Bigger, Better, More… Energy


Another year, another Halloween, another crisp October morning. Weeks earlier, Chicago’s Michigan Avenue flagship had reopened on the banks of the Chicago river. Autumn in Chicago brings people out of their homes and shoppers into the streets. The long, hot summer is over and in a mad dash before the winter chill, a renewed energy spills into the streets. It was with that energy that I started my annual October trek to the Chicagoland Apple Stores.

The first store visits began with a bang. The Fall season combined with recent iPhone introductions made for a powerful energy in the air. But it wasn’t long that at one of the early stores I was pulled aside by a manager.

“Where were you at Michigan Avenue?”

“Oh.” I blushed, startled. The Michigan Avenue grand reopening had honestly snuck up on me and I had been preoccupied that weekend with work projects. But he continued,

“Some of the other managers and I were looking for you. We really expected you to be there.”

“Oh, I’m sorry.”

I smiled sheepishly as he began to grin and put his arm around me in a hug.

“You always have a friend here.”

At the following stores, the energy continued to build. Faces from years past abounded and everyone’s spirits were high.

“We knew you would come today,” exclaimed one employee. “We even talked about you in this morning’s Daily Download!”

It was nice to be talked about like this. I stood in the middle of the soaring Oakbrook store, basking in the warmth of sunlight streaming in through the tall front glass walls. I noticed a gray-haired woman standing alone, looking around disoriented.

“How are you doing today?” I walked up and stood alongside her.

“Oh, I missed my Genius appointment and now I don’t know what to do!” She looked me up and down quizzically. I put my arm around her and gestured to a nearby employee.

“Don’t you worry,” I said. “I’ve got someone right here that can help you and I’m sure will get things figured out for you right away.” The employee pulled out his iPad to look up her name.

“Take good care of her,” I said to him. “Thank you so much.” It was the least I could do.

Eventually, I made my way to Deer Park, one of my most engaging stores, always an emotionally-laden visit. We had such history together. Even here, the energy in the air was overflowing. “I’ve seen you before!” “I’ve seen you every year!” “We’ll see you next year!” The exchanges were warm and welcoming. As I made my way back to the entrance, the door-watcher issued a terse reprimand:

“I can’t… I really can’t have you interacting with customers.”

I wished him well as I made my way to the door and out into the parking lot. I had stepped out this door many times before, under even stronger clouds of misunderstanding than today. But today I needed to clear the air. I turned around, stepped back inside, and approached the young gentleman again.

“I just need to clarify something,” I said. “I respect you very much. But I’m not here to interact with your customers at all. I’m here to thank you for the work you’re doing.” He stared silently while an employee I greeted earlier stood nearby cracking a smile.

“I don’t know if you hear what I’m saying. But I had to come back in just to clearly thank you for everything you do. That’s why I’m here today.”

I’d learnt so many things from these interactions over the years. Sometimes you must speak even when you’re not sure you’re being heard. I smiled and stepped back out onto the sidewalk.

As I moved through the following stores, the vibrant reactions and comments continued:

“It’s so great to finally meet you!”

“I’ve heard so much about you!”

“I’ll see you next year!!”

At last I made my way to the Michigan Avenue store, its thin carbon fiber roof suspended in air as its soaring glass walls dissolved into the night sky. Sneaking around the adjacent Tribune Tower, I traced the river walk, and slipped into the front of the store with my MacBox glowing against the inky river view behind me.

Arriving at Michigan Avenue at the end of their evening is always a calm, but exciting end to the day. Customers have dispersed and the store is more still than most evenings. But this was not my final stop of the day. I had saved one store for last: Lincoln Park.

Lincoln Park is a dynamic, stainless steel slab of a store perched on a triangular sliver of land shared with the North/Clybourn Red Line station. Open on two sides, with doorways on three, the store embodies the spirit of passage—a doorway to the neighborhood around it as well as an opening to the world of technology, not just a destination, but a gateway along your journey. Here I planned to end my evening.

As every year, they were expecting me. Reengaging with friends, by now many years over, the store slowly emptied out of customers. The day had finally come to a long end. Standing in the empty store, the plates of glass and stainless steel towered around me as row upon row of tables flanked the space. Space was all that was left without the people. And it was all about the people. Every year, it was for the people that I visited.

They started to clap. The remaining employees stood lined up, iPhones rolling. I made my way to the door, waving my exit to my own Apple clap-out. They truly had made me not want to leave. This energy was all about the people.

Two days later, I received an email. As always it was unexpected and made me smile.

“While waiting my turn to see a "Genius" at the Oak Brook Apple Store I saw "Steve Jobs.” I was thrilled when he approached to assist me with my problem. How clever to dress as Mr. Jobs on Halloween! I proceeded to explain why I was there. Quickly he explained he didn’t work there but was "treating" people at this Apple Store. I was tricked! I loved the creativity shown in his endeavors, his persona, the Applehead candy, and the genuine hug I received. You made my day! Thank you!”

It’s all about the people indeed.


Once again, my Fall schedule took my travels to Southeast Asia. This year I would fly through Hong Kong, planning a few days vacation at the end of my trip to relax and explore Hong Kong. And explore I did.

Being on foreign soil, the Halloween holiday didn’t carry the same cultural impact, and traveling through China in November gave even less weight to my candy gimmick. Just as well, because after two weeks in the humid climate, the small amount of Appleheads I brought with me had melted into one solid sugary mess. If ever I felt I needed the crutch of candy, Hong Kong would prove me wrong, as their resounding reaction would drown out any need for additional props.

Hong Kong has six Apple Stores, scattered across a dense cluster of islands, connected by a virtual second-city of underground concourses and Metro lines. Staying in central Kowloon, I began my Saturday at the furthest store, a small, new location far-flung from the downtown action. New Town Plaza greeted me with a warm welcome from manager Jerri and her gang. Calm and gracious, her eyes welled-up as I explained my visit.

“Oh my,” she smiled glowingly, “That touches me so much.”

I moved on, making my way to my next location, Festival Walk. Hong Kong shoppers were out in droves on a busy Saturday morning and the mall’s Christmas tree soared through the venue’s three shopping levels. Approaching the store on the second floor of the mall, I caught the front greeter’s eye as he pointed to me in amazement. I pointed back as I neared him and exclaimed, “Heyyy!” Every employee in the store swung their head my direction and in unison responded with a bellow:


I smiled, surprised and delighted at the same time. Festival Walk was the most welcoming of my Hong Kong visits. A couple of their managers stepped forward to give me a tour deep into their store, at the time the largest footprint in-mall Apple Store. I left them my newest ThankingSteve button, a square pin simply emblazoned with the motto: “I am ThankingSteve,” to hang in their back room for all employees to remember.

From there I continued on my jaunt around Hong Kong, on the Metro and on foot, visiting one store where the manager gathered all of us in front of the giant video screen for a photo, to another almost overflowing to capacity. While I stood respectfully inside the doorway and spoke with a couple employees, it was customers filing in and out that asked for a photo with ThankingSteve. From ifc Mall with its three narrow floors towering overlooking the bay to bustling Canton Road, a street lined with glittery fashion boutiques and street-vendors hawking their in-demand iPhone X stock.

This last store also was comprised of three floors, a fact I only learnt at the last minute, though nearly every employee I encountered on the main and upper floors repeated the Alamo-reminiscent refrain: “Don’t forget to visit the basement!” Finally, I made my way to the lower floor, where I found just as much excitement as on the two others. Employees with orange hair and bright overall jumpers would have been just at home wandering in from the high-fashion decked streets outside. I lingered in the basement as long as I could; this was my last stop on these shores and I wanted to savor this energy as long as possible. As I ascended the staircase to the upper level, I waved to everyone below. Reflecting the beginning and ending of my MacBox slideshow, this was a “hello” as much as it was a “goodbye.” A jubilant employee screamed from the basement crowd,

“We love you, Steve!!”

Oh, Hong Kong—I ❤️ you, too!

IMG_4184Read about 2018