The Circle of Life


Every year, my travels as ThankingSteve lead me to experiences high, low, and everything in between. This year would be no different. This year ThankingSteve would travel full circle.

I printed two screens to refresh my MacBox, slipped into my ThankingSteve outfit, and packed up boxes of Appleheads as I prepared to visit stores for the fifth year in a row. Rainclouds hung threateningly overhead, but I had traveled through stormy times before and nothing could dampen my spirits today. I set out to prove it.

The first couple of stores got the ball rolling, warming things up while spreading cheer and thanks. New friends and old intermingled for laughs while remembering my visits on previous years. I had posted a special SoundCloud playlist for the day and updated my ThankingSteve buttons with a new design as special tokens for special reconnections. The day was beginning on a high note.

As I edged toward the Oakbrook store, the clouds overhead dribbled with rain they couldn't quite contain, but inside the store was bursting with sunshine. Entering into the excitement, I was barely one table deep into the store when I was surrounded and cheered by employees from prior years and new employees who quickly caught on to the celebration. And what a celebration it was! A crowd of sales staff gathered around for photos—and Live Photos! Old friends caught my eye and shouted their welcome across the tables. I emptied my MacBox of its candy and my pockets of my ThankingSteve buttons. Oakbrook was stretching my limits with returned joy.

A gentle hand pulled me aside. "This is our new store leader. You need to meet him." The friendly long-sleeve gray T-shirted man shook my hand firmly.

"Thank you for stopping by today. This means so much." He put his arm around my shoulder as we smiled for the camera. The irony of being thanked for giving thanks brought my emotions full circle. I was among friends. Once again, I didn't want to leave.

I trekked on from store to store and soon was approaching my store of many experiences: Deer Park. Years of highs and lows, emotional peaks and tepid returns brought my nerves to their edge. What would Deer Park’s reception be today? In previous years, this store had given me the cold shoulder and last year's walking-on-eggshells visit was admittedly anti-climactic.

As I neared the store, one of my mentors texted me a foreshadowing encouragement, "They will surprise you in a good way today." I wanted to give Deer Park my best. They deserved it. I shivered as I crossed the breezy parking lot.

My entrance was low-key as I walked down the center aisle toward the back of the store. It was Halloween afternoon and the store was quiet and calm. One gentleman glanced up from helping a customer as I passed. "Hey, I remember you. You were here before!”

"Yes,” I replied. “I definitely was."

"But that was years ago. And you're back!"

"Yup, that was me." I made my way to the Genius Bar and met a woman with a walkie-talkie. She placed it down on the bar and took my hand.

”This is amazing,” she said, “What you're doing.” We sat on two stools and shared the history of ThankingSteve. Employees snapped photos of us with their iPhones as we sat together in front of the Genius Bar and chatted.

“You know,” I concluded. “This is especially meaningful to me now because this store wasn't always welcoming every year.”

Deer Park had come full circle. From the first year emotional high through their reluctance and tentative reception, we had come full circle to an open appreciation of giving thanks.

Beaming, I hiked on next to the Northbrook store, fronted by two cheerful greeters, and made my way amid the long blond wood tables. I was in the middle of the store when I heard the pitter-patter of feet and a voice behind me. The female greeter from the door held out her box of Appleheads with a stern face. “I can't accept this,” she said tersely. “This is like solicitation. We can't accept this.” She scampered quickly from employee to employee and snatched their boxes of candy I had just given to them. She stuffed them back into my MacBox. “We can’t accept these. This is solicitation.” Surprised and stunned, I stood there in dismay. It was comical, her manic scurrying to collect each little green box, like contraband sweets smuggled in on her watch. Bewildered, I smiled and shook my head. Shrugging, I wandered out of the store. The encounter left me literally speechless.

I had been brushed off before. But after such positive connection at Deer Park, the reception at Northbrook was unexpected. I took a deep breath as I walked through the door at Old Orchard.

Turning around, a young woman faced me shaking her head. “You can't do this here,” she stated. I paused. I had been in this position before. Years prior, Deer Park had given me the opportunity to express myself and my mission. I took that opportunity here.

“Do you know why I’m doing this?” I queried. She looked at me blankly. “It’s not really about the candy. Have you read the story of why I do this?”

“You really can’t do this here,” she repeated.

“You know,” I replied, “I don’t really need to hand out candy. But I do need to thank everyone working here. Do we have a Retina iMac around here?”

“I really can’t have you doing this here,” she insisted. “We go through this with you every year.”

Truth be told, Old Orchard excelled at being welcoming each previous year, to the point of showering me back with their own Halloween gifts. I ignored her misrepresentation and got to my point. “Will you promise me something? I want you to promise me that you will read the story of ThankingSteve.”

“Yes,” she agreed. “I definitely will. But see, here you go, coming in here trying to push a brand and everything…”

I smiled.

“That’s all I want,” I conceded. “And now, I need to thank everyone else working today before I leave.” I wandered off, crossing her path again on my way to the door.

“Do you live nearby?” she quizzed me. “You could always stand outside the store here and hand out candy if you wanted?”

I chuckled. Even I thought that was a bizarre idea, and I wanted to be clear she really understood the message of who I was there to thank.

“You really need to read the story!” I laughed. “But there is one thing you can do for me before I leave. Will you take a photo of me to record my visit?”

“With YOUR phone?” she asked. I didn’t know whose phone she thought I was implying. In the end, she took a great photo and was a good sport. As they say, it’s not about winning or losing, success is all about how you play.


I drove toward home in the misting rain. Two more stores remained on my list. After the last two stops, I was tired and a little discouraged. Who would really know if I didn't make it to the last two? I thought deeply. I would always know, in the same way that I always knew that I had missed getting to Michigan Avenue the year before. I committed to finish my trip. I parked my car and walked to the subway, ready to make my trip downtown on the Red Line. But one stop down the tracks, the doors of each subway car slid open. “We’re sorry,” the loudspeaker blared, “due to a train derailment, everyone must deboard this train. Shuttle buses will be arriving soon that will take you as far as Lawrence where you can reboard the train and continue your journey.”

I would never make it. I glanced at my Apple Watch. I could barely expect to make it to Lincoln Park and I’d surely never make it to Michigan Avenue in time. It seemed impossible. Again I thought: who would really know if I ended my day right here? A voice spoke up in my head, “If you really wanted to get down there, Kevin, you would find a way, wouldn't you?” Standing on the damp street corner, I looked up into the rain-scattered sky and then down at my iPhone. 17 minutes later I was stepping out of an Uber and walking through the giant plate glass doors of the Lincoln Park store.

Entering the store, I could have been Lady Gaga. A cluster of employees in the center of the store cheered my entrance. They had been expecting me. “I was just telling them not to worry—you make it here every year!” proclaimed the leader of the group. It felt good to be welcomed. Everyone wanted their turn for a photograph. But not just any photograph—this was the year of the selfie. The fun trend was as fulfilling for me as for everyone else involved, creating a record of my visit and the fun friends who were glad to share it with me.

Minutes away, the Michigan Avenue store continued the fun. Every year, I visit this store, Apple’s flagship on the Magnificent Mile, as my last visit of the day. The atmosphere at this hour, for a change, is relaxed and calm, the store is starting to empty out—it’s literally Halloween night. Someone always volunteers to photograph me around the store and there’s time to pause for great conversations at the end of the day. Standing with a cluster of employees, one of them leaned over to me. ”So you were at Deer Park recently?” he inquired, and held up his iPhone to display a photo of Sue and I sitting at the Genius Bar.

“I was there today!” I exclaimed. He had recently transferred from the Deer Park store and was still subscribed to their store feed. They had posted the photo of Sue and ThankingSteve for everyone at their store to see.

“Let's take a photo, you and I, to show them you were here today, too,” he smiled.  

My travels had brought me geographically and emotionally full circle. The influence of one person to lift or deflate their environment could not be overstated and I relished my responsibility and contribution at each visit. Every year, I receive as much inspiration as I give, filling me with satisfaction and joy as I drift to sleep after a long rewarding day.

I woke from my sleep in the middle of the night to the chirp of my iPhone. Leaning back on my pillows, I read an email simply titled: “Thank You.”

“I wanted to take a quick second to thank you for what you do. I am anstore employee and this is my 3rd Halloween with the company. As it turns out, I had the day off, but deep down inside, I kinda wanted to go into work knowing that you would visit. I truly can’t thank you enough for doing what you do. As dumb as it may sound, this company has changed my life, it’s given me a reason, it’s given me a purpose. And people like you inspire me to improve, and to do my life’s best work every day.

Thank You & Stay Awesome!!!”

IMG_3348Read about 2016