Over the last two years, I had brought ThankingSteve to mainland China, Hong Kong, and Philadelphia. This year I was determined to travel to places even closer to my heart, so I planned an early Spring escape from Chicago’s frigid Winter to the city of my birth—Boston. What better weekend in March to visit Bean-town than St. Patrick’s Day, when all the city would be in a spirit of celebration. It was for these extra-special days that ThankingSteve was made.

Boston would also break my record of store visits in one day. The Boston area contains ten Apple Stores (apologies for missing Holyoke!), one more than Chicago’s nine. It all went off without a hitch. This was my first serious visit since I left Boston for college and everywhere I traveled, from restaurants to the T to each and every Apple Store, everyone responded with the same personal greeting: “Welcome home!”

Nearing the end of the day, only an hour before closing, my path ended at Apple Boylston Street. Night had fallen and Boston was already in a preliminary buzz as shoppers emptied out of stores on nearby Newbury Street and headed to begin, or continue, the day’s celebrations. The store was nearly empty as I entered, employees standing in a large arc inside the door, observing passers-by outside. Inside, we started our own celebration. Employees proudly donned “I am ThankingSteve” buttons, eyed the few boxes of candy I had toted in my MacBox for the trip, and after viewing my slideshow of Apple Stores around the world, exclaimed “Where’s Boylston Street?!” A group photo was in order and we lined up like the stars of our own superhero movie.

Witness to this ecstatic celebration, one lone remaining customer asked if she could also have a button. I stepped aside, offering her candy and a ThankingSteve card. “I watched as you came in,” she recounted to me. “You’re like a celebrity here.”

I chuckled. In my everyday life, I can be a more self-centered, type-A personality maintaining control, and credit, when it’s due. Yet on days like this, it’s refreshing to set that aside, give up myself and take on the cloak of a different persona, while putting the emphasis on thanking others. We talked about the origin of ThankingSteve, how many years it had been, and my thoughts for how many years before I might stop.

“Do you know what I think?” the customer interrupted, glancing over at the employees still gathered laughing near the front of the store. She leaned toward me, “I don’t think you should ever stop.”

I had seen Boylston Street to their closing hour and was beat after my long day as I stepped onto the subway. Groups of college kids filed on and off heading to their own festivities. Three guys and a gal entered the car and sat opposite me. “Hey,” one of them chuckled, pointing “It’s Steve Jobs.” The girl rolled her eyes toward me and shook her head apologetically.

“It’s a long story,” I replied, and handed her a ThankingSteve card.

“Tell us about it!” I swiped through the slideshow and reached into my MacBox for two ThankingSteve T-shirts I had brought just in case the perfect opportunity arrived. This was that fun opportunity. When we parted ways a few stops later, my new friends were wearing their ThankingSteve T-shirts and hollering back their social media handles. Only in Boston, my hometown, just when you think the party’s over—there’s an after-party.

Spring continued to warm and in April, work took me to the Bay Area, attending to design duties in Fremont and dropping my colleagues at SFO on an early Saturday morning. I would spend the long weekend in San Francisco. I had places to go and people to thank. I wove my way toward the city, through Hillsdale and Burlingame, until I reached Stonestown Galleria. It was 2 o’clock Saturday afternoon and the mall was swamped with barely a parking space to spare. I always understand I’m visiting a place of business, so the earlier or later my visits fall, the better. This wasn’t just a mall store, it was a busy mall store. I wondered if I should pass on by, but resigned myself to at least a quick stop. In my view, a short visit was better than no visit.

My first greeting was from an employee in a wheelchair—kind, friendly, and as warm as the California sun beaming out in the parking lot. I ventured further into the store, each person I met friendlier than the last. I paused to converse with a customer being trained by a Genius, her curiosity pulling out more and more of the stories of my travels. My experience as a New England yankee hadn’t prepared me for my first trip to California. My west coast stereotypes were all wrong. Not only was the store not too busy for my visit, Californians were just too friendly to overlook.

Checking in for the night, I grabbed an afternoon nap before breezing by the Marina to visit Chestnut Street and stopped at Union Square to finish my evening. Even here, customers engaged and conversed well into my visit, making me feel honored to be a guest in their store and their state. But the weekend was just the beginning, my big plans started Monday morning.

Early Monday I headed out from San Francisco. The week before I had traveled up and down the 101, an industrial route along the Bay running past the airport down to San Jose, grimy and well-trodden, a pathway that had dissolved my romantic visions of the Golden State. This morning, however, Siri directed me via 280–the Junipero Serra Freeway—a soft, winding highway through the rolling green foothills. Teslas and Porches coasted past my azure Hyundai rental lulling me with their shared lanes. This was the road the privileged traveled and at least for these moments, I was welcome to join them.

It was the crack of 9AM as I parked amid a precisely full lot on the Infinite Loop campus and walked my way to the afore-named Company Store. The grounds were eerily quiet as if not to disturb my silent concentration. Up a handful of deliberately placed steps, I walked into the newly renovated space, a pristinely wide sliver of a store alongside one wing of 1 Infinite Loop. I was the first customer of the day—and I was ThankingSteve.

I stood transfixed inside the doorway, facing nearly every one of the few employees in the store, as I explained my presence, my visit, my mission of thanks. I was noticeably choked up. A woman in the center of the group spoke up first, glancing back and forth at the others and interrupting the end of my introduction. She turned toward me, her eyes watery and full.

“We have something for you,” she offered. “We’d like you to have this.”

I stood speechless. The tables were so kindly turned. I was prepared to give thanks, but was stunned to receive them. This moment bonded us like no other. We were one and the same. I was one of them. I brushed back my tears.

“Now it’s time for some photos,” one of them announced, and I jumped at the chance.

“Oh—yes! I’d love to capture my visit to your beautiful store.”

“We’re actually gonna go outside,” he replied. “I have some ideas.”

We proceeded to take some photos in front of the giant “1” in front of the main building and then he gestured for me to follow as he headed toward the front doors. Really, I thought, I’m no one—they’re not gonna let me inside. My photographer/guide had stopped in front of the doors and turned around.

“There’s a classic photo of Steve walking out of this building taken from this doorway.” He looked at me intently. “You’re gonna walk, I’m gonna shoot, and we’ll recreate that photo now.”

I stepped back inside to bid farewell. I was headed next to visit Apple Park—the Spaceship, the Mothership, the Ring—but this had already been the iconic stop of my trip. In 7 years of ThankingSteve, no store had brought me to tears like Infinite Loop.

I ascended the stairs from the underground parking garage directly in front of the Apple Park visitors center and stepped through the large plate glass doors under the thin suspended carbon fiber roof. Two cheerful faces greeted me, excited to welcome me to their new home. “We’re so glad you’re here,” they opined. “Would you like a personal tour? Let’s get someone to show you around.” A smiling face was summoned, dark curls surrounding a beaming grin. Orlando would be my personal tour guide.

We began on the roof, sight-lines skimming the trees to glimpse the horizontal spanse of roof rising from the evergreens opposite us. Frank Loyd Wright had said, “The horizontal line is the line of domesticity.” The Ring stretched wide, completely at home sunk behind the trees.

From the roof, we descended the pristine stairs, noting their flawless, seamless construction. We entered the AR demonstration area where Orlando handed me to another employee for the demonstration. Literal tons of aluminum poised on hairpin legs created a map of the new campus. Viewing through the augmented reality window of an iPad, the campus terrain unfolded in detail and structure. I set my MacBox on the floor and delved in.

From this technology display, we moved back into the main floor, where everyone gathered for photos, including John, renowned for his panoramic shot of Angela Ahrendts a few months earlier. We had taken our own panoramic photo on the roof. John put his arm around me and struck a pose.

“Can I hold the Box?” he asked.

In seven years of travels, no one else had ever asked to hold the Box. It was a request I couldn’t deny. We posed as iPhones cameras snapped away.

I heard a voice yell out of the crowd. “You made it!” A young man raced across the polished floor, arms outstretched to embrace me. “You made it! You made it! I knew you would make it here!”

They knew I was coming. Days earlier, employees at Stonestown had sent video clips of ThankingSteve to them. I felt a tug on my sleeve. An employee pulled me outside to take a photo “only possible here at Apple Park.” Standing on the dividing line between the terrazzo pavement and the rest of the yard, I stood exactly underneath the fine-line edge of the carbon fiber roof. Perfectly balanced in place, we created a dramatic high-contrast shot. Tibor was pleased.

I glanced at my Apple Watch. I had allotted an hour for my visit, and now nearly two hours had passed. I truly felt like I belonged here.

Two stores remained, Stanford and Palo Alto—Steve’s own store. I had just enough time to stop as I headed toward the airport, but each visit was worth the time.

At Stanford, I approached a young employee conversing with a customer at the accessory wall.

“Don’t let me interrupt you,” I said, “but thank you so much for everything you do.” I reached out my hand to the employee while the customer looked on, a tall woman with flowing garb and cascading hair to match. The woman introduced herself after looking me over.

“I knew Steve,” she stated. “We went to many cocktail parties together. And I think what you’re doing is fantastic.” I smiled. The wisdom in her voice touched me deeply. I had never dreamed this endeavor would bring me this far. From a one-time tribute, ThankingSteve had grown to an annual Chicago tradition, brought me to distant shores, and now to Apple’s home turf. Who knows where I would go next?

Autumn smiled, “This thing has legs!” she said with a wink.


Warm weather rolled around, and as July approached, I was itching to travel again. Despite my voyages to far lands, some of the closest areas still remain undiscovered. I headed for the 4th up north across the Wisconsin state line.

Two stores in Milwaukee greeted me, cheerful and bubbly on this jubilant Fourth of July. My travels by now had perfected each visit—short, sweet, direct and powerful. I drove onward to the distant store in Madison. Madison is a progressive, college town and the employees’ spirited energy was unmistakable. Here everything that was rote about these visits to me was brand new to them. Their wonder invigorated me and caught me off guard when they asked—When are you coming back next?

Ah, youth!

For the third year, I traveled to Asia in the fall. This year, I would make stops in Shanghai and nearby cities. My excitement was uncontainable. The first stores I would visit were in the high-tech, yet historic, city of Hangzhou. First stopping at MixC, I hopped the Metro subway to the tourist and shopping Mecca of West Lake. From across the street, I could see the store was bustling with shoppers. Only making two stops that evening, I decided to let the store empty out a bit while I enjoyed the balmy late-summer air and people-watched the richly varied international crowds.

When I entered West Lake an hour later, I quickly drew my own crowd. Employees and customers alike pressed closely in a throng to see my MacBox slideshow and grab a photo of ThankingSteve. A security guard stepped forward. The rest of the store was empty. We were creating a situation. I wrapped my arm around him in thanks while excusing myself with one of the managers to the upper floor. I filled her in on my travels and we returned to the locked first floor for photos and shared stories with the other employees.

Walking back to my room across the sparkling city through bright and shadowy street corners, I let my emotion settle in like the humid night air. Traveling to China is always an other-worldly experience, but the Apple Stores made me feel right at home. The following day I travelled back to Shanghai. I had an exciting weekend planned that would start bright and early Saturday morning.

Walking from the French Concession, my first stop was Shanghai iapm, where I was greeted with surprise and glee. But that was just the start. Down the road, Hong Kong Plaza followed, where an employee named Swift (yes!) told me I was welcome in their store anytime I visited Shanghai. I stepped aside with one of the managers to talk about the lessons my travels had taught me. We stood in the light of the glowing Apple logo near their upper mall entrance comparing life lessons that rise above our daily routine. Good times.

By the time I reached Nanjing East, Saturday shoppers were out in full swarm. I’ve said that Nanjing East is Shanghai’s busiest Apple Store, yet the team handled it all with perfect balance. Graciously, they asked me to join in a ‘Today at Apple’ workshop, assisting with photography tips and illustrating the importance of good lighting techniques. I had traveled thousands of miles to give back a little thanks and here I had the opportunity to give back even a little more.

The last visit of my day was to Pudong, the first Apple Store in Shanghai, planned by Steve himself with a towering cylinder of glass rising above the underground store. I descended the glass spiral staircase into a sunken space surprisingly flooded with light. The staff was at attention. They knew I was coming.

The efficient team at Nanjing East had messaged photos of my visit before I had arrived so the team at Pudong would be prepared. And prepared they were. Conversations, photos, laughter and touching thoughts permeated our visit, while customers engaged and joined in on their own. In culmination, we stepped outside to capture a photo in the shadow of the towering translucent tube soaring above the store.

While the Apple manager positioned himself for the best angle, a young man ran down the wide stairs into the basin of the plaza, hysterical with jubilation. He was arriving for work at Apple and even in his street clothes, stumbling onto this persona, this personality, this vision of ThankingSteve was larger than life. Barely able to stand still during our photo, he effused his thanks, his admiration, his unspeakable respect for Steve Jobs. I stood alongside him, quieted and humbled by his immeasurable emotion. Many may wonder why I travel thousands of miles to offer thanks to people I otherwise may never get to know. In that moment, it was crystal-clear to me. This was my reason. This was why.

This love.



"🌏 Dear Chicago, I’ve been around the world and it’s been a year since I’ve seen you, but today is our day. Let’s catch up. "

@ThankingSteve, 10/31/2018

In the previous 12 months, I had literally circled the globe: Hong Kong, Boston, San Francisco, Cupertino, Milwaukee, Madison, Hangzhou, Shanghai. My travels had brought me to over 30 more Apple Stores, each with an energy, purpose, and sense of community that elevated my visits in the spirit of thankfulness.

And now it was time to come home.

How much I had learned from each and every person I met, interactions I would never have experienced had I not embarked on this journey of ThankingSteve. Gratitude changes you and this venture had shown me that you never really know what you’ll receive until you put yourself out there.

Visiting the Chicago stores once again brought immediate comfort and familiarity. After traversing the globe, these were my stores, my people. This was where I literally had begun my journey of thanks. How great it was to return.

Newly renovated stores sparkled in the morning light—smooth expanses of pale stone, wrapped embraces of lush woods, and seemingly acres of crystal-clear glass. As with fashion, change is refreshing and invigorating as new surfaces, textures, and forms replace the old. But these changes that I had witnessed sweeping across the company’s stores brought more. Here, every detail had not only been improved, each tied even tighter together in a unified vision. Tabletops were lower, surfaces were smoother, colors warmer and more comforting, even the lighting was brighter while more softly diffused. A design accomplishment, the sum truly was more than its parts.

At each store, new and old faces abounded. From the back of one store, a business team member emerged to recount each previous year they had encountered my visit. Our conversation wandered from the prior day’s iPad Pro keynote to the glimmering gold Series 4 Watch he was wearing and back around to the heart of my source of thanks. The thanks I give covers many facets: a big-picture thanks for connection to a company pushing the balance of technology and design—not an easy task in a world where beauty and the arts take a back seat to profits. But also, I offer a more intimate, more essential thanks. A company is nothing without its front-line agents, the customer-facing individuals who are the immediate hands and body of the institution. This daily “down-and-dirty” is where many giants stumble. Retail interactions span every gamut of customer service and to each and every team member serving at Apple I am effusive in my thanks.

At one gleaming new store I encountered a senior customer couple, she in a bright exotic layered fashion ensemble and he full of just as richly meaningful questions. We delved into an immediate rapport on society, technology, and culture. These sparks of familiarity between strangers remind me that everything is about connection and through connection we find ourselves in each other. As I discussed with John and his wife—it’s all about the people.

Even at veteran stores, the day's spirits were exceptionally bright. “Surprise!” exclaimed an employee, “We have another Steve here today, too!” One of the team members had donned the classic Steve uniform—dark top, jeans, sneakers, round glasses—meshing it with their work clothes for an uncanny image as we stood side by side for a “double Steve” portrait. I glanced at the stainless steel walls and rough gray flooring. Other stores across the country had undergone renovations immediately following my visits. This was one of the few original Chicago stores remaining. I decided to press my luck. As I squeezed out of their small space, I promised them one thing: next year they would have a new store. Who knows if I would be right?

Once again, my day wound itself to a close at Apple Michigan Avenue. The towering, curved-glass walls blended into the dark night sky as a team member explained how small perforations in the wood-slat ceiling helped to quiet and dampen sound. Under its wafer-thin roof, the store was truly designed to “disappear,” leaving the focus on the technology inside and the people that put it to use.

I paused on the upper mezzanine for a last photo, a few feet from steps that would take me back up to the city plaza and conclude my day. A voice spoke up, “Could we get a photo with you?” There on the stairs overlooking the store below sat a woman flanked by a dozen young ladies. They were journalism students in town from Los Angeles for a writers’ conference. With nothing to do that evening, they decided to visit Apple, gazing through the jewel box of a store at the city lights when I crossed their path.

I joined them for photos with the glassy river view as our backdrop. I shared Appleheads candy  along with ThankingSteve buttons and business cards (this year I had printed the reverse sides with 9 different photos taken from my global visits, enough to present a unique card at each of the Chicagoland stores). I talked about my annual journey, how I had taken it across the country and globe, and how writing about my experiences each year allowed me to distill meaning and value from the lessons I was learning.

Everything I had accumulated over the years in my ThankingSteve repertoire came to play during this impromptu engagement with my sudden new friends, culminating in the power of the written word to capture our experiences. This entire encounter arose at literally my last moment in the store.

Their enjoyment pleased me and my satisfaction surprised even myself. I smiled as I walked up the last few steps out onto the plaza. I had traveled the world in order to experience this chance connection at home. How true it is:

You never know what you’ll receive until you put yourself out there.

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