entered through large, plate-glass doors into a wide, brightly-lit room. Clean, modern wood tables were covered with neat rows of small electronics. Groups of employees wore varying bright colored t-shirts with name-tags hung around their necks on lanyards. Large monitors surrounding the walls lit up with glamour shots of sleek consumer products, fading out from one sexy, angled view and into the next. A cluster of employees greeted me, offering assistance in friendly tones. I was the only customer in the store. And I was ThankingSteve.

Together we chuckled and gathered round to share candy and laughs. Out came the gifts: pens, pencils, squishy balls, miniature pumpkins, a mini umbrella (smart thinking!), small Skype rocket ships (go figure!). I gathered more gifts than I had received at any of the Apple Stores. The generosity was unending. I posed for photos around the store, talked shop about Windows Phone vs. iOS 7, asked questions about business accounts. All this time, the store was empty, but not because these people weren't trying. They quipped as I finally packed up to leave, "Maybe next year we'll be remembering Steve... BALLMER." Indeed, we would be.

I continued my journey with the spirit of helpfulness spurring me on. I realized that the entire store experience I just visited had, in all reality, been molded by Steve Jobs.

I arrived at the next Apple Store coinciding with mall trick-or-treaters. I was met with quizzical looks from new employees that morphed into smiles and laughs. Candy was shared, more photos, more gifts for Steve. On the way back to my car, three pussycat-painted ladies waved me into their store. We exchanged candy and I was back on my way.

I trudged on through the rain. The showers got heavier, and under the shelter of my umbrella, I slipped into the Deer Park store, the site of both emotional highs and emotional lows in previous years. "Oh, we really can't accept any gifts..." I was greeted with hesitation and a weak explanation. "We have this policy..."

"Really...” I audibly sighed, "This store again?" They were letting the strict letter of the law prevent them from accepting my thanks. I paused and carefully removed my dripping glasses. “You know what," I said, "It’s not about the candy.” A handful of employees had gathered around a table facing me. “Let me tell you why I’m doing this.” They were good sports, and listened as I explained The Story of ThankingSteve, including my emotional first-year visit to the Deer Park store. “I don’t need to hand out candy,” I continued, “but I’m going to thank each and every person here.” I walked throughout the store, shaking hands, stopping for photos, commenting on fun outfits employees were wearing. All proving that you don’t always need candy to get your message across—but it does make it a lot more fun.

I entered the next store late in the afternoon and scanned the crowd. “Is there someone working here named…”

“Oh yes! Hold on, she’s in the back. She’s been waiting for you!” The employee made a call to the back room. My friend from previous years emerged onto the sales floor.

“I knew you’d get here while I was at lunch,” she asserted.

“How’s that?” I asked.

“Because I’ve been following you online all day to see when you’d show up!” She turned and introduced me to a few additional employees. “I’ve told them all about you, they just had to meet you!"

It was fun reconnecting with a familiar face amid all the new ones. Scurrying past a nearby Pandora jewelry store, I recognized more faces inside. I had stopped at this store each previous year, and once again stepped inside to share my extra candy. Friends sharing with friends. In a small moment of laughter, we shared some joy. I hardly noticed the rain.

I had met lots of delays, and it was in the last hour of their day that I made it to Chicago’s flagship store on Michigan Avenue. The weather, and the late hour, had left the store quiet and empty. I climbed the glass staircase to the second floor. One Genius took my iPhone and handed it to another. “Alex is studying photography—she’ll take much better photos of you.”

I struck up a conversation with a young couple at the Genius Bar. “This is amazing. How long have you been doing this?” the stylish Asian woman leaned over to ask me. “You need to do this more.” I looked up at the large Apple window cut deep into the wall above my head and remembered all the people I had met that day.

“Yes,” I said. “I do.”

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