Cold Hands, Warm Heart


A chill wind had blown into town and in the icy air it felt more like Christmastime than Halloween. Snow flurries began to fall as I pulled into the Orland Park Mall parking lot, but the morning was already warm with expectation. Throughout the day, despite the elements, that warmth would grow.

Each year I place stickers on the boxes of Appleheads candy I hand out, referring people to read the story on The previous year I had been lazy and instead of cutting exact stickers like the year before, I took the easy way out, printed round stickers, and placed them over one of the cartoon Apple faces on one side of each box. Imagine my surprise this year when I opened a case of Appleheads at the last minute—and they changed the box! One whole side of the box was now printed with nutritional information, ingredients, and allergy warnings. Helpful information, but all information that I could not cover. Painstakingly, the night before Halloween I cut 300 custom-sized stickers to fit cleanly along one narrow side of every box of candy. Three hours it took me, but the result was clean-edged perfection. Every detail matters.

I walked through the snow flurries and into immediate fun at the Orland Park Apple Store. “I remember seeing you every year!" I obviously wasn't the only one with high expectations for the day. Posing for photographs suddenly became warm reunions, because now I had visited with these same people four years in a row. As extra special souvenirs, I designed round ThankingSteve buttons, small tokens for special friends to remember the day.

The cold began to sweep across the city. I braced myself against strong gusts as I traveled from store to store. Early holiday shoppers were bustling about in droves, creating parking mayhem in the small downtown streets of Naperville and scattering the sidewalks with scurrying, shivering bodies. I trekked onward.

In place of Oakbrook's old, low-ceilinged, cramped quarters, I found a new, towering volume of a store, with a soaring glass wall front letting the warm sun stream in over the crowd gathered inside. I pulled open the large glass door and entered into a party of iPads, iPhones, and iMacs. Soon I was surrounded, chatting with new faces, handing out candy, testing the larger size of the new iPhone 6 Plus for myself, and waiting on a line of employees wanting to grab a photo with ThankingSteve. The new, spacious store had expanded everyone's excitement to overflowing capacity. I truly didn't want to leave. But everything must move on.

Passing through the Woodfield Mall with its aisles full of trick-or-treaters, I was cruised by a strikingly handsome Latin man who smiled and looked me up and down. I smiled back. Steve Jobs obviously still had it.

I drove on, heading to the Apple Store that in years past had given me both the warmest and coldest shoulder—Deer Park. This year I vowed to tread lightly with extra consideration, with an abundance of respect, and—after previous years’ rejection—no candy. I entered the store to shake hands and simply give thanks. Chuckles and smiles greeted me and gave way to quizzical looks. “What’s this? Why are you doing this?” I carried with me the appearance of a Halloween party-of-one. As I circled around the store, one employee looked at me blankly. “What’s this all about?” she gestured at me. I tried to explain, but my cautiousness had landed like a dud. As it turns out, the act of handing out candy is the embodiment of thanks, a physical symbol that people can literally get a hold of. As any mom could tell me, without the gimmick of candy, Halloween doesn’t make sense.

It began to sleet as I made my way through the Northbrook and Old Orchard stores, hurrying through the frozen pellets to get back to my car. I stopped halfway through the parking lot. Oh no—I hadn’t stopped to see my pals at the Pandora jewelry store. I hesitated, and turning around, headed back through the open-air mall. I burst into the little store and was met with a look of surprise. “Wait! Wait! They’re in the back!” Out emerged the girls I had met the previous two years, both brightly and comically dressed up as Thing 1 and Thing 2 from Dr. Seuss’ The Cat in the Hat. I started laughing. How fun it was to both give and receive some fun each year.

I hurried back to my car and scraped a mound of sleet and snow off the windshield. I still needed to make my way downtown, and the frigid bout of weather wasn’t making it easy.

Swinging through the Lincoln Park store, I was greeted by a cluster of employees. "We knew you’d eventually make it!” one of them exclaimed, as another hustled me over to an entrance on the opposite wall. A young boy had entered the store dressed in a large multi-color sandwich board—he was dressed as an iPad. Steve Jobs meets his iPad. As we stood together for a photo, I couldn’t tell which one of us was more pleased.

The sleet had turned to a pitter-patter of rain as I emerged from the subway and hustled down Michigan Avenue toward my last store of the day—the Magnificent Mile’s flagship Apple Store. It was just past 8 as I made my way up to the large plate-glass doors.

The doors were locked.

A security guard stood on the other side of the doors with his back turned. I could see one or two last customers on the far side of the store being attended to at the cash counter. How had I missed this? The Michigan Avenue store now closed an hour earlier on Fridays and Saturdays. My mind raced. I could tap on the door, get the guards attention, maybe make my way inside to pass off some candy to the few remaining sales people. A handful of tourists milled around me, trying to avoid the quickening raindrops. It had been a long day. I barely had the energy to make a scene.

As my thoughts swirled, I glanced down at my iPhone. An Apple employee I met earlier in the day had sent me a message:

“I don’t know if you’ve ever worked atbefore, but my favorite part is meeting stellar people who remind me that the world is an extraordinary place and how lucky I am to be a part of it. I’m battling cancer right now (it’s not that bad), but for that reason and a million other ones Steve Jobs has always been a hero of mine. It was so nice of you to spread Halloween cheer! And so surreal too!”

I thought about all the warm, wonderful, stellar people like this woman I had encountered during my day and the impression they had made on me, the lessons they had taught me. I thought of the untold number of people I still had yet to meet, if not today, in the years to come. The rain had tapered off. The cluster of people around me began to disperse. I stepped back out onto Michigan Avenue, heading toward the subway.

There’s always next year.

IMG_0293Read about 2015